Hot Docs preview pt.2: Working the crowd

In the concluding installment of realscreen's Hot Docs preview, the festival's Forum and market director Elizabeth Radshaw discusses the changes and growth afoot for the event, including its recently launched bespoke crowdfunding service and revamped conference agenda.
April 20, 2012

Hot Docs’ industry events are becoming a little more audience-centric this year.

While industry delegates and ticket holders generally experience the festival in separate silos, organizers of the annual Canadian documentary film festival are hoping its two constituencies will mingle a bit more thanks to new initiatives like Doc Ignite, a crowdfunding platform for filmmakers, and ‘Doc to the Future,’ a revamped industry conference of tightly-curated, in-depth workshops, speakers and interactive sessions.

Additionally, for the first time, members of the public will be invited to attend an industry session: docmaker Davis Guggenheim’s conversation with this year’s Doc Mogul award recipient, Participant Media exec VP of documentary films Diane Weyermann.

“We’ve never crossed over an industry aspect to a public space before,” says Elizabeth Radshaw, Hot Docs Forum and market director, who is overseeing the conference programming this year. “We have a strong and engaged audience at Hot Docs that loves what we do and has asked in the past, ‘How do we help films get made?’

“Crowdfunding is a natural extension of this new direct dialogue that happens between filmmakers and their audience,” she adds.

Unlike crowdfunding platforms Kickstarter and IndieGoGo, Doc Ignite is focused solely on raising funds for Canadian documentaries and will feature six curated projects per year, with one project featured every 45 days.

So far it appears to be working. The service launched in February with director Jay Cheel’s How to Build a Time Machine, which surpassed itsĀ  CDN$25,000 goal with a total of CDN$25,475 ($US25,655) raised.

Radshaw suggests directors applying to use the service should be prepared to work it. Once chosen, filmmakers train with user experts to develop a strategy, create a concept for the campaign and put together a list of incentives that will be complemented by in-kind incentives offered by the festival.

An added hurdle – at least in the early days – is a lack of awareness among Canadian filmgoers about such platforms compared with their American counterparts. “This is a new concept to a lot of folks,” she says. “Our goal is to cultivate a culture of crowdfunding here in Canada.”

However, Radshaw doesn’t see crowdfunding as a replacement for traditional forum-style fundraising initiatives, such as the Hot Docs Forum.

“It’s one part of the piece of the puzzle,” she says.

“Funding documentary films is not an easy task. Broadcasters are still the bread and butter of where documentary finance comes from because their screenings are still able to reach the widest audience.”

A “curated” feel will extend to ‘Doc to the Future,’ with sessions based around the theme of new opportunities for audience engagement. Topics include crowdfunding, digital distribution, screening platforms and a ‘hack day’ – a two-day workshop, presented by Mozilla, during which participants will produce an original web documentary.

In addition to the Guggenheim-Weyermann conversation, sessions include a big picture keynote talk on the industry’s future by commentator and filmmaker Ted Hope, media strategist Jon Reiss’ half-day workshop on alternative distribution, and workshops on new software tools.

“We’re trying to get away from panels,” says Radshaw. “It’s the filmmaker’s responsibility to understand how to open up the dialogue with the audience by using the tools that are out there, from production and distribution to exhibition. That’s really the lens that we’re looking through.”

Check out part one of this feature, which focuses on the Hot Docs Forum, here. Hot Docs runs from April 26-May 6 in Toronto, Canada.

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