What is Connect the Docs?

This post published on March 1, 2015

Connect the Docs is an innovative multi-city hybrid cinema distribution format, combining the best of both live and online engagement to create a dynamic form of interactive journalism 3.0.

Same-day documentary screenings in multiple locations, followed by webcast post-screening discussions are accompanied by online VOD screening opportunities and social media engagement to connect audiences, filmmakers, cinemas, social issues and sponsors across time and space.


Connect the Docs puts documentary at the centre of a dynamic interactive experience that combines investigative and citizen journalism on topical social issues, leveraging the benefits of both live and online engagement to entertain, inform and inspire.

OPEN CINEMA Connect the Docs slideIn 2015 we continue to beta-test the Connect the Docs MVP while we develop the concept as a tech start-up. For more details about the tech start-up, please contact Founder and CEO, Mandy Leith at connnectthedocsca at gmail dot com. Read on for more details about the exciting impact we are having on audiences, filmmaker engagement, distribution, online engagement and crowdfunding.

With much gratitude to the Canada Media Fund for supporting this hybrid cinema evolution as our key Presenting Sponsor since January 2014.

CMF_logo_bil_col croppedUP NEXT: March 2015 – Connect the Docs virtual tour with THE SECRET TRIAL 5!

During March 12-25, the OPEN CINEMA Connect the Docs team are working with The Secret Trial filmmaking team to support their cross Canada screening tour outreach and engagement. We’ll be connecting with audiences, screening hosts, issue stakeholders and the filmmakers using the hashtag #ST5film to tell the story of their journey, the film, the issues and driving traffic to their VOD paywall. And we’ll join the filmmakers for their finale screening in Vancouver on March 25, and we’ll webcast their post screening discussion on our LIVE page. Find out more about this exciting new evolution of our hybrid cinema offering here.


What happens at a hybrid cinema event, anyway?

banner for ELECTION DAY IN CANADA #ElxnFraud January 28, 2015

Our January 28, 2015 event ELECTION DAY IN CANADA successfully illustrates the Connect the Docs concept; this special live webcast event featured a documentary work-in-progress presentation with the filmmaker, followed by a post-screening discussion with speakers involved with the 2008 and 2011 Canadian federal elections.  This day of engagement tripled our previous audience reach, both live and online and helped to galvanize an important timely national conversation about election fraud in Canada. Read about the event here.

OPEN CINEMA Connect the Docs in action

Tickets to the Victoria Event Centre venue were sold out 3 weeks ahead of time; the Mary Winspear Centre in Sidney, BC hosted a lively concurrent sister event, and 3 other pop-up venues across BC and Alberta took advantage of our webcast presentation and discussion, for a total of 5 venues (that we know of).

#ElxnFraud discussion panel L-R: Sebastian Silva, Micheal Vonn (BCCLA) Briony Penn, Andrew MacLeod (The Tyee) and Anke Kessler (UBC Professor).

#ElxnFraud discussion panel L-R: Sebastian Silva, Micheal Vonn (BCCLA) Briony Penn, Andrew MacLeod (The Tyee) and Anke Kessler.

The live discussion guests and our online engagement galvanized an important nation-wide discussion about #ElxnFraud: the hashtag’s Twitter reach exceeded 600,000 during the day of the event (see below for detailed analytics via hashtracking.com)! In addition, this event helped filmmaker Peter Smoczynski raise $5000 (online & offline) for the film’s crowdfunding campaign. 

#ElxnFraud hashtracking activity Jan 28 2015

#ElxnFraud activity Jan 28 2015 via hashtracking.com

And you didn’t have to be there to see for yourself! The entire hybrid cinema event is archived via Storify; you can watch the video of the dynamic post-screening discussion, read through the tweets, see all the event photos, links, comments and more. The online archive allows these dynamic hybrid cinema events to provide a resource for future screenings and discussions.

The Connect the Docs digital engagement team hard at work.

The Connect the Docs digital engagement team hard at work.

