The beleaguered Hot Docs Film Festival says it's closing its flagship Toronto theatre for about three months and laying off staff amid financial difficulties.

Canada's largest film festival says it will temporarily shutter the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema starting June 12.

A statement from the festival says that will result in temporary layoffs as the organization tries to find a path back to profitability following slow pandemic recovery. They will use the closure to "regroup and engage in critical strategic planning to address our deficit," organizers wrote in a message to patrons announcing the news.

A spokesperson didn't immediately answer questions about how many jobs are impacted by the closure.

"The Festival's success caps a year of steady post-pandemic rebuilding, with all key metrics for Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema — attendance, box office, membership sales and concessions — far outperforming 2023," the release continued.

"Hot Docs is on the right track, but our financial situation remains serious despite these successes."

Hot Docs says anyone who purchased a ticket for a screening or event taking place after June 12 will get an automatic refund, and patrons will be notified if certain events are rescheduled or moved to another venue.

Funding, staffing issues

The latest iteration of the festival, its 31st annual showing, wrapped in early May. And though Hot Docs itself reported the season as "a great success" that boasted near pre-pandemic attendance and higher than expected box office revenue, events ahead of and during the festival were anything but rosy.

In a dizzying series of emails and news articles, festival organizers, particularly new president Marie Nelson, warned that the festival was in jeopardy, and appealed for support. Then after the Canadian government provided $120 million to various arts organizations but left out the documentary festival, organizers publicly lambasted the decision as "choosing winners and losers in Canada's cultural landscape."

But Hot Docs' difficult situation echoes similar ones across that cultural landscape. Festivals and Major Events Canada executive director Martin Roy recently told CBC News it costs 30 to 40 per cent more to organize festivals now than it did pre-pandemic. As revenues fail to follow suit, sponsors pull out of under-performing arts events and the remaining organizations fight over dwindling federal funds, and numerous festivals have been forced to close their doors. 

But for Hot Docs, there are more than just money troubles. Alongside the worrying monetary issues, two high-profile board members resigned just days before the festival began — the latest in an ongoing exodus that brought down its total number of board members from 24 last year to 13.  

Just prior to that, 10 employees blamed an "unprofessional and discriminatory environment" for their mass resignation. Their departure followed the arrival, and quick departure, of artistic director Hussain Currimbhoy. who stepped down in March.

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