20 Questions for Film Curators

Posted by in Art, Cinema, Culture and Politics, Festivals

This past winter I taught a graduate seminar course at Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema (Concordia University) entitled “Curatorial Practices and the Politics of Programming.” It was a fantastic and meaningful experience and I was fortunate enough to have 13 engaged students, all of whom suffered along with me as I attempted to make sense of my overly-ambitious and newly minted syllabus.

After a few weeks of the course and after several discussions around programming ethics, responsibilities, practices, and outcomes, we decided to compile a list of questions that someone curating or programming film might want to, or ought to, ask themselves. Partially inspired by the Of the North festival programming scandal, and with a focused interest in the politics of cultural selection, we agreed on the questions below. Some of these may seem painfully obvious, but then again it often seems painfully obvious that certain works shouldn’t be programmed in certain contexts. Other questions may not be so obvious, and considered together our goal was to produce a document that generated critical and reflexive thought on the act of curating and programming.

We live in an age of hyper-curation yet so little attention and discussion is dedicated to the work of curating and the politics of programming. Hopefully this list helps in one small way to address that dearth. And of course, I’d love to hear suggestions for questions to add to the list…


1. Who is the intended audience and what is their relationship to the subject?
2. Why should an audience watch this?
3. How nuanced/complex/obvious is this program (both descriptively and normatively)?
4. What is the theme or themes of the program?
5. How would we present this for/in a different context and why?
6. What new meaning(s) is/are created from the pairing/ordering/selection in this program?
7. What is left out that we should be considering (and why was it rejected)?
8. What is the intended impact of this program?
9. What experience is created, or, what experiential opportunities are initiated with this program?
10. What makes this program novel or unique?
11. Who is funding this program (institutional, sponsorship and the films themselves)?
12. Where is this taking place/in which context and how does that effect the screening of this program?
13. What else is going on in the world/what are the wider echos this program is in conversation with?
14. Who is being represented by whom in which manner?
15. How has this film or the films in this program circulated prior to selection?
16. What is a possible unintended or undesired impact of this program?
17. What is the value of this program?
18. Who is speaking, in which order and manner at this program event and why?
19. Whose agenda does this program serve?
20. Does this program reflect the values of the programmer and the institution or organization?