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 production schedule. The IDFA folks had created a wonderful thing.

The format’s fundamental collegial aspects – a round central table, the sharing of details, the respect for other cultures – were more European than North American in sensibility but launching in Canada was less of a stretch than in the USA. “Hot Docs envisioned the TDF (Toronto Documentary Forum) as a spring mirror event to IDFA’s fall date. Business started at one event would be further developed at the other – not just the official catalogue projects but the stuff done in hallways and around the lunch tables. Easily as much business was done off-table as around the central table…” The TDF was immediately successful.

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