The 2014 Hot Docs Intl. Documentary Festival will open April 24 in Toronto with the international premiere of Brian Knappenberger’s “The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz” (Film Buff/Participant Media).

The 21st annual Hot Docs docu fest, confab and mart will unspool 197 titles from 43 countries.

Special Presentations will present the world preems of Anthony Baxter’s “A Dangerous Game,” Chad Walker and Dave LaMattina’s “I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story,” Pavel Loparev and Askold Kurov’s “Children 404,” and Igal Hecht’s “The Sheik.”

In addition to the Swartz doc, U.S. titles making their international preem in the strand include “The Great Invisible,” “Whitey: United States of America V. James J. Bulger,” “To Be Takei,” “Captivated: The Trials of Pamela Smart,” “Fed Up,” “Happy Valley,” “Lady Valor: The Kristin Beck Story,” “Private Violence,” “The Overnighters,” “Point and Shoot,” “Rich Hill,” “We Are the Giant” and “Silenced.”

The Intl. Spectrum competish unspools 13 pics, and includes the world preems of Gabriel London’s “The Life and Mind of Mark Defriest,” Helen Simon’s “No Lullaby” and Eliza Kubarska’s “Walking Under Water.”

The 18-pic Canadian Spectrum competish includes the world preems of Thomas Wallner’s “Before the Last Curtain Falls,” Ray Klonsky and Marc Lamy’s “David and Me,” Vic Sarin’s “The Boy From Geita,” Julia Kwan’s “Everything Will Be,” Vincent Toi’s “I’ve Seen the Unicorn,” Madeleine Grant’s “The Backward Class,” John Kastner’s “Out of Mind, Out of Sight,” Grant Baldwin’s “Just Eat It: A Food Waste Story,” Tony Girardin’s “Marinoni,” Amar Wala’s “The Secret Trial 5” and Gregory Gan’s “The Theory of Happiness.”

The ongoing conversation about the dire state of one-off doc filmmaking in Canada will undoubtedly heat up Hot Docs again this year. For several years, Canuck docmakers and the Documentary Organization of Canada (the main advocacy org) have been sounding the alarm. Concerns were backed up in summer 2013 with the release of a study produced by DOC revealing a 25% decline in the Canadian English-language market between 2008-09 (591 pics) and 2010-11 (457 pics), as well as a 35 percent drop in English-language private caster licence fees — formerly a key component to Canuck docu financing — from  CAN$117 million in 2008-09 to $74 million in both 2009-10 and 2010-11.

A policy review conducted by the Canadian Media Fund and DOC and published last fall revealed that the CMF’s total English-language docu funding allotment was $24.6 million; 64% went to series, 34% to one-offs and 2% to digital media projects.

U.S. and international financing sources, as well as private financing and crowd-funding, are becoming increasingly important to independent Canuck doc film producers. Yet many of those who successfully access alternate financing sources are unable to access government tax credits and funding, which can represent a major financing component and which are triggered, primarily, by a license from a Canadian broadcaster.

“An overhaul to Canadian documentary financing system requires a change in tax law, which is not something that happens overnight,” commented DOC executive director Lisa Fitzgibbons, who told Variety that DOC will be releasing a research paper on the issue this spring.

“What’s frustrating is that audiences for these kinds of films are growing, and Hot Docs is a tangible moment where we get to see citizens coming out and wanting to engage with the subject matter that theatrical docs tackle,” Fitzgibbons continues.

More than 2,000 Canadian, U.S. and international delegates are expected to participate in the 2014 Hot Docs confab, which includes an array of sessions, workshops and meets, a keynote from Norman Lear Center director of research Johanna Blakley, and the annual two-day Hot Docs Forum pitch event. Official delegations from China, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Nordic Region, South Africa and the U.S. will be featured participants at the conference’s Intl. Co-Production Day.

Among the 19 projects selected to pitch at this year’s Forum are the U.S. titles “The Babushkas of Chernobyl,” “The Blind Cinema Club,” “A Blind Eye,” “(Dis)Honesty – The Truth About Lies” and “Wrestling Alligators.”

The Hot Docs festival runs April 24-May 4 in Toronto. The Conference run April 28-May 2, with Hot Docs Forum on April 30 and May 1.