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19 Projects to Compete at Hot Docs Forum

Marquee industry pitch session returns to in-person event May 2 to 3

14 mins read

19 projects will compete in this year’s Hot Docs Forum. The pitch session will run May 2 and 3 as the centrepiece of the Toronto festival’s industry programming. The Hot Docs Forum returns to a live in-person event this year in which teams have a few minutes to pitch their projects to a crowd of decision makers, funders, broadcasters, distributors, programmers, and industry peers. The Forum selections represent 16 countries and 23 filmmakers. The line-up achieves gender parity and 11 of the selected filmmakers identify as Black, Indigenous, or People of Colour. A final wild card project will be added at the event.

The Hot Docs Forum includes two key cash prizes: the first look prize, financed by members of Hot Docs’ curated access program for philanthropic supporters of and investors in documentary film, and the CMF-Hot Docs Forum Canadian Pitch Prize, which delivers $10,000 cash  via the Canada Media Fund towards the completion of the best Canadian pitch.

Hot Docs’ Forum is produced by Dorota Lech with Amelia Hanibelsz, Leah Giblin, and Monika Navarro assisting with selections, and curation for the Hot Docs Deal Maker by Lauren Clarke. The Hot Docs Deal Maker offers teams the chance to pitch their projects one-on-one to industry stakeholders. The full list of Deal Maker selections will be announced leading up to the festival.

“It is at the Hot Docs Forum where films launch into the marketplace and later propel into our audiences’ sphere,” said Elizabeth Radshaw, Hot Docs Industry programs director, in a statement. “The 2023 Forum selections are outstanding expressions of filmmaking in its many forms and from so many dynamic voices.”

“In 2022 the Hot Docs Forum participants pitched to 70+ key commissioning editors and funders and over $50,000 in cash prizes were awarded,” added Lech in a statement. “Back from three online editions, we are preparing to welcome back our international community to the 24th Hot Docs Forum. This year’s slate is a dynamic combination of bold and heartfelt. Congratulations to all the filmmakers who inspire us with their artistry, tenacity, and vision, and who are fighting to share stories in increasingly hostile environments.”

Canadian productions in the 2023 Hot Docs Forum include Shifting Baselines, which is directed by Julien Elie and produced by Elie with Andreas Mendritzki and Aonan Yang. The film is a sea-to-sky consideration of space exploration and its environmental impact. Meanwhile, Kenya-Jade Pinto with pitch her feature directorial debut, the documentary-photography A.I. project The Sandbox. The doc is produced by Pinto with Shasha Nakhai, Jennifer Baichwal, and Rich Williamson.

Canuck co-productions at the Hot Docs Forum include Cinema Kawakeb, a Canadian-Jordanian co-pro directed by Mahmoud Massad and produced by Munire Armstrong and Su Baloglu that takes audiences inside the intimate space of an old cinema. Meanwhile, the Canada-Ukraine-France co-pro Intercepted is directed by Oksana Karpovych and produced by Giacomo Nudi, Rocío Barba Fuentes, Pauline Tran Van Lieu, Lucie Rego and Darya Bassel. The doc observes life in Ukraine amid the Russian invasion. The Israeli-Canadian co-pro The 5 Billion Dollar Scam, directed by Hilla Medalia and produced by Ina Fichman, is a financial thriller ripped from the headlines. The latter’s Fire of Love previously won the first look pitch prize at the Forum and was an Oscar nominee this year.


The projects competing at the 2023 Hot Docs Forum are:


Cinema Kawakeb
Production Companies: Jo image Productions (Jordan), YN Films Inc. (Canada)
Director: Mahmoud Massad
Producers: Munire Armstrong, Su Baloglu

When a hidden lens through an old cinema ticket office becomes a confessional.


Exodus Stories
Production Company: Vida Vida Productions, LLC (USA)
Director: Ilse Fernandez
Producers: Ilse Fernandez, Michele Farinola

Through intimate access, Exodus Stories follows the high-stakes journeys of three Central American immigrants who join the migrant caravans fleeing violence and hoping to find refuge in the United States at a time when asylum is under siege. Capturing their resilience every step of the way, they prove the American Dream is a beacon for those living in a nightmare.


