Hot Docs ‘22: Hot Docs Forum report, part two

The second part of the 23rd annual Hot Docs Forum was held as part of the annual Hot Docs festival in Toronto this year. Ten out of 20 projects, representing 19 ...
May 13, 2022

The second part of the 23rd annual Hot Docs Forum was held as part of the annual Hot Docs festival in Toronto this year. Ten out of 20 projects, representing 19 countries overall, were presented to a panel of decision-makers from around the world.

Below is an overview of some of the projects pitched on the second day of the two-day event. Realscreen‘s coverage of the first half of the forum can be found here.

Budget figures listed below are expressed in U.S. dollars, and loglines are provided by Hot Docs.

The Meteorite
Production company: Vindelfilm AB
Directors: Johan Palmgren, Isabel Andersson
Production budget: $290,000
Still needed: $190,000
Proposed delivery date: October 31, 2022

Logline: What happens when a million-dollar space rock hits the Earth? How does mankind respond to this magic? With war and hate!

The second day of the Hot Docs Forum opened with a pitch about a rare meteorite falling to Earth, the meteorite hunters who searched for it and the geologists who eventually found it.

As the film’s co-directors Johan Palmgren and Isabel Andersson watched via video, quite a few of the panelists found themselves smiling through The Meteorite‘s pitch video.

Palmgren and Andersson said they’re looking for funders, broadcasters and distribution opportunities. Their pitch received positive feedback from representatives of the BBC and Arte for its unconventional, character-driven story approach, exciting topic, and for seeming like an ambitious, fun story. But Lucie Kon of the BBC did question whether the search for the meteorite or the characters central to the story were the film’s main selling point.

Yoko Imai of NHK echoed the interest in the film’s premise, noting that audiences are often fascinated with stories about space and adding that the film could fit on NHK.

“It’s a very interesting topic, and I like the approach. It’s not just a scientific approach, but it talks about what can happen, like the social issues,” she said.

Chris White of PBS agreed, saying the film seemed like a marketable story. While he noted it’s likely not scientific enough for PBS’ ‘Nova’, it could likely find a home elsewhere.

“I do feel like a film like this will have a market. People would be interested in the market for meteors. I think there’s a never-ending interest in space in general in the U.S,” White said.

Tim Horsburgh of National Geographic called the pitch promising, but questioned the project’s plan to end on a trial in the ongoing legal battle over the meteorite, questioning whether there will still be more to the story afterward.

Jordana Ross of the CBC added the film is very much in line with the kind of project the CBC looks for, where the story drags the topic rather than vice versa, and complimented the project’s eccentric characters and forward-moving narrative.

“This will explore space, it’ll explore who owns what and what that means. But I think for our audience, the bigger thing we’re bringing is a really great story,” Ross said.

Red Herring (w/t)
Production company: Good Kid Films Ltd.
Director: Kit Vincent
Production budget: $578,370
Still needed: $392,270 ($360,470?)
Proposed delivery date: August 1, 2022

Logline: After a young filmmaker is diagnosed with terminal cancer, he enlists his family on an intimate and darkly humorous journey to help them come to terms with his illness.

Red Herring was praised by many panelists,  as its story about the impact of a cancer diagnosis on a family resonated personally with several of them. “You just sent a warm feeling down my spine. It feels like a very good film,” said Lucie Kon of the BBC, summing up the general sentiment.

The project’s supporters already include the BFI Doc Society, France TV and the Sundance Institute. Director Kit Vincent presented the pitch along with producers Ed Owles and Dea Gjinovc, saying that they’re looking for distribution partners, equity partners and financing to meet the rest of their budget.

Panelists praised the project for its dark sense of humor, and how it leans into a celebration of life. Christopher Hastings of World Channel WGBH expressed interest in the project’s search for distribution, commenting on how resonant the film feels as many people are dealing with loss due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Chris White of PBS was also moved by the pitch and the trailer.

“This approach feels healing on a really deep level, and I think it’s important to encourage that, and to use these situations to embrace your family and those who are closest to you,” White said.

A Woman’s Path
Production company: Seven Springs Pictures
Director: Marjan Khosravi
Production budget: $163,606
Still needed: $113,842
Proposed delivery date: October 1, 2022

Logline: Golbahar is betrayed by her family and forced to abandon her nomadic lifestyle. Climate change and personal and political issues make the traditional migrating activities of the Bakhtiari tribe diminish drastically.

Director Marjan Khosravi presented the pitch for A Woman’s Path along with producers Milad Khosravi and Stephanie Von Lukowicz. The film tells a story about the Bakhtiari tribe from within the group, while using footage from Anthony Howarth’s 1976 film People of the Wind to show the group’s past.

