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Hot Docs launches crowd-funding initiative

HOW TO BUILD A TIME MACHINE will be a genre-bending, true life sci fi mystery that will tell John Titor's story through interviews with the incredible web of people who were drawn into it, and through a recreation of his journey.

In addition to the unveiling this week of its newly renovated home at Toronto's Bloor Cinema and the upcoming announcement of the lineup for its spring festival, Hot Docs is also expanding into a new crowd-funding initiative dubbed Doc Ignite.

The initiative assists filmmakers in tapping into the growing phenomenon of raising money from the general public via the Internet.

Hot Docs will choose one film at a time, based on the professional track record of the filmmakers and the feasibility of the film. It will then help the filmmakers create a 60-day campaign in which the public can sign up online to donate as little as $10 or as much as $500.

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The festival will also contribute incentives, such as free tickets to the Hot Docs festival, depending on the amount donated. If the film doesn't get made, the money is returned.

The first film tapping into the program is How to Build a Time Machine, a documentary being shot by St. Catharines-based director Jay Cheel. Its subject is John Titor, a man who became a pop-cult sensation after claiming on Internet message boards to be a time traveller from the year 2036.

"We're calling it a non-fiction, science-fiction mystery," Cheel said. "[Titor's claims]turned into an Internet phenomenon, what a lot of people consider to be one of the greatest Internet hoaxes, while others think he was genuine and that we were visited by a man from the future."

How to Build a Time Machine has so far raised more than $14,000 toward its goal of $25,000. The film is, of course, counting on other sources of funding too, and the $25,000 will go specifically toward filming some scenes that re-enact Titor's claims.

This doesn't mean that Hot Docs is becoming a production house like the National Film Board of Canada. Instead, Doc Ignite is another of the festival's outreach initiatives, along the lines of the festival's two other funding programs: the Shaw Media-Hot Docs Funds, which is allocating $4-million in grants to documentary projects over the course of seven years; and the Hot Docs-Blue Ice Fund, which is giving $1-million over five years to African documentary makers.

How to Build a Time Machine is likely going for an indie, irreverent tone, but Hot Docs managing director Brett Hendrie said Doc Ignite isn't looking for any particular style of documentary.

"Like all the projects we support at Hot Docs, we're looking for great documentaries. If they are about social issues or are really audience-friendly films, it doesn't really matter. We want them to be great films," Hendrie said.

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"In the case of Doc Ignite, what we're looking for is a film and a filmmaker who has a plan to get the word out about funding the film. We can let people know through our channels," Hendrie added. "But if you look at people who have supported Jay's project so far, some have supported it because they know about Hot Docs. But a lot have supported it because they are fans of Jay."

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Guy Dixon is a feature writer for The Globe and Mail. More

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