At a bar in Silver Spring, MD, a friend came up to me tonight and said that she loves the fact that her friends can still surprise her. She was looking at Hot Docs head programmer Sean Farnel as we spoke. The Canadian was a few feet away chatting with another doc community insider.
Farnel, an esteemed veteran of the festival circuit, has been the buzz of this year's Silverdocs fest (where he, Karina Longworth and I are serving together on the international jury). Sean is truly one of the good guys, a chipper fellow who's highly regarded by his peers. After six years running Hot Docs (and making the fest into one of the most important doc events of the year) he's decided to call it quits. The break is amicable he told me tonight as we waked to a jury dinner on a warm night here in Maryland. It is simply time for a change and he said that he'll spend some time at home in Toronto pondering his next steps.
In a poignant blog post earlier this week, Sean reflected on his time at Hot Docs, proudly reflecting on his accomplishments and also sharing warm words for the folks he'll leave behind.
"My professional life has been devoted to sharing my passion for film, and particularly documentary. I remain inspired by the fact that the stories, people, issues, and emotions we experience in watching documentary could not be communicated, as potently, in any other form. It’s been a gift…not just earning a living, but a life in itself."
By his count, Farnel says he's watched some 4000 documentaries over the past six years.
"And so I embrace the notion of having some room to roam, to being a professional omnivore, a free agent, and at some point to taking your calls to persuade me to settle down," Sean Farnel wrote. "But, for now, when my friends back home ask me what I’m doing, how will I respond? Well, I’m putting my work boots and coveralls on, sharpening my tools and packing a big lunch."
He concluded, "I work for documentary."