The Best Film Festivals in Toronto
Toronto is a city of film festivals. There seems to be at least one film festival every week. Unquestionably the mother of them all (and one of the best in the world) is the Toronto International Film Festival. Each September, it ushers in celebrities, directors, works in progress and Oscar caliber films and creates a line-up and party-crashing frenzy unmatched during the rest of the year.
But beyond TIFF, we were wondering what local film festival was next best? So we asked our readers in blogTO's recent Best of Toronto survey. The response? Among such deserving nominees as Toronto After Dark, Reelworld, Planet in Focus, Images Festival, Worldwide Short Film Festival, One Minute Film and Video Festival, Reel Asian, Inside Out and the South Asian Film Festival, it was Hot Docs - Toronto's documentary film festival which takes place each April - that separated itself from the rest.
Keep reading for my interview with Chris McDonald, Executive Director of Hot Docs, to find out more about the festival and the documentary scene in Toronto.
How has the documentary film industry changed since the festival began in 2000?
The volume of production seems to increase every year, both domestically and internationally. This has much to do with the evolution of digital cameras and editing equipment, as well as the staggering number of new specialty channels hungry for content. And, just as importantly, we've seen dozens of docs compete in the theatrical marketplace, which is unprecedented, and it has created something of a gold rush mentality.
What sort of documentaries typically get the best audience turnout?
Executives have been trying to answer that question for years. From my experience, films about sex, dogs, cats and anything with the word 'Jesus' in the title seem to get people in the door. Unfortunately, this in no way guarantees that they're going to enjoy the experience. For a film to succeed, audiences expect to be entertained, moved, challenged, provoked or titillated. They respond to strong stories, compelling characters and quality filmmaking.
Even with the success of Hot Docs and the Doc Soup series there seems to be an untapped market for screening first-run documentaries in Toronto. In what ways do you think the industry could better serve audiences hungry for documentary films?
We need more strands for feature-length creative documentaries on Canadian television, and increased support from distributors willing to give long-form docs a chance to succeed theatrically.
Do you think a cinema devoted to screening first run documentaries could do well in Toronto?
Unquestionably. There is a strong and growing appetite for quality docs in this city. Thankfully for us festival organizers, nothing has come along to replicate the experience created by sitting in the dark with hundreds of strangers and experiencing the magic of cinema.
Why do you think there are so many film festivals in Toronto? Do you know of any other city with a more vibrant and diverse collection of film festivals?
The last count I heard suggested that Toronto hosted over 60 film festivals. This is a jaw-dropping figure, and I'd be amazed if any other city came close. I think it has everything to do with our great audiences and supportive media, most of which first fell in love with film festivals thanks to our friends at the TIFF-G.
What are some of your personal highlights from Hot Docs over the years?
Werner Herzog and Nick Broomfield braving the SARS scare, as well as meeting hundreds of brilliant filmmakers and screening thousands of films over the years. And, while it sounds cliched, the thing I most enjoy is working with a team of extremely talented and engaged colleagues (and getting to boss them around). The travel perks aren't bad either.
Anything you can tell us yet about what's in store for Hot Docs 2008?