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Hot Docs 2013 Program Features 'Huge Rise' in Canadian Films, Including Titles Headed to CBC

When the 20th annual Hot Docs festival takes over Toronto April 25 - May 5, moviegoers will be able to choose from 205 films, a slate which was revealed in full on Tuesday. What's remarkable about that program, according to the festival's director of programming, Charlotte Cook, is just how many of those titles came from within the country.


"There was a huge rise in the amount of Canadian films in the festival this year, and that's due to the amazing array of films that we saw," Cook said from the stage of the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema Tuesday, addressing the theatre as part of the festival's kick-off press conference. "A Canadian co-production even snuck its way into the international programme this year!"


Among them is Shawnee Cohen's The Manor, the festival's opening night selection. Cohen's first feature documentary, the film - on which the CBC's documentary channel is a production partner - turns the camera on his family, who've been running a Guelph strip club since he was six.


And among the 45 Canadian-made films which are spread over several programs - 22 of which are world premieres - are several selections that will also debut on documentary later this year, films including The Ghosts In Our Machine, NCR:Not Criminally Responsible and Fight Like Soldiers, Die Like Children. The first, from Water on the Table director Liz Marshall, is an "intimate character study" of activist/photographer Jo-Anne McArthur, one which ultimately examines a question of animal rights; the second is a rare and timely look inside an Ontario hospital for the criminally insane from fifth estate veteran and Life With Murder director John Kastner;  the third, a "follow-up" to Shake Hands With the Devil, catches up with Lt-Gen. Romeo Dallaire, whose new mission is ending the use of child soldiers in Africa. 



And all these films - like every title coming to Hot Docs in 2013 - share an essential characteristic according to Lynne Fernie. Fernie, the festival's Senior Canadian Programmer screened roughly 300 films this year to compile 2013's Canadian Spectrum Program. And while watching each of those submissions, she was looking for one thing. "When you have a film that's engaging - even if it's an abstract or quiet film - you're there. It doesn't matter, you're just there," she told CBC Live. "There's no snoozing."


Patrick Reed probably knows the feeling. Fight Like Soldiers, Die Like Children will mark the Toronto director's fourth trip to Hot Docs as a filmmaker, but Reed says he was a ticket holder when the festival  - now North America's largest - launched 20 years ago. The experience, he says, inspired him to make documentaries himself.


"I was thinking as I was coming over here today, almost a year ago today we were jumping on a plane to Africa to go and shoot - half way around the world to film this story in a lot of dangerous, difficult places. ... It sounds corny or cliché but to have your film shown in your hometown at a festival, it's just great."


He'll be involved in a festival first this year. Fight Like Soldiers will feature in a brand-new Hot Docs event, Big Ideas - a three-part speaker series that will let the audience hear from the stars of this year's films. Anna Maria Tremonti of CBC Radio's The Current, will moderate a discussion with author and lawyer and human rights icon Anita Hill, whose story is profiled in Anita. Lt-Gen. Romeo Dallaire will speak about the experiences that informed Reed's new film, Fight Like Soldiers, Die Like Children.


"It's very interesting," Reed says of the Big Ideas series. "For me, it's the most interesting thing about documentaries," he says, talking about the opportunity to "meet, in the flesh, the person that the film is about."


"It's one thing to go to a Hollywood film and there's the red carpet and you get to see the actors, but they're actors! To actually see the person who was in the film and has an incredible story -- and there's only so much you can tell in an hour and a half." 


Still, that much screen time is more than many aspiring filmmakers get. Director Liz Marshall's The Ghosts in Our Machine was among the few docs highlighted during Tuesday's press conference; Fernie shouted-out her piece as a "wonderful, poetic film." ("Yeah, that was nice," Marshall said after the presentation. "Especially the part when she said it was 'highly anticipated.'") 



"Being part of Hot Docs' twentieth anniversary is an honour to me," says Marshall. "And to me it's about community - it's about our documentary community which on one hand is eroding due to challenges within our industry with financing, and on the other hand we see rising statistics every year in terms of audience and engagement and interest."


The Ghosts in Our Machine was commissioned by the CBC's documentary channel, a relationship that Marshall says has been "hugely" helpful.  "Bruce Cowley, the commissioning editor, has really championed this project and has been a force in terms of making it a reality."


Says Reed, whose film counts CBC's documentary as a broadcast partner: "Just making films in Canada, particularly making films with international subject matter, it's always an uphill battle, even when we've had some success with films in the past," he says, recalling how his 2010 doc, The Team, was "running on fumes" before it was bought by documentary.


"Without documentary, CBC, TVO and a few of the other partners, these stories wouldn't be shared with Canadians and the world."


And then there's the access that support can allow. NCR:Not Criminally Responsible marks the first time in 30 years a filmmaker was allowed inside a Canadian hospital for the criminally insane, according to director John Kastner. For two-and-a-half years he investigated life at a facility in small Ontario community (he would not disclose the location) and his experience inside also informed a second, upcoming film. "Without CBC, the documentary channel, we would never have been able to get into these institutions because to get the trust, it just takes time and time and more time and time is money!"



For more on the Hot Docs 2013 line-up, check out CBC News' report from Tuesday's announcement.


Further information on the festival, including the full schedule, can be found at Hotdocs.ca.

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