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Hot Docs in Cool Toronto

Its better known, slicker cousin, the Toronto International Film Festival, attracts celebrities, glitterati, paparazzi, red carpets and searchlights arching the Canadian night sky. Held in September, TIFF kicks off the industry’s festival season that continues until Cannes, which just concluded. Coming first means that, over the years, TIFF debuted numerous major motion pictures, as Hollywood puts it.


TIFF is a “must” on the industry’s festival circuit. But it isn’t the only major film event Toronto hosts each year.

Lesser known and considerably less glitzy than TIFF, the Toronto International Documentary Film Festival – known as Hot Docs – draws more aging vans and beat-up clunkers than Beemer’s and limos to theatre parking lots. But it’s of far greater importance to documentary filmmakers than TIFF. Hot Docs marked its 16th anniversary this month, screening a remarkable line-up of 177 documentaries from filmmakers working around the world during its 11-day run.

Dazzling Films, Prestigious Awards
Unlike many film festivals, Hot Docs awards both jury prizes and awards voted on by the public, all 122,000 attendees – a whopping 42% increase in 2009 over 2008 ticket sales.

The 10 audience award winners in 2009 were:

  1. The Cove (Director: Louie Psihoyos; USA)
  2. 65 Red Roses (D: Philip Lyall, Nimisha Mukerji; Canada)
  3. Inside Hana’s Suitcase (D: Larry Weinstein; Canada, Czech Republic)
  4. Best Worst Movie (D: Michael Paul Stephenson; USA)
  5. A Hard Name (D: Alan Zweig; Canada)
  6. Over The Hills and Far Away (now titled THE HORSE BOY) (D: Michel Orion Scott; USA)
  7. Winnebago Man (D: Ben Steinbauer; USA)
  8. Burma VJ (D: Anders Høgsbro Østergaard; Denmark)
  9. Rough Aunties (D: Kim Longinotto; UK)
  10. Prom Night In Mississippi (D: Paul Saltzman; Canada)

Simon El Habre’s “The One Man Village” and Hubert Davis’s “Invisible City” received Hot Docs two big prizes. “Village” took the Best International Feature Award and “City” won Best Canadian Feature. Special Jury Prize winners in both categories were Peter Kerekes’ Czech Republic-Slovakis co-production “Cooking History” for International Feature. Kevin McMahon’s “Waterlife” won the jury prize for a Canadian Feature.

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Ten jury awards were presented, including those for films in competition and those recognizing emerging and established filmmakers. More than $60,000 in cash was handed out.

Boosting Filmmakers
The festival is more than a showcase of the world’s best documentaries.

Hot Docs makes itself an integral and on-going part of the documentary world, giving a major financial and educational leg-up to filmmakers. It sponsors $4-million worth of completion and development grants each year, providing support to filmmakers facing financial gaps at critical stages in their projects.

It also hosts forums including Doc Lab and Doc U. Doc Lab is an intensive, five-day creative development workshop where 15 invited documentary writers and directors take part in a specially designed master class. Doc U gives recent Canadian film school graduates an introduction to the workings of a large festival and how to present their project to distributors. Hot Docs also helps co-ordinate scholarships and fellowships to aspiring documentary writers, directors and producers.


The Hot Docs website provides information on all of the festival’s programmes, including details on how to submit films for consideration and apply for funding, and a sign-up to receive e-mail updates.

Charley James
The Progressive Curmudgeon

LA Progressive