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The Hot Docs Forum, the festival’s industry centerpiece, wrapped Wednesday with its most lively awards announcements in recent memory—complete with flamenco guitar, song and dance courtesy of Spain, this year’s country in focus—as hundreds of industry delegates assembled under the sun in the courtyard of Toronto’s Hart House.

Elaine Epstein’s “Arrest the Midwife”—one of 20 projects presented to key funders and decision-makers as well as filmmakers, producers and other observers at the two-day Forum pitch event—won the First Look first prize of Can $20,000 cash. Produced through Epstein’s Underdog Films (U.S.), with producers Robin Hessman and Ruth Ann Harnisch, the film follows the arrest of three midwives serving Amish and Mennonite communities, which spurs an unlikely group of activists to join the fight for reproductive rights.

First Look is a curated access program for philanthropic supporters of and investors in documentary film. Pitch prizes are decided on by program participants and awarded to filmmakers to support them in completing their films and creating lasting social impact for the causes associated with their work.

Anna Bogoliubova’s “Autumn of the Patriarch,” a dystopian doc exploring survival strategies of people who live inside the modern Russian dictatorship, won the First Look second prize of $10,000. Producers are Torstein Grude Ruwê Yuxinawá, Oddleiv Vik, Raphael Pëlissou, Valérie Montmartin, Iikka Vehkalahti and Sinisa Juricic.

Juanjo Pereira’s “Under the Flags, the Sun,” which reconstructs Paraguay’s untold history using film material found around the world, won the First Look third prize of Can. $5,000. The producers are Paula Zyngierman, Ivana Urízar, Gabriela Sabaté, Leandro Listorti and Juanjo Pereira.

The CMF-Hot Docs Forum Canadian Pitch Prize was awarded to Ngardy Conteh George’s “This Land of Ours,” produced by George and this year’s Don Haig winner Alison Duke of Oya Media Group Inc. The Can. $10,000 cash prize, presented in partnership with the Canada Media Fund, is awarded to the best Canadian pitch and is intended to go toward the production and completion of the winning project.

The Cuban Hat Award—the popular “real cash, no strings attached” prize for the best pitch as decided by Forum attendee ballots and assembled by the literal and metaphorical passing of a hat—was awarded to U.S. filmmaker Emma Francis-Snyder’s “Anatomy of a Life,” which explores the end of life, as imagined by the dying and as experienced by the ones they are leaving behind.

In addition to the 20 projects, representing 22 countries, pitched at the Forum, another 58 projects were pitched by their teams to more than 900 pre-arranged meetings to more than 100 decision-makers during Deal Maker, the Festival’s one-on-one curated pitch event, which ends Thursday.

More than 1,400 registered delegates, including more than 200 decision-makers from 69 countries, participated in this year’s live industry programs. Hot Docs also hosted official delegations from Ontario, Manitoba, Chile, Italy and Spain.

The Hot Docs Canadian Intl. Documentary Festival continues to May 5 in Toronto.



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