The 2017 Hot Docs Forum report, part three

In the third and final installment of realscreen‘s comprehensive coverage, we present the final four projects pitched on day two (May 3) of the Hot Docs Forum. The first part of ...
May 5, 2017

In the third and final installment of realscreen‘s comprehensive coverage, we present the final four projects pitched on day two (May 3) of the Hot Docs Forum.

The first part of this report can be found here, while the second is here.

During an evening reception at the end of the second day, the presentation of pitch prizes took place. Winning the Corus-Hot Docs Forum Pitch Prize was Blue Box, while the Cuban Hat Award went to 306 Hollywood. The inaugural Firstlook program’s top prize of $75,000 CDN was awarded to 93Queen, while the program’s second prize of $25,000 CDN went to The Feeling of Being Watched.

Meanwhile, winning Best Commissioning Editor honors was Marie Nelson, PBS VP of news and public affairs.

Please note that 10 projects were pitched in total on day two, but the coverage of two pitches were withheld due to a respected publication ban.

These include The Feeling of Being Watched and 93Queen.

Production Company:
4th Row Films
Director: Robert Greene

Production budget:
Still needed:
 An old mining town on the Arizona-Mexico border finally reckons with its darkest day: the deportation of 1,200 immigrant miners exactly 100 years ago. Locals collaborate to stage recreations of their controversial past.

Greene’s film follows several members of the close-knit Bisbee community as they prepare to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Bisbee’s darkest hour. As the townspeople confront their past, locals will dress as miners and begin staging dramatic recreations of scenes from the escalating protests, culminating in in a massive restaging of the deportation

Greene told the table that the project should be thought of as a “community-led film.”

Takahiro Hamano, senior producer with Japanese pubcaster NHK, said he thought the documentary seemed very creative, and wanted to know a bit more about the director’s style.

Mark Edwards at ARTE France said he felt the politically there’s a place for the message of the film in France, and the atmosphere of a western setting is a trope that people are interested in.

Noland Walker, senior content director with ITVS, said he’d met with the team in January and loved that the team was working with the impact of re-enactors. Americans don’t tend to look back, he said, noting that the U.S. tends to pretend its history is a line of progress. “There’s a real chance for resonance and reverberation in your film.”

National Geographic was impressed with the stylistic leaps that were taken in the trailer, and encouraged them in saying, “if you’re going to do recreation, push it all the way.”

Production Company: Norsk Fjernsyn AS
Director: Hans Lukas Hansen
Production budget: 775,012
Still needed: $483,836
Logline: In a few secluded forests one might find individual trees worth their weight in gold. The Quest for Tonewood is the story about the quest for this magical wood.

This doc follows violinmaker Gaspar Borschardt on a quest to find a specific tree with wood that’s been said to produce the most valuable musical instruments in the world. He embarks on a treasure hunt of sorts, along with world-leading violinist Janine Jansen, as they travel to secluded forests where tonewood grows.

When Jansen goes back to the stage to perform, Borschardt travels even further, searching for even rarer and more valuable trees, all with the goal of  creating the perfect violin.

The table playfully remarked that this trailer portrayed the violin maker as a bit of an Indiana Jones character.

Naomi Boxer, acquisitions programmer with Canada’s TVO, thought it was interesting to see the drama of the doc and the sense of adventure behind the craftsperson. She was curious about the balance between music and adventure in the film.

Kate Townsend, commissioning editor of BBC’s Storyville, cautioned the director to be aware of making sure Borschardt’s quest felt like a genuine journey. “Obviously producers are pulling strings,” she said, saying they should strive to not be too heavy handed in their approach.

Amidst mild concerns that audiences may be put off by the idea that the culmination of the violinmaker’s journey would involve cutting down a tree, the majority of the decision makers were captivated by the charm of the film and its use of music.

Jenny Westergaard, commissioning editor of Finland’s YLE admitted that she might be tone deaf, but felt it would truly appeal to a broad audience, and NHK thought Chinese viewers would be intrigued by the use of classical music. 

Production Company: Pueblo Sight & Sound Inc.
Director: Alex Rivera and Cristina Ibarra
Production budget: $724,000
Still needed: $326,500
Logline: The Infiltrators is a docu-thriller that tells the real — and surreal — story of immigrants who got themselves apprehended by Border Patrol to face detention and deportation on purpose.

The Infiltrators tells the story of a group of activists who discovered a for-profit detention center holding non-criminal immigrants. They devised a plan to be apprehended by Border Patrol, get into the detention centers, discover why these non-criminals were being detained and help get them set free (without breaking the law).

Justine Nagan, executive director and producer with POV’s American Documentary said they’d been tracking this project for quite some time and were actively considering it.

Marie Nelson, VP news and public affairs with PBS, noted that she thinks of the director’s work every day because a poster for Las Marthas, one of Cristina’s previous docs, hangs in her office.

“[This project] has me a bit on edge, I think because of the huge journalistic responsibility that needs to be met,” she said, referencing the fact that the doc would have to go forward without the team having direct access to the detention centers, so the filmmaking team would be dependent on their sources for visibility.

As a substitute, the team plans to use dramatic recreations to showcase events that they weren’t able to capture first-hand

The table was wary of committing to the project without having visuals showing the dramatic recreations.

Jason Mojica, executive producer of Vice documentary films, noted that Vice has done a lot of reporting on the prison industrial complex in the U.S., but echoed the table’s sentiments in saying the dramatic recreations would be a deciding factor as to if they’d get involved.

The filmmakers said they intend to shoot the re-enactments by the end of the summer over a 10-day shoot.

Mark Edwards, commissioning editor of ARTE, said he thought French audiences would be shocked and surprised to know how big system is when it comes to U.S. detention centers. He believed the project was far enough along that they would take a look at it, but noted the filmmakers had a fine line to tread.

Production Company: Eyesteel Film
Director: Daniel Cross and Marty O’Brien
Production budget: n/a
Still needed: n/a

Eyesteel’s Bomberos was the winner of Entertainment One’s “Mountie Hat” Pitch, which allows one forum observer to pitch their own project if their name is selected from a hat.

In Bomberos, a scrappy Nicaraguan firefighting couple join forces with a former surf-bum and a firefighter from Whitehorse to drive a decommissioned firetruck 7,000 kilometres to a Nicaraguan town in sorely need of equipment. Along the way, they honor their fallen comrades, collect extra gear for other villages and form lifelong friendships.

The pitch proved to be one of the most entertaining of the day, with the team saying they had no funding and were looking for money and/or fire equipment.

Murray Battle, director of original content and brand with Knowledge Network said normally he would say a doc like this sounds “too much of a good news story” but being familiar with the filmmakers, was confident something great would come of it. Bruce Cowley of CBC’s documentary Channel echoed these sentiments of support, asking jokingly if there was any way he could ride the firetruck.

Marita Huebinger, senior commissioning editor with ZDF/ARTE, was unsure about the central theme of the doc, asking if it was about people helping people or about men having a trip.

Ultimately, the filmmakers said the main theme is about the will to serve and follows dedicated firefighters and the lengths they’ll go to for their brothers.

It would take the pair roughly two months to drive the decommissioned firetruck to Nicaragua, with the goal of visiting different fire stations on the way. This premise led to a lively discussion from the table brainstorming ways to chronicle this trip in the form of a radio series, perhaps with a partnership with NPR.

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