News heats up documentaries

Bin Laden death fuels Hot Docs entries

Documentaries may tell the stories behind the headlines, but sometimes headlines give docus unexpected traction.

At this year’s Hot Docs fest, confab and mart, the world preem of “The Guantanamo Trap,” Thomas Selim Wallner’s exploration of Gitmo’s complex legacy, enjoyed sell-out auds and lively Q&As thanks in no small part to the death of Osama bin Laden.

And at the Toronto Documentary Forum, the fest’s two-day industry centerpiece, which wrapped Wednesday, director Mohammed Ali Naqvi (“Shame”) and producer Jared Goldman inspired heated discussion among international funders during their pitch for “Pride.” Docu traces the fall and renewed political ambitions of controversial former Pakistan leader Pervez Musharraf.

Toronto’s auds were not distracted by media coverage of overlapping events such as the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, bin Laden’s demise and the Canadian federal election. Fest organizers reported a historic number of sellouts despite having expanded venues to include the new TIFF Bell Lightbox cinemas and confidently predict record auds once the 11-day fest wraps Sunday after unspooling 200 pics from 43 countries.

“The appetite for docs in our public and at large is increasing,” said Hot Docs Forum and market director Elizabeth Radshaw. She says half of the 200 projects submitted to TDF were at rough cut stage, as opposed to a quarter of 175 submissions last year.

“Fewer and fewer broadcasters are financing feature-length documentaries,” she continues. “(TDF) was designed during the heyday of broadcaster commissioning, and while they’ll always be the bread and butter, we’re continuing to adapt the event to reflect how films are being financed today.”

Dan Cogan, co-founder and exec director of Impact Partners (involved in financing “The Cove” and other high-profile docus), was one of several reps from investor-driven docu funds at the table. He also introduced David France’s “How To Survive a Plague,” now in post, which received the most enthusiastic response from broadcasters on TDF’s opening day.

The pic tells the story of Gotham bohos who changed the prognosis for AIDS victims through their research-driven activism.

But issue-oriented docus weren’t the only hits during TDF.

Peter Miller’s “Doc Pomus” (Clear Lake Historical Prods.), about the life of one of America’s greatest blues singers and songwriters, took the C$40,000 ($41,500) Shaw Media-Hot Docs Forum pitch prize for best Canuck pitch.

Docu buying activity kickstarted at Sundance, and sustained through SXSW and Tribeca, continued apace at Hot Docs with rights secured for several titles during the fest.

New Video nabbed North America for double Sundance winner “Hell and Back Again”; Seventh Art did the same plus worldwide TV rights for Berlin Panorama aud winner “In Heaven, Underground”; Showtime took U.S. exhib rights for “Fightville,” which world preemed at SXSW; and PBS Intl. acquired worldwide TV rights (excluding U.S.) for Dan Sturman and Dylan Nelson’s world-preeming “The Hollywood Complex,” which follows hopeful thesps during pilot season.

Filmswelike nabbed Canuck rights for “Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop” and “The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye,” as did VSC for “Limelight” and KinoSmith for “El Bulli: Cooking in Progress.”

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