The Perfect Sneeze: On the Hot Docs Soap Box

For the last two years Hot Docs has been experimenting with ad lib sessions and one of them is The Soap Box where you can rant, shout or just wonder aloud. This year was again hosted by filmmaker and blogger AJ Schnack, and I was selected with a few other speakers, including Peter Wintonick, to speak from the 'pulpit' of the documentary church.

moratorium on about

Ban the word "about"

Peter did a very eloquent plead to ban the word “about” at festivals and documentary forums. What a challenge! How can we talk about our films without that magical word? Why should we even consider banning it?  Well, he had a good argument: "About" leads us straight into content of the film and makes us forget that we are storytellers selling stories, not social workers outlining sets of problems.

It was a wonderful way to remind us that stories, structure, aesthetics, images, sound are the core of our art; but in the process he did mention "about" 58 times – but, hey, who's counting!

Lynn took us on a personal journey we'd all like to walk: the meeting of millionaire philanthropists desperate to invest in documentaries with a good cause. It all started with the miracle of Facebook when one day an Indian millionaire got in touch with her, requesting to be a friend and would she accept his invitation to come over to India to stay in a magnificent villa with a private chauffeur in exchange of giving a life inspiring talk to a bunch of girls in Rajasthan. An offer a girl cannot turn down. It all went so well that he is now financing her film and other projects. This is the first strong argument I have heard to convince me that I should join Facebook.

And then it was my turn. I had planned to talk seriously about my love and respect for short documentaries but quickly realized that AJ was expecting a lighter mood on this platform. So I started talking about my love for sneezing (shared with my audience after a quick survey around the room). I love the physical sensation that leads to the inevitable sneeze, the attempt to stop it and then, wham!, it happens:  the sensation of relief is next to none. And more often than not you get a “bless you” from your neighbour, acknowledging that shared relief.

Short docs are the prefect sneeze

Well, for me, short docs are the perfect sneeze of the documentary world: something small, perfectly intense which leads to nothing else. I resent short docs being perceived as either a calling card if you are new talent, or as a filler if you are a broadcaster. Scottish Documentary Institute dedicates a lot of its time producing shorts in order to remind the documentary community for the need to be playful and adventurous.  We live in a world that is constantly looking for harmony and resolution – well, short documentaries are a unique space to wrestle contradictions. Short documentaries are a unique form alongside poetry to refute this tyranny of the resolution and explore the power of suggestion of something that is way beyond.

Filmmakers of any age and status should give in more frequently to letting out the perfect sneeze.