Hot Docs future on ‘shaky ground’ but here’s a great way to show some love

With just weeks away from the 2024 Hot Docs Festival, the organization is raising alarms that its future is at stake.

In an exclusive interview with the Globe and Mail last week, Marie Nelson, president of Hot Docs, said “We find ourselves dealing with significant operational challenges – so much so that it puts the sustainable future of the organization on quite shaky ground”.

Hot Docs—which has been in business for just over three decades—is the largest documentary festival in North America, with the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema having a seating capacity of 650.

The article notes that, in 2019, the theatre averaged 750 people a day. But after shutting down for two years during the pandemic era, Hot Docs has struggled in its comeback. Ticket sales at the Ted Rogers Cinema are up 65%  over this time the last fiscal year, but attendance is down 38% compared to the year before the pandemic; membership revenue is up 21% over the same period last year, but it is down 31% compared to the pre-pandemic era.

“We’re seeing the impact on both the festival and year-round side,” Nelson told the Globe. “As a result, we find ourselves in a situation where we have to turn to our government partners and say we really need your support. We have great support from the private-donor side, but that’s program-oriented funding, not money that we can use to keep the lights on.”

In an appeal made to the Hot Docs website on Friday, Nelson noted that—like with many not-for-profit arts organizations—pandemic closures severely disrupted Hot Docs operations and its impacts are still being felt.

“We are currently facing a significant operational deficit that threatens our long-term sustainability, Nelson said in the website statement. “While we’re already seeing positive signs of recovery as audiences both old and new are returning to the cinema, and while we’ve taken steps to reduce our overhead without impacting our core programming, we are quickly losing runway and urgently need direct support to ensure our future viability.”

Nelson added that the organization has taken their concerns public and they are speaking with all levels of government, foundations, and corporate partners to escalate Hot Docs’ urgent need for support.

“And we are also turning to you, our audiences, who have played a crucial role in our growth and success.”

The Hot Docs Festival will return from April 25 to May 5, 2024. Festival passes can be purchased here or click here to donate.

Stop Making Sense it’s a Hot Docs collab

Looking for another great way to support the festival in the meantime? The iconic Talking Heads’ concert film Stop Making Sense will be showcased at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema for an exclusive residency, as part of a partnership between Hot Docs and A24.

The film is considered by many critics to be one of the greatest concert flicks of all time. Hot Docs will serve as the Canadian host for the residency, joining a lineup of cities including New York, Austin, Boston, Chicago, London, Seattle, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Portland, and San Francisco.

The film, directed by Jonathan Demme, was originally released in 1984 after the band’s fifth studio album (Speaking in Tongues) was released. It has been a long-held institution at the Hot Docs/Bloor Cinema, but the newly restored 4K version will be remixed and remastered in surround sound for its 40th anniversary. The film will feature some of Talking Heads’ most memorable songs and showcase legendary live performances by David Byrne, Tina Weymouth, Chris Frantzm Jerry Harrison, Bernie Worrell, Alex Weir, Steve Scales, Lynn Mabry, and Edna Holt.

Demme once called Stop Making Sense a performance film rather than a concert film, as he stripped away visual effects to focus on the band’s choreographed performance.

“We are thrilled to partner with A24 to bring the Stop Making Sense residency to our Cinema,” Hussain Currimbhoy, Hot Docs’ Artistic Director, said in a statement. “For decades, this film has been a special part of the Bloor/Hot Docs Cinema experience, resonating deeply with our audiences.”

Currimbhoy adds that, through this residency, they will aim to celebrate the “transcendent synergy” of music and film, inviting Talking Heads fans to sing their hearts out and dance in the aisles.

“Additionally, we are excited to introduce this timeless classic to a new generation of film lovers, ensuring its enduring legacy continues to inspire and captivate audiences.”

Upcoming Residency Dates:

  • Saturday, March 30 / 9:30 PM
  • Saturday, April 20 / 9:30 PM
  • Saturday, May 25 / 9:30 PM
  • Saturday, June 29 / 9:30 PM
  • Saturday, July 27 / 9:30 PM
  • Saturday, August 31 / 9:30 PM

Multiple screenings are scheduled throughout the residency period, and all screenings will have exclusive merch for sale, like these cool shirts. Tickets are $15 (members pay $10).

Article exclusive to STREETS OF TORONTO