Hot Docs Launches Relief Fund for Independent Cinemas

By Pat Mullen

Following a very difficult year for movie theatres, Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema has launched the Hot Docs Independent Cinemas Relief Fund. The fund comes in response to the restrictions placed upon movie theatres amid COVID-19 safety protocols. Many cinemas across Canada have been closed for over a year.

The Hot Docs Independent Cinemas Relief Fund was developed and administered in consultation with the Network of Independent Canadian Exhibitors (NICE). The Fund will “provide urgent financial relief to Canadian independent cinemas to better prepare to them for their eventual reopening, and the continuation of their vital role in bringing communities together.” Cinephiles can donate to the fund now through the end of Hot Docs (May 9) via the Hot Docs’ website and at the end of the online ticket checkout process. One hundred per cent of all funds received will be dispersed to Canadian independent cinemas in late spring and early summer of this year. 14 grants of $2000 will be distributed to independent cinemas through the fund. Eligible independent cinemas must have a physical space and have screened at least three documentaries during the year prior to COVID-related closures. Applications for cinemas are now open.

The few cinemas in operation have been working with reduced audiences and a fragmented release schedule that changes daily, which makes it virtually impossible to market films and attract moviegoers. The closures come even though there have been no documented cases of COVID transmission linked to theatres worldwide, while venues such as churches, bars, and restaurants can operate with higher capacities and increased risk with Ontario’s illogical frameworks. Although some independent cinemas have shifted to digital releases during the pandemic, like Hot Docs has with its Hot Docs at Home series, other theatres have been forced to cease operations, most notably Ottawa’s ByTowne Cinema—a haven for cinephiles in the National Capital.

“The past year has been incredibly hard for independent cinemas across the country, and as the owners and operators of a cinema, we felt compelled to help,” says Alan Black, managing director of Hot Docs, in a statement from the festival. “Independent cinemas offer unique and valuable cultural experiences for their communities, and they need this support now if they are to survive and eventually thrive.”

“Cinemas from coast to coast have been hit hard this past year, doing their part to reduce community transmission of COVID-19,” says Wendy Huot, co-chair of NICE and owner/operator of The Screening Room in Kingston, ON. “We applaud Hot Docs for their commitment to keeping these treasured institutions open for audiences across Canada. We’re certain that when the economy reopens, our neighbours will want to reconnect and head out to the movies!”

All donations are considered charitable and are eligible for a tax receipt. For more information, please visit the “Ht Docs website.“