Canada’s doc festival grew into an international force between the founding of the Toronto Documentary Forum in 2000 and the SARS crisis of 2003. Marc Glassman, then one of the festival’s film programmers, charts Hot Docs’ growth in part two of his historical report.

Marc Glassman
Marc Glassman is the editor of POV, artistic director of Pages Unbound, film critic for Classical 96.3 FM and an adjunct professor at Ryerson University.
Published date: October 18, 2013

The year 2000 saw a radical rethinking and expansion of Hot Docs’ mandate and programme by executive director Chris McDonald. Founder Paul Jay’s concept in 1992 was to give clout to his fellow Canadian documentary filmmakers by celebrating their work at a festival and conference, capped off by a massive awards gala. While he and festival coordinator Debbie Nightingale had succeeded admirably in doing that and even adding a small international programming component, Hot Docs remained a Canadian event geared mainly to its own film and broadcast industries.

McDonald set about changing that approach in 2000, his breakout year after getting his feet wet during a transitional festival in 1999, when Nightingale was still the festival director. Rudy Buttignol, then creative head of network programming at the Canadian public broadcaster TVOntario and the cochair of Hot Docs’ International Advisory Council, persuaded McDonald to emulate IDFA’s (International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam) influential Documentary Forum. The Forum, which Buttignol had been attending for years, was then at its height, with documentary TV series and features being financed in occasionally rancourous but stimulating pitch sessions.

«Hot Docs envisioned the Toronto Documentary Forum as a spring mirror event to IDFA’s fall date » Michaelle McLean

McDonald realised that a Toronto-based Forum would attract an international audience of broadcasters and their commissioning editors, producers and filmmakers.

With one stroke, it would change Hot Docs from a national event to one of global importance for the industry. Michaelle McLean, who had extensive experience working in the media industries as Telefilm Canada’s Head of Creative Affairs, was approached to run the Toronto Documentary Forum. “Hot Docs had done a formal deal with IDFA,” she recalls, “allowing them to copy the Forum. My contract was to launch a version under Hot Docs’ banner in Toronto. “I sat down with Jolanda Klarenbeek (IDFA’s Forum Director at the time) and talked through the format – from the physical layout to how they selected projects and crated their …

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