The team is looking for 70% of its budget, and is already receiving funding from the Hot Docs CrossCurrents Fund for emerging filmmakers from traditionally underrepresented communities telling stories from within these communities.

Along with many other panelists, Sarah Choi from Field of Vision called the teaser “beautiful” as she expressed her interest in the project.

“It’s really lovely to see women centered the way that you have, and all the obstacles that are very specific to your characters but also I think relatable to global audiences,” Choi said.

Some panelists had questions about how the filmmakers would approach the past, present and future timelines being included in the story, and how the film ties these different periods together, while expressing interest in the process.

Untitled Labor Union Documentary
Production company: Level Ground Productions LLC
Directors: Brett Story, Stephen Maing
Production budget: $871,000
Still needed: $496,000
Proposed delivery date: June 1, 2023

Logline: From the perspective of a single Amazon fulfillment centre, an intimate portrait of workers taking on one of the world’s most powerful companies in the fight to unionize.

One of the most exciting pitches to panelists at this year’s forum is the untitled documentary (pictured) about the ongoing labor struggle at Amazon.

Co-directors Brett Story and Stephen Maing were on hand for the pitch, along with producers Samantha Curley and Mars Verrone. The team described the access they had to the story, and discussed support they already have from NBC, IDA, the Ford Foundation, Field of Vision and the Catapult Film Fund.

Noland Walker of ITVS noted how he’d like this to be a public media story, and praised the filmmakers for being ahead of mainstream outlets. “They were ahead of the New York Times, they were ahead of the Guardian, they were ahead of all of us in both their system analysis but also in terms of the way they brought us to the system analysis,” he said.

Panelists called the filmmakers’ work on this documentary a model for other directors. Some international panelists expressed interest because of Amazon’s global reach, while others wondered if the labor struggle the film depicts could be made more relevant to non-U.S. viewers.

The timeliness of the film was also praised, as well as the handling from the directors. Jane Jankovic of TVO added that the documentary could serve as a good reminder of why unions are needed.

Production company: CHUNK Filmproduktion GmbH
Director: Daniel Carsenty
Production budget: $850,000
Still needed: $350,000
Proposed delivery date: January 10, 2024

Logline: Gabriel Boric, the new Chilean president, isn’t a prophet. He won’t save his country on his own, but he can inspire the people to change their society. A portrait of his presidency.

Director Daniel Carsenty presented the pitch along with producers David Kennedy and Nicklas Krüger. Their work was praised by panelists for its access to its subject, and for the dynamic it presents of the external pressures Boric faces to succeed. But some panelists commented they weren’t sure if a year with the Chilean president was enough time.

There’s nothing trickier than writing about historic shifts as they’re happening, said Christine Kecher from The New York Times Op Docs. She noted that a lot of context is needed for this story, especially for an international audience.

“I think maybe simplifying it to show us your main characters a little bit more and giving us a simple idea of what the story you’re covering is would be great. But I think the subject and characters are something Op Docs would be interested in,” Kecher said.

Jane Jankovic of TVO added that it’s interesting to see millennials getting elected to political positions now, and to see, as this documentary shows, what they’re able to accomplish and what challenges they face once they’re working within the system.

Brief Tender Light
Production company: One Day I Too Go Fly Inc.
Director: Arthur Musah
Production budget: $624,587
Still needed: $124,159
Proposed delivery date: November 1, 2022

Logline: At the elite MIT, four African students strive to graduate into agents of change for their home countries. But what changes come from living in two different worlds?

Panelists from around the world responded positively to the Brief Tender Light pitch and called for meetings with the filmmaking team, as they were interested in the universal topics the film presents.

Director Arthur Musah and producer Brock Turner presented the pitch, and informed panelists that the film was in production from 2011 to 2019, filming in the U.S., Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Rwanda. The team is knee-deep in editing, and is looking for additional post-production funding to cover the rest of the project’s budget.

Chris White of PBS’ American Documentary ‘POV’ strand said he could see the project resonating with many people in the U.S. because the country is a melting pot of cultural differences. He added he was heartened to see from the pitch that Musah is taking an active role in this film.

Philippa Kowarsky of BBC’s ‘Storyville’ agreed that she could see the film connecting with people globally who can no longer define where their home is. Yoko Imai of NHK echoed this point, saying that younger Japanese generations could relate to this story as many top students are leaving the country to attend universities around the world.

Jon Sesrie-Goff of the Ford Foundation said the African region is important to his organization, so it is interested in this project. One point he wanted to learn more about is how much the film goes beyond the personal angle to present an analysis of exceptionalism, critiques of the students’ experience in the U.S. and a picture of the global economic forces at play in this story.

