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Hot Docs Festival Taps Into Virtual Reality

The 22nd annual Hot Docs festival, which kicked off April 23,  is tapping into the reignited interest and recent developments in virtual reality.

Hot Docs’ new DocX strand includes a free exhibit of four Canadian shorts using 3D stereoscopic video, Oculus Rift Technology and Samsung Gear VR headsets: the Mongolia-set “Herders” and “Strangers With Patrick Watson” from Montreal VR content-creators Felix & Paul Studios, and “Polar Sea 360°” (the newest component of a Canada-Germany co-production on climate change) and concert experience “Songs of Freedom” from Thomas Wallner’s shingle Deep 360.

“We’ve been tracking a lot of the new work happening in the VR space, and despite increased media attention, it hasn’t had much public exhibition, at least not in Toronto,” says Hot Docs executive director Brett Hendrie. Feedback from DocX auds will be a bonus for filmmakers approaching the challenge of creating narrative experience and character engagement in the VR world.

All next week, confab delegates can get intimate with VR in a lounge powered by the Canadian Film Centre’s Media Lab, the renowned interactive storytelling institute led by founding director Ana Serrano, who’s also hosting an open-mic townhall on VR and docs.

“Technology development has increased the number of access points for VR, so we’re exposing creators to VR through guided experiences so they can learn how it’s different from gaming and film, and how it lends itself to documentary,” says Hot Docs industry programs director Elizabeth Radshaw.

Ink Stories founder Navid Khonsari — who moved to Canada from Iran at age 10 and directed several blockbuster videogame titles during his five years at Rockstar Games — chats up the ideas and process behind his soon-to-be-released documentary game, “1979 Revolution,” in another confab session exploring new frontiers for doc storytelling.

The fest’s longstanding commitment to value-added screenings hits a high note this year with the participation of a record 95% of Hot Docs filmmakers and over 50 guests — among them, Fugees rapper Pras Michel (“Sweet Micky for President”), Olympic gold medal-winning boxer Claressa Shields (“T-Rex”), Utah SWAT-team founder William Lawrence (SXSW doc competish winner “Peace Officer”), young indigenous activist and lawyer Caleb Behn (the world-preeming “Fractured Land”), anti-cult crusader Ted Patrick (the fresh-out-of-post “Deprogrammed”), disguise-wearing, corruption-exposing Ghanaian journo Anas Aremeyaw Anas (“Chameleon”), members of the Middle East’s first all-women race car team (“Speed Sisters”), and the four young men who ride adopted wild mustangs on a 3,000-mile trek across five states in the world-preeming “Unbranded.”

Hot Docs director of programming Charlotte Cook proudly points out that close to half the titles on the 2015 slate are directed or co-directed by women — from veterans such as Kim Longinotto (“Dreamcatcher”), Shelley Saywell (“Lowdown Tracks”) and Liz Garbus (“What Happened, Miss Simone?”) to first-time feature helmers such as Karen Guthrie (“The Closer We Get”), Anna Sandilands (who, with Ewan McNicol, just nabbed Tribeca’s Albert Maysles New Documentary Director Award for “Uncertain”), Brooklyn-based Jessica Edwards (“Mavis”) and her Canadian name-sharer, Toronto-based Jessica Edwards (“Stay Awhile”).

New doc cinema from India takes the spotlight in this year’s Made In program, fest opener “Tig” and “Live From New York!” screen in the pop-up sidebar Show Me Funny, and “Lanzmann” and “Original Copy” world preem in another pop-up showcasing docs about cinema.

While market activity — including confab centerpiece the Hot Docs Forum (the high-profile “The Jazz Ambassadors” is among 20 committee-selected projects being pitched) and face-to-face sessions like Distributor Rendezvous — has yet to unfold officially, Toronto’s based Blue Ice Docs snapped up Canuck rights to “Deprogrammed” and “Around the World in 50 Concerts” just before the fest.

Hot Docs kicked off April 23 and ends May 3.


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