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Hot Docs artistic director, programmers quit ahead of 2024 run

The departures mark the latest blow to the movie festival, which faces financial turbulence.   (Katherine Holland/CBC - image credit)
The departures mark the latest blow to the movie festival, which faces financial turbulence. (Katherine Holland/CBC - image credit)

North America's largest documentary festival, Hot Docs, is in turmoil, announcing its artistic director has quit along with an unspecified number of programming staff ahead of the festival's 2024 run.

The festival has confirmed to CBC News that artistic director Hussain Currimbhoy stepped down on March 20 for "personal reasons."

"Hussain was fundamental in programming this year's Festival," Hot Docs spokesperson Juan M. Gonzalez-Calcaneo said in a statement.

The statement added that festival director Heather Haynes will lead its programming department in preparation for this year's festival, running from April 25 to May 5.

The departures mark the latest blow to the festival, which has faced financial turbulence.

Earlier this month, Hot Docs president Marie Nelson told CBC Radio's Metro Morning this year could be the non-profit's last without more support from government funding, adding that the organization is still recovering from losses accumulated during the pandemic.

Pat Mullen, publisher at POV magazine, told CBC Radio's Metro Morning he believes the reason for employees exiting en masse is not financial difficulties but "something else."

"There are times we have not taken care of our people," Nelson said at the lineup announcement news conference.

It's something she says she is still learning in her leadership role.

"There are times we are most concerned with change than making sure our people are taken care of. When you do that you end up in the situation we are in right now," she said.

"A lot's happened. We've had 10 programmers resign on social media just close to midnight on Sunday, well, at 11:45 Sunday night. And then as things unfolded, hot docs announced that Hussain Currimbhoy would be departing… so a lot happening and this is all just the day before the lineup is set to be announced," Mullen said.

In her speech at the 2024 Hot Docs lineup announcement on Tuesday, president Marie Nelson attributed much of the exits to 'a lot' of process changes that she says leaders did not help programmers understand. 
In her speech at the 2024 Hot Docs lineup announcement on Tuesday, president Marie Nelson attributed much of the exits to 'a lot' of process changes that she says leaders did not help programmers understand.

In her speech at the 2024 Hot Docs lineup announcement on Tuesday, president Marie Nelson attributed much of the exits to 'a lot' of process changes that she says leaders did not help programmers understand.  (Hot Docs)

Gonzalez-Calcaneo did not answer CBC Toronto's questions about how many programmers have resigned or their reasons, calling it "internal personnel matters."

In her speech, Nelson attributed much of the exits to "a lot" of process changes that she says leaders did not help programmers understand.

"I don't say that because we didn't try like hell," she said. "But guess what? At the end of the day our team needed to understand, yes, we change a lot of processes, yes, there are things that we attempted to do which pushed us beyond our boundaries, yes, there are ways in which we have to make sure our programmers who have served this festival understand that every single person in this community supports them."

LISTEN | What we know so far about the future of Hot Docs, after a number of programmers resign en masse: 

Mullen says the exit sheds light on "a larger issue."

"There are issues of governance at festivals. People hold on to positions for a long time and problems are necessarily dealt with" he says.

And for those working under contracts, Mullen says work can be precarious.

"People move from festival to festival. There is sort of a sense of putting in the work, being quiet, moving on to the next gig and hoping you'll be back next year."

Nelson said "there is every desire I would turn the corner next week and have more of our programmers decide to come back and join us."