Hot Docs brings Toronto its very first Podcast Festival


Podcast fans get a treat this year as Hot Docs welcomes its first edition of Hot Docs Podcast Festival, from November 18 to 20. The weekend-long fest will host the people behind shows such as Criminal, Grown Ups Read Things They Wrote As Kids, Sleepover, Love Me, Under the Influence, The Imposter, Science Vs., Song Exploder and Mystery Show.

Take in the sounds of your favourite podcast hosts reciting stories live in a dynamic environment with music, visuals and up-close-and-personal meet and greets. Complete with two panels and a networking event, the festival brings together the podcast community – professionals, amateurs, locals, visitors and just plain avid listeners – for a weekend of stories.

“It’s amazing how in the last few years the podcast form has really blown up,” says Will Di Novi, special programs curator at Hot Docs and co-curator of the Podcast festival. “Just keeping up with all the new content is sort of overwhelming.”

The average podcast listener listens to five podcasts a week, according to a study done this year by Edison Research. 

“It’s really grown in popularity, I think due to the flexibility of podcasts as a storytelling form,” Di Novi continues. “The flexibility for the storytellers is exciting because they can tell stories in ways they can’t on normal radio. It’s also flexible for audience members because we can have all these new and interesting ways to access audio storytelling. We can take them with us wherever we go and listen whenever we want.”

Toronto’s podcast community alone is jam-packed with talented storytellers and podcasters alike. For Di Novi and his colleagues, it was hard to whittle down the list for the Hot Docs podcast festival, but they stuck to the one thing they know best: good stories.

“Our guiding principles were to look for accomplished audio storytellers that were able to take compelling human ideas or experiences and build them into unforgettable stories,” Di Novi says. “The thing that unites everyone at the festival is the commitment to dynamic, compelling, nonfiction storytelling. They’re shows that fit into the journalistic tradition that comes through in a lot of the documentaries we show.”

New to podcasts? While there are literally thousands of them available on iTunes, here’s our top five picks, made right here in Toronto:


While it may seem like a cop-out to start with the most popular one in Canada, it’s at the top of the list for a reason. For anyone looking to get their feet wet, this is a perfect place to start. Founder Jesse Brown crushed news headlines when his podcast played a part in breaking the Jian Ghomeshi story. His love for news, politics, and anything uniquely Canadian can be felt as you listen to this series. It’s definitely one to put on your list for your morning commute. It’s raw, bold, and will make you think twice as you read the headlines of your morning paper.

Canadaland’s new culture podcast, The Imposter will appear at Hot Docs Podcast Fest on November 20. The show takes in all things Canadian, from music to books, comics to novels, comedy and more.

Love Me

I was hooked on The New York Times’s Modern Love podcast, so it only seemed fitting to try CBC’s Love Me podcast to get another fix. It’s more complex, focusing on “the messiness of human connection,” according to the show’s website. Long-distance friendship, strangers with language barriers and complicated family circumstances are some of the topics covered so far. I’m loving what I’ve heard and I can’t wait for more.

Love Me hosts a listening party on November 20 at the festival this weekend.

Invisible City

Have you ever wanted to really know what goes on when it comes to building our city? Jennifer Keesmaat, Toronto’s chief city planner, takes you into the depths of city design with Invisible City, revealing aspects of the Greater Toronto Area you had no idea existed. This podcast is perfect for the loyal Toronto urbanites.

Sleepover with Sook-Yin Lee

Sleepover takes three complete strangers who agree to meet in a hotel room for an entire evening, night, and morning together. To make it even more interesting, Lee asks one of the guests about a current problem they’re facing. The other two provide advice that they’ve learned through their own experiences. How cool is that?

The world premiere of Sleepover’s Power Nap is happening at Hot Docs Podcast Festival on Saturday, November 19 at 10 pm. Watch three strangers meet on a king-size bed live onstage for a 90-minute “power nap.”

The Crimson Wave

Hilarious BFFs Natalie Norman and Jess Beaulieu dedicate their podcast to stories surrounding women’s periods. The comedic feminist duo mixes in guest interviews, personal anecdotes and a hilarious back-and-forth that’s guaranteed to make you smile.

Bonus: you can catch them doing their own comedy show at The Comedy Bar, too.

Missing & Murdered: Who Killed Alberta Williams?

Okay, so it’s not Toronto-based, but it’s crucial listening. Journalist Connie Walker reports on the cold-blooded murder case of a young Indigenous woman, Alberta Williams, that happened in British Columbia in 1989. Through the tellings of one story, Walker brings to light the disproportionate number of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada and how these cases are handled.

Learn more about Hot Docs Podcast Festival here | @samiedurnford



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