Toronto’s Hot Docs Taps Leading U.S. Media Executive Marie Nelson as President

As its industry confab kicks into full gear, Hot Docs is giving 1,800-plus delegates from more than 40 countries something extra to chatter about this morning with the announcement that leading media executive Marie Nelson has been tapped as the organization’s new president after a months-long international search.

Nelson—who mingled with local and international doc players at the opening bash of the festival’s 30th edition last Thursday—will begin helming the strategic leadership and management of Hot Docs’ annual festival, conference, and market as well as its evolving year-round industry and public activities and initiatives, effective June 1, 2023.

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“Having the chance to link arms with Hot Docs was an unequivocal swipe right—from my first trip to Toronto for the festival and its legendary pitch forum, it was love at first sight,” commented Nelson, who most recently served as senior vice-president, integrated content strategy for ABC News.

“Hot Docs has earned its reputation as a beacon for the global documentary filmmaking community and their audiences by fostering a sense of home and supporting the best in the genre year-round. I am so energized to begin working with my colleagues at Hot Docs to continue innovating and building an even more inclusive and dynamic future for our storytellers.”

Before her game-changing tenure at ABC News—where she led a strategy that prioritized audience-diversifying, non-fiction primetime programming such as the award-winning series “Soul of a Nation”—Nelson was vice-president for news and independent film at PBS, overseeing programming for documentary series such as Frontline, Independent Lens and POV. She also held executive positions at WGBH, NPR and Viacom/BET Networks.

Nelson, who holds a Master of Public Policy degree from the Harvard Kennedy School and a B.A. in Political Science and Women’s Studies from Duke University, has also served with government, non-profit and development organizations; she served in two U.S. presidential administrations, notably as director, public diplomacy (appointee), in the office of the U.S. President’s Special Envoy to Sudan, U.S. Department of State, from June 2009 to September 2011.

“Marie is a dynamic leader with a proven track record of supporting filmmakers, growing and diversifying audiences, and lifting powerful and yet often unheard voices into national discussion, which makes her ideally suited to lead Hot Docs into its next chapter,” said Lalita Krishna, co-chair of the Hot Docs board of directors.

“The entire board is thrilled to welcome her to the team, and we look forward to working with her to realize the incredible opportunities ahead,” added co-chair Robin Mirsky.

Outgoing president Chris McDonald has been with Hot Docs in a leadership role for 25 years, previously serving as its executive director. The board of directors thanked McDonald for his “immeasurable contribution to the organization’s remarkable growth,” noting his efforts to expand the festival’s public screenings; establish the Forum and various funding programs; negotiate the partnership that allowed the organization to establish the Hot Docs Roger Cinema in 2012; and negotiate the purchase of the building in 2016. McDonald will continue to work with Hot Docs in a voluntary capacity on special projects.

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