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Welcome to the 2021 Hot Docs Forum & Deal Maker

This year marks the 22nd edition of the Hot Docs Forum, Hot Docs' flagship industry event, and the 9th edition of Hot Docs Deal Maker. And either could be a launching pad for your documentary.

We strive to unite our documentary community—the filmmakers and decision makers that make up our special ecosystem. We believe in facilitating opportunities for you to exchange ideas, and that your skills as storytellers will spark amazing co-productions and partnerships. Our commitment to this manifests in cash prizes awarded to pitch teams and millions in deals from connections made at the Forum and Deal Maker. We are grateful to be part of your documentary journey.

Hot Docs Forum and Deal Maker are the same application process. When applying, you will be asked to indicate the program(s) for which you’d like your project to be considered. Applications for Hot Docs Forum + Deal Maker are due January 4, and both programs will take place online during the 2021 Festival in May.


What are Hot Docs Forum & Deal Maker?

Called "the world series of documentary financing," by Indiewire, the Hot Docs Forum is a dynamic live event where pre-selected projects are pitched for co-production financing to a roundtable of leading commissioning editors, film fund representatives, financiers, programming executives, angel investors, and delegates from around the globe.

Partnered with the Forum is Hot Docs Deal Maker, a one-on-one pitch meeting program for producers seeking development or production financing from the international marketplace.

In 2020, 22 Forum projects representing 18 countries were pitched to key commissioning editors and funders, before participating in pre-arranged Deal Maker meetings. An additional 33 projects representing 18 countries were pitched in 800 Deal Maker meetings to 80 decision makers.

Pitching can have a huge impact on a filmmaker's career. Documentary is a business of relationships and pitching events are essential networking/marketing opportunities. Events like these offer direct financing, access to the market, networking, and education in financing and production.

For observers, public pitches are an education in film funding, storytelling, teamwork and how the doc community functions. Insights shared at the table give observers information about the landscape, funders' needs, how projects come together, and provide a window to trends and tastes in the marketplace.

These events are also opportunities for us to come together and share our stories. The people you connect with will inspire you and become cheerleaders throughout your career.

Prizes & Financing

At the 2020 Hot Docs Forum, over $57,000 in no-strings-attached cash prizes was awarded to filmmakers.


How does the Forum work?

The premise of the Forum is simple: During two mornings (Tuesday, May 4 and Wednesday, May 5), the teams have seven minutes to pitch their projects to the world's leading commissioning editors, financiers, and industry professionals. These 7-minute pitches are recorded in advance of the online event. Following the pitch, each team receives eight minutes of live feedback and, in some cases, on-the-spot financial commitments.

The teams also participate in Deal Maker meetings, held during the afternoons on Tuesday, May 5 to Thursday, May 7, with decision makers.

We guarantee that teams come out of the Forum with more skills and connections, as well as the opportunity to secure financing deals for their projects. In addition to the chance of being financed, the market validation accrued throughout the experience is significant. Many teams profit from access to the players in the global documentary market, creating working relationships with decision makers for future films.

If you are considering applying, please keep in mind that not all projects are suited for a big, public debut. Consider the timing, topics and production schedule of your project. Ask yourself: What are my goals for this film? What kind of partnerships/financing am I seeking? Am I prepared to present to a room of decision makers? Am I ready to commit to partnerships?

How does Deal Maker work?

Deal Maker is a one-on-one pitch meeting program for teams seeking financing from the international marketplace. Up to 35 selected projects will attend meetings with over 80 of the world's leading commissioning editors, acquisitions executives, film funds and foundations.

Like the Forum, Deal Maker is looking for stories in all genres with international appeal, outstanding protagonists, and a solid team. We are also looking for all formats, including series, as well as smart science, history, and high art/culture programming.

Unlike the Forum, you do not need a minimum amount of financing to apply, nor do you need a market partner already on board. Deal Maker also provides a private and candid environment for producers and buyers to develop a working relationship for both current and future projects.


What makes a good pitch?

Your approach to pitching will vary depending on topic and what you're looking to accomplish; however, a few generalizations can be made about successful pitches:

1. The filmmakers have access to a unique subject and/or protagonist. They have delineated clear and creative storytelling that is compelling to a wide array of international decision makers and viewers.