Screen Shot 2015-02-11 at 1.01.31 PM Screen Shot 2015-02-11 at 12.54.00 PM

Screen Shot 2015-02-11 at 1.02.49 PM


The journey towards developing a new hybrid cinema distribution model began with OPEN CINEMA founder and director Mandy Leith’s Get on the Doc Bus documentary outreach journey across Canada in 2013. Leith has been exploring the innovative use of cinema as a tool for community engagement through OPEN CINEMA since 2003, described as “one of Victoria’s most successful cultural enterprises.”  (Michael D. Reid, Times Colonist April 2011).  After a decade of local success,  Leith set out in her VW Westfalia to explore Canada’s documentary landscape from Mile 0 BC to Mile O Newfoundland. She connected with 150 filmmakers, cinemas and potential partners, planting the seeds for a cross Canada community cinema network.

photo of Get on the Doc Bus project

In January 2014, OPEN CINEMA began beta-testing the innovative Connect the Docs format with support from the Canada Media Fund and Vancity The result was a successful series of three experimental hybrid cinema events, combining same-day live documentary screenings and discussions in 2 cities, venue-to-venue interaction, live streamed post-screening discussions (via Ustream) and moderated online engagement (via Twitter, Facebook, Instagram). A summary report of the first Connect the Docs pilot can be found below. 

a photo of Mandy Leith proudly showing off the Doc Bus decals

In October 2014, the Canada Media Fund came on board with a second round of beta-testing support for OPEN CINEMA Season 12. A report of the Season 12 Connect the Docs events will follow in summer 2015.

Connect the Docs Pilot, Phase 1 – SUMMARY REPORT

The Connect the Docs Phase 1 pilot project provided insight, data and experience into all aspects of curating, planning, managing, staffing, promoting and executing hybrid cinema events. Most notable is the six figure Tweetchat reach, the value to the filmmaker and the value to the social justice issue related to the film.

(NB The project started life as ‘Connecting the Docs’ and has now become simply ‘Connect the Docs’. So please excuse some mixed use of these names in the following report summary).

Connecting the Docs graphic

Twitter: A Social Soundtrack for Documentaries

Moderated Twitter engagement during live or broadcast documentary screenings has had a substantial and growing reach, providing an exciting opportunity to amplify the film’s reach, audience engagement and calls to action.

#opencinema Twitter reach 2013/14OPEN CINEMA’s Tweetchat reach has been steadily climbing since we started experimenting over the last 2 years. According to Hashtracking.com, the #ConnecttheDocs Tweetchat reach grew almost 500% between October 2013 and April 2014. On April 23 2014  (The Ghosts in our Machine) we had a Twitter reach of over 212,000 unique people (see graph, left).

The quality of engagement on Twitter is rich and compelling; because it’s silent, it can easily co-exist alongside the local discussion without interfering with the live conversation. We project the Tweetchat stream onto a side wall in the venue to close the live-to-virtual loop. But only before and after, not during the film of course!

Using the film’s hashtag, OPEN CINEMA Tweetchats offer a significant spike in the film’s Twitter activity. The image (below) displays #fortheghosts hashtag activity over a 3-month period; the green spike is OPEN CINEMA’s event on April 23, 2014.






Connect the Docs Provides Value to Filmmakers

  • by creating a direct connection to multiple live and virtual audiences
  • by offering focussed promotion opportunities for the documentary via traditional marketing in screening locations, and online via Twitter, Facebook, website, Instagram, Storify, Ustream and more.
  • by extending the film’s impact online via Twitter and Instagram using the film’s hashtag and live via post-screening discussions.
  • by extending the film’s reach and impact on Facebook through a dedicated discussion group created specially for the event.
  • by creating an online archive of the event via Storify.

Filmmaker Testimonials


“I was thrilled and honoured that THE GHOSTS IN OUR MACHINE was chosen as one of the featured documentaries in Mandy Leith’s innovative CONNECT THE DOCS initiative. I believe this model has tremendous potential to generate greater exposure and dialogue for Canadian films and to spur and heighten audience engagement about issues that matter.“

Millefiore Clarkes, NFB filmmaker ISLAND GREEN

“OPEN CINEMA’s bold use of social media and inventive ways of connecting those portals is really rewarding. There is a deeper sense of connection that takes place during the event when a Twitter Feed is coming in from across the country, when an Event Host is Skyping in from the other coast – the audience gets a sense of being part of something bigger. Connect the Docs allows for audiences to viscerally see how our local problems are indeed universal; there is a great educative value in that. I hope this screening series continues well into the future and I was very happy to be a part of it.”

