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It’s April, and before you know it The Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival will soon be upon us again! So to make sure we’re ready for it when it comes, let’s take a look at one of Hot Docs’ awesome online services: Doc Ignite.

Ever thought about producing a documentary, but didn’t know where to start? Or perhaps you are a documentary filmmaker looking to give your project an extra boost in funding? Thanks to Hot Docs, and the mysterious powers of the internet, getting involved (or getting that boost) has never been easier.

One of the most exciting and creative fundraising methods in the age of social media is crowd-funding, and that’s essentially what Doc Ignite is all about. Through Doc Ignite filmmakers with a documentary work-in-progress can invite would-be audience members to pledge money to hit a specific goal set by the filmmakers, and ultimately help produce the film. It’s modeled off of wildly popular crowd-funding sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, but geared towards–you guessed it–documentary films, of the Canadian variety in particular.

The service is still relatively new, inaugurated only last February, and featuring one project every two months. The first featured project last year was director Jay Cheel’s How to Build a Time Machine , a non-fiction time travel story about a man named John Titor, who came from the year 2036 to retrieve a rare IBM computer in 1975. The film is based on the hoax of John Titor, whose name appeared frequently on online forums over a decade ago. With Doc Ignite, Cheel ran a campaign to raise $25,000 to cover the costs of hiring actors, and securing costumes, props and locations.

The current project, for a few more days anyway, is Lost & Found , a story about the debris and belongings scattered across the Pacific Ocean after the devastating tsunami that hit Japan in 2011, and the people who found it ashore on the other side. The specific goal that the co-directors John Choi and Nicolina Lanni are using Doc Ignite for is to fund a trip back to Japan for them, the crew, and the various dedicated beachcombers involved in the film, to reunite those belongings with their rightful owners.

Doc Ignite isn’t just a one-way street though, which is a crucial detail. Rather than being a charity where people donate their money for nothing in return, contributors can expect a variety of cool incentives for their help, making it an equal exchange. For example, for the Lost & Found project, a $25 pledge gets you “Forever Friend” status, which means updates on the film via e-mail, a personal thank you from the filmmaker on their social media sites and website, and a digital download of the movie, as well as other benefits. And the higher the pledge, the more incentives you get, and more titles like “One-Of-A-Kind Oceanographer”, “Kick-ass Kayaker”, and “Bombastic Beachcomber”. If you pledge $2000 or more you get “Survivor and Saint” status, which includes the goodies I mentioned above, plus a whole slew of plunder and swag, like a personal thanks at the end of the film, tickets, t-shirts, invitation to a screening, a salvaged artifact washed ashore from the tsunami, and much more where that came from. Oh yes, and bragging rights, of course.

The layout is quite simple. On the Hot Docs website, under Doc Ignite, there is a page on the featured project. There is a description of what the film is (or is going to be) about, and a video showing what it will be like, appealing to potential audience member-producers. Under the video is a graphic of how much money has been raised, and a button that says “Ignite This Project”. Push the button and let the funding begin. Ah, the internet is a magical thing.

It’s also important to point out that projects don’t rest entirely on the shoulders of the benevolent masses, so contributors won’t need to feel pressured into pledging more than they can afford just so the project survives. If it doesn’t raise enough money to meet its Doc Ignite goal by the end of two months, it’s not as if the whole film will be cancelled. They’re also usually funded by more traditional methods, like broadcasters, tax credits, and the like, and whatever is raised through Doc Ignite will still go toward producing the film. But help from the crowd can make a big difference all the same, and for many an audience member it can be incredibly satisfying to know that, as the lights dim and the story unfolds, they helped it become the enthralling and eye-opening documentary they see before them. It’s a simple yet exciting way to connect doc-lovers to the filmmakers themselves.

And let’s be honest, who doesn’t want to see their name in the credits at the end of a movie?

For more details on Doc Ignite, feel free to visit the Hot Docs website.