The 2017 Hot Docs Forum report, part two

In the second part of realscreen’s comprehensive coverage of the Hot Docs Forum, we present six more projects pitched during the two-day pitching event. French director Benoit Felici pitched The Real Thing, in ...
May 4, 2017

In the second part of realscreen’s comprehensive coverage of the Hot Docs Forum, we present six more projects pitched during the two-day pitching event.

French director Benoit Felici pitched The Real Thing, in which he explores real life in fake cities; Itaru Matsui presented the struggles of finding acceptance in Fear Of Hearing; Jessica Earnshaw revealed an unflinching portrait of one family’s experience with addiction and incarceration in Jacinta (pictured); and Geoff Bowie took audiences on an adventure down the Nahanni River in Nahanni: River of Forgiveness.

Please note that coverage of Daniel Giovanni Buccomino’s After A Revolution, Michal Weits’ Blue Box, PJ Raval‘s Untitled Jennifer Laude Documentary, Assia Boundaoui’s The Feeling of Being Watched and Paula Eiselt’s 93Queen have been withheld due to respected publication bans.

The first part of this report can be found here, while the third and final installment of our report will be made available Friday (May 5).

Production Company: Artline Films (France)
Directors: Benoit Felici
Production budget: $442,579 (Some funding secured from ARTE France, IDM Südtirol, Artline Films, Golden Girls, ZED Distribution, YLE, CNC)
Still needed: $142,481

Logline: Countless replicas of iconic monuments are built all around the globe. Real life in fake cities, The Real Thing is a journey into a copy of our world.

Paris-based director Benoit Felici set out to explore the copycat cities of Paris, Venice, London and others that exist across the globe. The Real Thing, a feature-length/TV broadcast special with ARTE France co-producing, attempted to understand why replicas of the Eiffel Tower, Taj Mahal, St. Peter’s Basilica and others exist and how the people that live within them transform each dream-like city.

“Being in these places changed the way I looked at them and I would like this film to have same effect on the audience,” Felici told the Forum.

Explaining ARTE France’s decision to board the film as a co-production partner – having provided the film with US$147,659 in financing – Mark Edwards provided three reasons, two of which were real and one fake. The film, he stated, provides a journey into a parallel world in which viewers question what they really see; Edwards loved Felici’s Unfinished Italy for its ability to tell stories through architecture; and, finally, that “every ARTE film featuring the pyramids or the Eiffel Tower scores great ratings.

“I’ll leave it to your discretion,” Edwards said with a laugh.

The production most recently secured pre-buy deals from Radio Canada and four others. The filmmakers are looking for co-production opportunities to complete financing.

A 10-minute virtual reality companion piece, meanwhile, will allow users to experience and explore the intricacies of replicas in Shanghai.

Filming on the feature-length documentary has thus far been shot in India and West Africa, with shooting in China expected to begin this month.

Proposed delivery has been set for December 1, 2017.

TV Ontario’s acquisition programmer Naomi Boxer opened the feedback portion of the pitch by noting that the film posses interesting questions about human psychology and what prompts cities to manufacture fake monuments. “It also questions the culture, is it a way of not valuing your own culture or maybe reducing the value of other iconic symbols. I’m just curious about the focus of your story and how it will be shaped.”

Meanwhile, Christopher White, an executive producer at PBS strands ‘American Documentary’ and ‘POV’, questioned the project’s shifting tone and whether a single host would be taking audiences on this global journey of copycats.

In response, Felici noted his desire to rely on the characters and architects within each city to bring the background stories of this phenomenon to life.

With that, PBS’s Marie Nelson, VP of news & independent film, stated that the trailer provided a great sense of the power and meaning that these duplications embrace while still holding connection to the original monument.

“There’s something about watching the trailer that, for me, felt very reverent and made me very curious to see how these monuments in these cities operate in a different context,” she added. “I appreciate where I think you’re trying to go.”

FEAR OF HEARING (previously I’m a CODA)
Production Company: Temjin Production (Japan)
Directors: Itaru Matsui
Production budget: $274,800 (Some funding secured from NHK, Tokyo Docs, Temjin Production)
Still needed: $219,800

Logline: A coming-of-age story about a young hearing girl living in rural America with her deaf family. A family story about choices, loneliness and love.

Itaru Matsui’s cinéma vérité doc Fear of Hearing follows 15-year-old schoolgirl Nyla, who has always wanted to be deaf. She is a child of deaf adults (otherwise known as a CODA) and the only person in her family that is capable of hearing. The film, with an expected delivery of November 30, 2018, follows Nyla as she navigates teenage life in rural Indiana while struggling to fit into two different worlds.

