Photo by Joseph Michael Howarth

The Forum Goes Silver

6 mins read

Elizabeth Radshaw, Hot Docs’ Industry Programs Director, and Dorota Lech, Industry Programmer and Forum Producer, announced the winners of the 25th Hot Docs Forum in the courtyard at Hart House, University of Toronto, Wednesday afternoon, May 1, in a reception sponsored by the Spanish delegation to the festival. The prizes amounted to over $47,000 with $35,000 coming from the first look program funded by private supporters of documentaries, $10,000 from the CMF-Hot Docs fund and over $2000 from the famously quirky Cuban Hat Award, paid by the eagerly receptive audience at the Forum.

First prize for the first look curated program, which is worth $20,000, went to Arrest the Midwife’s highly regarded veteran team of Elaine Epstein, Ruth Hessman and Ruth Ann Harnisch, who intend to cover the hot issue of women’s rights to have children their own way—in this case, in old-fashioned Amish and Mennonite communities. Second prize of $10,000 was awarded to another hot-button topic, the agitated Russian population, in the anti-Putin proposed project Autumn of the Patriarch. The engrossing trailer directed by Russian Anna Bogoliubova and Norwegian producer Torsetin Grude Ruwê Yuxinawá offers an urgent look at a people ready to rage against a dictatorial regime; how true that is will only become clear in the coming year. First look’s third prize of $5000 went to Under the Flags, the Sun, a project of high artistic merit, which explores the lengthy regime of South America’s longest dictatorship, that of Paraguay’s General Stroessner. Clearly a labour of love by director Juanjo Pereira, the film will feature rare footage of a country held in a neo-Fascist grip for over four decades.

The best Canadian pitch, which garnered $10,000 went to Ngardy Conteh George for This Land of Ours, a project that has complete media restrictions. This was a second win at the festival for the OYA Media Group, which went along with Conteh George’s partner Alison Duke’s recognition as the recipient of the Don Haig Award for “creative vision and entrepreneurship.”

The beloved Cuban Hat Award has become a Forum favourite, showing the camaraderie that is shown each year during the two-day event. The prize is donated by audience members who literally put money—or a prized possession—in a hat that is passed around the room. The winner this year is the very emotional Anatomy of a Life, an intended doc hybrid, which focuses on director Emma Francis-Snyder’s relationship with her father who is suffering from dementia.

Hot Docs always makes a point of itemizing the gifts gathered in the Cuban Hat and it is admittedly quirky. To quote from Hot Docs’ own statement, the prize consisted of “CAD 746.15, USD 192.12, € 15.95, 15 Colombian Pesos, 2,000 Hungarian Forint, 2,000 South Korean Won, 200 Ukrainian Hryvnia, 7,000 Indonesian Rupiah, 100 Danish Krone, and 30 Nicaraguan Cordoba. Hot Docs will match the total cash prizes, bringing the total amount to CAD 2,140. The prize also included two All-Access Passes to Hot Docs 2025, one pass to IDFA, two passes to the Camden International Film Festival, a two-night stay in Brooklyn, a fundraising or distribution consultation and a one-year subscription to Women Make Movies, a virtual consultation session with BBC Content’s Lucie Kon, a $100 IOU and feedback call with Chicken & Egg Pictures’ Elaisha Stokes, and other exciting gifts.”

Long considered the finest North American documentary pitch session, the Forum maintained its high level of quality this year with 20 projects deftly proposed by filmmakers from countries as diverse as Nigeria, Paraguay, Russia, and Palestine, as well as the Unites States and Canada. Moderated by Industry veterans Mila Aung-Thwin, Simon Kilmurry, Elise McCave and Catherine Olsen, the Forum featured a roundtable of decision-makers, experts from such renowned stations as ARTE, ITVS, BBC, CBC, TVO and PBS as well as funders and foundations, who gave feedback and support ranging from financial to aesthetic. This year’s Decision Maker Award went to Rasha Salti from ARTE France—La Lucarne, a forthright speaker who embraces feminist and artistic cinema.

The Forum featured one highly controversial project, which generated much anger from some and appreciation from others. [Its name and details have been withheld due to a press embargo.] Though not an award-winner, the project did stir up debate in Hot Docs’ socially and politically engaged community.

Other fascinating pitches included #WHILEBLACK, an unblinking look at the on-going consequences of the George Floyd murder and rise of US Black citizen journalism; Landscapes of Memory, a thoughtful examination of how Germany’s “never again” position regarding the Holocaust has impacted on Palestinians in Berlin—and a Jewish filmmaker; Jaripeo, a queer take on rodeos in Mexico; and Power, Elaine, a memoir of a 95-year-old Jewish-born radical who spent much of her life in Africa.

Marc Glassman is the editor of POV Magazine and contributes film reviews to Classical FM. He is an adjunct professor at Toronto Metropolitan University and is the treasurer of the Toronto Film Critics Association.

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