Hot Docs Forum’s Dorota Lech Reflects on State of the Art: ‘Documentary as an Art Form Is Stronger Than Ever’

The 24th edition of the Hot Docs Forum, the financing event aimed at securing co-productions and funds for feature length documentaries, includes 19 projects representing 16 countries and featuring 23 filmmakers, 12 of whom are women and 11 of whom are black, indigenous and people of color. An additional Wild Card pitch will be selected live at the Forum.

The Forum, which returns to in-person at Toronto’s Hart House after three years of being virtual, also includes an additional 30 projects, which will participate in Hot Docs Deal Maker, a curated one-on-one pitch meeting program.

Commissioning editors, investors and industry experts, including A24, Amazon Studios, Chicken & Egg Pictures, Concordia, Hulu, Paramount, Participant Media, Sandbox Films and Netflix, will attend this year’s Forum.

Industry programmer and Forum producer, Dorota Lech, spoke to Variety about how she selects projects, the advice she gives participating filmmakers, and how she feels about the current doc market.

Did you personally select the 50 projects that are participating both publicly and privately in the Forum this year?

Every year we have a different selection committee that we choose internally. I work alongside them using the same criteria as in past years to choose the projects. This year we had Amelia Hanibelsz from ABC News, Leah Giblin, who was at Cinereach and is now an independent consultant and producer, and Monika Navarro from Firelight Media.

How many projects were submitted for consideration?

About 400.

What are you looking for in a project?

We are looking for different things. One of those things is: Is this project really ready to pitch now? And is it the right time for this group of filmmakers to be in front of this very large room or people? In addition to that, curating a slate that’s representative of the world is a priority. We can’t just have 10 American projects about climate change. There needs to be a whole slate of projects that represent the world we live in.

While Amazon Studios, Hulu, and Netflix are among the many distributors attending this year’s Forum, they don’t seem that interested in social issue fare. What’s your take?

The market ebbs and flows. I’ve been at Hot Docs for a decade now. This is not the first wave of things being shitty that I’ve seen. That said, the documentary market isn’t great. The film market isn’t great, but the market isn’t great for anything right now. Have you been to a grocery store? It’s a disaster. Welcome to capitalism. But documentary as an art form is stronger than ever. And now is the time when we need documentarians the most.

So, when I look at the slate of projects this year, about climate change, Ukrainian defenders, and all sorts of topics reflecting the state of the world with impeccable artistry and access, I’m really heartened.

The point of this event is to bring all these minds together and find a way to help get these 20 projects made. We want to act in such a way that the generosity of spirit in the room will help these filmmakers at least receive the guidance to go toward the right steps for them.

Do you offer filmmakers pitching at the Forum any advice?

I tell every pitch team that this is a long game. You pitching at the Forum is an opportunity to meet potentially 200 to 400 people that you will be working with for the rest of your life. You are not just pitching this project; you are pitching future projects. You are pitching yourself. So, let’s just show up and see what we can do together. For me, this event really is about community and it’s really about idea sharing and film sharing and, oh my God, if we can also get those 20 films financed, that’s ideal. But it’s really rough right now.

Are there any films participating in Hot Doc Film Festival this year that went through the Hot Docs Forum?

Yes. “Twice Colonized” was a Forum project and “Milisuthando.”

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