HotDocs was an experience. I went up there as an audience member rather than as a participant. Part of my intention was to get a feel for the documentary film festival as it's the setting for the climax of one of my w-i-ps.
One of the things I discovered was that the industry people had better parties than the audiences. The website said no tickets required so my friend and I crashed it. I also learned that pitching at a film conference is the same as at a writer's conference; nerve-wracking and thought consuming, but with much better props.
HotDocs expanded my awareness on many levels. I had drinks and great conversation about the process of film-making with friends at various levels of experience in that business. I had some serious quality time with my nephew wandering through the streets of Toronto while discussing the variety and effectiveness of communication in this day and age.
I walk around with my eyes raised to the sky and as such tend to be oblivious to what's going on around me. I know there is corruption and injustice in the world. I know there are people who don't care who or what they hurt in their quest for power, wealth or status. I also realize that exposing those stories makes for interesting documentaries.
One of my favourite parts of HotDocs was listening to the filmmakers talk about their experiences, or reasons for making their films. After The Cove, Simon Hutchins said he'd never set out to be an activist. It was a natural progression from observing the destruction of the world's oceans.
I was still thinking about his words a few days later as I walked to work in my red shirt. I'm dedicated to being non-political but still have many issues I care about. I strive to teach through example, to show rather than tell. If I don't wear placards, protest or shout my opinion to the world, does that make my commitment any less?
How does all of this relate to writing? To a certain extent, we can only write that which we know; subjects about which we are passionate. Not all documentary film makers are activists. They aren't all part of the stories they document. What they are is driven - to illuminate and educate.
In fiction, message stories tend to alienate their readers. Entertainment is the goal. That's not to say you can't write with an opinion. Just don't let it become the story.
I'm juggling two works of fiction with one non. It's been hard to document Casey's story because I'm part of it. try taking a picture of a seventy pound pup getting cast for a new brace when you're lying on the floor holding him still. I'm not that talented. Or flexible. Because of my involvement and personal experience, I can wave the flag for alternative healing and commitment to animals in the forum of non-fiction.
HotDocs made me take a long hard look at the world in which I live; at the people who inhabit it; and what I'm willing to do to change things. It also clarified certain aspects of the wip that sent me there in the first place.
I'm writing a book about a sweater. A gorgeous sweater. And how one woman's obsession with that sweater affects her relationships. I'm sure there's a message in there but it will be subtle.