Get Hot Docs ready! This rigorous and intimate market-preparation course mentors eight emerging, high-potential producers as they get ready to successfully pitch and sell their projects at Hot Docs and beyond. Read some of their success stories here.

Meet the 2020 Filmmakers!

Aïcha Diop holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in English: Cultural Studies from McGill University and a Master of Arts Degree in Media and Film Studies from The New School. Her first documentary short film NANCY’S WORKSHOP (Canesugar Filmworks, CBC Docs) amassed over 1.6 million views since its launch online in September 2019.

Alexander is an award-winning documentary filmmaker based in Toronto. His recent work explores culture capital and status quo in the Philippines. He is an alumnus of the Corus Diverse Voices fellowship at Hot Docs in 2016 and an E20 participant at Reelworld Film Festival in 2017. Most recently, he took part in the Talent Lab at RIDM and the First Feature Program at Reel Asian. His first documentary Balikbayans was co-produced with the University of the Philippines Film Institute and was later commissioned by York University for the PASSOC Project. His latest short documentary Nightcaller screened at multiple festivals internationally and received the Air Canada enRoute Short Film Award at Reel Asian, and Best Short Documentary at the 42nd Asian American International Film Festival last year. He is also a co-curator for Mygration Stories, a community arts project funded by TakingITGlobal. He is a recipient of the Toronto Arts Council Media Artists grant towards his first feature that he is currently filming.


Chrisann Hessing is a documentary filmmaker and impact producer based in Toronto who is passionate about using visual storytelling as a tool to educate, raise awareness, and inspire positive change. She has combined her love of travel and storytelling to produce award-winning short films that have screened around the world. Her most recent film, TURNING TABLES, premiered at Hot Docs in 2018 and won Best Documentary Short at the 43rd American Indian Film Festival.

Cliff Caines is an independent filmmaker from Northern Ontario, now based in Toronto. His films have screened internationally at festivals including the Toronto International Film Festival, CPH:DOX, RIDM, and Aesthetica. His film A Rock and a Hard Place (2015) received an Honourable Mention for the Colin Low Award for Canadian Documentary at the 2015 DOXA Documentary Film Festival. His latest film Workhorse recently premiered at the 2019 RIDM – Montreal International Documentary Festival. Cliff is currently in-development on his third feature-length documentary.

Javier Lovera is a Toronto based photographer, film director, and cinematographer. He was born and raised in Colombia and immigrated to Canada in 2006 after receiving a M.Sc. in Aerospace Engineering from Purdue University.

His select editorial and commercial clients include The Guardian UK, The Globe and Mail, ELLE Magazine, FASHION Magazine, The West End Phoenix, BMW, NIKE, ROOTS, Joe Fresh, Garnier, and Laura Mercier. He is the recipient of the 2009 Applied Arts Photo Annual award in the Fashion and Beauty Category.

In 2014, Javier directed, filmed, and produced his first short documentary titled Back to the Mountains, which followed the first adaptive hiking team to attempt the demanding W trek in Torres del Paine Natural Park, Patagonia, Chile. The film was selected by the National Film Board of Canada as the recipient of their Filmmakers Assistance Program Grant. Currently, he is developing his first feature documentary which follows several activists opposing the all but certain development of the Sidewalk Labs / Google smart city project in Toronto.

Jennifer Laiwint is a Toronto based visual artist and filmmaker who works across the disciplines of video art, documentary film, and movement based performance. She is a graduate of York University’s Visual Arts Program and completed a one-year work-study program in Visual and Digital Arts at the Banff Centre. Jennifer’s practice takes a research and process oriented approach to explore the links between self-improvement culture, loneliness and social performance. Jennifer investigates what draws people into programs that offer promises of transformation and how our attempts towards self-actualization can be translated into video, movement and non fiction narrative.

Her current work looks at how self-help messages get used and manipulated within online masculinist communities, such as Pick Up Artists. She has developed her work in residencies at the Banff Centre and NARS foundation in New York and has exhibited in galleries and festivals across Canada and The United States, including Xpace, the Art Gallery of Mississauga, SummerWorks Performance Festival and Flesh Crisis Performance Art Festival. She recently completed an artistic residency at Duplex Artists’ Society in Vancouver, where she screened a new film work at the Western Front Gallery. In 2020, Jennifer will be participating in the DOC Institute Breakthrough Program as well as the Dancemakers Peer Learning Network. Jennifer is currently on the Board of Directors at Pleasure Dome and has a monthly DJ residency at Halfmoon BK, a community radio station in Brooklyn, New York.

