Hot Docs ’20: “The Walrus and the Whistleblower” takes top audience award

Nathalie Bibeau’s The Walrus and the Whistleblower has taken home the top Rogers Audience Award prize for best Canadian doc as Hot Docs wrapped its 2020 edition on Saturday (June 6). This ...
June 8, 2020

Nathalie Bibeau’s The Walrus and the Whistleblower has taken home the top Rogers Audience Award prize for best Canadian doc as Hot Docs wrapped its 2020 edition on Saturday (June 6).

This year’s Hot Docs Festival Online streamed more than 140 films and ran from May 28-June 6, with a majority of titles still available to stream until June 24.

As previously announced, the 2020 Rogers Audience Award honors the top five Canadian documentaries screened at the Hot Docs Festival as determined by audience poll and presents each director with a CA$10,000 cash prize. Winners were unveiled during a special virtual presentation ceremony on Sunday (June 7) night.

“Congratulations to the five Canadian documentaries that received this year’s Rogers Audience Award,” said Robin Mirsky, executive director at Rogers Group of Funds, in a statement. “Through honest and captivating storytelling these films captured the hearts and minds of audiences, introducing them to new stories told from unique Canadian perspectives.”

Bibeau’s The Walrus and the Whistleblower (pictured) was determined to be the winner of the Hot Docs Audience Award for a feature film after digital ballots were tallied after voting closed on June 6. The film now qualifies for Academy Awards consideration in the Documentary Feature category without the standard theatrical run.

The investigative 89-minute film, which held its world premiere online as part of the Toronto-based festival, documents a MarineLand trainer-turned-whistleblower who sparks an online movement to end marine mammal captivity and is sued for CA$1.5 million for plotting to steal a walrus.

The remaining four winners of the Rogers Audience Award include Elizabeth St. Philip’s 9/11 Kids, which chronicles the lives of 16 youths, now in their mid-20s, who were in the room with President George W. Bush when he was informed of the September 11 terrorist attacks during a school visit; Ariel Nasr‘s The Forbidden Reel, which reveals Afghanistan’s vibrant film history “shaped through years of war and chaos” that was nearly lost to the Taliban; Suzanne Crocker’s First We Eat, about a mother who challenges her family to eat only locally sourced food at their remote home 300 km from the Arctic Circle; and Lulu Wei’s There’s No Place Like This Place, Anyplace, which explores the gentrification of a Toronto block – where the iconic discount store Honest Ed’s store once lived – through the stories of its community members.

Posy Dixon’s Keyboard Fantasies: The Beverly Glenn-Copeland Story, meanwhile, took honors in the audience poll as the top mid-length film while Aïcha Diop’s Nancy’s Workshop was the top short documentary.

For a list of the top five mid-lengths and shorts, click here.

“There’s been such a positive response to this year’s Hot Docs Festival Online, with audiences eager to watch these outstanding documentaries,” added Brett Hendrie, executive director of Hot Docs. “These exceptional films transported viewers across countries and continents to share eye-opening and inspiring stories.”

About The Author
Barry Walsh is editor and content director for realscreen, and has served as editor of the publication since 2009. With a career in entertainment media that spans two decades, prior to realscreen, he held the associate editor post for now defunct sister publication Boards, which focused on the advertising and commercial production industries. Before Boards, he served as editor of Canadian Music Network, a weekly music industry trade, and as music editor for As content director, he also oversees the development of content for the brand's market-leading events, the Realscreen Summit and Realscreen West, as well as new content initiatives.