I of the Water
Production Company: Making Waves Films LLC (USA)
Director: Kimberlee Bassford
Producers: Kimberlee Bassford, Marilyn McFadyen, Vilsoni Hereniko, Leanne K. Ferrer, Cheryl Hirasa, Linda Goldstein Knowlton

After a painful experience pushes her into self-exile, acclaimed Samoan writer Sia Figiel untangles her complicated past, revealing a hidden past of sexual abuse and initiating a journey toward healing.


Production Companies: Les Films Cosmos Inc. (Canada), Hutong Production (France), MoonMan (Ukraine)
Director: Oksana Karpovych
Producers: Giacomo Nudi, Rocío Barba Fuentes, Pauline Tran Van Lieu, Lucie Rego, Darya Bassel

A journey through Ukraine that reveals the banality of evil behind the Russian invasion.


Karachi Sky
Production Company: Capital K Pictures LLC (USA)
Director: Sofian Khan
Producer: Faisal Azam

Filmmaker Sofian Khan recounts his friendship and seven-year marriage to Quratulain Ali Khan—known to the world as “Annie”—a brilliant Pakistani journalist who tragically took her life in 2018, leaving behind a captivating body of work and many unanswered questions.


Life on the Edge
Production Companies: Anima Films Ltd. (UK), Thulsa Doom Limited (UK), Levon Gharibian (UK), Film.Gl (Greenland)
Directors: Johnny Langenheim, Sebastian Feehan
Producers: Andrea Land, Paninnguaq Heilmann, Cyrus Mirzashafa, Levon Gharibian, Hector N. Helsing, James Reed

Haunted by his best friend’s death and his own violent past, Nuka Aqissiaq travels across Greenland giving counsel to the desperate as an epidemic of suicide ravages this Inuit nation.


Marriage Cops
Production Company: Marriage Cops LLC (USA)
Directors: Cheryl Hess, Shashwati Talukdar
Producer: Diana Chiawen Lee

In a small city in northern India, unhappy couples seek relationship advice in the most unlikely of places—the local police station.


Redlight to Limelight
Production Companies: Bindubot Communication (India), Touch Narrative (India), Marx Film OÜ (Estonia), Les Steppes Productions SARL (France), JW Documentaries Oy (Finland), VFS Films (Latvia)
Director: Bipuljit Basu
Producers: Nilotpal Majumdar, Max Tuula, Maria Gavrilova, Louis Beaudemont, Nicolaï Iarochenko, John Webster, Uldis Cekulis, Sanaket Mandal

The dream of telling their own stories brings sex workers and their children together to form a tiny self-taught film unit in a Kolkata brothel. The amateur but resilient film crew eventually scales the battle up through their films to make the brothel a better place to live.


Production Company: Venom Limited (Ireland)
Director: Gar O’Rourke
Producers: Samantha Corr, Andrew Freedman, Ken Wardrop

Despite a war raging close-by, mud treatments, lasers, and electro-shock therapies continue at the Ukrainian Kuyalnik Sanatorium, where a small group searches for love, healing and happiness.


Shifting Baselines
Production Company: GreenGround Productions Inc. (Canada)
Director: Julien Elie
Producers: Andreas Mendritzki, Aonan Yang, Julien Elie

Where the Rio Grande meets the sea, the rockets of SpaceX prepare to launch; astronomers come to gaze skyward, philosophers come to gaze inwards, hawkers come to make a buck and environmentalists come to survey the damage. Welcome to Boca Chica, USA.


Show Me the Past Is Real
Production Companies: Younger Daughter Films (Canada), Parkside Films (USA), Fit Via Vi Films (USA)
Director: Charlie Tyrell
Producers: Julie Baldassi, Mona Panchal, Shannon Riggs, Clay Tweel, Bill Way, Elliott Whitton

The objects we treasure hold magical meaning for us. But can we really save the past?


