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Charlie Lyne blogs from Hot Docs

Charlie takes over Hot Docs with Ross Sutherland

April 2015

Filmmaker and journalist Charlie Lyne is one of a significant group of UK documentary makers in Toronto this week for the prestigious Hot Docs Film Festival. Here he blogs about the premiere of both the films he's representing - and he'll check in again later in the week as the festival unspools to report back on how the UK selection compares against international counterparts.

On Christmas morning two years ago, my phone buzzed with an e-mail from Charlotte Cook, director of programming at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival. It relayed the news that my first film Beyond Clueless had been invited to play at the festival, making it the first acceptance I’d received for a film that - at the time - I assumed would probably have its premiere in the basement of a pub round the back of Euston station. That made the news significant enough in the moment, but in hindsight the fact that a senior member of the festival’s staff would take the time to invite a film on December 25th was a good window into the personal approach that this increasingly huge festival somehow manages to maintain.

This year, I’m back at Hot Docs with my new short film Copycat, as well as Ross Sutherland’s feature-length VHS commentary Stand by for Tape Back-Up, which I edited and produced. Two days in, it’s clear that the unique atmosphere of the festival hasn’t faded, even as it grows ever larger. This year, 210 documentaries from 45 countries are playing across 10 days, stats that put Hot Docs among the most colossal film festivals in the world. And yet, thanks to a number of small but significant gestures, the organisers manage to conjure up the mood of a much smaller, quirkier festival - a conversational atmosphere at a house rave. Something as small as a daily e-mail sent from Cook to the attending filmmakers, updating them on that day’s events, can make you feel strangely at ease, even if you’re an inexperienced filmmaker 3500 miles from home.

Last year, the IFP Festival Forum produced a long-overdue list of Best Practices for film festivals ( which including a number of seemingly obvious but often ignored guidelines for fests. The idea that festivals should make clear in advance exactly how much of a filmmaker’s travel and accommodation costs they’re willing to cover might not seem outlandish, but I’ve been stunned to discover how many festivals don’t make the effort to do so. Like most major fests, Hot Docs covers international flights for feature filmmakers, but not those presenting shorts, which is why the British Council’s Short Film Travel Grant Fund is so useful to fledgling filmmakers trying to make a mark at festivals (if nothing else, it lets them imagine a world in which short films can actually yield money).

Tonight, both of the films I contributed to had their premieres at Toronto’s Lightbox theatre, where an enthusiastic crowd of documentary fans watched these weird, lo-fi films play out. Both Copycat and Stand by for Tape Back-Up have a VHS aesthetic that's almost surrealist when blown up to massive proportions, so more than one audience member seemed entirely baffled as to what they’d got themselves into. I’m hoping to feel the same way as I explore some of the other films in the programme tomorrow.

Check back here at the end of the week to read more about Charlie's time at Hot Docs - and find out a little more about Charlie by reading his Spotlight.

The UK films at Hot Docs 2015
There are an unprecedented 21 UK productions and co-productions in Hot Docs this year (12 features including 2 World Premieres, 9 shorts, 2 of which are World Premieres). 18 UK directors will be there, many supported to attend either by means of a British Council/BFI Travel Grant or via contribution from colleagues at Britsh Council's Canada office.

Hot Docs runs from 23 April-3 May.

Attacking The Devil
Chuck Norris vs Communism

How To Change The World
Listen To Me Marlon
Monty Python: The Meaning Of Live
Orion: The Man Who Would Be King
Stand By For Tape Back-Up
The Closer We Get
The Creeping Garden
They Will Have To Kill Us First

Born To Be Mild
Dear Araucaria
Karachi Stories: Graveyard for Giants
The Last Smallholder
Mend and Make Do
Of The Unknown

See the full Hot Docs programme here.