The coming-of-age film will also trace Nyla’s journey to a special CODA summer camp where she can obtain advice from adult CODAs. Matsui, alongside producers Mayu Hirano and NHK’s Kenjo Toyoda, plans on capturing this expedition.

NHK will provide one-third of the US$274,800 budget for the project which will be available in two forms. The 30-minute version will capture the CODA culture while the feature length will document Nyla’s changing story.

Fear of Hearing is in search of co-production opportunities.

Knowledge Network’s Murray Battle opened the discussion floor noting that he was hooked onto the project when the film’s protagonist states “For so many years I wanted to be deaf. It just got me, that’s all I can say.”

Naomi Boxer of TVO echoed Battle’s comments: “It’s such a fascinating look at being an outsider, insider and the different perceptions of privilege or misfortune would be.”

For the European market, meanwhile, ZDF’s commissioning editor Michael Gries mentioned that he was pleased with the idea that the project would feature “a more general approach” in its 30-minute television special and that it could potentially be a fit for the youth skewing ZDFinfo channel. “My question would be whether you could imagine a European protagonist or experts,” he added, “because for our audience it would be really helpful to get an optimistic outcome from the film.”

Elsewhere, Kathleen Lingo, series producer and curator of The New York Times’ ‘Op-Docs’ arm, suggested that short films covering the topics of identity tend to do extremely well on the Times platform. “I love this approach because seeing deaf people on film is just so fascinating since film is usually a medium where audio is so important.” She did, however, disagree with Gries’ assessment that the film would need expert interviews and instead believed that Fear of Hearing is a coming-of-age story about a young girl, adding that she was “hopeful we can find a short within your feature.”

Production Company: Muyi Film (Netherlands)
Directors: Sean Wang
Production budget: $236,915 (Some funding secured by China Greece Trade Association, Muyi Film, Youku Inc.)
Still needed: $154,915
Logline: Suzanne has smuggled Chinese refugees to Greece via the same route used by Syrian refugees today. She now leads a group of Greek-Chinese citizens helping refugees.

Sean Wang’s Lady of the Harbour aims to tell an inside story about a diaspora of Chinese migrants who have been moving around the world — their pains, struggles and ways of survival. It’s also meant to be an examination of where they are heading as China becomes a world economic power.

The central figure of the doc is Suzanne — a steadfast woman who, before moving to Greece, developed a successful business in Bulgaria, smuggling and working with the mafia. When the refugee crisis arises, Suzanne decides to organize a Greek-Chinese volunteer team to help.

With production having begun in November 2015, Wang is aiming for a proposed delivery date of November 2017.

The roundtable was captivated by Suzanne, and were optimistic that her character could provide a fresh voice to the refugee crisis, which has been widely covered in previous docs.

“I was really sold on [Suzanne],” said Chris White, executive producer for PBS doc strand ‘POV.’ “She’s a spirited character driven by her own history, passion, compassion and empathy for people. You can put that person in any situation and see her shine.”

Michael Gries, commissioning editor with ZDF, asked the team if they also intended to tell the story of those who have tried to escape poverty and misery in China and have been exploited

Discussion centered around the number of docs that have been commissioned that cover refugees and how Lady of the Harbour can work to differentiate itself.

Erin Krozek, director of development with National Geographic, said it was frustrating both as a producer and programmer to hear there are too many refugee projects because it’s such an important issue of our time. He suggested Nat Geo’s short format doc strand ‘Explorer’ might be a good fit for this project.

Production Company: Endeavor Pictures (U.S.)
Directors: Jessica Earnshaw
Production budget: $197,715 (Some funding secured by Endeavor Pictures)
Still needed: $192,715
Logline: Jacinta is a raw and unflinching portrait of a family in Maine that if fractured by a cycle of addiction, incarceration and crime.

Jessica’s Earnshaw’s doc follows 26-year-old Jacinta, a young woman who has been incarcerated in the same prison as her mother for a parole violation. When Jacinta is released from prison and moves into sober living, the doc tracks her attempts to maintain sobriety and re-integrate into society and regain custody of her daughter. Just weeks prior to pitching at the Hot Docs forum, Jacinta was arrested again for drug possession, extending the doc’s proposed delivery date to January 2018.

The table was impressed with the unprecedented access Earnshaw was given into Maine’s Correctional Center, and were encouraged that the project would be able to look at the larger themes of cycles of incarceration and addiction through the lens of this young women.

