TORONTO – /TO411 DAILY/ — Toronto’s burgeoning documentary festival officially concluded Monday with its announcement of the Audience Award. Determined by ballot, this year’s winner was Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Maathai (directed by Lisa Merton and Alan Dater, USA).
The 11-day fest and confab closed with record-breaking numbers that saw 85,000 in attendance (up from 68,000 last year), 173 films screened, and over 2,200 industry delegates, including international film buyers and sellers, puttering around the downtown core despite a city-wide transit strike that marred the fest’s closing weekend.
“The success of this year’s festival is a testament to our audiences,” Hot Docs CEO and executive director Chris McDonald said in a statement.
But it wasn’t just regular viewing audiences benefiting from the fest. Industry types convened for the Toronto Documentary Forum, Hot Docs’ annual flagship market event.
The premium industry showcase has separate accreditation and aids independent producers from across the globe (as well as their marketing partners) in gathering co-financers from the international marketplace.
This year’s conference saw over 130 buyers and 80 producers who are part of the Official Delegations from Brazil, Italy, Catalan, the Nordic Region and South Korea.
“It’s been wonderful to see the positive response to the new programs at the TDF – a record number of submissions and participating buyers,” said TDF Director Michaelle McLean. “This promises a very productive market for everyone.”
There’s also the Doc Shop, the largest digital doc market in North America. It offers buyers access to some 1,500 titles which go online as soon as the festival ends, giving year-round access to registered buyers across the world.
Now in its 15th year, Hot Docs’ exponential growth can be attributed to Steve Farnel (former documentary programmer for the Toronto International Film Festival) and his takeover of the programming position three year’s ago.
It’s now not only seen as a world class festival, but one that is second only to TIFF in this city.
That’s not to say that this year’s installment went off without a hitch.
Opening day saw organizers scrambling to procure visas for six Iranian filmmakers due in town on the 24th for a “Spotlight on Iran” sidebar and panel discussion.
Days later, an Australian doc called Beyond Our Ken (directed by Luke Walker & Melissa Maclean) — about Kenja, a “spiritual enlightenment organization” long described in the media as cult — had its Q & A crashed by loudmouthed protesters flown in from Down Under on the organization’s dime.
In the latter case, the bemused filmmakers took the intrusion in stride. “I see you’ve all received some interesting materials on the way in,” quipped Walker to the audience, referring to propagandistic pamphlets distributed by Kenja members to ticketholders as they waited in line for the film.
Hot Docs 2008 is never without its success stories either. The festival’s opening night film, Sacha Gervasi’s Anvil! The Story of Anvil, a rockumentary about aging Toronto metalheads that came to Hot Docs via Sundance, earned the cover of Eye Weekly and received an encore screening Sunday night, which promptly sold-out and maintained an impressive rush line despite TTC service just beginning to pick back up in the city.
According to the Hollywood Reporter, Anvil‘s director now has three U.S. distribution offers on the table, and hopes to close a deal in Toronto.
The Hot Docs Awards Presentation was held Friday at the Isabel Bader Theatre. With the CBC’s Jian Ghomeshi as host, ten awards and $30,000 in cash and prizes were given out to only a handful of the 173 films represented. The final rundown, which includes Monday’s Audience Award and CIDA award (best Canadian film on an international development issue) is as follows:
BEST CANADIAN FEATURE DOCUMENTARY ($5000)
JUNIOR (D: Isabelle Lavigne, Stephane Thibault; P: Johanne Bergeron, Yves Bisaillon (NFB))
SPECIAL JURY PRIZE CANADIAN FEATURE DOCUMENTARY ($5000)
FLICKER (D: Nik Sheehan; P: Maureen Judge, Anita Lee (NFB))
BEST INTERNATIONAL FEATURE DOCUMENTARY ($5000)
THE ENGLISH SURGEON (D: Geoffrey Smith; P: Geoffrey Smith, Rachel Wexler; UK)
SPECIAL JURY PRIZE INTERNATIONAL FEATURE DOCUMENTARY
TO SEE IF I’M SMILING (D&P: Tamar Yarom; Israel)
BEST MID-LENGTH DOCUMENTARY
IT’S ALWAYS LATE FOR FREEDOM (D&P: Mehrdad Oskouei; Iran)
BEST SHORT DOCUMENTARY
THE APOLOGY LINE (D&P: James Lees; UK)
HBO DOCUMENTARY FILMS EMERGING ARTIST AWARD
Boris Despodov for CORRIDOR #8 (P: Martichka Bozhilova; Bulgaria)
THE DON HAIG AWARD ($10,000)
Montreal-based director Yung Chang, whose film UP THE YANGTZE recently broke Canadian box office records for documentaries.
THE LINDALEE TRACEY AWARD ($5000)
Toronto-based filmmaker Elizabeth Lazebnik. The prize is presented annually to a filmmaker who works in the spirit of its namesake – with passion, humour, a strong sense of social justice and a personal point of view.
HOT DOCS OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT AWARD
Documentary pioneer, Richard Leacock
TAKING ROOT: THE VISION OF WANGARI MAATHAIT (D: Lisa Merton and Alan Dater).
CIDA AWARD ($5000)
SHOCK WAVES, directed by Pierre Mignault and Helene Magny.
A festival top 10 (determined by audience ballot) was also released following the finalized award list. These were films that didn’t necessarily garner awards but maintained top scores throughout the festival. Some — like Anvil! — earned encore screenings on the final weekend following the official awards.
The audience top 10 can be accessed here.
Hot Docs 2009 has already been announced for April 30-May 10.