Interview: HotDocs Programming Manager Sarafina DiFelice

This year’s HotDocs Canadian international Documentary Festival has a special focus section on India called “Made In India”. The nine documentaries featuring this year introduce us to the emerging voices of contemporary Indian non-fiction. The titles to be screened in the festival that will run from April 23 to May 3, 2015 in Toronto, Canada, are Spandan Banerjee’s English India, Parvez Sharma’s A Sinner In Mecca, Anuj Adlakha and Farha Alam’s The Superstars Of Koti, Samarth Dixit’s and Jessica Sadana’s Prabhat Pheri, Saumyananda Sahi’s Small Things, Big Things, Abhay Kumar’s Placebo, Udita Bhargava’s Imraan, C/O Carrom Club, Prita Chakraborthy’s Silent Voices and Hana Kitasei’s and Shriya Pilgaonkar’s Panchgavya. In a short chat with Long Live Cinema, Sarafina  DiFelice, programming manager of HotDocs, lets us in on the selection process of the festival.
HotDocs Programming Manager Sarafina DiFelice

What was the motivation behind selecting India as the focus country this year? 

Every year at the end of our festival we essentially begin prepping for the next one. Over our travels we have a chance to learn about projects in development that might be interesting. ‘Made In’ is a section that explores the documentary work that stems from a rich filmmaking culture. We have in the past featured national and regional films from places like Denmark, Poland, Southeastern Europe, Italy, South America, South Korea, Mexico, Brazil and Japan. This is a section that offers the viewers at HotDocs a glimpse into the social, political, economic and cultural issues facing these societies. Last year we found that there was/is a lot of creative work coming out of India right now. It is also a country with a long legacy in filmmaking and documentaries. So we narrowed down our focus to India for this year’s ‘Made In’ section.

What were the preparations or research undertaken before programming this particular section?
We worked with a number of people and institutions here in Canada. This included producers whose work we thought was interesting, the Indian documentary foundation. In India, we had the support of the Films Division. We also went to the Film Bazaar at IFFI last year and conducted many meetings there.  We tried to be as exhaustive in our research as possible.

Could you explain the programming process?
The programming at HotDocs is always a mix of films that are selected and submitted. We make sure that all our submissions are seen by at least two people in the selection committee. Other than that, for the films that were curated, as explained above, we did a lot of research and worked with as many institutions and filmmakers as we could. The idea was to show everything that Indian documentary is doing these days. It wasn’t to restrict to any one type of documentary. We never tried to stay away from anything. Similar to the rest of the programme at HotDocs, we are always looking for creative work, unique voices.

Which is the film that you would say is the real find of this section at HotDocs this year?
They are all fantastic. We can’t really choose favourites. There is a strong history of documentary work in India. It just continues to grow and expand. There is a lot of interesting, artistic and cinematic approaches to story they come up with here. I am just happy we are able to showcase some of the best ones of these. It is always nice to see films that are showing for the first time, so I am especially happy for the world premieres at HotDocs.

Distribution is a major problem for documentaries in India as they battle big budget mainstream films here. What do you think is the solution to ease out distribution of documentaries?
I feel there has never been a better time for filmmakers to connect directly with audiences who want to see their work. The internet is the biggest leveler of our times. Online opportunities for funding and exhibition is obviously a great way to democratize the entire process.


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