Meet the filmmakers heading to Hot Docs

This year, seven Scotland-based producers will be heading to Hot Docs, North America’s largest documentary festival, which offers an outstanding selection of over 200 films from Canada and around the world to Toronto audiences of more than 200,00.

As part of Scottish Documentary Institute’s delegations programme, Lorna Ferguson of Aconite Productions, Martyn Robertson of Urbancroft Films, Sinead Kirwan with Freak Productions, Adam Dawtrey of Bofa Productions, and Robbie Fraser with Dulcimer Films will be attending. Producers, Ruth Reid and Lucy Paul will also be at Hot Docs, with support from Screen Scotland.

The participants represent a fantastic range of projects, and they will be using this opportunity to meet international contacts and discuss their upcoming productions.

Lorna, Martyn, Sinead, Adam and Lucy spoke to us to tell us more about their backgrounds and future plans ahead of Hot Docs kicking off.

Lorna Ferguson

Lorna began her career in theatre before making the move into television drama and film production, quickly graduating from shorts to period dramas, comedy series, children’s dramas and features.

Headshot of Lorna Ferguson smiling at the camera

For over a decade, Lorna has worked in documentary production, including international co-productions, An Anarchist’s Story (Pelicula Films / TV Catalunya), Red Oil (Media Co-op / ma.ja.de for Channel 4), and The Bridge Rising (Media Co-op / Skye Larke Canada for BBC Alba).

Lorna joined Aconite Productions as a producer in 2016, where she has been working on three feature documentaries; Electric Malady, The Hippies: Punk Rocked My Cradle, and Me Llaman Torero (They Call Me Torero).

“I’m currently focussing on closing finances on two features that we have been developing with the support of Screen Scotland – Electric Malady, directed by Glasgow-based, Swedish filmmaker, Marie Lidén and Me Llaman Torero, directed by Edinburgh-based Spanish filmmaker, Inma De Reyes”, she told us.

Lorna has been invited by Hot Docs to take part in the Co-production Lab, presented by European Film Promotion and Ontario Creates.

“There will be ten European producers and ten Canadian producers each taking part in a series of speed dating format meetings intended to encourage co-productions between Canada and Europe.”

“I’ll also be meeting with Canadian director, Bart Simpson, with whom Aconite has worked previously, to talk with him and his Canadian producers about a possible co-production on a feature they are developing with the legendary American cartoonist, Harvey Kurtzman.”

You can learn more and keep up to date with Laura’s work at https://www.aconiteproductions.com/.

Martyn Robertson

Martyn originally trained in theatre, working in community contexts across the UK, including prison work, mental health and with young people. After working full-time as the director of a community arts company for six years, Martyn became more and more interested in capturing real stories on film, founding Urbancroft Films in 2007.

Headshot of Martyn Robertson

Since then, Martyn has produced and directed a vast range of commercial and creative films across the 12-year span of the company, including regular content for BBC Scotland Learning, The Travel Channel, and a recent documentary for Panasonic Japan, showcasing the capabilities of the forthcoming 8K camera.

Martyn’s first feature documentary Marty Goes to Hollywood won a New Talent BAFTA for Best Factual in 2015, and his other producing credits include A Cuillin Rising, and Howls, with Third Films.

“My latest project follows a young Scottish surfer and his family over a 4-year period. Having travelled the world participating in competition surfing, 12-year-old Scottish champion, Ben is prepared to put his life on the line to ride one of the biggest waves in the world. If he gets it right, he joins an elite group. If he gets it wrong the consequences are terrifying.”

Riding the Wave is a coming of age story exploring boyhood, parenting and adventure, and captures the moment in a young boy’s life when danger, opportunity and dilemma collide, propelling him and his family towards an unknown destiny.

“The film has been developed over the last three years, shooting in Scotland, Japan, Portugal, Lanzarote and The Republic of Ireland.”

“Attending Hot Docs is a fantastic opportunity to present and sell the film. It’s also great to have access to industry workshops, meet other filmmakers, sales agents and distributors, and see the new work emerging. It offers an amazing chance to learn from other filmmakers who have been on a similar journey.”

Sinead Kirwan

Sinead is a producer at Freak Productions in Edinburgh. The company works across multiple formats and genres, including interactive, installations, commercials, corporate work, and documentary slate. Freak Productions also co-produce projects with their post-production arm, Freakworks.

Sinead Kirwan smiles at the camera

Sinead's previous work includes the award-winning cinema documentary Still the Enemy Within. She is currently producing a number of projects, including Dying to Divorce and Eric.

"Dying to Divorce explores the fight against domestic violence in Turkey. Filmed over four years of unprecedented social and political changes, it provides a uniquely female view of a country in crisis.

