Hot Docs Bulks Up To Boost Doc Market

North America's largest doc festival ups its screenings by 25% to spark a turnaround for a crisis-era documentary sector.

TORONTO – Looking to restore market activity in a crisis-era indie documentary world, the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival has scheduled 25% more screenings for 199 films during its 18th edition, which kicks off Thursday in Toronto. 

“A lot of these films don’t have any other options outside of festivals,” Sean Farnel, Hot Docs director of programming, said ahead of American filmmaker Morgan Spurlock’s POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold opening this year’s April 28 to May 8 run.

“Were showing that, with the festival role, we can expand the audience for documentaries, which we hope to carry over to other platforms down the road,” Farnel explained.  

With international broadcasters increasingly shunning political- or social-themed documentaries for reality TV fare, indie filmmakers are eyeing Hot Docs to launch movies before they possible land at the local multiplex.  

British filmmaker Anthony Baxter, jailed last year while investigating a Donald Trump golf course development in Scotland, just last week finished posting You’ve Been Trumped.  

Now he’s in Toronto this week, ahead of a May 3 world premiere for his documentary at Hot Docs, to land theatrical release deals. 

I’ve always felt that the film has real potential in theatres, rather than going to TV,” Baxter insisted.

For starters, Scottish TV funders back home didn’t back Baxter’s controversial film about Trump building a millionaire’s playground on pristine wilderness land, and he received an enthusiastic response from a cinema audience during a private work-in-progress screening at the Sheffield documentary festival.

“They seem to engage as an audience together, so I felt it would work in a cinema setting,” Baxter recalled.  

Hot Docs’ Farnel sees a lot of self-starting doc makers converging on Toronto this week to launch their latest work, and even self-distribute.

Documentaries are truly an indie sector, funded from outside the normal apparatus for cinema --  theres a lot of self-funding, and a lot of grassroots funding models being put to use here more than any other filmmakers,” he said.


On the financing front, the festival will stage its annual Hot Docs Forum on May 4 and 5, featuring 27 projects looking to fill out funding from around 300 invited international broadcasters, funders and distributors, and nine filmmaker delegations from Brazil, China, France, Germany, Italy, the Nordic region, South Africa, the U.K. and the U.S.


Many of the producers will also take part in the International Co-Production Day, and one-on-one meetings and social events aimed at sparking international coproductions.