Doc one up: Emerging filmmakers get an opportunity to watch the industry from up close
Toronto's reputation as a documentary-loving city is stoked every spring by the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival
. This year's lineup offers 189 films, including dozens of world premieres, from a record-breaking 51 countries.
But Hot Docs is also a conference for doc makers, attracting thousands of industry types. Offerings for youth have been limited, but that's changing this month with the launch of Doc Accelerator, a program designed for young, aspiring filmmakers to help inspire them and give them a foot in the door of the industry. Those lucky enough to be chosen can attend all screenings free of charge. But the real score is an insider's look at the business, including exclusive workshops, access to conference sessions and interaction with industry veterans.
We talked to Brett Hendrie, Hot Docs' managing director, about cultivating documentary filmmaking's next superstars.
Jaclyn Law: How did Doc Accelerator come about?
We've always had a commitment to providing space at the festival for youth and for emerging filmmakers, and we'd sporadically introduced programs on a limited basis. Those were really well received, but it wasn't something we had the resources to put a lot of time or staff energy into. What we determined to do this year was put more resources behind it. We did some fundraising, and decided to partner with Manifesto
, [which is known for] its live event with music and art, geared towards youth. Doc Accelerator is a partnership between us and them and other groups: Media Intelligence
, a training and HR company for the media sector; Jumpwire
, which runs events and is a production company, and they do a lot of training with information about technology, film, television and documentaries; and Schools Without Borders
—they're mainly helping with community outreach, getting the word out to students, and helping us select participants. What we wanted to do was create a program that was more robust for youth/emerging filmmakers, so we partnered with these groups of varying sizes, in terms of scope of partnership. Hot Docs is the lead, and we're the ones developing the curriculum.
How does the program work?
Fifty youth with filmmaking aspirations, ages 18 to 30, will have free access to the festival, not just screenings but also the industry component—we have over 2,000 professionals attending conference events. Those 50 youth will have a curriculum of films, conference sessions and master classes to give them a roadmap for navigating the festival for the first time. We're picking conference sessions really tailored to their needs. In addition, we're doing some private sessions, organized by Media Intelligence and Jumpwire, a lot of nuts-and-bolts information about how to get a job in the industry, how to be productive, find your passion, develop your skill set. Our hope is they will emerge from the festival with a wealth of info about how the industry works. It's a bit of a crash course, but we hope that after the festival, we'll follow up with them, see how the program worked, see what they learned, what was useful to them. We hope to continue working with that cohort over some period of time—say, 12 to 24 months—to help them find internships, make sure they're informed about other useful training events and workshops, be a resource in terms of contact info and mentorship, and really help them get a leg up.
How are the participants chosen?
The selection committee will try to find people we think will get the most out of the program—not too senior or too junior. We want to make sure we're aligning the program with people interested in this as a career path instead of a way to kill a week or watch some movies. There are some interesting questions on the application form
—what are their inspirations, what are they frustrated by, barriers to access. It'll be a learning process for us, too, when we see the applicants.
How will the documentary community at large benefit from Doc Accelerator?
We'll have 50 people interested in getting into the community [doing] a really robust crash course, getting information to help them navigate it and help them be successful in their own right. I think it'll be a plus for the community. There are really good training programs offered within the city and elsewhere at the colleges, which are our partners, like Seneca
, and this isn't a replacement for those, but it's a great supplement. Or for people who choose not to go through that path, it's a way to get really hands-on within an environment that normally isn't available. You really have a concentration of the best and brightest documentary filmmakers, producers and funders attending Hot Docs, and this gives access to those people, all of their contacts and all the advice they can offer. So the community will benefit just by having a cohort of emerging filmmakers and emerging producers who kind of have the lay of the land, which is more than a lot of other filmmakers and producers can say that they have. And it's entirely free.
Who's covering costs?
The nice thing is, a lot of costs are opportunity costs for us, since we're holding the sessions anyway, but we also raised money from the Ontario Trillium Foundation and the provincial government. This is part of our mandate, so we can take some of our general operating funds and contribute that to the program.
For more info about Doc Accelerator or to apply, visit the Hot Docs website.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Jaclyn Law is a writer, editor and documentary lover in Toronto.