HOT DOCS: Documentary filmmakers are the last people standing, waving the flag for the truth and facts.»  – Shane Smith, Programme Director at Hot Docs.

Steve Rickinson
Steve Rickinson
Published date: April 26, 2019

– Is there a specific theme you are curating Hot Docs 2019 around?

– This year, the new theme sections are «Persister», […] which are stories told by women about women. As the Me Too movement grows and evolves, how are documentaries reflective of this ongoing moment in time where women are not being or refusing to be silenced?

– Next, we have «Animal Magnetism», which is about the inexorable relationship between humans and animals.

The third section is «Making Believe», which is about the lies we are told and the lies we tell ourselves.

– What film would ultimately make it into the Hot Docs programme?

– When we are looking for films we go in with no preconceptions. We want the storytelling to unfold before us. The programming team loves nothing more than discovering a film through the submission process that they had no idea about and are blown away by.

«We live in a world where there is so much mis- (and dis-) information.»

– Is there a seminal documentary that really engaged your interest in the genre?

– The film that is a touchstone for me, because I saw it at a formative moment in my life and development as a programmer, was The Thin Blue Line (1988) by Errol Morris. It exploded my mind in terms of the possibility of what a documentary is. It was radical for its time. I didn’t know a documentary could be that way. It didn’t just have an impact on the real world as it also had a massive impact on the form of documentary.

– Over the last two decades, documentary has been the quickest rising film genre in terms of popularity. Why do you think that is?

– We live in a world where there is so much mis (and dis) information, documentary is still a place where you can get closer to the heart of the truth in most subjects. In a lot of ways, documentary filmmakers are the last people standing, waving the flag for the truth and facts.

There is certainly an element in looking to documentary to help navigate this crazy world we live in, but also because they are being made in such interesting and creative ways these days […] They are losing this opinion often held that documentaries are «good for you», that they were what you were forced to watch at school and were terribly boring and didactic.

– Over the past decade, what have you seen as the most formidable changes to the documentary industry?

– It has been the access to content by audiences. There is no shortage of places you can watch a documentary these days. I think sometimes people watch documentaries without even knowing they are watching one. This rise in access has seen a corresponding rise in opportunities for filmmakers. This aligns with the democratization digital technology has allowed in terms of who is telling the stories.

– So where do you see the industry moving in the future? Let’s say specifically, how do you see a Hot Docs 2025 or 2030?

– Festivals continue to play and will continue to play, a vital role in identifying work, talent, and stories and helping to connect them with audiences.

– There are amazing stories being told we still don’t see. We think we live in an age where you’re able to access whatever we want whenever we want, but that is a fallacy. There is so much work being made out there that doesn’t rise up in ways it should, and I think that is a key role festivals play.

Modern Times Review