Toronto-based film festival Hot Docs commemorated Canada’s 150th birthday on July 1 with the world premiere of In the Name of All Canadians — a compilation of six short docs inspired by Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Participating filmmakers chose a specific aspect of the Charter to explore, such as indigenous rights, multiculturalism or the notwithstanding clause, and were tasked with exploring how these themes resonate in the stories of their fellow Canadians.
The project was the brain child of Elizabeth Radshaw, Hot Docs’ industry programs director and executive producer of the film.
Two years ago, Radshaw was studying for her Canadian citizenship test, leading her to learn more about the Charter — a bill of rights that is part of the Canadian Constitution, which sets basic laws about how the country operates.
“I realized it’s a unique and special document — one that the everyday Canadian doesn’t think about because when it works, it works behind the scenes,” she said. Radshaw and the Hot Docs team worked together to conceive of the idea to tell stories about the Charter and bring an emotional face to something usually associated with high school history class.
Brett Hendrie, Hot Docs executive director, said that as a national and year-round cultural organization, he felt it was important for Hot Docs to contribute to the conversation and dialogue around the centennial.
“We feel documentary film has a particular alignment with Canada that’s important,” he said.
In September, Dan Montgomery was called up to sign on as creative producer of the film.
“Immediately I knew that we were going to have to bring on other talent and people to realize this project,” he said. “So the first steps involved sketching out how we were going to compile a series of short films around the subject matter.”
The team first considered doing an open call for submissions, but quickly realized that it wouldn’t be possible process the project under tight time restraints. Instead, they crafted a wish list of possible filmmakers and reached out to them to gauge their interest and availability. After all, it takes a lot of work to produce six films in less than nine months.
Participating filmmakers include: Ariel Nasr (The Boxing Girls of Kabul) and Aisha Jamal; Patrick Reed (Guantanamo’s Child: Omar Khadr) and Andréa Schmidt; Karen Chapman (Walk Good); Jean-François Caissy (La marche à suivre); Janelle and Jérémie Wookey (A Right to Eat); Vivian Belik and Jennifer Bowen-Allen.
Hendrie said the team had discussed a few different ideas, but settled on the compilation of shorts because it gave Hot Docs the opportunity to amplify the filmmakers’ voices as opposed to the organization’s, and enabled them to showcase the work of directors from coast to coast with a variety of backgrounds, each who could bring something valuable to the conversation.
Radshaw said she hopes these films help open up a dialogue between Canadians, and addresses their relationship with the government.
“There’s a lot going on for Canada Day and it’s easy to get lost in the flood and flurry of activity,” she said. “It was a big reason why we chose this subject matter, because we knew it would be a bit more evergreen.”
Following the June 28 world premiere, In the Name of All Canadians will screen at Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema beginning on June 30. Hot Docs also plans to leverage its theatrical, education and online distribution partnerships and programs to share the project with audiences across the country through partner festivals and community screenings. It will be further made available online, joining the Hot Docs Collection on iTunes.
In the fall, the compilation and accompanying educational resources will be available to reaches as part of the Docs For Schools, Hot Docs’ education program that offers over 95,000 students free access to documentaries each year.
The project was partially funded by the Government of Canada and the Government of Ontario.