2. The team works as a unit and gives the audience confidence in their partnership. They are prepared to speak to their roles, know what they are looking for, have a solid knowledge of the players in the room, and are ready to answer questions about a variety of relevant topics including the validity of the budget, the access to protagonists and stories, and the feasibility of delivering the film according to the projected timeline.

3. The team clearly delineates what will be shown on screen, avoiding jargon and metaphor. They are able to speak to the unique value of the film and understand how it fits into the documentary landscape.

4. If seeking broadcaster support, teams are prepared to speak to both a feature length version and a 52-minute (or TV length) version of the film, the latter of which may be a requirement from a broadcast partner.

5. The pitch is matched with compelling visual materials that give decision makers a taste of the filmmaking and an understanding of the topic and/or subjects.

6. The team follows up on feedback they receive around the table following their pitch. In today's shifting market, checks are no longer written on the spot and in many ways the hard work starts after you pitch.


From the international community

"An extraordinary marketing opportunity and chance for you to create buzz not only about your current project, ‎but buzz about yourself as a filmmaker... I can't begin to tell you the number of times that a project that left me cold when I read the treatment, surprised me and ended up being the one I invested in after I saw it pitched publicly." — Catherine Olsen, Doc Consultant; Former Commissioning Editor, CBC's The Passionate Eye

"The Forum gives filmmakers a unique opportunity to present their work not only to a panel of experts sitting formally around the decision makers table, but also to their peers, funders, and supporters in the room. It builds a network of support for each project. To be selected to pitch at Hot Docs helps filmmakers sharpen the focus of their film and validates that this is a project of significance that you must pay attention to." — Simon Kilmurry, Executive Director, IDA

"As someone who has sat at that long Forum table—both as film director who is pitching and as a broadcaster/funder who is listening to other filmmakers pitch—I cannot say enough about the tremendous opportunity the Hot Docs Forum presents to figure out how to make people excited about you and the story you’re trying to tell. The energy in the room is incredible and two hundred onlookers will focus the mind." — Noland Walker, Senior Content Director, ITVS; Co-Curator, Independent Lens

"Foreign pre-buys and/or co-productions can help spur increased domestic funding, which is something every project should look into." — Jason Ishikawa, Head of International Sales, Cinetic

From filmmakers

"A fantastic opportunity that helped me greatly. I am so grateful." — Nanfu Wang

"Presenting at the Forum and pitching at Deal Maker is a mini world-stage. It focuses your project while making it known. An invaluable practice for filmmakers, interacting with peers and the market." — Liz Marshall

"There's really nothing like the experience of presenting at the Hot Docs Forum. All the commissioners you are chasing and trying to get five minutes with are all focused on your project—at least for a critical seven minutes! It’s terrifying but fun." — Dawn Porter

"When working on a film one can often feel alone and isolated in the years it takes to get a film made and out into the world. Our coming out party at Hot Docs Forum 2018 gave us a huge shot in the arm for the project and opened the doors to dozens of people and organizations who are now interested in the film and tracking it, so thanks to Hot Docs for this amazing opportunity! The Forum was one of the best experiences I have had in my filmmaking career!" — Dana Nachman

"The Hot Docs Forum was one of the most exceptional experiences we had while birthing the film! To have the opportunity to share—and essentially test—the story with international discussion makers while we were still in progress was a tremendous, and deeply impactful, privilege. The Forum was the perfect way to connect with buyers—both before and after our pitch—and not only were the meetings terrific, but since Hot Docs they have borne real fruit!" — Paula Eiselt

"We raised $233,000 USD in grants, all from organizations we met with at Hot Docs. Pitching in the Forum raised the profile of our film and helped us make the most of the table meetings." — Jessica Devaney

"We were very tense before we pitched. As one of the first Kenyan teams to do so, we wondered what the reception would be like. It was an epic experience. Participating in the Hot Docs Forum opened up a lot of doors that, as African filmmakers, we thought were impossible to open. This included a co-production with one of the largest public broadcasters in the world, a first for a Kenyan feature documentary. Multiple-award-winning production company EyeSteelFilm have come on board and we have also secured over $150,000 USD in funding (and counting!) thanks to the supportive and safe space given to share our project. Our fear has turned to great optimism and we would encourage more African projects to give it a shot." — Sam Soko

"Hot Docs is a wonderful place to receive valued feedback, connect to new partners and catch up with old friends. Great people, great atmosphere. Thank you Hot Docs!" — Antje Boehmert

