Read Our Interview with Director of Programming at Hot Docs, Shane Smith

Friday 8 September, 2017

With Hot Docs London just a few weeks away we put a series of questions to the Canadian festival's Director of Programming, Shane Smith.

Click here to view the Hot Docs London programme and book tickets.

First of all, for anyone who doesn’t know, what is Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival?

Hot Docs is North America’s largest documentary film festival and market, dedicated to advancing and celebrating the art of documentary and to facilitating production, financing and distribution opportunities for doc makers. Hot Docs offers audiences unique artistic experiences by presenting a range of Canadian and international documentary films, the majority of which would not otherwise be available to Canadian audiences, and by creating opportunities for audiences to interact with artists through panels, presentations, post-film discussions and Q&As. In addition to the 10-day Festival, we operate a year-round cinema dedicated to documentary cinema- not unlike Bertha DocHouse!

You’ve been the Director of Programming at Hot Docs since 2015, can you tell us a bit about your background and what your role involves at the festival?

I joined Hot Docs after 5 ½ years at TIFF, and in various programming roles for airline, broadcast and other festivals before that. I’ve always loved documentary, and they’ve always been part of the programming I’ve done, but the Hot Docs role offered an opportunity to really dig into the world of documentary. There’s so much great work being made, and creatively, I think documentary is at a real peak at the moment. My role at Hot Docs is to lead the programming for the Festival and work with the team to shape a diverse, interesting, forward-looking program of the best documentaries being made today. And to look at where documentary is heading and showcase innovative non-fiction work in all its forms.
 

You and your team of programmers watch an incredible amount of films each year when putting together the line-up, what makes a film stand out for you?

We receive a huge number of submissions each year, and the team and myself are always looking for stories we’ve never seen before. Or stories we think we know told in a new way, or from a new perspective. There are many ways to examine an issue or subject and the last thing we want is to see a re-tread of a subject that doesn’t reveal anything new. We want to be surprised, informed, enlightened, even angered and roused to action. If we’re feeling this way after seeing a film, we know our audience will too.

There’s a great selection of Canadian films at Hot Docs London, what excites you about Canadian documentary at the moment?

Canadian documentary is having a real renaissance at the moment. The work being made has always been strong, and in many circles documentary is considered Canada’s unofficial national art form, but our filmmakers are doing a brilliant job of telling not only Canadian stories, but global stories through a Canadian lens. You’ll see that in both Let There Be Light and A Moon of Nickel and Ice - both are compelling international stories, told by Canadian filmmakers, in ways that I’ve never seen before. And Blurred Lines: Inside the Art World isn’t a Canadian story at all, but is informed by the skilled storytelling and deep connections of the filmmakers that bring this fascinating aspect of the art world to light. We’re thrilled to include them in the Hot Docs London program.

Finally, can you tell us more about In the Name of All Canadians and how this project came to be Hot Docs’ response to Canada’s 150th anniversary of Confederation?

We’re really happy with the response to In the Name of All Canadians and that audiences in London will get to see this film. On the surface it may seem like a very Canadian subject- our Charter of Rights and Freedoms and how that impacts on Canadian citizens. But audiences will quickly see that the themes are universal- native rights, social and racial injustice, language rights, perversion of law- but thanks to our Charter there’s a legal way to work at rectifying these situations. The project came about as we were looking at the 150th anniversary, and understanding that in many ways, for some people in Canada, it’s not an occasion to celebrate. But we have this incredible piece of legislation, embedded in Canada’s constitution, that sets out those rights and freedoms that Canadians believe are necessary in a free and democratic society. So we connected with several young filmmakers, who took an element of the Charter as their starting point to look at Canada day. The film is really a compendium of six great short films, each of which examines a different element of the Charter and the real-world impact it’s had on the lives of Canadians. Plus, the storytelling is dynamic and the films are beautifully shot! 

The Hot Docs London screening series is in partnership with Bertha DocHouse and Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival and in collaboration with the Canadian High Commission.