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Marie Nelson Steps Down as Hot Docs President

Departure comes following a series of difficulties for embattled festival

4 mins read

Marie Nelson has stepped down from her position as president of Hot Docs. The festival announced the news late on July 9 via a release. “It is with deep regret and gratitude that the Hot Docs Board of Directors announces that our President Marie Nelson has shared the news that she will be leaving her position at Hot Docs,” the festival said in a statement.

Nelson was named Hot Docs’ president during the 2023 festival and was well-received in several corners upon appointment for her track record in the documentary field. Prior to joining Hot Docs, Nelson was senior vice president at ABC News/Disney, vice president for news and independent film at PBS, and served in roles for both the Obama and Clinton administrations.

“Marie came to us in July 2023 with an incredible record of executive leadership in independent documentary film, news, and broadcasting. Under her guidance, the Hot Docs team set forth with ambitious objectives aimed at elevating the Festival’s profile and expanding its reach with year-round programming. This year, the Hot Docs Festival successfully attracted enthusiastic audiences in ever growing numbers, with average Festival per screening attendance nearing pre-pandemic levels and box office revenue exceeding its target by 12%. We are proud of the work Hot Docs has accomplished with Marie at the helm and are confident that the groundwork she has laid during her tenure will assist us in realizing our full potential,” said Hot Docs in a statement. “We at Hot Docs would like to express our appreciation for her invaluable contributions to the organization, and her unwavering commitment to advancing our mission.”

Nelson encountered an accumulating number of challenges upon beginning the position. Among them was a growing deficit brought by the financial difficulties of the COVID-19 pandemic, dwindling public funding, and inflation. Moreover, the resignation of the bulk of the international programming team amid difficulties with a former artistic director happened on the eve of the festival’s line-up announcement, which got the 2024 event off to a shaky start with momentum that only worsened with public calls for the festival to demand its lead sponsor Scotiabank to divest from arms manufacturer Elbit Systems, numerous board resignations, public scrutiny of the organization’s growing $2 million deficit, and concerns that remote leadership compounded the many challenges that Hot Docs was facing as she was working from home in Washington and travelling to and from Toronto leading up to the festival. (An arrangement agreed upon during the hiring.)

Hot Docs announced on May 6, the day after the 2024 festival, that Janice Dawe would serve as interim executive director. Dawe will continue to hold the role and work with managing director Heidi Tao Yang. On June 18, Hot Docs announced a restructuring of its board down to only three members. The festival’s flagship cinema remains closed for the summer, but Hot Docs notes that it is a “time of transition” and will “continue to forge a new path to create a sustainable future for organizational and financial growth.”

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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