ITVS is already funding the project to the tune of $325,000, and Noland Walker praised Musah’s understanding and ability to capture truths about international students in general, and specifically about African students and how college experiences shaped and challenged them.

“That idea of ‘can I go home again, and where do I fit when I go home?’ — I think those are pieces that are strong across the board for anyone who’s left their home,” Walker said.

Out of Place
Production company: Filmilia AB
Director: Mohammed Al-Madjalawi
Production budget: $304,692
Still needed: $197,135
Proposed delivery date: April 30, 2023

Logline: A coming-of-age story of Palestinians from the Jabalia refugee camp who have now settled in Europe. Filmed throughout 20 years, the film reflects upon universal questions of personal change.

Out of Place generated some of the greatest interest from forum panelists on the second day of the event, with several expressing interest in meeting the filmmaker and producers to discuss the project in greater detail.

Director Mohammed Al-Madjalawi, who was present for the pitch along with producers Manolo Diaz Rämö and Beatrice Pourbagher Garcia, informed the panel that the film is still in production, with a plan for more filming this summer. While the team works with an editor to examine the years of archive and assemble a rough cut, they are simultaneously looking for funders, broadcasters, and regional and international partners for support.

Panelists praised the pitch for being moving, and for the sheer amount of archival footage it employs.

“We deeply admire your fortitude for diving into 20 years of footage, and a little bit more, [for] what will undoubtedly be a beautiful and moving coming-of-age film,” said Heidi Tao Yang of the Hot Docs Funds. (The project is already a recipient of the Hot Docs CrossCurrents Fund.)

Hajnal Molnar-Szakacs of the Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program complimented Al-Madjalawi’s charisma and natural storytelling ability, while Opal Bennett of PBS called the project a beautiful, personal story that dovetails with social issues.

Adel Ksiksi of the Al Jazeera Documentary Channel also complimented the “wonderful presentation,” adding that his organization often covers Palestinian stories and that he believes this project would reflect the new Palestinian generation and their daily lives.

Production company: LBx Africa
Director: Nyasha Kadandara
Production budget: $293,549
Still needed: $272,581
Proposed delivery date: June 30, 2023

Logline: A struggling migrant truck driver is torn between two worlds, a hostile foreign country or a return to the country that killed his father.

Panelists weighed in on Matabeleland to praise the strength of the production team behind this project, which is currently still in development.

Some panelists complimented the film for being beautifully shot, for presenting a character-driven story with political and spiritual layers, and for telling a story about the impact of feeling stateless and questioning where home is.

Chris White of ‘POV’ praised the extraordinary character at the center of the film. He said that while distilling all of the elements around that character, in terms of his wrestling with his religion and roots and being stuck between two countries, could be difficult for American audiences, you can still connect with a strong character such as this on a human level.

Hajnal Molnar-Szakacs of the Sundance Institute Documentary Program said Sundance is thrilled with the project and will be supporting it.

“This project is really about healing, restorative justice, restitution. There’s just so much in there: there’s deeply nuanced personal stories, and just interrogating that intergenerational trauma, the long-lasting effect of human rights and economic oppression. There’s so much material in there,” Molnar-Szakacs said.

Some panelists did express an interest in wanting to know more about what will be driving the film’s story forward with so many different elements at play in such a complex story, but they expressed confidence in the director and producers.

Without Arrows
Production company: Without Arrows LLC
Directors: Jonathan Olshefski, Elizabeth Day
Production budget: $760,800
Still needed: $279,685
Proposed delivery date: January 15, 2023

Logline: Filmed with verité intimacy over the course of 10 years (2011–2022), Without Arrows chronicles the choices, events and relationships that shape a Lakota family’s legacy.

The co-directors presented the pitch for Without Arrows, the last of the forum, to an enthusiastic panel.

Panelists praised the film’s scope and the strong team behind it. Noland Walker of ITVS, which already has a coproduction agreement with the project, complimented its humor, relationships, storytelling and symbolism in telling its story about determined people wrestling with the absurdities of life. Opal Bennett of PBS also weighed in that the project is everything ‘POV’ loves in a story, as it comes from within the community and takes a longitudinal approach while applying an intimate lens.

Jon-Sesrie Goff of the Ford Foundation also praised the co-directors’ work on the project. “Our team was blown away [by] Elizabeth’s persistence in telling this story, and also Jonathan’s awareness and approach and sensitivity to the way in which he paints family portraits, and them working together is just really exciting,” he said.

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.