Handout A still from the documentary Marley, an intimate look at the life of legendary musician Bob Marley.

Toronto’s endless supply of film festivals offers a bevy of movies to the city’s cinephiles. But beyond showcasing films for the public, many of these fests, including the 19th edition of Hot Docs, which starts today, are also a magnet for industry heavyweights on the lookout for the next big thing.

“It pretty much is the North American event for documentary film on the industry side,” says Elizabeth Radshaw, forum and market director at the fest. “This is the meeting place where people come in Canada to do their business.”

On one side are filmmakers and producers looking for funding for their projects. On the other are production and distribution companies looking to buy up content. Last year, 2,000 delegates were in attendance while tens of millions of dollars in deals were made throughout the fest’s 10-day run.

The catalyst for many of these deals came from the Doc Forum, where pre-selected film projects are pitched to a choice group of industry insiders, or the online Doc Shop, which gives delegates on-demand access to 1,500 films. These events run parallel to the public screenings the fest is known for, making them a place where films are made — both literally and figuratively

Unlike Hollywood, says Radshaw, where studios and agents are the driving forces, broadcasters like the CBC or BBC are the traditional drivers in the documentary world. But new funding and distribution models are emerging, giving documentaries alternate avenues to be made and seen. “It’s challenging,” she says. But “it’s fascinating to see the shift.”

Even films already screening throughout the fest come looking for distribution. And with no celebrities or familiar characters to bank on, distributors will definitely take audience reaction into consideration. “Docs impact audiences in intense and emotive ways,” says Radshaw. “It’s true stories based on real lives. You can’t make this stuff up.”

Funding 101

Filmmakers have to come prepared if they want to get funding for their next project, says Radshaw.

“What’s your film, who’s your audience and what are your goals?” are important questions that need to be asked before setting foot at the conference, she says.

From there, filmmakers should research different funding models and pick the one that best suits their particular project.

Finally, once at the conference, they need to become a sponge and soak up as much info as possible. “Take meetings and attend panels,” she says. “Network…”

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