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 facilitators!

Aeyliya Husain is an award-winning documentary filmmaker whose work focuses on issues of representation, women, and photography. She has exhibited at festivals both nationally and internationally including Tribeca Film Festival, where her film ‘Shooting War’ was nominated for best short documentary. This film examined the Iraq War through the lens of a photo journalist, revealing the stories behind the images and the story of the war itself. ‘The World at Ten’, follows the story of two ten-year-old inner-city children as they navigate the world around them. Her film ‘Daughters of the Revolution’ tells the story of Iranian activist lawyer and her fight for women’s rights in Iran. These films have also screened at San Francisco Docfest; Glasgow Short Film Festival and São Paulo Film Festival and have been broadcast on CBC, BBC, RSI (Swiss Public TV) and France 4. Her most recent film ‘The Fifth Region’ had its premiere at the ImagineNATIVE FilmFestival (October 2018) and aired on The Documentary Channel, SBS Australia, amongst others. In addition to her film practice, Aeyliya teaches film courses at McMaster University and sits on the board for the non-profit LIFT. Her work has been supported by production grants from the National Film Board of Canada, Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council and the Toronto Arts Council and VICE media. Husain holds an MFA in Film Production from York University (Toronto, Canada) and a BA from the University of Waterloo (Waterloo, Canada).

Nikita Takkar is a queer researcher and writer based in Toronto. She studied journalism at Columbia University on a Hearst scholarship. Nikita has developed multiple documentary films and docu-series for Canadian audiences, and has worked with the Times Group, the BBC and VICE Media across North America and South Asia. Through her work, Nikita has aimed to tell informative stories about diverse communities, underrepresented groups, LGBTQ2+ rights, and the environment. Nikita is currently an impact producer in training at Story Money Impact’s Pod program. She is bringing her experience in media and social impact spaces, her knowledge of critical issues, research skills, and diverse lived experiences to the Pod. Through impact producing, she aims to continue to leverage the intersections of issues, research, story, and policy to make social change.

Meet the 2021 Filmmakers!

Graeme Bachiu is the creative mind behind Windecker Road Films. With over a quarter century of experience in broadcast TV and film production, Graeme has hands-on success in every aspect of production from writing to directing to shooting and editing and has developed a unique storytelling voice. In 2015 Graeme made the decision to focus on telling stories he wanted to tell the way they should be told and launched Windecker Road Films out of a converted 125-year old church in rural Ontario. While Graeme’s films have screened at film festivals around the world they remain rooted in the rural area he lives in.

Erin Byrnes is a Toronto-based filmmaker and journalist from Montreal. Her work is informed by her experience covering diverse stories as a foreign reporter for organizations such as AFP and Al Jazeera, directing a documentary in Eastern DRC,  and working in the humanitarian sector conducting human rights research, advocating for press freedom and providing aid to people fleeing threats to their lives or living in exile. This work inspired her to combine a love of film with a commitment to collaboratively tell stories that challenge dominant narratives. Byrnes got her start in Canadian film as a researcher on White Pine Picture’s Fight Like Soldiers, Die Like Children, and in the past few years worked as a producer on two Canadian Screen Award winners: RISE, about Indigenous resistance and resurgence movements and TERROR, a series about the genesis of terrorist groups. Byrnes is a 2019 alum of the Canadian Film Centre and 2020 winner of the WIFT Toronto Film Award and the Amnesty International Long Form Audio award. She is in production on her first documentary feature, The Stand, winner of the 2020 Hot Docs Al Jazeera Short Pitch Competition.

Jamie Day Fleck was born in Florida and then moved to Toronto, Canada. She went on to receive a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Photography from Parsons The New School for Design in New York City. In New York she started her commercial photography career relocating back to Toronto in 2011. Portraiture was the basis for her photographic exploration, as well as her subjects’ relationships to their environment. This has led her into documentary filmmaking focusing on artist profiles and creative process.

She received her Masters of Fine Arts in Documentary Media from Ryerson University in 2014. For her thesis project she directed, produced and edited an award winning short documentary called Photos by Kirk about Armenian Genocide survivor, Kourken Hovsepian, professionally known as Kirk, who was a portrait photographer in The Bronx, New York for 50 years.

Since graduate school, she has directed and produced a short documentary about an Armenian violinmaker called The Voice of the Violin which screened at several film festivals in Canada and directed/ produced a feature-length documentary entitled Affairs of the Heart: The Life and Music of Marjan Mozetich about the Canadian classical music composer, Marjan Mozetich which won the Dean’s Award at the DocUtah Film Festival. The film highlights works from his 50-year career with performances from world-renowned musicians. She is currently directing/ producing a feature documentary about Urban Agriculture in Toronto entitled In My Backyard which will be released in 2021.

