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The Toronto festival recently said it is struggling financially as it reckons with smaller audiences since reopening after pandemic lockdowns.Christian Pena/Courtesy of Hot Docs

Hussain Currimbhoy stepped down as the artistic director of Hot Docs just four months after his appointment, organizers of North America’s largest documentary film festival said late Monday, hours after numerous members of its programming team said they had departed this year’s edition.

Hot Docs announced Currimbhoy, a Toronto-born producer, director and film curator, as its new artistic director in November. He is the former director of investment and global strategy for the Chicago Media Project, where he also led a program to boost the works of marginalized filmmakers.

Managing director Heidi Tao Yang said in a statement that Currimbhoy left the festival last week for “personal reasons,” calling him “fundamental in programming this year’s festival,” which is scheduled to run in Toronto from April 25 to May 5. Festival director Heather Haynes has been tasked with taking over programming duties for this year’s edition.

Less than a day before Monday’s statement, members of the Hot Docs programming staff said in social-media posts that 10 members of their team were leaving the festival. “I have made the heartbreaking choice to exit the 2024 Hot Docs festival,” departing staff wrote in separate but near-identical social-media posts, including ones from international programmer Samah Ali and senior international programmer Myrocia Watamaniuk, the latter of whose LinkedIn profile said she had been with the festival since 2001.

“I will continue to fight for films and filmmakers – they are the bedrock of all film festivals, and the reason I do this job,” the posts continued.

The departing staff listed in the posts did not respond to comment requests from The Globe and Mail on Monday. But none of them appeared on the Hot Docs website’s staff listing Monday, despite eight of them being named in an archived version of that page from March 4 that was captured by the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine. Those include long-time staffers Gabor Pertic, international programmer for features, and Angie Driscoll, senior international programmer for features and shorts, as well as Watamaniuk.

In the e-mailed statement, Yang acknowledged their departures but did not connect them to Currimbhoy’s resignation. “Regrettably, some members of the programming team have decided not to participate in this year’s festival,” he wrote. “We thank them for their contributions.”

The programmers revealed their exodus just ahead of a press conference scheduled for Tuesday announcing the full selection of films for this year’s festival. The Toronto festival recently said it is struggling financially as it reckons with smaller audiences since reopening after pandemic lockdowns.

In an interview with The Globe and Mail this month, Hot Docs president Marie Nelson said: “We find ourselves dealing with significant operational challenges – so much so that it puts the sustainable future of the organization on quite shaky ground. ... And now we’re running out of time.”

Though ticket sales have grown as COVID-19 restrictions eased, Hot Docs said that attendance was down 38 per cent from its last year before the pandemic.

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