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

Written by on May 22, 2024

TORONTO — The beleaguered Hot Docs Film Festival says it’s closing its flagship Toronto theatre for about three months and laying off staff amid financial difficulties.

Canada’s largest documentary film festival says it will temporarily shutter the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema starting June 12.

A statement from the festival says that will result in temporary layoffs as the organization tries to find a path back to profitability.

Hot Docs says 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 says 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.

In a separate statement Wednesday, Hot Docs said its leadership team needs to “pause, recalibrate and strategically plan a sustainable future” for the organization.

“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 the Hot Docs’ board of directors, said in the statement.

Hot Docs sounded the alarm about its finances earlier this year, saying its future was in jeopardy without additional support.

The festival also expressed disappointment after it was left out of the federal budget tabled in April.

Adding to its troubles was a mass exodus of staff just before the announcement of the 2024 Hot Docs lineup. The festival’s artistic director and 10 of its programmers quit, citing a “toxic workplace.”

Hot Docs’ president Marie Nelson said at the time that a “perfect storm” led to the unrest, citing multiple hurdles that strained creative, financial and staffing efforts.

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

The Canadian Press