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Hot Docs 2023: Qs à la mode with… Roads to Regeneration filmmakers

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The short films in the Roads to Regeneration shorts program were executive-produced by Hot Docs and presented by SAP, and showcase ordinary people pursuing new ideas for sustainability and equality around the world. We posed our Qs à la mode to many of the Roads filmmakers, and here’s what they shared!


Dan Ashby (Beautiful Poison)

If I had to describe my film using only three adjectives, they would be: Mind-boggling, anti-apocalyptic, fluviatile.

I decided to make this film because: I’ve never seen an environmental solution so simple and beautiful, set against imagery that could be from a 22nd century apocalyptic future, in which coal gets its revenge on us.

The thing that surprised me most about my film’s subject/topic was: The character Cheryl, who — from European eyes at least — is the type of environmentalist we rarely hear of or see in our media. She sets the film in a historical and societal context that made me realise Beautiful Poison is not only a film about an awesome community, but also a symbol of the crossroads we all face in the years ahead.

My favorite moment/scene/sequence in my film is: When Cheryl says “it’s a blip in time” as she walks through a coal town that has been abandoned and reclaimed by a forest. She ruminates on how our coal addiction is nothing in nature’s fullness and permanence. I still get goosebumps seeing it.

The most challenging part of making my film was: Trekking and scrabbling in the Ohio heat down toxic rivers. John Sabraw [the main subject] is a hero. He guided us and did everything we asked of him. You can’t help but be infected by his optimism and can-do attitude.

My most invaluable piece of doc-making gear was/is: Emergency food for the crew.

One piece of documentary-filmmaking advice I’d like to share with aspiring documentarians is:
Be assiduous about stories. Read them, watch them, dissect them. Devour good ones and bad ones. Work out what you love and why you love it. Then make your own story, and make sure every single second is worth somebody else giving up their time to watch.


Ose Oyamendan (Waste to Life)

If I had to describe my film using only three adjectives, they would be: Adversity, resilience, opportunity.

I decided to make this film because: It shows a part of the African life, history and culture that is not well-known.

The thing that surprised me most about my film’s subject/topic was: Discovering the world and the subjects.

My favorite moment/scene/sequence in my film is: When the women are painting their bodies and singing.

The most challenging part of making my film was: Listening to the heart-wrenching stories of the women and still managing to film them. These women have fled hundreds of miles from the war zone where they have lost husbands, children, siblings, and neighbors to a displacement camp where they are eking out a loving by converting waste to wealth.

My most invaluable piece of doc-making gear was/is: My camera.

One piece of documentary-filmmaking advice I’d like to share with aspiring documentarians is:
Find your voice and trust it.


Dominic Gill & Nadia Gill (Billets and Blooms)

If we had to describe our film using only three adjectives, they would be: Challenging, progressive, optimistic.

We decided to make this film because: We knew the organization in question and have always admired the way they are taking up one of the biggest challenges of our time.

Our favorite moment/scene/sequence in our film is: Alicia’s mother on the other end of the phone!

The most challenging part of making our film was: Ensuring it wasn’t too “talking heads” and keeping what can be a fairly dry subject moving.

Our most invaluable piece of doc-making gear was/is: Our editor.

One piece of documentary-filmmaking advice we’d like to share with aspiring documentarians is: Listen, then listen some more. It’s okay to have your own nuanced take on something, just make sure it’s heavily influenced by experts!


Jude Chehab (300 Days of Sun)

If I had to describe my film using only three adjectives, they would be: Transformative, bright, hopeful.

I decided to make this film because: Lebanon is going through an unprecedented electricity crisis, and in reaction to that, the people have taken it into their own hands to provide for themselves electricity through a renewable source of energy: solar. Witnessing all of this unfold in front of my eyes, seeing this solar boom that I had never heard of taking place elsewhere out of extreme need, not just privilege, felt like a moment in history that had to be captured.

The thing that surprised me most about my film’s subject/topic was: That anyone I had spoken to had quickly adapted to the idea of solar being an affordable and viable alternative to fossil fuels, and that every level of society accepted this change and knew how to speak on it!

My favorite moment/scene/sequence in my film is: The tailor. He was a star! He enjoyed being in the film and every time I pass his shop nowadays, he gets so excited to see me and hear about the film.

