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2021 Industry Conference Overview with Lisa Valencia-Svensson

The 2021 Hot Docs industry conference is about reimaging the role of documentary storytelling in a world that has, in the past year, faced multiple crises on many levels. The conference asks us all to consider what it will take to build a more representative and equitable documentary ecosystem, so that the often overlooked stories and perspectives, which are crucial to our full understanding of our world and of the challenges we seek to overcome, are finally given the focus and resources they deserve.

Some of the questions the 2021 industry conference seeks to explore include: How to apply, at a deep and thorough level, principles of equity and social justice to all aspects of our industry? What does it mean to push past conventional western forms of storytelling? What forms of storytelling best serve underrepresented communities when we tell stories from within our own communities and centre our own histories and experiences?

It was important for our speaker lineup to be heavily weighted toward underrepresented voices. We wanted to see what it would mean to practice prioritizing those voices. Throughout the conference, we will hear from many speakers who, despite their often extensive experience, are not traditionally considered to be "experts."

It was also important that we make this year's conference sessions free and accessible to the documentary community worldwide, to welcome new and underrepresented voices and to lower barriers of entry so everyone is able to participate in these vital conversations. All conference sessions, including keynotes, panel discussions and masterclasses, as well as Micro Meetings and the exhibitor marketplace, are available for free from April 29 to May 9 to anyone who registers.

Those who wish can purchase an All-Access Online Pass to gain access to watch Hot Docs Forum pitches and feedback, Close Up With... sessions, a variety of networking events, as well as the Guide to Decision Makers and The Doc Shop viewing library, which includes selections from the 2021 Hot Docs Festival. The All-Access Online Pass gives you extended access to conference content, as well as the All-Access exclusive content, until May 31.

As part of Hot Docs' commitment to accessibility, all live and pre-recorded sessions will be offered with closed captioning. The Hot Docs Forum, Close Ups, and Micro Meetings will also be close captioned.

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CONFERENCE HIGHLIGHTS

As part of the conference, we're thrilled to feature A Conversation with Jenna Wortham, as well as masterclasses with Stanley Nelson, Jennifer Holness and Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers. Each will discuss their work to cultivate and uplift Black, Indigenous and other marginalized voices.

Several other conversations and panels of note include the following. We encourage you to explore our full conference lineup.

What's the Responsibility of the Doc World?
In this open conversation with IDFA artistic director Orwa Nyrabia, Sundance Documentary Film Program director Carrie Lozano, and myself, we will dive into the question of what responsibility IDFA, Sundance and Hot Docs have within the documentary industry and the wider world, given the challenges of the pandemic, economic upheaval, and a racial reckoning. How do we want to serve our world? What shifts do we want to push for in the industry?

Cinema for Care
Director Loira Limbal, in conversation with writer Yasmina Price, will discuss Limbal's tremendous documentary Through the Night, which looks at a community of Black and Latina women in New York state running and making use of a 24-hour home daycare. The film gives testimony to the unheralded strength of these women and brings to light how the labour of care is absolutely taken for granted in our capitalist world. In her work, Limbal explores not only tenderness as a politic, but also as an aesthetic. This will be a wonderful conversation and will provide deep insights into care as a filmmaking practice.

FWD-Doc Toolkit for Inclusion and Accessibility: Changing the Narrative of Disability in Documentary Film
Reveca Torres and Kyla Harris, two filmmakers with disabilities, are joined by ally Shanida Scotland, to talk about the toolkit that FWD-Doc created to address questions of inclusion and accessibility in the documentary world. They'll speak in-depth about what it means to be disabled filmmakers, what it means to tell stories from their points of view, and what is lost when their experiences are captured by those who don't experience disability.

This Was My Oscar Campaign
Directors Sami Khan and Smitri Mundhra and producer Poh Si Teng, in conversation with publicist David Magdael, will discuss their 2020 Oscar-nominated short doc St. Louis Superman. They'll chat about what goes into creating an Oscar campaign, what it was like to be a crew of colour navigating the award system, and the strategies behind their success.

Leveraging your Online Premiere
Oscar-nominated Crip Camp directors Jim Lebrecht and Nicole Newnham and Landfall director Cecilia Aldarondo share their experiences launching their films online at the start of the pandemic, and the frustrations and opportunities that resulted. Their candid discussion on how to make films more accessible to audiences, both online and in person, is one that the whole filmmaking community should embrace.

Pocket Concert: Fanny
Last, but certainly not least, we are offering a pocket concert with Fanny, the all-women American rock group featured in Fanny: The Right to Rock, directed by Bobbi Jo Hart. The concert will be hosted by Filipinx American rapper Ruby Ibarra and will be an uplifting celebration of all of the subjects featured in the films of Hot Docs 2021.


There has been much discussion of how we will all "go back to normal" after the havoc of the pandemic. Yet that normal was a terrible normal for millions who have lived under oppression and injustice for decades or even centuries. When we prioritize the voices we often don't hear, we have a much better understanding of how we want to rebuild our documentary industry into one that truly reflects the kaleidoscope of all of our lives, that doesn't shy away from exploring the hard truths in our societies, and that centres the wisdom of all of our experiences.

Lisa Valencia-Svensson
Acting Industry Programs Director, Hot Docs

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