"The support I received at Hot Docs Forum, both from the team and the table, is something that I will always remember. I wish all filmmakers to receive as much as I did when they begin their adventure with international documentary market." — Ana Brzezinska

"We were impressed by the numbers of money sitting outside the realms of traditional broadcasting and felt very welcomed by all." — Jesper Jack

"Awesome audience, inspiring filmmakers, dynamic ideas. Hot Docs is a great barometer not only for the state of play in documentary, but for what matters in the world today." — Anna Broinowski

"Hot Docs is the best and most important place in the world to introduce yourself—and your work—to the larger documentary community." — Leslie Lee

"Still the most effective and efficient way to announce a new film, meet all potential partners in one place, and get it financed. The forum is a cornerstone of our business." — Bob Moore

"We really like the Hot Docs Forum staff who worked so hard to help the filmmakers to match make with the right funders." — Violet Feng

"Hot Docs is a key market for us. It is an amazing opportunity to get your film in front of global decision makers. It's impeccably organised and a fantastic experience as a filmmaker." — Madelaine Hetherton

"As a first time filmmaker, pitching and navigating the industry can be pretty overwhelming. But we were so fortunate to have our experience at Hot Docs Deal Maker, working with the team every step of the way to guide us through the process, introducing us to amazing people in the industry, and helping form relationships that eventually led to incredible opportunities for us. We couldn't be more thankful for our experience and for all the hard work the team puts into making filmmakers feel supported." — Zeshawn Ali

Hot Docs Success Stories

  • Lin Alluna's Twice Colonized
  • Hnin Ei Hlaing's Midwives
  • Bo McGuire's Socks on Fire: Uncle John and the Copper Headed Water Rattlers
  • Brett Story's The Hottest August
  • Sean Fine and Andrea Nix's Academy Award®-winning Inocente
  • Paula Eiselt's 93Queen
  • Robert Greene's Bisbee ’17
  • Erika Cohn's The Judge
  • Anjali Nayar and Hawa Essuman's Silas
  • David France's How to Survive a Plague
  • Frederick Wiseman's In Jackson Heights
  • Kirsten Johnson's Cameraperson
  • Samba Gadjigo and Jason Silverman's Sembene!
  • John Maloof's Finding Vivian Maier
  • Morgan Neville's Best of Enemies
  • Mor Loushy's Censored Voices
  • Ari Folman's Waltz With Bashir
  • John Christou and Yung Chang's Up the Yangtze
  • Jason Osder's Let the Fire Burn
  • Sam Green and Marc Smolowitz's The Weather Underground
  • Kirby Dick's Chain Camera
  • Liz Garbus and Mary Manhardt's Girlhood
  • Joe Berlinger's Grey Matter
  • Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbott's The Corporation
  • Dawn Porter's Gideon's Army
  • and many, many more!

How do I submit?

Applications for Hot Docs Forum and Deal Maker are open.

New this year, Hot Docs Forum and Deal Maker are the same application process. When applying, you will be asked to indicate the program(s) for which you’d like your project to be considered.

Applications are due January 4, 2021. Both Forum and Deal Maker will take place online during the 2021 Hot Docs Festival in May.

> Forum submission guidelines

> Deal Maker submission guidelines


What if my project isn't ready for Forum or Deal Maker?

Hot Docs has a $10-million portfolio of funds, including:

And if your film is in the final stages (rough cut, final cut), we encourage you to apply to Distribution Rendezvous, one-on-one meetings with international sales agents and distributors. Submissions to Distribution Rendezvous open January 21, 2021.

We hope to see you at Hot Docs!

- Dorota Lech
Industry Programmer & Forum Producer

Dorota Lech produces the Hot Docs Forum. Since 2013, she has worked for the Toronto International Film Festival, where she is the Lead Programmer of the Discovery section and the International Programmer of Central and Eastern European cinema. Dorota is also a programmer at the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival and previously held positions at The National Film Board of Canada and the World Congress of Science & Factual Producers. She holds a double M.A. in Political Science and Gender Studies from McGill University. You can find her on twitter @dorotamischka.


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Presenting Platinum Partner

  • logo Scotia Wealth Management

Founding Partner

  • logo Rogers

Signature Partner

  • Logo Cbc Gem

Presenting Partners

  • logo Crave
  • logo Netflix

Major Supporters

  • logo Celebrate Ontario
  • logo telefilm