On Leaving Hot Docs

Charlotte Cook
May 27, 2015 · 4 min read

Four years ago Chris McDonald and Brett Hendrie took a chance on a new Director of Programming who had an unusual background, and gave me the greatest opportunity — to celebrate filmmakers and their work at the highest level. The amount of trust and support they, and the entire Hot Docs team, have shown me over my time at the festival is something I will forever be grateful for.

I remember my first week in Toronto walking to work and getting the sense that I was exactly in the right place as I saw posters line the streets for a documentary being released and truly feeling that this city, and this country, gets documentary. They see documentaries as films, as cinematic art, and value this art form and method of storytelling in the way it deserves.

Over the last four years we’ve seen submissions for the festival increase to over 2500 on average every year. If I could screen every one of those submissions I would (and believe me I try my damnedest, watching around 1000 every year). Putting the selection together takes a huge amount of consideration. Those of you who’ve attended the festival with a film may have gotten a glimpse at the dedication of the programmers I’ve been privileged to work with. But their work at the festival is only a fraction of the work they do, the lion’s share goes into putting the programme together. Their passion and commitment to the films they screen is mind blowing, and it really is the heart of the programming process. I feel incredibly lucky to be have been part of their shared passion and commitment.

I came to Hot Docs from outside the festival world, and really didn’t feel that programming was about being a gatekeeper. For me, some of the most important parts of being a programmer are to support and encourage filmmakers, and to be collaborators in the launch and journey of a film. We are lovers of film first and foremost. We want to see the films we love succeed. To make sure that those filmmakers, whose work we love, get to keep making films, if nothing else but so we can watch them. I truly hope that that is the experience filmmakers have had working with the Hot Docs programming team.

It has also been incredibly important to me that filmmakers had a great experience at the festival. That we were there to ensure that they felt their time with us was rich both on stage and off. That they made new friends, supporters and accomplices, and whenever possible, had fun.

Over the last four years I’ve truly understood that working with filmmakers is my absolute favourite thing to do. And while I can’t share the details of my next move just yet, I can say that I will be working closely with filmmakers. Something I hope to have the honour to do for the rest of my life.

I’m not a believer in high or lowbrow art, and I don’t believe there have to be different audiences for the art house or the blockbuster. Coming into the festival I wanted to make sure every year was a huge celebration of that particular year’s work from all corners of the world, and from as many different perspectives as possible. The depth and breadth of everything possible in this art form that we love so much. That documentary is not a genre, that it can just as likely enlighten and inspire as it can surprise and entertain. That there was something for everyone, and that taking a chance on a film was worth it because it may well become a film that shakes you, moves you and remains something you think about for years to come.

For as long as I can remember I have always adored showing people work I love. One of my absolute favourite things to do at the festival has been to sneak into the back of a film that challenged an audience, or had a unique approach to the story it was telling. I have always been obsessed with audiences, and why people watch what they watch or like what they like.

The feeling of standing in the back of a packed theatre and seeing an entire room of people captivated by a film I love is incomparable.

The Hot Docs audience are amazing. If you’ve been to the festival you know this. They take weeks off work to attend the festival. They stand in lines in the pouring rain and they ask thoughtful, considerate and whip smart questions. They come along with us for the ride, take chances and are fierce supporters of what we do. The trust they put in us is something we take extremely seriously. Hot Docs is a community festival and our audience is incredibly importance to us. I look forward to seeing the Hot Docs audience grow and I want to say a huge thank you to every single one of them, for taking the time to support the work we care about.

The last four years at Hot Docs have been a dream come true. Being given the incredible opportunity to see and celebrate amazing films and filmmakers every day has been an absolute joy. I’m very sad to be saying goodbye, but I leave with a huge sense of gratitude and an endless supply of incredible memories.

A huge thank you to everyone who supported a young Brit with a passion for showing films and celebrating those who make them. And I can’t wait to share my next adventure with you all.

Charlotte x

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