Toronto’s postponed Hot Docs festival will launch an online version for the public in Ontario later this month, setting the stage for what other major Canadian film festivals could do if the COVID-19 pandemic forces cinema closures through fall.
The web incarnation of the 2020 Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival will run on Hotdocs.ca from May 28 to June 6 and will be geo-blocked to the province because of online rights limitations.
A majority of titles will be available for an extended viewing window until June 24.
Hot Docs Festival Online will have more than 135 films that were originally intended to screen in theatres as part of the in-person festival, which was halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The online lineup includes 91 feature and mid-length titles and more than 45 short films.
Starting May 21, package holders will be able to book their films and Hot Docs members will be able to buy single tickets at www.hotdocs.ca.
Single tickets will go on sale to the general public starting May 26. Tickets are $9 per film ($8 for Hot Docs Members).
That’s compared to last year’s pricing of $17.50-$19 for a single ticket to a screening, and $24 each to special events.
A limited number of tickets are available for each film, which organizers said will help avoid overloading the system.
Billed as North America’s largest documentary festival, Hot Docs usually draws in hundreds of thousands of attendees every year.
Shane Smith, Hot Docs director of programming, said they’ve been in contact with other Canadian festivals lately to see what each other is planning as they all navigate these uncertain times.
“We’re all muddling our way through it together and we’re all paying attention (and) learning from each other,” Smith said in an interview.
“We are definitely collaborating in that way, and in a way that’s really heartening to see. The rules are out the window, the politics are set aside. We are just working together for the best interests of our audiences and our filmmakers.”
Last month the Toronto International Film Festival said in a statement that it’s still planning to go ahead with the annual event in September while also exploring new ways to screen films.
Since April 16, Hot Docs has been debuting a handful of the films in the already-announced 2020 lineup for free through the CBC every Thursday, as a way to help some titles see the light of day while organizers figured out the next steps.
Hot Docs has also been holding an online 2020 industry market, which includes sales and marketing opportunities for filmmakers.
The new public online version announced Tuesday will also feature pre-recorded virtual Q-and-A’s and other audience engagement events.
Hot Docs communications director Jonathan Da Silva said some of the films chosen for this year’s festival still needed some post-production work done on them when the pandemic hit. Not all filmmakers were able to apply the finishing touches remotely.
Films that aren’t in the online festival — either due to issues with streaming rights or not being completed — are still considered official Hot Docs selections, organizers say, noting they remain focused on ways to get all the projects in front of audiences.
“We haven’t given up on the idea of doing some cinema screenings one day, so that’s also an option,” Smith said.
Previously announced special festival retrospectives honouring Stanley Nelson and Raymonde Provencher will be postponed to the 2021 event.
Hot Docs still plans to award films that are in competition at the festival.
Festival juries are deliberating during the online industry market and will announce the winners at the end of the week, with the exception of the audience award, which will be revealed at a later date.
All 2020 official selections have been invited to participate in the online version, including those broadcast as part of Hot Docs at Home on CBC.
When announced last month, the initiative with CBC had seven films, the last of which is slated to air May 28, the first day of the online festival. It’s unclear if those films will remain on the CBC Gem streaming service while they’re also in the Hot Docs online festival.
Hot Docs organizers said in some instances, the festival theatrical cuts of the films that are a part of the CBC initiative are longer than the broadcast versions. They also noted that participation in the online festival is necessary in order to make films eligible for the audience award.
Canadian films in the lineup include “Meat the Future” by Liz Marshall; Lulu Wei’s “There’s No Place Like This Place, Anyplace”; Barry Avrich’s “Made You Look: A True Story About Fake Art”; Ali Weinstein’s “#Blessed”; “The Walrus and the Whistleblower” by Nathalie Bibeau; and Elizabeth St. Philip’s “9/11 Kids.”
The full list of films can be found on the Hot Docs website.
Short films in the online lineup will be announced at a later date.
Hot Docs worked with BitCine Technologies and its ticketing software provider Agile on its recently launched transactional-video-on-demand (TVOD) platform, which will be used for the online festival.
Smith isn’t worried this means a grim future for the cinema experience.
“I feel like people are going to be even more hungry for that communal experience that the cinema provides,” he said.
“I don’t think movie-going is dead, I don’t think cinema is dead. I think the ways in which it’s offered are going to evolve and change. And this is maybe sort of speeding us along that path of evolution. But I don’t think it’s anything to be afraid of. I think we’re learning a lot now that we’ll be able to apply when this is over.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 5, 2020.