The 2019 Hot Docs Forum report, part two

The 20th edition of the Hot Docs Forum returned Wednesday (May 1) with the final 11 of 21 projects presented to an expert panel. In this second installment of Realscreen‘s ...
May 2, 2019

The 20th edition of the Hot Docs Forum returned Wednesday (May 1) with the final 11 of 21 projects presented to an expert panel. In this second installment of Realscreen‘s comprehensive report on the Forum, we provide a look at the last titles pitched during the two-day event.

Part one of this report can be found here.

Pitched projects included everything from intimate character studies to investigations into the pressing political and environmental challenges facing the world today.

The Forum featured 21 projects pitched over two days, representing 18 countries and presented to a room of over 300 key funders and decision makers, alongside filmmakers, producers and other observers. More than CA$83,000 was awarded in various cash prizes.

Lin Alluna’s Twice Colonized, about Inuit activist Aaju Peter, walked away with both the Surprise Prize, presented on behalf of Toronto documentary supporters by Elizabeth Radshaw and worth CA$20,000 (US$14,855), and the Corus-Hot Docs Forum Pitch Prize, a CA$10,000 (US$7,425) cash prize awarded to the best Canadian pitch at the Forum as voted on by attending international buyers.

Meanwhile, the First Look Pitch Prize went to Hnin (Snow) Ei Hlaing’s Midwives, about two midwives working together against the odds in a makeshift medical clinic. The award came with a CA$30,000 (US$22,275) cash prize.

The Cuban Hat Award, made up of on-site donations and selected by Forum attendees, went to Socks on Fire: Uncle John and the Copper Headed Water Rattlers, from director Bo McGuire. The collected prize money came to CA$896.65, US$135.80, €40.1, 18 Turkish Lire, 5 British Pounds, and 1,000 Chilean Pesos. Hot Docs will add CA$1,000, bringing the total amount to CA$2,113.29 (US$1,571.25). The prize also included two all-access passes to Hot Docs 2020; one Observer Pass for IDFA; two all-access passes to RIDM; $2,500 CDN in camera rental or post-production services from CineGround in Montreal; a discussion with Terranoa about distribution; $50, to be emailed by Noah Bingham; a homestay in Copenhagen and two rough cuts and viewings from The Why Foundation; one night homestay, a rough cut session and dinner from EyeSteelFilm; public relations consultation and strategy from GAT PR; one month of production space in Greece from Exile Production; distributor/marketing consultation from Hybrid Cinema; consultation and marketing session from Films Transit; and two free days of videography services from Colin Scheyen, owner of Evenings & Weekends Productions.

Elsewhere, the Mountie’s Hat pitch, selected via lottery, was presented by Andrea Conte, whose Prison TV will look at The short-lived Canadian cable series Contact, which ran during the early ’90s, following prison inmates in Kingston. The series was produced by the inmates themselves and was eventually cancelled after airing shocking footage of abuses at a neighboring women’s penitentiary. The footage, only shared with one other media outlet, led to a public inquiry and the shutdown of the prison.

All projects were eligible for the First Look Pitch Prize, the Corus-Hot Docs Forum Pitch Prize, and the Cuban Hat Award.

The full list of projects pitched on day 2 appears below, with some projects and details withheld out of respect for publication restrictions or bans, including Instant Life, Trafficking Jam, Midwives, and 1001 Nights Apart.

Note that budget figures listed below are expressed in U.S. dollars.

Production company: Meteor Films, Hecho A Mano Films
Director: Mark Becker, Aaron Schock

Logline: Widow Yolanda Signorelli is battling to rescue her Amazing Live Sea Monkeys, and free them from the dark legacy of her late husband.

The ’60s and ’70s saw the rise of numerous novelty toys, many created by Harold von Braunhut, who would go on to marry bohemian sexploitation actress Yolanda Signorelli. Together they developed what would become the immensely popular Amazing Live Sea Monkeys. Signorelli licensed the invention after von Braunhut’s death, but soon found herself struggling when the royalties stopped rolling in. In investigating the story, however, the creators of Instant Life also came across a dark side to von Braunhut’s inventive spirit and follow Signorelli as she grapples with her own history.

Commissioners responded generally well to the project, with some questions regarding how to manage such dense and diverse subject matter.

“The production value is really high, especially considering through a bootstrapping, two-person team,” said Noland Walker, from ITVS.

