15 minutes with Dan Shanan

Executive Director of the upcoming Documentary Edge Film Festival 2016, Dan Shanan.

Executive Director of the upcoming Documentary Edge Film Festival 2016, Dan Shanan.


Born in Haifa, Israel and a filmmaker himself, Dan Shanan is executive director of the Documentary Edge Film Festival. Interview by Grant Smithies.

The Documentary Edge Festival started 11 years ago in 2005. Tell us about the first festival?

Dan Shanan at the podium during last year's festival.

Dan Shanan at the podium during last year's festival.

"The inaugural Doc Edge Festival was a pure labour of love for the small team that was involved. SkyCity Community Trust gave us the first seeding grant which enabled us to make it all happen. The launch happened three days before the 2005 General Elections and we were stoked to have Prime Minister, Helen Clark, attending and delivering a passionate speech about the important of documentary films. A massive 130 films were selected for the first festival which ran in Auckland and Wellington."

What does the festival look like today?

"Eleven years on, the festival has grown to become the premiere documentary event in Australasia. In addition to film screenings and Q&As with filmmakers, we also run public and industry events such as the Screen Edge - a screen industry forum, Doc Talks - a series of free curated talks on current topics, Docs 4 Schools - free daytime screenings for schools and the Gala Awards which celebrates local and International talents. It really is a colourful and diverse Festival for those attending. This year, we are adding a photography exhibition at the festival's venues which celebrate the work of our beloved Marti Friedlander. Her stunning NZ images are a national treasure of our past and present."

When picking films for the full programme, what do you look for? What do you think NZers are interested in?

"Each year, we strive to bring the best local and international films to our audience. This means curating a diverse selection of films with wide appeal. We look for great storytelling, thought-provoking, engaging and impacting subjects. From our experience, our audience is an eclectic bunch. They generally love music, environmental, social, challenging personal stories as well as entertaining ones."

There's a wide selection this year with 37 feature length films and 15 short films. Have you noticed any recent trends in the documentary genre?

"Trends come and go but the essence of documentary filmmaking stays the same. Documentary films challenge the mainstream media. They provide an alternative voice. When we curate the programme we are interested in the importance and impact of the stories, not necessarily what is 'trendy'. Doc Edge prides itself for showcasing independent films that are thought-provoking, emotionally impacting and even quirky controversial ones that are not usually seen in NZ otherwise."

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You must watch a lot of documentaries. What is your personal favourite documentary style? Or do you have a certain theme you enjoy?

"Watching documentaries is a passion of mine and I do watch hundreds of them each year. I adore personal intimate stories and films that take me on a ride which allow me to think for myself rather than tell me what or how I should think. There are many styles of documentary films and I particularly like the first person storytelling or 'fly on the wall' style."

A documentary maker yourself, what skills do you require to direct and produce documentaries?

"To make documentaries (or any film), I think first and foremost, one must have a good story and be a good storyteller. Once there is the story, one needs to be open that the story may develop in a different direction than you intended.  Without a doubt, one will need the passion, patience, resilience and persistence to follow through. While funding and box-office are improving, it still remains a financial challenge. Of course, having a well-paid job or a rich partner will help heaps..."

If you could go to any country in the world, where would you go and why?

"North Korea. I've travelled the world and lived in several places yet always find myself fascinated with places that are isolated and not accessible to most. There is so much to discover about North Korea and stories to tell."

You were born in Haifa, Israel. What do you remember about your childhood?

"I remember a happy childhood in Haifa, which is situated on Mount Carmel, a beautiful seaport city in the north of Israel where Jews and Arabs live together in relative harmony. While I enjoyed my childhood with friends and close loving family, I always dreamt of living somewhere far away overseas – to discover other cultures, languages and way of lives." 

Is there anything that you long for from Israel?

"Where do I start!! Undoubtedly, my family. The food which is absolutely divine. Then there are the weather, humour, warm and passionate nature of the people."

If someone made a documentary of your life, what would you pick as the title?

"Life, unscripted".

The Documentary Edge Film Festival 2016 takes place in Wellington: 4-15 May and Auckland 18 – 29 May. Full programme details at docedge.nz/festival/  

 - Stuff

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