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Hot Docs Exodus: Artistic Director Exits and 10 Programmers Resign, a Month Before 2024 Festival

UPDATE: [7:45 PM ET]: Hot Docs announced that the festival’s artistic director Hussein Currimbhoy stepped down from his role on March 20 “due to personal reasons,” the festival told IndieWire in a statement following the mass exodus of programmers on Monday.

The festival said Currimbhoy was “fundamental in programming this year’s Festival” and that Heather Haynes, festival director, will lead the programming department ahead of the festival next month.

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The statement said merely, “Regrettably, some members of the programming team have decided not to participate in this year’s Festival. We thank them for their contributions.” It did not mention any of the individuals by name.

“We look forward to celebrating this year’s films with our audiences and bringing them together with filmmakers to share their important stories.”

Currimbhoy, who had stints at Sundance, Sheffield DocFest, the Melbourne Film Festival, and more, was named artistic director in November 2023 shortly after the appointment of president Marie Nelson in May 2023. Currimbhoy replaced Shane Smith, who was with the nonprofit organization for eight years.

Original Story: Ten programmers with the Toronto-based Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Film Festival resigned from the organization en masse, less than a month before the festival scheduled to take place April 25-May 5.

The 10 programmers shared a joint statement to social media on Monday announcing they were leaving, as first reported by Screen Daily. The programmers are Samah Ali, Vivian Belik, Jesse Cumming, Angie Driscoll, Margaret Pereira, Gabor Pertic, Kaitlynn Tomaselli, Myrocia Watamaniuk, Mariam Zaidi, and Yiqian Zhang.

“I have made the heartbreaking choice to exit the 2024 Hot Docs Festival,” each wrote. “I do so with 9 of my fellow colleagues, listed below. I will continue to fight for films and filmmakers — they are the bedrock of all film festivals, and the reason I do this job.”

While most of the programmers have been with the festival between one and four years, Watamaniuk, the senior international programmer for features, and Driscoll, the senior international programmer for features and shorts, have each been with the festival for over 20 years.

The festival has a previously scheduled press conference set for tomorrow, Tuesday, March 26, for its 2024 official selection announcement.

Hot Docs president Marie Nelson earlier in the month spoke with Toronto’s The Globe and Mail to say that the festival was dealing with “significant operational challenges” and that it was seeking financial support from government partners. The article noted that the Toronto International Film Festival, which last year lost its major sponsor in telecom provider Bell, received $14.1 million, or 31 percent of its annual revenue, from government grants. Hot Docs did not disclose how much it receives in government grants.

“In order for us to acknowledge the reality and seriousness of the situation, we need to let people know what’s at stake while there’s still an opportunity for us to find a fix. Or else it will be too late,” Nelson told the publication.

Hot Docs celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2023. The nonprofit organization also operates the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema and wanted to expand the theater with a second screen. However, the theater has struggled to maintain attendance post-pandemic and Globe and Mail reported that efforts to add the second screen were put on hold. The outlet also reported Hot Docs membership revenue was down 21 percent compared to the previous fiscal year and 31 percent compared to pre-pandemic.

Nelson joined the nonprofit as its president last year after longtime Hot Docs president Chris McDonald stepped down last May.

Anne Thompson contributed reporting.

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