Production company: Ánorâk Film Denmark, Unikkaat Studios, Ánorâk Film Greenland
Director: Lin Alluna
Production budget: $656,000
Still needed: $575,620

Logline: One of the most important voices in the Indigenous Arctic, Inuit activist Aaju Peter, takes us behind the curtains of her political work, sharing the personal battles that motivate her.

Aaju Peter is an Inuit advocate and activist living in Arctic Canada who has spent decades working to promote Inuit culture and helping reunite Inuit groups separated by colonizers. When her youngest son committed suicide, Peter began to make radical changes in her life, including writing an autobiography, kickstarting a suicide prevention initiative in Nunavut, beginning a PhD in Inuit traditional law and filing a complaint against the EU at the human rights tribunal on behalf of Inuit people worldwide. Twice Colonized tells her story and explores whether it’s possible to mend your own wounds while tending to those of the world.

“I first saw Aaju Peter about four years ago in the streets of Copenhagen, and I was immediately captivated by her, so I invited her for a cup of coffee, and only then did I realize that I wasn’t just talking to anybody. Aaju Peter is a lawyer, recipient of the Order of Canada and fighter for advocacy of Inuit rights,” said director Lin Alluna in her pitch.

With financing already in place from a variety of sources — including Ánorâk Film, Nordic Culture Point, Danish Film Institute, Doxion (private investment), FAF (Film Workers Guild), Nordisk Film & TV-Fond, Danish Director’s Guild, Danish Art Council and KNR (Greenlandic Broadcasting Corporation) — the film is still seeking the bulk of its total budget. All rights outside of Greenland are currently available.

“The challenge for my audience is how to make this universal,” said Mandy Chang, from BBC ‘Storyville’. Her comment was echoed by other commissioners, while most saw the potential in a story about overlapping colonialism, including for Canadian and American audiences.

“All of the Americas were founded on colonization and subjugation, and now we have to live with that,” said Walker.

Production company: Sweet Take Studio, Twofour Group Ltd.
Director: Megumi Inman
Production budget: $266,754
Still needed: $232, 204

Logline: An old Japanese Village is on the brink of extinction. Can the nation’s sacred drink, saké, save it from disappearing?

When a once-thriving rice farming village in the mountains of northern Japan faces its own slow demise, Yusuke, the country’s most popular saké maker, steps in, hoping to transform the village, Uyashinain, into a saké utopia and thereby giving it the chance to get back on its feet.

A small portion of total financing has been secured through The Whickers, BBC ‘Storyville’, Tokyo Docs, Daiwa Foundation and Great Saskawa Foundation.

“We really like to get international stories, and with the hook of the [upcoming Tokyo] Olympics, there’s going to be so much more interest,” said Kathleen Lingo from The New York Times.

Production company: Media Stockade Pty. Ltd.
Director: Catherine Scott
Production budget: $767,000
Still needed: $629,000

Logline: Sex trafficking has inspired a billion-dollar charity industry around the world — but are they making it better or worse for the people they are trying to save?

Production company: The Documentary Group, Transient Pictures LLC
Director: Landon Van Soest
Production budget: $1,150,306
Still needed: $515,306

Logline: Ian Nichols, a blind Anglican priest, becomes one of the first people in the world to attempt sight with an implanted bionic eye.

Ian Nichols is a 72-year-old Anglican priest who has been blind for 35 years. Light Darkness Light follows Nichols as he becomes one of the first ever recipients of a bionic eye implant that simulates sight. In doing so, the film investigates the nature of perception, faith, memory and the relationship between technology and the human body. It also offers a glimpse into Nichols’s experience trying to reconcile his memories of sight and the uncanny simulated images now before him.

“Despite protests from his family and from many in his community, Ian was seduced by this hope of seeing again, and he stepped into the unknown on a personal odyssey that rivals the best in science fiction,” said director Landon Van Soest during his pitch, stressing the fact that this is more than a matter of choosing to see again. The story is tied to debates within the blind community and questions of what it actually means to “see.”

Light Darkness Light has already secured a little over half its total budget, with financing from RYOT Films and Transient Pictures. All rights are available.

“You managed to combine different levels of this, in the best sense, sentimental journey with this strong character,” said Michael Gries at ZDF, who expressed an interest in the film despite usually avoiding character-driven science subjects.

Production company: EyeSteelFilm Inc., AMA Film
Director: Hnin (Snow) Ei Hlaing

Logline: The incredible story of two midwives working side by side in a makeshift medical clinic.