Renata Mohamed is a filmmaker and arts administrator based in Toronto. She is a graduate of the Integrated Media program at the Ontario College of Art & Design (now OCADU). Her first short film “Coolie Gyal” has screened at more than 50 international festivals. Renata has worked with numerous arts organizations in Toronto and has served on juries for the imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival, the Inside Out Toronto LGBT Film Festival, the Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival, the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts. She has worked at the Liaison of Independent Filmmakers of Toronto (LIFT) in various roles since 2002, and currently holds the position of Deputy Director. Earlier this year she was accepted into the Doc Accelerator Emerging Filmmaker Lab, as part of the 2019 Hot Docs Canadian Documentary Film Festival. She also recently completed the Corus Media Management Accelerator, a certificate program jointly developed by Women in Film and Television-Toronto (WIFT-T), Corus Entertainment and Ryerson University’s G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education. Born in the British Virgin Islands to Guyanese parents, her work aims to explore the intersectionality of Caribbean, immigrant and queer identities through a documentary and experimental lens. She is currently working on several short projects.

Shazia Javed is an award-winning filmmaker whose films have been shown internationally on television and at prestigious film-festivals including Hot Docs, DOXA, Durban International, and Mumbai International. Her docu-short, Namrata was Produced by the National Film Board of Canada and was a finalist for three AMPIA (Alberta Media Industries Association) awards. She recently Produced and Directed, 3 Seconds Divorce, a TV hour documentary, that won the Audience Choice Award at Reelworld Film Festival and is now streaming worldwide on Netflix. Shazia’s work centres on underrepresented perspectives from her various communities and her films are being continually used by grassroots organisations to create dialogues for social change. She has an MFA in Film and enjoys teaching filmmaking workshops in community- centered spaces.

The Breakthrough Program offers participants a unique opportunity to develop & hone their pitch materials in advance of submitting to Hot Docs Dealmaker & other festival opportunities. Selected participants receive exclusive access to:

• Two weekend workshop intensives, where participants receive training & feedback on their pitch materials from acclaimed filmmakers, producers, and craftspeople.

• For two months leading up to Hot Docs, weekly pitch workshopping with project-specific feedback from funders, broadcasters, distributors, and peers.

• All-Access Pass to the 2020 Hot Docs Film Festival and Forum, to attend industry sessions, network with key industry professionals, set up meetings to sell their projects and connect and collaborate with peers.

• Free DOC Institute events during the program.

• The Breakthrough Alumni Network, a private group where alumni share opportunities & information.


What people are saying:

“Breakthrough helped me to better define the story and pitch I wanted to make. I would not have as clear a vision for the project without the program.” – Colin Scheyen


“The Breakthrough program was a valuable glimpse into the professional world of documentary funding and sales.” – Marc Serpa Francoeur


“The Breakthrough program put me squarely in the middle of a talented group of filmmakers, mentors and industry leaders at just the right time.” – Sherien Barsoum


“I would never have established such a strong relationship with broadcast executives had I not been part of the program.” – Rob Lindsay

Featured Past Program Participants

During the 2016 Breakthrough Program, Lisa Rideout pitched her project Take A Walk on the WildsideThe film was awarded a BravoFACTUAL grant, went on to premiere at the 2017 Hot Docs Film Festival, and nabbed the Canadian Screen Award for Best Short Doc.

Shasha Nakhai produced Frame 394 which premiered at Hot Docs 2016 and was shortlisted for an Academy Award (Documentary Short Subject).

Stephanie Brown co-created and co-produced APTN’s All Our Relations, which celebrates the lives of Aboriginal Canadians who have achieved international success and recognition, and acted as Supervising Producer on Qanurli?, an Inuktitut language comedy show. She recently joined VICE Media as the Supervising Producer of Digital Platforms.

Rob Lindsay’s film Go-Boy!, which was brought to the Program received interest from Telefilm to be adapted into a feature film. His film, Why Horror? was licensed by Super Channel and received CMF POV funding and CMF Digital fund.

Since participating in the Mentorship Program in 2011, Aaron Hancox has continued to employ the specifics skills learned in the program for pitching and developing projects. This has helped him shepherd several projects through development as Director, Sales & Development at Markham Street Films Inc. Since the Program he has secured development financing for two projects and production financing for one project. He also continues to utilize the professional relationships with top broadcast executives, which began at Hot Docs 2011.

Elisa Paloschi’s Embracing Voices: The Woman Behind The Music of Jane Bunnett had its world premiere at NXNE Festival in 2012. Elisa was working on this film for five years, including the time she spent as an OMDC Mentorship Program participant in 2010. Elisa was recently accepted to BritDoc’s Good Pitch and received funding from Chicken & Egg for post-production on her most recent project, Driving With Selvi.

Sheona McDonald had her film When Dreams Take Flight air on documentary Channel in November 2012 and it has since gone on to be sold in various international markets including Discovery EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa). Sheona was also nominated for a Gemini award for the writing on a documentary she produced, wrote and directed called Capturing A Short Life for CBC Newsworld


The Breakthrough Program, part of the Producers Exchange, is made possible
by its generous supporter, Ontario Creates.