Hot Docs preview pt.1: Forum to focus on feel-good flicks

In the first installment of a two-part feature ahead of Hot Docs, which kicks off in Toronto next week, realscreen previews the two-day pitching Forum, which is this year encouraging filmmakers to incorporate a cloud-based metrics platform into their pitches. (Pictured: Forum director Elizabeth Radshaw)
April 19, 2012
As the Hot Docs Forum gears up to showcase pitches for a mixture of feel-good and character-driven social issue films a fortnight from now, the event’s organizers are encouraging pitch teams to take advantage of the possibilities presented by a range of emerging technologies.
Like the festival’s 2012 industry programming, which will emphasize deeper engagement between filmmakers and attendees through Canadian doc crowdfunding platform Doc Ignite and its revamped industry conference ‘Doc to the Future,’ the two-day pitching Forum will continue to explore new avenues filmmakers can take to complement traditional funding from broadcasters.
This year’s Forum, which takes place during the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival in Toronto on May 2 and 3, received 150 pitch submissions.
From these, organizers selected 25 projects to be presented before more than 500 industry figures, including producers, distributors, sales agents, commissioning editors and buyers from ARTE, the BBC, the CBC/SRC, China Central Television, E1 Entertainment, the Ford Foundation, HBO, NHK, Participant Productions, PBS, RAI, SBS, SVT and ZDF.
Although film financing models can differ from project to project thanks to crowdfunding-based social media platforms such as Kickstarter and Crowdstarter, Hot Docs Forum and market director Elizabeth Radshaw (pictured above) still sees traditional arenas such as the Forum as a reliable financing backbone.
“The process of making films and bringing them to audiences is becoming more direct but the work with broadcasters is still critical,” she says. “They’re the bread and butter of film financing. We need them and they need us.
“Broadcasters are putting more emphasis on online or mobile in addition to their broadcast license,” she adds. “You have to look at your [film] and really determine what your goals are for it and forge that path in a bespoke model that you create.”
As such, Radshaw has encouraged many teams to use the cloud-based metrics platform Sparkwise. The service, which is still in beta, takes data from a user’s various social media feeds and transforms that raw data into stories by incorporating video, audio and text.
At the Hot Docs industry conference, two films playing at the festival – Angad Bhalla’s Herman’s House and Kristi Jacobsen’s Finding North – will both beta test Sparkwise for their films. However, Radshaw says the tool could be used by filmmakers in various stages of the production cycle.
“Even though the projects are in production, I’ve asked them to see about bringing it in as a tool now to start their measurements,” she says, “so that in a year’s time when they’re finished and maybe doing negotiations for distribution deals, they will already have an interesting set of data as a resource or a tool. It’s new ground, but it is ground that every filmmaker will use to forge in their own way.”
Content-wise, this year’s crop of docs are a mix of feel-good and character-driven social issue films.
“It’s nice also to be reminded that docs can be funny or goofy and explore worlds that you’ve never had access to or even knew existed,” she says. “We’ve got a nice balance of projects that are surprising, sweet, funny, wild and adventurous, next to really important social issues and emotional human stories.”
Radshaw highlighted five Forum projects to watch (in no particular order) after making it clear she’s enamored with all 25 films.
In 112 Weddings, documentarian Doug Block (51 Birch Street, The Kids Grow Up) revisits couples whose nuptials he’s filmed over the years as a part-time wedding videographer, juxtaposing celebratory wedding footage with candid present-day interviews.
“It’s a phenomenal insight into these couples lives,” says Radshaw. “It’s really not about the wedding; it’s more about the marriage and these individuals. It really makes you reflect on your own partnerships.”
Winner of the 2012 MIPDoc International Pitch competition, An Honest Liar from Left Turn Pictures (Sons of Perdition) profiles master magician and “professional skeptic” The Amazing Randi as he pulls the curtain back on the dark arts, and raises questions around perception in the process.
Elsewhere, the Canadian-German production Inside Joke: How Humour Invented the Jews, from director Jamie Kastner, takes a darkly humorous look at the nature of Jewish comedy, past and present.
Radshaw also highlights two films by emerging filmmakers, Merkato and These Birds Walk. “They’re newer teams to the Forum, but both have really strong cinematography and are brilliant storytellers,” she says.
Merkato takes viewers inside Ethiopia’s largest open-air market during its final days in operation, and how the imminent closing impacts the lives of a group of characters whose lives are consumed by their work there; while These Birds Walk presents a portrait of youth in modern-day Pakistan through the eyes of a teenage runaway, an ambulance driver, and the head of a philanthropic foundation for children.
“It’s an intimate and incredible snapshot of a larger situation happening in Pakistan right now,” she says. “It just takes you there for 90 minutes and you’re a little bit wiser afterwards.”
For the fourth consecutive year, the Forum will award the Shaw Media-Hot Docs Funds Hot Docs Forum Pitch Prize to the best Canadian pitch. A committee of international (non-Canadian) commissioning editors will determine the winner, who will receive CAD$40,000 for production and completion budget for their project.
Also returning this year is the Cuban Hat Award, which asks observers to donate money to be given to the favorite pitch, as determined by a ballot vote.
The Hot Docs Forum is held at Hart House in Toronto from May 2-3. The Hot Docs festival begins April 26 and runs until May 6.
Look out for part two of realscreen‘s Hot Docs preview, publishing tomorrow.

UPDATE 3:30: An earlier version of this article suggested Sparkwise’s data metrics analysis was being incorportated into all Hot Docs Forum pitches, and was a major component of this year’s Forum.
Hot Docs has clarified that pitchers are only being encouraged to use the new technology, it is not mandatory. Separately, two films playing at Hot Docs will beta test Sparkwise’s technology for their films, as part of an initiative for a Hot Docs conference session.
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