It’s “so fucked up” said Marie Nelson, VP, news and public affairs at PBS, complimenting Earnshaw on her ability to widen the lens when it comes to the stereotypes people expect from addition.

“I think it’s a great project and a really intimate way to get into what is a bigger and bigger issue,” said Jason Mojica of Vice Documentary Films. “I’ve been looking for a project like this […] because I’m hoping there will be a day when Donald Trump will not be the biggest story in our country.”

Justine Nagan, executive director of American Documentary, weighed in saying that when it comes to some of the issues Earnshaw was addressing, it’s important to be particularly sensitive and not be gratuitous in their portrayal. However, the table felt confident that the director’s background in photojournalism would give her the tools needed to approach the project with a critical eye.

Philippe Muller of ARTE G.E.I.E emphasized the importance of using Jacinta’s daughter in the film, as it also brings up the theme of fatalism — is Jacinta’s daughter fated to follow the foosteps of her mother and grandmother? 

Production Company: Elan Productions (Canada)
Directors: Geoff Bowie
Production budget: $680,655 (Some funding secured by CBC Documentary Channel, Dehcho First Nations Executive Committee, Canada Council for the Arts)
Still needed: $556,461
Logline: The Dene, Aboriginal people in Canada’s Northwest Territories, build a 14-metre moose-skin boat and navigate it down the Nahanni River, one of the wildest rivers in the world.

River of Forgiveness was one of the more adventure-driven projects presented throughout the day. With production beginning later this month, the doc aims to track 16 characters as they build a 45-ft moose-skin boat and navigate it down the Nahanni River. The Dene journey, 400 km down one of the fastest flowing rivers in the world, will take 21 days. The producers say no boat of this size or construction has been seen on the Nahanni in one hundred years.

“This is a trip to honor our ancestors. It is actually our ancestors making the trip once again through their descendants,” said Herb Norwegian, grand chief of Dehcho Fisrt Nations.

Director Geoff Bowie says Herb will act as an associate producer and creative consultant on the film, as well as be a key character.

The table was stunned by the visual spectacle of the trailer, which showcased vast Canadian landscapes of forestry and rivers.

“Visually, damn it was really gorgeous,” said Nat Geo’s Krozek.

While the doc has gained Canadian support, including funds from CBC Documentary Channel and Canada Council for the Arts, much of the table’s discussion focused on the doc’s appeal to a broader audience.

ZDF’s Michael Gries said he was optimistic that German audiences would be intrigued by the film due to their intrigue with Canadian wildlife and adventure. That same audience, however, is more ignorant about First Nations and the issues surrounding them in Canada, and this doc might be the right way to tackle both aspects.

One of the major issues Bowie and producer Michael Allder mentioned would be addressed through the course of the doc was the theme of reconciliation.

The team was still in the process of casting the 16 individuals who would be the focus of the film, but Allder said it would include people of many generations.

The table felt knowing who those individuals are would help solidify the direction of the film, as their personalities and personal journeys would be an important aspect of the doc. Having subjects who weren’t as entrenched or knowledgeable about the Dene would also help audiences outside of Canada who might not be as familiar with aboriginal issues.

Production Company: Radio Film
Directors: Hana Mire
Production budget: $549,424 (Some funding secured by Sundance Documentary Institute, Bertha Foundation, SVT, Tides Foundation, Radio Film, Crowdfunding, gbgg Productions, Whicker’s World Foundation, Harnisch Foundation. Chicken & Egg Pictures and Region Haute Normandie)
Still needed: $384,831
Logline: Somalia’s newly received Women’s National Basketball Team seek to inspire their nation as they overcome challenges in their first season since the outbreak of war in 1991.

Twenty-seven-year-old Somali filmmaker Hana Mire took on an ambitious project for her first feature-length documentary. Basketball is the most popular sport in Samalia, and Rajada Dalka follows veteran players Suad and Mira as they lead a new generation of women, both on and off the court. To play the game they love, the girls must defy religious leaders and violent militant groups who believe that their sporting ambitions are un-Islamic. They also must fight against the sexism faced by women in the sport across the world.

Noland Walker, senior content director with ITVS, said that he has been following the project since last fall. “[Mire] is a talented young director,” he said. “She knows how to capture the rhythm and fluidity of basketball. I don’t know how she knows it, but she knows it.

PBS’ Nelson echoed Noland’s sentiments, adding that she would personally try to work with the team to close their gap.

“What’s striking in what we saw is the level of risk and repression,” added Mark Edwards of ARTE France, adding that while it was a bit of a stretch for their mandate, ARTE is in the business of supporting young filmmakers around the world and wanted to talk further.

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