Hot Docs opens strongly, absent broadcasters

In all, 199 films from 43 countries will unspool at North America's largest documentary festival over the next ten days, representing a 30% jump from 2010's festival.
The Greatest Movie Ever Sold

Hot Docs got off to a strong start Thursday night with a gala screening of Morgan Spurlock’s Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold at the Winter Garden Theater, ahead of a North American theatrical release.

But largely missing from the Design Exchange after-party were Canadian broadcast execs, whose absence was felt acutely by anxious producers and backers of auteur, point-of-view documentaries.

“I don’t see why it’s so hard to see so many one-off docs on TV in Canada,” Hot Docs executive director Chris McDonald said while surveying the enthusiastic crush of opening night revelers.

As Canadian broadcasters increasingly forgo one-off documentaries for cheaper reality and lifestyle TV fare, filmmakers are increasingly dependent on festivals like Hot Docs for launch platforms ahead of possible theatrical runs like Spurlock’s latest picture.

And that’s translated into a big jump in the number of documentary screenings at sold-out venues, including Bell Lightbox, for Hot Docs’ 18th edition.

In all, 199 films from 43 countries will unspool at North America’s largest documentary festival over the next ten days, representing a 30% jump from 2010′s festival.

So, amid the palpable excitement among local cinema audiences for social and political-themed documentaries over the next ten days in Toronto, the mystery of their rare appearance on Canadian TV schedules persisted Thursday night.

“I’m struck by the audiences, the growth, the excitement about documentaries, and it’s not reflected by the broadcasters,” National Film Board head Tom Perlmutter told Playback Daily.

Hot Docs’ focus on local filmmakers will center in part on the Canadian Spectrum competition, where 26 films, including the latest docs from Rohan Fernando, Trish Dolman and Matt Gallagher, will contend for the attention of judges and distributors.

And on the film financing front, the festival will unwrap 27 projects at the Hot Docs Forum, formerly known as the Toronto Documentary Forum, on May 4 and 5 in front of possible film financiers, distributors and broadcast executives.

Hot Docs will run to May 8 in Toronto.