Hot Docs wraps up 2015 fest with record attendance

Eleven Canadian films and Canadian copros also made the top 20 audience favourite list.
Copied from Realscreen - Hot Docs marquee. Photo: Paul Galipeau

The 2015 edition of the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival broke an attendance record with an estimated 200,500 people attending screenings over the 11-day event, the organization announced Monday.

It’s a trend that has been ongoing for the last 10 years, which has seen the number of attendees increase by 400% since 2005, said Hot Docs executive director Brett Hendrie.

“The core of our strategy is making the festival accessible as possible by reaching out to new audiences who might have a particular niche interest in films that we’re showing at the festival based on national cinema, or topics that are of particular interest to them, so we’ve got a pretty substantial operation in terms of doing outreach to different communities,” Hendrie told Playback Daily.

While the festival has “held to the same strategies over the last decade,” Hendrie says there were a few factors this year that contributed to the festival’s continued growth, including a marketing campaign in Toronto that saw poster ads on the TTC with the tagline “films for curious people” and in-person canvassing in busy areas of the city where screening schedules were handed out to interested passers-by.

“‘We don’t have stars like some festivals do to market the festival, so we branded as a place of discovery and adventure. A place where people can travel the world and see films from 45 different countries and meet characters and hear stories from people that are quite fantastic,” Hendrie said.

Another factor in building brand awareness around this year’s festival was the Hot Doc Collection partnerships with different VOD platforms, including iTunes.

This year, Hot Docs partnered up with six Canadian VOD services to showcase documentaries screened at previous festivals, along with day-after VOD showings of some of this year’s featured docs.

Looking to build off this year’s success for the festival next year, the Hot Docs team will also be looking at ways to accommodate the ever-increasing audience attendance to ensure tickets remain easily available as the festival expands.

“We’ll look to make sure that we’re repeating what worked this year and repeat that next year. I think we’ve got a really good formula and we’ve been holding to that formula for 10 years,” Hendrie said.

In addition to unveiling the attendance numbers for 2015, Hot Docs also announced the winners of the the Vimeo On Demand Audience Awards on Monday.

This year’s top 20 favourite films as determined by vote included 11 Canadian produced or copro films, with the first-place prize going to Implement Productions and Cedar Creek Productions’ U.S. doc Unbranded. Director and producer Shelley Saywell’s Lowdown Tracks, a film about five transient musicians as they busk around Toronto, took second spot. The Messenger, a Canada and France copro directed by Su Rynard and produced by SongbirdSOS Productions Inc. about the declining population of songbirds, was voted third.

Other Canadian films or copros that made the list include Jerry Rothwell’s How To Change The World, Damien Gillis and Fiona Rayher’s Fractured Land, Jessica Edwards’ Mavis!, Jacqui and David Morris’ Attacking the Devil: Harold Evans and the Last Nazi War Crime, Amber Fares’ Speed Sisters, Michael Mabbott’s Music Lessons, Suzanne Crocker’s All The Time in the World, Daniel Roher’s Survivors Rowe and Serge Giguere’s Finding MacPherson, which also made the cut.