"Eric is about Olympic gold medallist, Eric Liddell whose victory was made famous by the film Chariots of Fire. We explore the hidden story of Liddell’s life after his Olympic victory, when he returned to China and was held captive in an internment camp by the Japanese. His bravery, courage and kindness in the face of terribly cruelty, inspired other prisoners and made him a hero from Edinburgh to Shandong."

"Dying to Divorce is part way through post-production and we are interested in meeting with different funders and distributors, talking through our material face to face, and seeing if we can work together to complete the project.

"For Eric, Hot Docs provides us unique opportunity to build an international co-production. Large parts of the film are set outside the UK, so we are looking for international partners to collaborate with to bring this life. More generally, it is invaluable to get the opportunity to access an international market and learn up about new films and film makers from across the world."

Going forward, Sinead told us that Freak Productions is hoping to secure an international partnership for Eric, and move from development into production. For Dying to Divorce, the company is looking forward to completing post-production and releasing the film in 2020.

"An amazing chance to learn from other filmmakers who have been on a similar journey”

“Attending Hot Docs is a fantastic opportunity to present and sell the film [Riding the Wave]. It’s also great to have access to industry workshops, meet other filmmakers, sales agents and distributors, and see the new work emerging. It offers an amazing chance to learn from other filmmakers who have been on a similar journey.”

Martyn Robertson
Founder of Urbancroft Films

Adam Dawtrey

Adam Dawtrey first founded Bofa Productions, along with Mary Bell, in 2013, to produce Mark Cousins’ feature documentary, A Story of Children and Film, which received its World Premiere at Cannes Film Festival.

Headshot of Adam Dawtry

Adam and Mary moved to Scotland in 2007 from London, where Adam worked as European Editor of Variety. Adam and Mary joined Mark Cousins and Tilda Swinton to run the 8 ½ Foundation, a project to introduce Scottish kids to world and classic cinema, before setting up Bofa Productions.

After A Story of Children and Film, Bofa Productions continued working with Mark Cousins on Mark’s debut fiction feature, Stockholm My Love and, most recently, the feature documentary, The Eyes of Orson Welles, which also premiered at Cannes and won a special commendation in the documentary competition there. Bofa also produced Antonia Bird: From Eastenders to Hollywood, by director, Susan Kemp.

“We are currently developing two feature documentaries, both supported by Screen Scotland. Two Janes, by Pakistani filmmaker, Sana Bilgrami, is a deeply personal quest into her own secret family history.”

Born and raised in Pakistan, Sana moved to Edinburgh 16 years ago to escape her family. But then she discovered that her great-grandfather and his brother had lived in Edinburgh a century earlier – and had both married local women called Jane, and even had children with them.

“The film is Sana’s journey to discover what happened to these women, and in doing so, to understand her own conflicted identity as a Pakistani woman in 21st century Scotland. Sana is also a Canadian national, and part of her story takes place in Montreal, so we think this could be made as a UK/Canadian co-production.”

Bofa is also developing a new project by Mark Cousins, adapted from his own book The Story of Looking, published by Canongate in 2017. This explores the history of the visual world, from the dawn of time to the digital age, as filtered through the consciousness of a visionary filmmaker on a single day in Edinburgh.

Adam told us why attending Hot Docs is so important.

“For any documentary filmmaker, Hot Docs is one of the most important events of the year – a meeting place to seek out funding, particularly in North America, to find new co-production opportunities, and to maintain and extend our network of relationships in the world of feature docs.”

Lucy Paul

Lucy Paul, along with director, Charlie Paul, is a founder of Itch Film. Itch have a motion control studio specialising in producing film, commercials and music videos. Their most recent film, Prophecy, is screening at Hot Docs. Prophecy is Itch Film’s second feature documentary after For No Good Reason, which was distributed by Sony Pictures Classic.

A headshot of Lucy Paul smiling at the camera

“Prophecy is the first major film to reveal the motive and techniques behind each stroke of paint as the artist creates. This intimate exploration of a single oil painting plunges the audience into the artist’s obsessive mind as Scottish painter Peter Howson’s blank canvas emerges into his monumental panting; Prophecy.”

Working from imagination, darkly comic Howson draws inspiration from world unrest, religious beliefs and mythology, utilising the techniques of his heroes: Goya, Davinci, and El Greco. We discover the intentions and difficulties that push him to create this ambitious, detailed masterpiece, following every moment from the stretching of the canvas through to the painting’s sale in New York City.

“The film is inspired by a desire to understand an artist creative process. Charlie’s fascination with artist process started over twenty years ago when he was working with 35mm film stop-framing an artist’s creation from blank canvas to finished artwork.”

“We have been invited to attend Hot Docs to do a Q&A after two of the Prophecy screenings. We hope to generate some press and help increase audience for future Prophecy screenings. We will also be looking to meet with potential commissioners in relation to our next project – Movie Business.”

Peter Howson works on his painting, PROPHECY