‘Walrus and the Whistleblower’ Wins Audience Award and Rogers Award at Hot Docs

The tourist centre of Niagara Falls, Ontario, near MarineLand, in The Walrus and the Whistleblower

By Pat Mullen

The Walrus and the Whistleblower is this year’s Audience Award winner at Hot Docs. The film by Nathalie Bibeau was named the overall audience favourite and the top Canadian film as determined by votes for the festival’s 2020 edition. Walrus and the Whistleblower chronicles the compelling saga of Marineland whistleblower Phil Demers, who exposed allegations of animal mistreatment and gross negligence at the beloved Niagara Falls waterpark. The film follows Demers’ ongoing legal battle with Marineland as he advocates on the behalf of his cherished walrus Smooshie and other marine mammals in captivity.

The win is a testament to the film’s power as Bibeau’s doc was one of only a handful of festival selections to screen publicly on CBC Gem by the festival’s opening night, giving it a wider reach to audiences who weren’t able to cast a ballot. All votes for the first online edition of Hot Docs were tabulated at one ballot per streaming purchase for views ending the night of June 6. As this year’s Audience Award winner at Hot Docs, The Walrus and the Whistleblower is officially eligible in the Academy Awards race for Best Documentary Feature.

Additionally, Walrus leads the field for the Rogers Audience Award for Best Canadian Feature. This year, the top five features voted by audiences will split the $50,000 prize. The four films rounding out the top five for the Rogers Audience Award are 9/11 Kids, The Forbidden Reel, First We Eat, and There’s No Place Like This Place, Anyplace.

“There’s been such a positive response to this year’s Hot Docs Festival Online, with audiences eager to watch these outstanding documentaries,” said Brett Hendrie, Executive Director of Hot Docs in a statement from the festival. “Thank you to all of the remarkably talented Canadian and international filmmakers who presented their work during this year’s online edition. These exceptional films transported viewers across countries and continents to share eye-opening and inspiring stories. Our deepest thanks to our community and our partners who made this Festival possible in these unprecedented times.”

“Congratulations to the five Canadian documentaries that received this year’s Rogers Audience Award,” said Robin Mirsky, Executive Director, Rogers Group of Funds, in a statement. “Through honest and captivating storytelling these films captured the hearts and minds of audiences, introducing them to new stories told from unique Canadian perspectives. We’re so proud to celebrate and support the work of Canada’s talented filmmakers with this prize for a fourth year.”

The audience votes also declared Keybound Fantasies: The Beverly-Glenn Copeland Story as the favourite mid-length film and Nancy’s Workshop as the top short.

The top 20 feature films in the Hot Docs Audience Award rankings are:

1. The Walrus and the Whistleblower (D: Nathalie Bibeau; Canada)
2. 9/11 Kids (D: Elizabeth St. Philip; Canada)
3. Welcome to Chechnya (D: David France; USA)
4. The Forbidden Reel (D: Ariel Nasr; Canada)
5. The 8th (D: Aideen Kane, Maeve O’Boyle, Lucy Kennedy; USA)
6. Keybound Fantasies: The Beverly-Glenn Copeland Story (D: Posy Dixon; UK)
7. Breaking the Silence (D: Priscila Padilla; Colombia, Bolivia)
8. Transhood (D: Sharon Liese; USA)
9. Coded Bias (D: Shalini Kantayya; USA)
10. Green Blood (D: Jules Giraudat, Arthur Bouvart, Alexis Marant; France)
11. If It Were Love (D: Patric Chiha; France) AND Love and Fury (D: Sterlin Harjo; USA, UK)
12. First We Eat (D: Suzanne Crocker; Canada)
13. Sanmao: The Desert Bride (D: Ana Pérez De La Fuente, Marta Arribas; Spain)
14. There’s No Place Like this Place, Anyplace (D: Lulu Wei; Canada)
15. The Reason I Jump (D: Jerry Rothwell; UK)
16. Mein Vietnam (D: Tim Ellrich, Thi Hien Mai; Germany, Austria)
17. Softie (D: Sam Soko; Kenya, Canada)
18. The Last Archer (D: Dácil Manrique De Lara; Spain)
19. Dope Is Death (D: Mia Donovan; Canada)

The Walrus and the Whistleblower is available to stream on CBC Gem.

Visit the POV Hot Docs Hub for more coverage from this year’s festival.