Production company: Stray Dog productions
Director: Line Hatland
Production budget: $651,000
Still needed: $513,300

Logline: The Kung Fu nuns cross the Himalayan mountains on a holy quest to empower females to fight for equality.

The Buddhist nuns at the Druk Gawa Khilva Monastery have practiced kung fu for years as part of their spiritual practice while training the young girls of the monastery in self defense. The Kung Fu Nuns tells their story partly by chronicling the the arrival of two young girls to the monastery, abandoned there by their parents to become nuns.

The film has already secured some of its budget with financing from the Norwegian Film Institute, Stray Dog Productions and Free Speech Organization. All rights are available.

The commissioners generally agreed the film’s core message of female empowerment was a huge selling point, tapping into universally resonant themes of gender equality.

Margje De Koning from Ikon Docs was intrigued at the film’s subject matter, stressing that it would need to explore the children’s backgrounds and what brought them to the monastery.

Production company: Tondowski Films, BWP
Director: Ira Tondowski
Production budget: $785,000
Still needed: $603,000

Logline: Mission Sex-Ed takes a revealing and irreverent look at sex educators and uncovers the political dimension of sex education in the age of digital apps, pansexuality, unlimited consumerism, voyeurism and the #MeToo movement.

The world is full of self-professed sex educators, from advertizers to Hollywood to the porn industry, making it clearer than ever that comprehensive, informed sex education is a vital human right. That is the premise behind Mission Sex-Ed, which explores various progressive approaches to teaching young people about their bodies and sexuality.

“Sex education is a basic human right,” said producer Alex Tondowski, during the pitch. “Modern sex ed is a basic asset for our democracy. It teaches us self awareness, addresses our needs, our desires, it enables us to be clear about our yeses and our nos, and it teaches tolerance and respect, and clarifies where sex ends and love begins.”

With some financing from WDR, Create Europe Slate Funding, ICEC and Tondowski Films, Mission Sex-Ed is still seeking the bulk of its total budget.

“Tencent would like to support this project, and, if you want, we would like to show it in China,” said Tencent’s Summer Song, speaking to the film’s relevance to its younger-skewing demographics.

Other commissioners stressed the universality of the topic, with debates over sex education flaring up across the globe.

Production company: Tortuga Films Inc., Mouka Filmi Oy, Alias Film and Sprachtransfer GmbH
Director: Adam Pajot Gendron, Dagmar Jacobsen, Claire Sanford
Production budget: $725,660
Still needed: $511,814

Logline: Colour of the Wind is a cinematic portrait of monstrous dust storms that travel from the deserts of China to the shores of California, and the people in their path.

Dust is an ever-present part of life for those living nearest to Western China’s deserts. While the dust presents a daunting threat some days, it’s barely perceptible at other times. The film looks at the enormity of desert dust’s reach across landscapes and through communities.

Colour of the Wind is about a quarter of the way to to its total budget, with some financing already committed by provincial and federal Canadian tax credits, Catapult Film Fund, YLE, SODEC, TVO, Deckert Distribution GmbH and Point North Institute.

“The thing that really attracted me to this project is…there can be such fatigue around climate change stories, and we’re always looking for ways to keep that discussion alive, because it’s an important discussion to have, so to think about dust and wind and the interconnectedness of our ecologies around the world — because even if you’re not affected by this dust, you might be affected by the Sierra Desert or another desert someplace else in the world — and I thought it was an interesting way to look at deforestation and climate change coming at it a bit sideways,” said Jane Jankovic from TVO, which has already committed seed funding for the project.

Her point was echoed by most other commissioners, though some also showed doubts about dust as a main character over a central human protagonist.

Production company: Filmpunkt GmbH, Rabison Art Production, Louise Rosen Ltd., Century Films Ltd.
Director: Sarvnaz Alambeigi
Production budget: $326,141
Still needed: $276,641

Logline: A portrait of a nation illustrated by two separate generations of Iranian dancers, and inspired by the tale of Scheherazade.

Iranian dancers, inspired by the story of Scheherazade in 1001 Nights, The Tale of Scheherazade, use their art to reconnect to a national history following the events of the revolution of 1979.

This project has already accumulated some financing from various sources — Louise Rosen Ltd., Rabison Art Production, Filmpunkt GmbH and Century Films Ltd. — but still needs to raise most of its total budget.

About The Author