Marie Nelson has been appointed the next president of Hot Docs. The festival announced the news this morning via a release. Nelson will begin the role on June 1, just a few weeks after the current festival wraps under the leadership of outgoing president Chris McDonald and interim co-executive directors Erin Lau and Paul Lewis. McDonald is stepping back from his role after 25 years with Hot Docs. He will continue to work with the organization on special projects.
“For me, having the chance to link arms with Hot Docs was an unequivocal swipe right. From my first trip to Toronto for the festival and its legendary pitch forum, it was love at first sight,” said Nelson in a statement from the festival. “Hot Docs has earned its reputation as a beacon for the global documentary filmmaking community and their audiences by fostering a sense of home and supporting the best in the genre year-round. I am so energized to begin working with my colleagues at Hot Docs to continue innovating and building an even more inclusive and dynamic future for our storytellers.”
In her role as president, Nelson will be responsible for managing Hot Docs’ festival and year-round cinema and activities. Nelson comes to Hot Docs with extensive experience in independent documentary and American broadcasting. She recently served as senior vice president at ABC News/Disney with an emphasis on creating more balanced representation across the network’s airtime and streaming services. Documentaries developed during her tenure include the series The 1619 Project, produced by Oprah Winfrey and executive produced by Roger Ross Williams, and Soul of a Nation, a reality-based series that explores the everyday lives of Black Americans.
Nelson has also had a hand in the development of American feature documentaries as a programmer for Frontline, Independent Lens and POV during her role as vice president for news and independent film at PBS. Her time at PBS included acclaimed docs such as the Hot Docs selections One Child Nation and Minding the Gap, which was nominated for an Oscar, as were PBS docs I Am Not Your Negro and Abacus: Small Enough to Jail.
In what is presumably a festival first, Nelson comes to Hot Docs after serving in two White House administrations. She was the diplomatic lead in the Special Envoy to Sudan under the Obama administration and worked with Reverend Jesse L. Jackson as the international affairs director for U.S. Presidential Envoy to Africa during the Clinton administration.
“Marie is a dynamic leader with a proven track record of supporting filmmakers, growing and diversifying audiences and lifting powerful and yet often unheard voices into national discussion, which makes her ideally suited to lead Hot Docs into its next chapter,” added Lalita Krishna, co-chair of Hot Docs’ Board of Directors.
Added Robin Mirsky, co-chair: “[Marie] is well-known and respected in the international industry for her passion and commitment, along with her sharp insights and strategic skill at establishing organizational frameworks that empower original storytelling.”
The news of Hot Docs’ new leadership comes as the festival kicks off the industry and market portion of its festival. This year’s festival has seen a return to in-person theatrical events with many screenings enjoying full houses.