More changes are happening at Hot Docs at the festival announced today that artistic director Shane Smith is moving on after eight years. Smith joined Hot Docs as the artistic director in 2015. That year saw Hot Docs double down on its steps towards inclusion and greater representation among filmmakers. Smith’s run as artistic director featured eight of nine opening night selections directed by women beginning in 2015: Tig (2015), The League of Exotique Dancers (2016), Bee Nation (2017), The Heat (2018), nîpamistawâsowin: We Will Stand Up (2019), A.rtificial I.mmortality (2021), Into the Weeds (2022), and Twice Colonized (2023), seven of which were Canadian productions or co-productions. During Smith’s run, Hot Docs hit gender parity in its festival programming, in some cases surpassing it, and this year featured 40% of directors identifying as Black, Indigenous, or Persons of Colour.
Smith’s run covers the biggest years for the festival, as well as steering it through the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Hot Docs was among the first major festivals to do an online pivot in 2020 when safety precautions made in-person events impossible. During the festivals affected by COVID, Hot Docs arguably held the bar artistically despite the challenges presented logistically by online access. The festival returned to a fully in-person event in 2023 after a hybrid edition in 2022. This year’s festival saw a return to form for Hot Docs with in-person screenings full and attendees queuing around the block as they did in pre-COVID years.
The programming under Smith’s direction reflected documentary as the art form reached new heights of popularity. Editions of Hot Docs over the past years included many films that would go on to win the Academy Award, including American Factory (2019), Summer of Soul (2021), and Navalny (2022). Hot Docs also had the premiere for My Octopus Teacher tapped for its 2020 slate, although the Netflix doc ultimately didn’t screen in the online edition. The festival line-up also maintained an eye for Canadian content while pursuing hotter international titles.
Meanwhile, Hot Docs created streams during Smith’s run that recognized some restlessness among doc fans eager to see films shake up the status quo with the women-focused Persister stream becoming a permanent strand of the programming after being a one-year thematic response to #MeToo. Hot Docs’ Markers program carved a space for documentaries that innovated with the form, while the Deep Dive recognized the growing popularity of episodic documentary. The latter strand included this year’s overall audience favourite, Lac-Mégantic: This Is Not an Accident.
In addition to leading the programming for the festival, Smith oversaw the curation of Hot Docs’ Docs for Schools program, which engaged students with documentaries and speakers, and programmes like the monthly Doc Soup series, which offered premiere events to members. Smith was named artistic director of Hot Docs in 2022 and also assumed oversight for year-round programming at Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema that year.
The announcement of Smith’s departure comes two weeks after Marie Nelson stepped into her role as president of Hot Docs. “With the success of our 30th anniversary now under our belt and the incredibly talented Marie Nelson at the helm as our new president, Hot Docs is on solid footing to chart an exciting path forward. The time seems right for me to do so as well and to explore new opportunities,” said Smith in a statement. “I’m extremely proud of the work that we’ve done together as a team, especially during the uncertainties of the past few years. I’ll forever be grateful to Hot Docs programmers, staff and particularly the filmmakers who have trusted us to share their stories with our audiences and industry colleagues during my time here.”
“On behalf of my co-chair Robin Mirsky and the entire board, I would like to thank Shane for his deep passion, incredible hard work and extraordinary vision,” added Lalita Krishna, co-chair of Hot Docs Board of Directors. “He leaves the Festival with a stellar reputation for offering audiences diverse and compelling stories that inform, inspire and often challenge their understanding of the world, and for offering filmmakers a space where their work will be respected and embraced by enthusiastic and thoughtful audiences. We are grateful for his contributions and for setting such a high standard for us to continue to meet.”
Smith will end his position with Hot Docs on June 30. He will continue in a consultancy role as the organization finds a successor.