Terra Incognita
Production Companies: CAUCASO Società Cooperativa (Italy), LES ALCHIMISTES SAS (France)
Director: Enrico Masi
Producers: Stefano Migliore, Loïs Rocque

A group of colossal magnets are traveling on a cargo ship through the Mediterranean Sea, and in parallel, a family lives voluntarily without electricity in the Western Alps. Beyond the mountains, in the South of France, an experiment is ongoing at ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor), an advanced lab aimed at bringing the sun to earth. The film is a psychogeographic detour into the core of the political ecology debate.


The 5 Billion Dollar Scam
Production Companies: Medalia Productions Ltd. (Israel), Intuitive Pictures Inc. (Canada)
Director: Hilla Medalia
Producer: Ina Fichman

Binary Option trading promised quick money and easy profits but ultimately led thousands to lose their life savings. This film follows a precedent-setting legal case of an international scam gone awry, and the investigators and informants that would ultimately topple this house of cards.


The Sandbox
Production Company: Compy Films Inc. (Canada)
Director: Kenya-Jade Pinto
Producers: Shasha Nakhai, Kenya-Jade Pinto, Jennifer Baichwal, Rich Williamson

Your future is being written in the sand.


Untitled African climate change film
Production Companies: One Story Up LLC (USA), We are not the machine Ltd (Kenya)
Directors: Pete Murimi, Daphne Matziaraki
Producers: Toni Kamau, Maya Craig, Roger Ross Williams, Geoff Martz

Climate change and unresolved historical injustices raise the stakes in a generations-old conflict between indigenous pastoralists and white landowners in a wildlife conservation haven.


Untitled dwarfism project
Production Companies: In Proportion LLC (USA), LITTLE BY LITTLE FILMS Limited (UK), In Proportion LLC (USA), Multitude Films (USA)
Director: Julie Wyman
Producers: Jess Devaney, Jonna McKone, Lindsey Dryden

A new drug promises to make Little People taller, threatening the community it claims to serve. Meanwhile, director Julie Wyman confronts her own dwarfism diagnosis. As Little People grapple with the choice to give up difference, the film poses an urgent question: can we see and be seen differently?


Untitled Thwaites project
Production Companies: Old Chilly Pictures, LLC (USA)
Director: Emelie Mahdavian
Producers: John D. Sutter, Emelie Mahdavian

How do you watch the climate crisis unfold without losing hope? Untitled Thwaites Film tells the story of a female-led science team’s visit to an Antarctic ice shelf that holds back several feet of sea level rise. They will be the last seven humans to set foot on this crumbling ice.


Whose Dream Are You Living
Production Company: Ayvision Ltd (Iran)
Director: Mohammad Tabarsa
Producers: Mahnaz Tafaghi, Mohammad Tabarsa

The announcement of the first ever music competition on Iranian television sparks an inner fire for Hanif in a forbidden atmosphere.


Zero Hour
Production Companies: NoCut Film Collective (India), CinemaPaar Productions (India)
Directors: Deeksha Ketkar, Nachiket Guttikar
Producers: Arya Rothe, Isabella Rinaldi, Cristina Hanes, Nachiket Guttikar, Deeksha Ketkar

An intimate portrait of a politician from a deceptively quiet Indian village, who must choose between his career ambitions and his family’s demands, after his teenage son takes a radical step behind his back.


Hot Docs runs April 27 to May 7. The Forum takes place May 2 to 3. Hot Docs recently announced its first Special Presentations titles for this year’s festival.

Pat Mullen is the publisher of POV Magazine. He holds a Master’s in Film Studies from Carleton University where his research focused on adaptation and Canadian cinema. Pat has also contributed to outlets including The Canadian Encyclopedia, Paste, That Shelf, Sharp, Xtra, and Complex. He is the vice president of the Toronto Film Critics Association and an international voter for the Golden Globe Awards.

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