Cod Host and The "Not" Docs
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Cod Host and The “Not” Docs

Franklin López speaks to the Cod Host audience in RCC 201 at Ryerson University. Photo by Steven James May.

The world of documentaries is vast and varied, and the 2011 Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Film Festival is showing them all⎯the political, the droll, the artsy, the horrific.
In keeping with this trend, consider Hand to Hand, Don Policarpo & I: Travels with a Puppeteer, and END:CIV: they are about as different as three docs can be⎯but they do share one very significant feature. They won’t be playing at the 2011 Hot Docs festival.
“Welcome to Cod Host, a celebration of cinema refused from Hot Docs,” announces Steven James May, a documentarian, blogger, and a Ryerson University grad student. “In order to be screened tonight, a film must meet one requirement⎯be rejected by Hot Docs.”
He is speaking to room 201 at the Rogers Communication Centre at Ryerson University, the venue for the first ever Cod Host festival, “a collection of the refused” as May puts it. This year’s Hot Docs, already the largest documentary festival in North America, is setting new records in scope and scale: 11 days, 10 programmes, 199 movies, 43 countries, and hundreds of hours of fodder for non-fiction film fans. Even so, there can’t be room for every submission. So as producers, directors, and doc-diehards kicked off the fest Thursday night, rubbing elbows with the likes of Morgan Spurlock, Chaz Bono, Dustin Poirier, and Elmo, three films that didn’t make the cut got their own chance on a not-as-big-but-big-enough screen.

“[Directors] that are accepted get lots of exposure, they meet other filmmakers, they take part in exciting discussions. Those who aren’t are excluded from the experience,” May says. “For the filmmaker, events like this are really important. Their projects are fueled on passion, they want them shown. I’m a documentary filmmaker, I’ve been rejected by Hot Docs, I know how it feels.”
Having pulled off about 10 similar screenings in Halifax in tandem with the Atlantic Film Festival in the style of the Salons des Refusés of 19th century France, on Boxing Day of last year he made a bet with himself to see if he could pull one off in his new home of Toronto. With virtually no funding, time, or advertising, he’s pleased with the showing⎯two hours of programming, with an audience peaking at around 25 bums in seats.
“I’m thrilled with the number that came out tonight, but even if no one had shown up it would have been a success. It’s about holding the event at all, so that a screening can occur,” he says. “I’m impressed with the filmmakers who were brave enough to be a part of it, because a lot of people are hesitant to associate themselves with being a ‘reject’.”
Not that Cod Host is a two-hour pity party for the Doc-dejected. Tamás Wormser from Montreal was even proud to be at the screening of his dialogue-less, two-minute short Hand to Hand in the lecture hall. “I’m sort of used to it, I’m not ashamed of it. You know, as long as people see,” he says in a thick Hungarian accent. “There are probably more people at Hot Docs, but, yeah…I’m honoured to open the first [Cod Host] festival.”
Franklin López, who took a detour on his 80-stop tour of North America to see his very un-subtle, and unsettling, exploration of industrialization and violence END:CIV screen at Cod Host, never even expected to be accepted into a mainstream festival. “Alternative venues are where we feel most comfortable,” he says.
While May prefers not to comment on the quality of other people’s films, we’ll just say that it’s not hard to understand why these films aren’t on the Hot Docs roster in terms of style, tone, production quality, storytelling, and overall, well, goodness (though we thought the two-minutes of Hand to Hand were pleasantly pretty). But according to May, who admits he “has an affinity for the ‘refused'” anyway, that’s not necessarily the point of Cod Host.
“It’s okay not being part of the A-List group perhaps, sometimes it’s more fun creating your own group and meeting your fellow reject community. ‘Refused’ gatherings have their strengths too⎯they’re intimate, there’s a sharing of stories. This was a good two hours of hanging out.”
After its inaugural event, May says he hasn’t thought about whether he’ll do it again next year. But in a city that clearly loves its hot names, we think there’s always room for the “not” game.