Our programming process begins a few months before the submissions deadline, when we start attending school and community screenings around the GTA and trolling for films online. During this time, I find it very easy to get attached to specific films — maybe even too attached — before some of the other programmers have even seen them. In the lead up to the submissions deadline, I’ll hype up my favourites to my fellow programmers — “________ is the best student doc. I’ve ever seen!” — excited for the day when the filmmaker submits and everyone else can see what I’ve been going on about. Most of the time, we end up being on the same page, and we’ll add the film to our lineup without hesitation. But, sometimes, Sia, Julia and Henry will look at me like I have two heads, and I’ll be left scratching them both, wondering where exactly our tastes diverged.
These moments are actually instructive, because they help me to understand why I like particular elements of a film and why those elements don’t resonate with everyone else. When selecting a lineup, it’s absolutely important to have strong ideas about what makes a film good, but it’s equally important to acknowledge that if your fellow programmers don’t love a particular film, it’s likely the audience won’t either.
Of course, compromise is the name of the game, and it comes in many forms. Sometimes, it resembles political horse-trading, and sometimes it means coming to terms with the fact that certain films just aren’t going to fit the theme of any of the programs. More often, though, we come to an understanding through passionate, mostly level-headed discussions about the films themselves. It doesn’t make it any less painful to kill your darlings, but it’s really fun when you win.