News / Toronto

Hot Docs program director talks being a film nerd, and the artistic aspects of documentaries

Follow along as Andrew takes an intriguing person out for a night on the town, visiting some of Toronto’s newest hot spots and offering tips on how you can create your own date night.

I was excited about going on a date with Charlotte Cook, the program director for Hot Docs, Toronto’s annual documentary film festival. I was curious to find out what it takes to program one of Toronto’s most beloved festivals.

We met at Yorkville’s favourite British pub, The Oxley, and immediately ordered pints of two of England’s finest: London Pride and Dutchy Originals Organic Old Ruby Ale. No other place in the city compares for sitting with an English expat than this cozy-meets-contemporary dining room.

Over the next few hours, we chatted while nibbling our way through warm Stilton and mushrooms on toast and classic fish and chips, which she doused with malt vinegar ever so generously.

Cook moved to Toronto from her native England in 2011. “I first lived near Trinity Bellwoods and fell in love with the city’s bookstores and indie coffee shops, two of my favourite things in the world,” she says.

Cook is also head over heels for The Swan and claims, “They make the best Bloody Marys in the city.” She goes on to enthusiastically romanticize Toronto’s “electricity, diversity and wide-open green spaces.”

Cook prides herself on being a film nerd — an essential quality for someone who, with the help of her programming team, watches more than 2,500 documentary submissions each year, whittling them down to a final 200 films to screen for audiences each spring.

She regularly travels to find inspiration at other film festivals and to expand the Hot Docs brand around the world. Most recently she went to Copenhagen, Amsterdam, New Orleans and Park City.

She gushed over this year’s Sundance experience. “I was honoured to be on the jury, but overcome with nerves whenever I had to step on stage and hand out an award.”

When it comes to Cook’s goals for Hot Docs, she gets right to the point. “I want to dispel the idea that documentaries are just informative and educational. They are important artistic cinematic works. Hot Docs also wants to define its own version of what a celebrity is.” She noted Hot Docs’ fantastic relationship with TIFF, but also pointed out how each festival offers its own unique interpretation of stardom.

I wrap up our date with a final question: What is your favourite documentary of all time? She paused and smirked before picking Portrait of Jason by Shirley Clarke. Originally produced in the 1960s, it will be screened for the first time in Toronto at this year’s festival. “The film is magical because it’s so simple, but also amazingly in-depth.”

Where to go before, after

Pre- and post-Bloor Hot Docs Cinema suggestions:

  • Pre: Head to Insomnia for a snack attack featuring ‘Epic 3 cheese nachos,’ a signature Insomnia beef burger and pint of beer.

  • Post: Grab a seat at Pauper’s Pub rooftop terrace and share a bottle of sparkling wine under the stars.

Catch a doc

Hot Docs runs April 24 to May 4th. Visit hotdocs.ca for more details.

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