If you’re a fan of podcast like us, you may want to check into the upcoming Hot Docs Podcast Festival. Some of the most incredible creatives in the landscape will share their captivating stories and experiences. Whether you’re a fan or a creator, you’ll find the line up at this year’s all-virtual festival inspiring in many ways. Starting on Tuesday, January 25 with the opening night event.  The Secret Life of Canada, co-hosts Leah Simone Bowen and Falen Johnson return to the Hot Docs Podcast Festival on opening night with a star-studded storytelling showcase.

We had the fortunate opportunity to chat with Leah Simone and Falen ahead of the Festival to learn more…

What made you decide to get together to create your podcast series?

Falen: It was really Leah’s idea. We would meet for coffee and talk about what we were working on. We are both playwrights and we both kinda gravitate towards history themed stories and works. This would have been back in 2017 and the sesquicentennial was in full swing.

I think we both felt a bit odd about it. Like what were we celebrating? As two women from marginalized backgrounds I think we both felt there was a pretty big piece of the puzzle missing in that celebratory narrative. We thought we could help to paint a fuller image of this place that was being celebrated. 

Leah Simone: It’s not often you get together with a fellow Theater person to nerd out on history over beers,  so that seemed like the right combo for a podcast. Actually, just saying it out loud it sounds like a horrific combo for a podcast but people seem to like it!

Why a podcast and not Youtube or other platforms?

Falen: I think as playwrights we both knew how to script. And scripting a podcast felt sorta similar. We also then knew how to leave the script behind. How to (as we say in the theatre) “lift it off the page.” It felt like a natural transition to shift between the forms. 

Leah Simone: I would say that it’s not a YouTube channel because I can’t commit to wearing presentable clothing each day. Podcasting is great because you can wear sweatpants or fancy pants. It’s really up to you and that’s the kind of accessibility I crave when I’m making something. 

So many of these stories were never taught in schools as we were growing up here but have significance and much impact on our country’s history. What has been the most surprising/shocking for you to learn so far?

Falen: I am continuously shocked. With each episode I learn something or I unlearn something or I understand the context of something differently. When that happens it breaks my brain in a really great way. I think history can be ingrained in us in a really insidious way. We see something so much or for so long that we stop questioning how that thing got to be there.

For me the episode on the Indian Act was purely selfish. I wanted to know how this thing, this piece of policy came to be. I wanted to dig into the roots of it and really look at where it started. And I don’t wanna give spoilers but seeing how the roots of that thing took hold and how quickly was a shock for me. 

Leah Simone: I think the most shocking thing that I learn each time I do an episode is that there are so many stories that are so fundamental to how we live in this country today and many of them are still unknown to the majority of Canadians 

There must be so many incredible stories to be told, how do you determine which ones you’d like to tell? 

Falen: There are so many stories to tell. For me it all starts with a question or a curiosity. And it can be so small. A lot of the time it’s a “but why” question. Like for this upcoming season I’m looking at the history of Newfoundland and why the province held out till 1950 to join confederation. For me as a Haudenosaunee person our sovereignty as a nation is so important and it is something we are constantly seeking recognition of. So there is something admirable and interesting about a place holding out for so long. I’m like, “hey Newfoundland, what’s your secret? Call me girl.” 

Leah Simone: Now that we’ve been doing the podcast for so many years, we are really aware of how many younger listeners we have. And so partially we look for stories that can be used as an additional education tool. Overall, it is sometimes agonizing trying to decide what to cover this season and what to leave until next, I agree there are many incredible stories.

What advice would you have for someone who wants to start a podcast now?

Falen: My advice would be to think about what you want to hear? What’s missing? What do you care about? More than anything, why is this story urgent and why do you need to tell it? Be unapologetically passionate about the story you want to tell. Trust your voice. That is the thing that will make you different from other podcasts. 

Leah Simone: Just make it and don’t worry too much about the rules, just try and see what you discover from the doing. Also…. you don’t need all the big equipment that every article ever written on podcasting will tell you that you should buy. I now work with a mic that looks like the mic that sits on the stand in a high school gym. It didn’t cost me a lot of money and it does the job well.

You’ll both be hosting the opening night event, what can you tell us about and what else are you looking forward to at this year’s Hot Docs Podcast Festival?

Falen: It’s about secrets so we can’t tell you anything. Just kidding. Sort of. This event will give folks a sneak peak of what’s coming up from CBC Podcasts. And Leah and I will be dishing out some Toronto specific history. I’m also pretty excited for some of the industry events. Connie Walker in a session about investigative podcasting, Nana aba Duncan speaking about a career in podcasting, and Acast is hosting a session on Indigenous podcasting and activism that I am a part of. I am really excited to hear folks share knowledge in the context of the medium. 

Leah Simone:  Everything Falen just said.

What can you tell us about the new season of Secret Life of Canada? 

Falen: We are gonna take you everywhere from bootlegging to beavers. This season will build on what we’ve done in previous seasons. We give you facts with a healthy dose of foolishness. 

Leah Simone: Our first episode looks at a very famous picture called “Before and After” that is often referenced when it comes to Residential school. It is of a young boy but his name is not attached when the picture is credited and very little is known about him.  So we ask the question, who is this little boy and what can the picture actually tell us ?  The answers are eye opening.

Amazing! Thanks to you both for taking the time to chat. We’re looking forward to opening night and more secrets revealed on your podcast!

For more information and tickets to the Hot Docs Podcast Festival link here. (and by the way, check our previous post to see how you can enter for a chance to win a Festival Pass!)

*Lead in photo by Guillaume Jaillet for Unsplash