Hot Docs: Toronto Documentary Forum kicks off

An innovative animated doc and a riveting case of life imitating art were among the 15 pitches on day one of TDF at Hot Docs.
May 6, 2010

Day one of this year’s Toronto Documentary Forum at Hot Docs featured 15 pitches from Canada, the UK, the U.S., Israel, Japan, Finland, France and Egypt vying for funding and support, with three in particular – Family Portrait in Black and White, Nice Jewish Boy and In Search of Oil and Sand – garnering praise from assembled commissioning editors.

Noting the pitchfest’s swanky new setting, Toronto’s Royal Conservatory of Music, documentary consultant and co-moderator Karolina Lidin welcomed everyone, stating the new location was a sign of ‘moving up in the world.’ The first project out of the gate, Family Portrait in Black and White from Vancouver-based Interfilm Productions and director Julia Ivanova, struck a chord with many North American broadcasters. The 90/52-minute film features a Ukrainian woman who has adopted or fostered 16 biracial children in a country with a 99.9% white population and where stigma exists towards interracial relationships. ITVS’ Claire Aguilar said she’d had already signed on for financing while TVO’s documentary programmer Naomi Boxer stated that she’d spoken to the filmmakers at MIP and was fascinated by the film.

Patricia Finneran, managing producer for the Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program and Fund, chimed in to state that she’d been following the project for some time and would see if the film fit in with the deadlines of the Sundance Institute’s grants. John Panikkar, partner and co-founder of Canadian broadcaster High Fidelity HDTV, stated that Family Portrait in Black and White ‘could be the quintessential Equator doc,’ referring to Equator HD, a High Fidelity channel devoted to intriguing people and places. ‘We’re in,’ he summarized.

Producer Daniel Iron and writer/director Isri Halpern, the team behind Foundry Films’ Nice Jewish Boy, warmed up the commissioning editors and the audience with a unique presentation beginning with their own version of the popular Hitler Downfall YouTube meme (otherwise known as ‘Hitler finds out’). The spoof depicted Hitler, visibly upset that the film Nice Jewish Boy was being pitched to a bunch of liberal commissioning editors. After the applause and laughter died down, the pitch revealed an animated documentary about Hershel Grynszpan, the 17-year-old Jewish boy who shot a Nazi diplomat at the end of 1938, who is referred to by some historians as ‘the boy who started the Holocaust.’ Channel 1 Israel’s Neil Weisbrod had tremendous interest in the film and said he was ‘convinced of the value of the project.’ Murray Battle from Knowledge Network, meanwhile, stated that the film belongs on its Storyville strand, and ARTE/ZDF’s Hans Robert Eisenhauer said he saw potential for the big screen.

In Search of Oil and Sand from Cairo-based Middle West Films received an overwhelmingly positive response from the commissioning editors. Oil and Sand was an extravagant film made by members of the Egyptian royal family and a few friends and relatives in 1952 about a coup d’état, shot just weeks before the royals were overthrown in a real coup d’état. The doc focuses on Mahmoud Sabit, the man who found the 8mm reels, who is himself a relation of the late king of Egypt. BBC Storyville’s Nick Fraser called the project ‘historical catnip,’ while ITVS’ Aguilar added that it ‘blows everything out of the water,’ and that she hopes to work together with the filmmakers. TVO’s Jane Jankovic stated that she loved the idea of a prophetic home movie telling the story, but would need to see the film at a rough cut stage.

The Toronto Documentary Forum features 15 more pitches today, including the Interactive Mountie Hat Draw. The best Canadian pitch stands to win the Canwest-Hot Docs TDF Pitch Prize of CDN $40,000 cash, and will be announced during today’s closing remarks.

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