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Hot Docs Jots

25 Years of Hot Docs: Academy Award Winner INOCENTE

To celebrate 25 years, Hot Docs Jots explores the legacy of former Hot Docs Forum projects.

We catch up with Yael Melamede, producer of Academy Award–winning short Inocente, which pitched at the 2009 Hot Docs Forum. She joins us to discuss coming to documentary from an architecture background and how her work on Inocente inspired an interest in impact producing.


From Inocente (D: Sean Fine, Andrea Nix Fine | USA | 2012)

Hot Docs: What it was like to pitch at the Forum in 2009?

Yael Melamede: I remember it really well; it was my first pitching experience. It’s an incredibly helpful part of the filmmaking process because it forces you to synthesize why anyone else should care about your project. So it’s a valuable experience even without the financing piece. That being said, even in 2009 there was starting to be a lot less money available from traditional TV funders, and public broadcasters in Europe, because of the international financial crisis and the disruption in TV in general.

HD: Did you adjust your pitch to consider the financial landscape?

YM: I think it’s important to understand what is in the zeitgeist at the moment, but I see that as not bending our project towards what’s in the zeitgeist, but more listening to the zeitgeist so that our project will connect to people in a more impactful way. Hot Docs also offers pitch training to all Forum projects prior to their pitch, which I found very helpful.

HD: What was it like being front and centre?

YM: The whole set up is so theatrical—I’ve always loved it. I come from an architecture background, and it’s such a beautiful space (Hart House, University of Toronto). It feels like it’s theatre as well as business. But I think if one focuses most of all on being passionate about the work, that’s what comes through, and I think (and hope) that’s still what sells.

HD: What impact did making and financing Inocente have on you?

YM: I had amazing partners on the film, and Inocente herself (the protagonist) was an extraordinary character. For myself, I will say the film had a really profound impact because it got me interested in the impact producing part of documentary films. I learned a lot about what a film can do. I believe that our company will always be a small, independent film production company that is not interested in mass content production. We like to work on things more carefully, to be more involved in a film’s distribution and impact so that what we make gets seen. This really affected my next film, which I directed and produced, and which pitched at the Forum in 2014, (Dis)honesty: The Truth About Lies. We are still heavily involved with that film in terms of educational work. The film led to an entire initiative around ethics training. In fact, in March we are launching an ethics training course for healthcare professionals using clips from the film and new interviews with healthcare professionals at Duke University.  

Last summer we launched the film Straight/Curve on Epix—it’s about body image. We continue to show it at schools, to partner with organizations that are concerned with body image, and even with brands to try and shift the conversation on beauty in fashion and media.  Not every film has an advocacy side but when it does, the non-traditional distribution space is an incredibly important part of the process. For me, that’s the legacy of Inocente: it was the first time I started to think about films in that way.

I have to give a shout-out to the Fledgling Fund, because they gave us money early on, before we were finished with production, for outreach and engagement. It was such an important grant to get because it forced us to started strategizing early about impact. It really framed our thinking for the initiatives that we built around he project.  

HD: Hot Docs is celebrating our 25th anniversary this year. Where were you in your career 25 years ago (1993).

YM: I was getting my Masters in Architecture. I practiced as an architect until 1996. but I couldn’t find my place  in architecture. My mother is an architect but film came more naturally to me, even though I had grown up with architecture my whole life. In 1996, I started taking some film courses. I came to both film and architecture through a love of photography, and I think having a degree in architecture has been hugely helpful; it allows me to see films through a different lens simultaneously. The first film I worked on was called My Architect about my favourite architect, Louis Kahn, told through his son, Nathaniel Kahn. That film was nominated for an Oscar in 2003. After all this time, I think about making films on architecture again, because architecture is so incredibly important, and underrated in it influence on our day-to-day lives.

HD: If you could give your younger filmmaker-self some career advice, what would it be?

YM: I don’t know what I’d give myself as advice, because it’s such an unusual trajectory, and in different parts of my career, I’ve been both unlucky and very lucky. If I could give myself any advice, I probably would say that I wish I had learned to edit early on. Just because I think it’s such a beautiful craft, and I would love to be able to edit as part of my own work process. I feel like knowing how to edit in a very amateur level would be really helpful to my own creative process. I suppose if I could give young people advice today it would be to feel free to try a lot of different things, to not get too concerned about finding a track but once you find your passion to go for it.


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