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Hot Docs News

Hot Docs Names Emmy Award-Winning Doc and News Executive Marie Nelson Its New President

Hot Docs Board of Directors is pleased to announce that Marie Nelson has been named the organization’s new president. Starting June 1, Ms. Nelson will assume responsibility for the strategic leadership and management of the annual Hot Docs festival, conference and market, the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema and the organization’s year-round industry and public facing initiatives and activities. The announcement comes at the opening of industry week at the 30th annual Hot Docs Festival, April 27- May 7, where over 1,800 delegates from more than 40 countries have gathered for a dynamic slate of networking and market events and Toronto audiences are flocking to screenings of over 200 outstanding documentaries.

"Marie is a dynamic leader with a proven track record of supporting filmmakers, growing and diversifying audiences and lifting powerful and yet often unheard voices into national discussion, which makes her ideally suited to lead Hot Docs into its next chapter," said Lalita Krishna, co-chair of Hot Docs Board of Directors.

"She is well-known and respected in the international industry for her passion and commitment, along with her sharp insights and strategic skill at establishing organizational frameworks that empower original storytelling," added co-chair Robin Mirsky. "On behalf of the entire board, we're thrilled to welcome her to the team, and we look forward to working with her to realize the incredible opportunities ahead."

"For me, having the chance to link arms with Hot Docs was an unequivocal swipe right. From my first trip to Toronto for the festival and its legendary pitch forum, it was love at first sight," said Marie Nelson. "Hot Docs has earned its reputation as a beacon for the global documentary filmmaking community and their audiences by fostering a sense of home and supporting the best in the genre year-round. I am so energized to begin working with my colleagues at Hot Docs to continue innovating and building an even more inclusive and dynamic future for our storytellers.”

Ms. Nelson is a media veteran with decades of experience in independent documentary film, news, and broadcasting. She has held senior positions at American networks, including most recently as Senior Vice President at ABC News/Disney where she led a brand and content strategy that pioneered and developed inclusive and diverse-led content for television, streaming and film audiences. She successfully built multicultural audiences, launching groundbreaking, Emmy award-winning nonfiction programs like the ABC/Hulu/Disney+/Star series “Soul of a Nation” that doubled the diverse audience composition of ABC’s primetime slate and captured 11 Emmy nominations.

Ms. Nelson partnered with teams across The Walt Disney Company and Nikole Hannah Jones, Oprah Winfrey, Harpo, The New York Times, and Lionsgate to secure and develop the Pulitzer prize-winning “The 1619 Project” docuseries for Hulu Originals. Prior to ABC News, Ms. Nelson was Vice President for News and Independent Film at PBS where she oversaw programming for such prestigious documentary series as Frontline, Independent Lens and POV. During her tenure, those series produced several Academy Award nominated and short-listed feature films, including “I Am Not Your Negro”, “Abacus”, “Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution”, “One Child Nation”, and “Minding the Gap.” She has also held executive positions at WGBH in Boston, National Public Radio as well as at Viacom/BET Networks.

In addition to her extensive media experience, Ms. Nelson has served with government, non-profit and development organizations, including serving in two U.S. presidential administrations. For the Obama Administration, she was appointed to lead public diplomacy efforts for the President’s Special Envoy to Sudan in the U.S. Department of State. Under the Clinton Administration, Ms. Nelson was the international affairs director for U.S. Presidential Envoy to Africa, Rev. Jesse L. Jackson. Working with Rev. Jackson, she planned and executed the international civilian-led diplomatic mission that resulted in the release of 3 U.S. POWs during the international conflict in Kosovo. She holds a Master of Public Policy degree from the Harvard Kennedy School and a B.A. in Political Science and Women’s Studies from Duke University. Her work has been recognized by Emmy, Peabody, Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite, and NAACP Image awards.

Ms. Nelson was selected for the position after a months-long international search. She assumes leadership from interim co-executive directors Erin Lau and Paul Lewis, whom the board thanks for their exceptional hard work and leadership throughout the transition.

After 25 years, first as Executive Director and then as President, Chris McDonald has decided to step back from his role on the Executive team. The Board of Directors thanks him for his immeasurable contributions to the organization's remarkable growth. In the early years, Mr. McDonald expanded the Festival's public screenings, established the Hot Docs Forum and launched key programs and initiatives, including Docs For Schools and Hot Docs' film fund portfolio. In 2012, he negotiated a partnership that saw Hot Docs renovate, operate and program the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema and, in 2016, he negotiated the purchase of the facility. He will continue to work with Hot Docs in a voluntary capacity on special projects.

Photo credit: Mimi Ho

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