The most challenging part of making my film was:  Electricity cuts. We had to work around them constantly while we were shooting in Beirut. Try shooting and editing without electricity!

My most invaluable piece of doc-making gear was/is: Power banks!

One piece of documentary-filmmaking advice I’d like to share with aspiring documentarians is: Stories are universal, and a good documentarian picks up on the nuances of social change that precipitate the inspiration behind great stories.


Hiroshi Yokota (The Floating World)

If I had to describe my film using only three adjectives, they would be: Artistic yet time-traveling miracle.

I decided to make this film because: I believe this is something the world has never seen: a vibrant animation of our forgotten history.

The thing that surprised me most about my film’s subject/topic was: How human waste was sold as fertilizer at a profitable price in 19th century Tokyo, with the feces of samurais considered the most expensive and nutritious. This was as a symbolic example of how the local people ingeniously utilized limited resources, without having the concept of recycling.

My favorite moment/scene/sequence in my film is: Clouds floating in the sky, a metaphor for the floating world.

The most challenging part of making my film was: Finding the best Ukiyo-e woodblock print for each shot from over a million options, a painstaking task.

My most invaluable piece of doc-making gear was/is: A cigarette.

One piece of documentary-filmmaking advice I’d like to share with aspiring documentarians is: Follow what comes to your mind first rather than thinking twice.” In my case, new ideas degrade as I overthink, because I tend to go into details that the audience may not really notice or care about.


Richard da Costa (Emission Impossible: The Future of Flight)

If I had to describe my film using only three adjectives, they would be: Global, maverick, hopeful.

I decided to make this film because: We tend to be change-averse, and at a time when the next steps we take as a species are vital to our survival, we need to learn to change, to think about things differently and to take action. The first flight of a large zero-emissions aircraft is a fantastic symbol of what humans are capable of when working with a common vision and purpose.

The thing that surprised me most about my film’s subject/topic was: People who think protest is inaction and that engineering can solve all our problems. It was both challenging and invigorating, and I wanted to get that across to the audience. I was also surprised to see how close the relationship is between science and creativity. I was probably conditioned to think otherwise.

My favorite moment/scene/sequence in my film is: Gabriele’s line, “Electrification of aviation is coming. It’s not hard — it’s simply difficult as everything was difficult before it was done.”

The most challenging part of making my film was: Planning shoots when working in an R & D environment. We were originally hoping for a first flight. Having to complete [the film] before this happened turned out to be a good thing. I’m glad we caught a moment in time when people were on the cusp of something special. It allowed us to capture the huge sense of anticipation and everything that goes with that.

My most invaluable piece of doc-making gear was/is: Keeping crews light and using quality kit that is small. It’s so liberating. I love high-resolution cameras, but sometimes the less kit you have with you, the better.

One piece of documentary-filmmaking advice I’d like to share with aspiring documentarians is: However strong your ideas are about what you want to say, the contributor will have something better — it’s our job to unlock that. We need to create the space, the environment and dynamics for that to happen.


Koval Bhatia (She Run The World)

If I had to describe my film using only three adjectives, they would be: Fun. Inspiring. Women-led.

I decided to make this film because: I need the world to know that change is coming and young women are in charge!

The thing that surprised me most about my film’s subject/topic was: These incredibly passionate, driven, super-achieving women are way cooler than anyone gives them credit for. They’re funny, insightful, wise beyond their years and fully aware of the complexity of what the future looks like.

My favorite moment/scene/sequence in my film is: This beautiful moment when Sneha scolds a goat for eating garbage instead of grass. She’s exasperated, telling the goat “it’s right there!” But can we really blame the goat when garbage is far more easy to access than green, nutritious grass and definitely less physical effort to reach?

The most challenging part of making my film was: Logistically, shooting in one of the hottest parts of the world in the hottest time of the year in one of the hottest years in recorded history. Also, convincing everyone involved that an all-women crew is possible, even with physically grueling challenges. Pro tip: ice cream is magic.

One piece of documentary-filmmaking advice I’d like to share with aspiring documentarians is: Let your characters define the voice of your film rather than the other way around. Be okay with surprises, and learn from them instead of seeing them as problems to solve immediately. And HIRE MORE WOMEN IN EVERY ROLE NO MATTER WHAT.


Want to check out the Roads to Regeneration shorts, or just learn more about them?
Get the scoop, and your tickets, here!

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