It started 23 years ago not with a bang but more of a whisper, back when documentaries were still seen as a hoity-toity exercise in education and not mainstream entertainment. Now more than two decades have passed and the world has changed significantly. Documentaries are now a part of every culture as a way to express opinions as well as shine light on important issues, and the Hot Docs Festival in Toronto is one of the premier events in the world to see the very best of what documentarians have to offer.
This year, the festival beat its own record and set a new one with an estimated 211,000 audience members. The 11-day event had 232 films on 15 screens across Toronto and welcomed 310 guest filmmakers. There were 2,735 films submitted to the festival for consideration.
After the final screening happened this year, the audience votes were tallied for the sponsored “Vimeo On Demand Audience Award” and the winner was a Canadian doc called Angry Inuk which follows around a new generation of tech-savvy Inuit people going into the world of online activism. The film also won the Canadian Documentary Promotion Award and will receive $25,000 from Telefilm Canada to support the marketing and PR of the project moving forward.
Second prize went to the film The Apology by Director Tiffany Hsiung, about the journeys of three “comfort women” among the many who were kidnapped and forced into military sexual slavery during WWII.
The third place was taken by Spirit Unforgettable which is a touching story about John Mann, the front man for the Celtic group Spirit of the West and his struggle with early onset Alzheimer’s Disease.
On top of the usual festival frenzy surrounding the films themselves, were the thousands of delegates (2,678 to be exact) who came in from a laundry list of countries for the sole purpose of doing business. The delegates’ lounge was, as usual, filled with buyers and sellers sitting at coffee tables, laptops open and making deals before your eyes, like an endless speed dating competition. Upstairs a room full of DVD copies of documentaries in the festival, and many others, were available for review in the screening library and some of the attendees from various distribution companies made that room their home for the week. Outside in the evenings, the sounds of glasses clinking can be heard as crowds murmur and discuss the films and deals of the day. Those deals included 20 projects presented at the Hot Docs Forum representing 17 countries, presented to a staggering panel of 300 commissioning editors.
In the end, the 23rd Hot Docs Festival came to a close with all-around record numbers, and even though the event for this year is officially complete, the stories all around us continue. No doubt some will make it to the screen for the 24th edition. Until then, I guess it’s back to reality TV. 😉