Skip to content
Join our Newsletter

Hot Docs to close its flagship cinema, lay off staff for three months

TORONTO — Ongoing financial uncertainty is forcing the Hot Docs Film Festival to temporarily close its flagship Toronto theatre and lay off staff for about three months, the organization said Wednesday.
The beleaguered Hot Docs Film Festival says it's closing its flagship theatre for three months and laying off staff amid financial difficulties. A worker prepares a cinema reel in San Sebastian, Spain, Wednesday Sept. 19, 2007. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Alvaro Barrientos

TORONTO — Ongoing financial uncertainty is forcing the Hot Docs Film Festival to temporarily close its flagship Toronto theatre and lay off staff for about three months, the organization said Wednesday.

Canada’s largest documentary film festival said it will shutter the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema starting June 12 as the organization tries to find a path back to profitability.

A statement from the festival said that will result in temporary layoffs.

"This has been an incredibly difficult decision to make, but it’s crucial for us to take this step now," Robin Mirsky, co-chair of Hot Docs’ Board of Directors, said in a statement Wednesday.

"This temporary closure will enable us to pause, recalibrate, and strategically plan a sustainable future for this beloved organization."

Hot Docs said it's facing a substantial operating deficit due to slow post-pandemic recovery and it needs to conduct an extensive review of its programming and finances.

A spokesperson didn't immediately answer questions about how many jobs are impacted by the closure.

Hot Docs said anyone who purchased a ticket for a screening or event taking place after June 12 will get an automatic refund, and patrons will be notified if certain events are rescheduled or moved to another venue.

Late spring and summer events listed on the Hot Docs' website include film screenings to mark Pride month and an appearance by U.S. author Gabrielle Zevin to talk about her bestselling novel "Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow."

In a message to patrons, Hot Docs said Wednesday that its cinema is committed to returning in the fall "with the quality programming you've come to expect."

Organizers said the 31st edition of the festival that wrapped in early May was a success, with attendance reaching near pre-pandemic levels and box office revenue exceeding targets by 12 per cent.

However, "our financial situation remains serious despite these successes," they said.

Hot Docs sounded the alarm about its finances earlier this year, with president Marie Nelson sending out a series of emails to audiences asking for financial support and warning that this year's edition could be its last.

The festival also expressed disappointment after it was left out of the federal budget tabled in April after asking Ottawa for $2 million in emergency support.

"We’re in a situation where the future of the organization is in jeopardy. We were very much hoping that the government was going to be the partner to help us get to the other side,” Nelson told the Canadian Press after the decision was made.

Nelson said Hot Docs proposed a “leaner, meaner version of the organization” following losses incurred during the pandemic, which forced a two-year closure of the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema.

Adding to its troubles was a mass exodus of staff just before the announcement of the 2024 Hot Docs lineup, with departing programmers citing a "toxic workplace" that dismissed or diminished team members' voices.

Nelson said at the time that a "perfect storm" led to the unrest, citing multiple hurdles that strained creative, financial and staffing efforts.

Previously, Nelson served as a senior vice-president at ABC News/Disney. She said she joined Hot Docs fully aware of the challenging times facing the documentary landscape.

“I came into the organization understanding that we were going to have to reimagine ourselves and that we were going to have to be nimble. Otherwise, our future would be imperilled,” she said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 22, 2024.

The Canadian Press