Highlights from a Q&A session between Executive Producer Ann Shin and the Rogers Group of Funds about the filmmaking process:
What makes a powerful documentary?
My dad says more action scenes ;). Aside from action, which all docs need, I think a strong story makes a powerful documentary, and there are a few different types of strong stories. The two kinds of stories I’m drawn to are: 1) Heroic human stories about overcoming challenges, about resilience, surprising ingenuity. These stories have strong emotional arcs and have the viewer rooting for the subject. 2) Stories with universal relevance, these are often about a social issue and it’s the filmmaker’s creativity and vision that makes the social issue come alive and resonate with the viewer. And of course the best of the best are stories with all of the above. Plus more action scenes.
What excites you about today’s cross-platform/interactive possibilities?
While we are developing a VR game and I’ve done a range of interactive projects, to be frank, I’m not doing that many interactive projects now, because funding in Canada for cross-platform projects (cross film/tv/digital media) has shrunk. That being said, digital media industries are doing well and there are interesting things going on in AR and VR. I also like following the work being done in podcasts and short form web content, especially web series. Both of those forms are like sandboxes for trying out new ideas and talent.
What difference does it make to have women in positions of creative control?
Having more women in positions of creative control is, for one, a better reflection of our society. And it’s just as important to have people of different backgrounds and ability. I’m trying not to sound the politically-correct-horn because I know it’s deafened us all! But having all kinds of people in positions of creative control leads to smarter, better, funnier, and more universally relevant creative.
When you look back on your career, what moments stand out?
Whenever I took a real risk, I ended up creating a memorable project, and the experience altered me. The first film I did, Western Eyes, with Gerry Flahive at the National Film Board, was really an experimental shot in the dark for me and I appreciated his guidance on the whole project. For The Defector, I travelled embedded with North Korean defectors on the run and their bravery and the stories of their sacrifices has stayed with me to this day. It was also a heart-harrowing journey to plumb the depths of Najah and Zahed’s story in My Enemy, My Brother and that has stayed with me as well.
You’re currently working on A.I. God and Smart Drugs. Does the potential of technology excite or terrify you?
Yes. To both. I’m uneasy about how we are developing powerful technologies without properly understanding the dangers, and without having developed the moral and social constructs to manage them well. Then there is the growing trend of relying on technology to tell us who we are, how we are, and how we should be. Yuval Harari talks about the Dataist religion – describing how more and more people rely on data and biotech to define who they are. We are losing sight of core human values, and indeed, those ‘core’ values are changing. It’s kind of terrifying and fascinating.
What do you hope viewers take away from these productions?
I hope people find the answer. Both these films address the pressure we feel as humans to ‘keep up’ with tech. As we sense that we are being outclassed and outmoded by technology, some have responded by bio-hacking and augmenting themselves with technological or pharmaceutical enhancements. I’m not convinced that’s the way to go but maybe in 15 years time, I too will use a brain-computer interface because everyone in the developed classes of the world has one. Or maybe I’ll join the ‘savages’ of the world, like John from Brave New World. Either way I hope to be a voice that helps shape our dialogues as a society and I hope everyone sees their own agency and responsibility to voice their concerns and to actively shape the direction we go, rather becoming flotsam and jetsam carried off by an AI tide.