Lisa Fitgibbons, Executive Director, Documentary Organization of Canada

“OPEN CINEMA’s Connect the Docs offers up a fresh new twist on audience engagement while taking a new approach to promotion. Following the traditional approach, it seeks to draw on a film’s niche audience for in-person screenings. It then departs from the traditional scenario, and goes on to include non-screening audience members in order engage them in a conversation about the film’s topic on social media thereby significantly expanding the film’s reach. Although not every person will necessarily have had seen the film, the online conversation generated by the screening acts as the traditional “word of mouth” promotion as it were, and is a powerful vector to draw future audiences to the film, whether in person or through a digital distribution outlet.

Connect the Docs facilitates a conversation, a debate, an exchange, between audience and non-audience members alike who wish to engage on matters of interest – something documentaries excel at. In doing so, the initiative marries what documentary audiences love so much about the genre: a good film, followed by a good talk!

Given how this model has the potential of radically amplifying a film’s reach holds great interest for DOC and its members: it is exploring how one might reap the fertile intersection of live events and social media. This is definitely a rich avenue to explore as documentaries are more and more in demand and less and less on television. This alternative approach could provide the reach and impact to significant audiences – something documentary makers so doggedly pursue.”

Connect the Docs Provides Value to Social Justice Groups

Connecting the Docs offers value to social justice groups involved in the topics addressed by the film, providing them with a focussed and archivable opportunity for live and virtual education, outreach, promotion and calls-to-action. This engagement ties back to the film.

Susan Tychie, former owner and Managing Director of Share Organics.

The Island Green Hybrid Cinema event connected farming communities from Canada east coast and west coast!! It felt like we were in the same room talking about the same issues, sharing ideas, experiences and differences!  Essentially we were!

This type of communication is unprecedented.  We did not realize how wonderful it would be. Conferences can bring a few people from different regions together but this event brought two whole groups together for an extremely rich experience.

All of us who attended will be sharing the results and looking for other opportunities so we can encourage other to take part. The time difference of 4 hours was challenging and we appreciate those in PEI who stayed up late into the night to be with us on the West coast.”

Anna Malkin, writer and filmmaker behind onmyplanet.ca Home of the Queer Story Archive.

Leading up to the My Prairie Home event, Anna helped OPEN CINEMA to connect with the transgender community and participated in our Facebook group engagement. Read Anna’s blog post about her Connect the Docs experience.

“OPEN CINEMA’s ability to promote the event to pertinent sections of the LGBTQ communities brought in a very important trans and queer element of the audience.  Mandy’s ability to listen and act on the concerns of this cross section of her audience while producing this event, ultimately created a superlative crossover event. I commend her on her inclusive attitude and her loyalty to Open Cinema’s mandate of community engagement. I believe those audience members that participated in the discussion afterwards felt supported and heard. Those that came to the event with no prior experience with the trans or queer communities definitely came away with new insight. It made me proud to have participated in this event. I hope the success of this event leads Open Cinema to more LGBTQ film choices in the future!”

Shannon McClennan is a social media strategist and Huffington Post blogger.

Shannon participated in the Connect the Docs Tweetchat in Calgary during the March 26 screening of My Prairie Home. She was so impressed, she wrote a blog post about Connecting the Docs. Read Shannon’s blog post about her Connect the Docs experience here.

“The limits of documentary films are boundless. As is the reach and potential for OPEN CINEMA’s Connect the Docs project. Connect the Docs is a natural extension of what the documentary film viewing experience should be: the opportunity to absorb, engage with and discuss a film and its meaning from varied perspectives and experiences. It’s a self-replicating organism, multiplying and expanding, ever evolving. What began by connecting two cities resulted in new virtual and physical communities, where countless others will spring up to fill a void, and ask or answer a question. Through social media, we now have access to a previously untapped capacity to unite diverse and distant communities behind a cause, an interest, or an action. It’s an experience I’m honoured to have been part of and I look forward to all that comes next.”

Connect the Docs: Next Steps

Building on the strength of this first pilot series, the OPEN CINEMA team are continuing to develop and beta-test this multi-city hybrid cinema format during  Season 12, 2014-15, now called Connect the Docs (formerly Connecting the Docs).  Meanwhile, OPEN CINEMA founder and program director Mandy Leith is incubating Connect the Docs as a tech startup venture. Stay tuned for much more on all of the above!

To find out more information about the Connect the Docs tech startup business, please contact Mandy Leith.

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