Taking place over two days, the Hot Docs Forum brought together key decision makers from around the world, broadcasters and funders looking for the next big doc to support. Twenty select projects were presented to this impressive body in a series of twenty-minute public pitches, with filmmakers seeking co-production or pre-buy financing in the presence of a hundred observers, while filmmaking teams from 55 other projects took individual meetings with attending industry as part of this year's new Deal Maker initiative.
Including five fewer public pitches this year made for streamlined proceedings, with more time allotted to one-on-one meetings rather than what has tended in the past towards public theatrics. As part of the 2013 international selection committee, I was impressed with the submissions made to the Forum this year, and the assembled commissioning editors, foundation reps, and general observers seemed to respond overwhelmingly positively to the projects we selected for inclusion.
Highlights from some of the best-received pitches are included below, but, first, it's often instructive to also consider projects that received a more mixed or unexpected reception. Violeta Ayala and Dan Fallshaw ("Stolen") split the panel and observers with their new project, "The Bolivian Case," which follows a notorious case of cocaine smuggling that implicated three young Norwegian women. Despite the film's promising exploration of media bias in the way the case and its subjects were represented, some found the project's trailer altogether too confusing. Some similar concerns came up for Mahmoud Al Massad's ("Recycle") new project, "Borhan," an impromptu addition to the pitch session as the winner of the annual Mountie Hat wildcard slot. The film offers a glimpse at a different side of Jordanian life, as a struggling photography studio owner begins to dig around his garden for buried gold based on visions experienced by his young son. Panelists expressed confusion over political sequences included in the trailer and their connection to the story, while others missed the point completely. Others, recognizing the artistry on display, urged the producer to make the film they want to make regardless of commissioning editors' comments, to which she very practically rebutted, "But we need money!"
Nagieb Khaja's "Redemption," following the efforts of a Danish-Morrocan criminal to become a good Muslim by joining in the fight for democracy in Syria, split the attendees. Some were concerned with the choice of a convicted criminal as some kind of heroic figure, while others welcomed the moral and ethical complexity this brought to the project. But perhaps the most talked about pitch came from Polish director Michał Marczak, at Hot Docs presenting his latest completed film, "Fuck For Forest," but also selected to pitch a new project called "Rocket Men." When his time slot came up, Marczak and his producer explained that "Rocket Men" wasn't going to happen, but rather than waste the opportunity, they instead elected to give an impromptu and humorous pitch for an unrelated project, showing remarkable chutzpah and keeping the commissioning editors on their toes.
But beyond these episodes, the following eight projects (found on the next page) seemed to register most strongly with the decision makers. Film fest programmers and documentary fans alike should add them to their list for 2014 and beyond.