Nadeer comes from a journalism background having pursued his Bachelor’s in Mass Media from the University of Mumbai, India, and Masters in Documentary Filmmaking from Seneca College, Canada. On his one-and-a-half year stint working as a Producer for Republic TV, a national news channel, he had undertaken and executed many feature news stories that were reported on-location. From capturing human stories of celebrities to exposing years of pain suffered by acid attack victims, Nadeer’s stories have made a buzz within the newsroom.  His last short documentary, Indians, delved into the politics of hate and discrimination. It explored the parallels in two widely-apart yet shockingly similar periods of mass genocide in the residential schools of Canada and the Hindu-Muslim communal riots in India. Indians was screened and nominated in the ‘Best Short Documentary’ category at Best of Newfilmmakers Awards Los Angeles and featured in MovieMaker Magazine & Film LA for their Global Documentary Cinema edition.

Currently, he is co-directing a documentary on a manufacturing company producing face shields for front-line workers. Since the beginning of the lockdown in Canada, Nadeer is constantly filming and documenting the pandemic’s effect on small businesses. It also gave him a chance to interview some provincial and federal politicians including Premier Doug Ford. Some of the footage excerpts were also broadcasted on CBC – The National, Rogers TV, and other news outlets. 

As a filmmaker, he has a keen interest in hard-hitting, human-interest stories with political and historical significance, that are the true reflections of any society.

Felipe López Gómez is a Colombian filmmaker currently based in Toronto. He studied cinematography at Universidad del Cine in Buenos Aires. In 2018 he was selected to be part of the “Filming in Peru with Werner Herzog” workshop in the Peruvian Amazon. In 2019 he was part of the International Filmmaking Academy during Il Cinema Ritrovato under the guidance of Jane Campion. His work has been shown at festivals and venues such as Doc Buenos Aires, BogoShorts, Cineteca di Bologna, and the Film Museum in Munich.

Maria is a Russian-Canadian documentary filmmaker based in Toronto. She graduated with distinction from the Documentary Media MFA program at Ryerson University and holds a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Political Science from the American University in Bulgaria. Her graduate documentary film, Musya, has been invited to participate in festivals in both Europe and Russia. The film follows the experience of Russian-Canadian students who explore the dark side of the Soviet military glory by reenacting the life stories of a living witness to Stalin’s Reign of Terror. Her early documentary films touched on the topics of under-representation of women in combat sports and the victimization and stereotyping of refugees. Maria is helping the Belarusian-Canadian Alliance introduce the Canadian audience to the political and historical context of the mass protests that broke out in Belarus following decades of human rights violations. In the past, Maria worked with an NGO called Women in Leadership Uganda,by delivering the works of young female writers who advocate for the rights of women and girls to international audiences.

Kenya-Jade Pinto is an Indo-Kenyan-Canadian documentary photographer, filmmaker, and lawyer based out of Toronto. She grew up chasing crabs on the Kenyan coast, before moving to Alberta’s foothills as a teen. Kenya-Jade’s hyphenated worldview and experience informs her work and she dedicates herself to projects that are focused on displacement, belonging, and access to justice. She is the filmmaker-in-residence at the Refugee Law Lab at York University and is developing and directing a feature about the impact of migration management technology on people on the move. Currently, Kenya-Jade is an Associate Producer on SCARBOROUGH (2021), a fiction feature based on the award-winning book by Catherine Hernandez, as well as a legal and archival researcher on two justice-related documentary features commissioned by the CBC. Kenya-Jade is a member of Women Photograph, the Visual Researchers’ Society of Canada, the Law Society of Ontario, and holds a Bachelor of Arts in International Relations as well as a Juris Doctor (cum laude) with a specialization in international law.

Arriving in Canada from South America and aspiring to be a bohemian artist, I attended Sheridan College, studying diverse disciplines as illustration, the graphic story and fashion design. Night programs in writing and classical animation would follow in later years. After a decade+ of commercial art and comic books, I began storyboarding and animating for a national broadcaster. Eventually working on set, I fell in love again with storytelling, becoming adept with the camera, animation and edit suites.

My first TV broadcast hour doc was for the original gay channel in Toronto, about a local drag queen running for city mayor. That led to another doc for MTV USA/Logo with a decent budget and international festival play. At CBC I made current-affairs short docs for their Sunday morning window. There, I was lucky to be mentored and made another hour film, this one about Voodoo in Cuba, and travelled the world winning awards at minor festivals. Sundance obviously misplaced my submission. As producer and director I made shorts for the NFB, and then did TV Variety shows creating celebrity and concert content. In lifestyle series I became a senior editor. Richer and restless, I exiled myself to some of the cities my films had played, spending countless days lost at temples like the Met or Rijksmuseum, in awe of timeless works that made me feel very humble.

I’ve also made too many commercials and industrials for corporations. In recent years I’ve sold my soul to music and event promoters, creating their media and stars’ content, but also began to develop new docs with compelling stories, perhaps as a form of atonement.

I make POV films. My aim has been to showcase stories about the alien, the underdog, or just those outside the box. For I myself am all those too.


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


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