Breakthrough Program


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 our success stories here.

Meet the 2016 participants!

Vivian Belik

Vivian Belik is a graduate of Ryerson University’s Masters in Documentary Media program. Her short CBC documentary, Underdog, is part of a new online documentary stream launching at Hot Docs 2016. Her short documentary Tracing Lillian screened at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema in 2015 and was given an award of distinction from Ryerson University. She is currently at work on a feature documentary about guaranteed income in Canada.

Serene Husni

Serene Husni is a filmmaker, translator, and video journalist. She holds an MFA in documentary Media from Ryerson University. Her first short film, Zinco, chronicles the evolution of construction material used in building Palestinian refugee homes in Al Talbieh (Zizya) camp in Jordan, over a period spanning 45 years. It won the Audience Award for Best Documentary from the Franco Arab Film Festival held in Amman in 2013. Serene is a co-founder of Aramram, an Arabic-speaking web television based in Amman, and is part of Dalaala, an Arabic-English translation collective based in Toronto.

Farzana Shammi

Farzana Shammi is a Canadian-Bangladeshi journalist and filmmaker. In 2014, she was one of eight emerging filmmakers selected by Hot Docs for the documentary-Doc Accelerator mentorship program. In 2015, she was selected by the Reelworld Film Festival for its inaugural Impact Film Lab.

Farzana has worked in various roles on award-winning films, including Nisha Pahuja’s The World Before Her and Jennifer Baichwal’s Watermark. Farzana’s directorial debut, a mini doc about an orphanage in Bangladesh, aired on TVO in 2011. Her film career began as an intern for acclaimed Canadian filmmaker, Shelley Saywell.

Andrea Conte

Andrea Conte came to documentary filmmaking from a career in international affairs.  He’s previously lived and worked for non-profits, NGOs, governments, and UN agencies in places of war, conflict, and disaster. He is a Fellow of the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival’s Doc Accelerator Program, and the Documentary Social Impact Film Lab of Toronto’s Reel World Film Festival. His work – focused on character-driven stories told from the frontline realities of current social challenges – has screened at festivals internationally and with broadcasters, such as CBC Television and TV Ontario. He’s fluent in French, English, and Italian and holds graduate degrees from the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University, and the Degroote School of Business at McMaster University.

Lindsay Kutner

Lindsay Kutner is a producer and freelance assistant director in Toronto’s television and film industry. She began her career in commercial production and quickly moved on to Shaw Media to gain a better understanding of the broadcast landscape. Her experience in broadcast sales and sponsorship production, her recent admission into The Director’s Guild of Canada and Women in Film and Television and her ongoing commitment to furthering her education continues to give Lindsay a well-rounded understanding of the industry.

In early 2013, Lindsay joined Butternut Productions, a Toronto-based production company that focuses on producing culinary content. She jumped on the role as she was looking for opportunities to create meaningful content focused around her love of food. She oversees the development of all Butternut projects, including the award-winning web series turned Documentary Channel foraging food show In The Weeds. Lindsay is deeply connected with the content she produces and at any time you can find her dreaming, Tweeting and Facebooking about Ontario food.

Lindsay is currently producing her first feature, a 90-minute documentary called Stage, which reveals a thrilling, unprecedented and fresh look into a crucial part of the Michelin chef hierarchy, the bottom.

Caitlin Starowicz

An award-winning writer, producer and director, Caitlin Starowicz works on projects at the creative forefront of content creation.

She has directed and produced all facets of television, music videos, web, and film, including shows for the Food Network, the Discovery Network, The Documentary Channel, PBS, KCET, LinkTV, Hulu and more.

Her writing has been published in CineAction, CameraStylo, and by The Toronto International Film Festival. Her articles have been included in the film curricula at The Emily Carr University of Art and Design and the National Autonomous University of Mexico.

She is a full active member of The Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, The International Academy of Web Television, The Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television, Women in Film and Television, the Documentary Organization of Canada, the Producers Guild of America, and the Directors Guild of Canada.

Kaz Ehara

Kaz Ehara is a producer, award-­winning photographer and cinematographer, and the Director of Photography at Verity Creative. He studied Journalism at Kansai University in Osaka, Japan, and graduated from the Photojournalism program at Loyalist College in Belleville, Ontario. Kaz is a past recipient of a National Magazine Award, and the Natori Yonosuke Award for Japan’s most promising photojournalist under 30, in part for his deeply moving project, Lost Memories, that depicted his grandfather’s decline into Alzheimer’s Disease.

He was commissioned by the organizing body of the 2015 Pan Am/Parapan Am Games to create nine documentary short films entitled Everyday Ambassadors for the Games, each about a different Ontarian who had immigrated from another Pan Am country, and who works in Arts and Culture. His work centres around people, and he is deeply passionate about creating projects that tell the incredible stories all around us, that create mutual understanding between individuals.

Lisa Rideout

Lisa Rideout is an independent documentary filmmaker, who founded the production company Lifted Eyes Media (LEM) in 2013. Currently Lisa is directing and co-producing Act Three, a feature documentary film on the life story of Susan Gapka, a well-known Toronto based transgender activist. In August of 2015, she raised over $24000 on Kickstarter to develop Act Three. Lisa currently works with Shooters International-Spot Docs, the documentary division of The Shooters Group, which specializes in the marketing genre of real people/real stories. From 2013-2015, she worked in the production office at the Canadian Film Centre.

Lisa views film as a powerful tool to present important social issues. She has produced and directed films on a variety of subject matter including terminal illness, mental health issues, unemployment and aging. Rather than centering on expert opinion, her films explore these topics through personal narratives. Her approach is rooted in the belief that the most powerful films explore complex issues through the eyes of those who have lived them.

Lisa received her MFA in Documentary Media from Ryerson University in Toronto, ON and her MA in Critical Media and Cultural Studies from the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, UK.

What people are saying:

“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

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, the Ontario Media Development Corporation.