Jacob Hanania's interest in film was piqued at an early age when he took a film arts course in high school. What was intended to be an easy credit turned into a fascination with the medium, growing into a career spanning over 14 years. Upon graduation, an internship with a local TV channel allowed Jacob to develop his passion for the technical aspects of the industry. This newly-acquired skill set, coupled with the desire to tell an engaging story, lead him to Landed Entertainments and his 2008 directorial debut, MCF. This film proved to be a success; it was accepted into the New York International Film & Video Festival, inspiring Jacob to continue producing music videos and to build his resume with various roles on set. In 2014, his second short film Street Meet was accepted into several international film festivals. Between projects, Jacob balances his time between his day job and developing his next film.
Who, or what inspired you to become a filmmaker?
I took a film arts course in high school that was meant to be an easy credit. It ended up having a huge impact on me. I thought we'd be watching a bunch of 80s comedies while the teacher slept at his desk. Instead, we dug into films like Nosferatu, Citizen Kane, Bridge on the River Kwai, The 39 Steps, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. I began to learn so much about why and how movies make us feel the way we do, and the amount of work that goes into making them. It blew me away! I wanted to do what they did.
What film can you not live without and why?
Star Wars. I always tell people that part of the reason I love hip hop so much is because it introduced me to a wider world of music through sampling. Star Wars was my gateway into so many things. I credit my love of reading to Star Wars - without those Timothy Zahn books, I probably wouldn't have become such a voracious reader. I started writing because of Star Wars - it's true, the first things I ever wanted to write were stories in that universe. Yep, I wrote fanfiction as a child. Star Wars broadened my musical tastes, and it sparked my love for Japanese samurai epics. There you have it. Star Wars. It's probably one of the more cliché answers to this question, but it's certainly the truest for me.
What film do you currently find yourself watching ad nauseam? And what about it keeps bringing you back?
Oh, so many. I think the film that keeps bringing me back more than any other is John Carpenter's The Thing. I've always been fascinated with it. It works so damn well, and it feels effortless. The score, the creature work, the blood test sequence, the desolate atmosphere, the constant sense of foreboding, the central mystery... man, I love that movie.
Has a modern film impacted you lately? If so, what film, and how?
Sure, lots. I saw two films recently that have both stuck with me for very similar reasons: The Witch and Bone Tomahawk. While both films are a masterclass in tone, and are gorgeously shot and designed... it's the dialogue (and the way that dialogue is performed) that really set them apart. They're two of the most immersive film-going experiences I've had in the last few years mostly due to the commitment on the behalf of the filmmakers to do their research.
Is there a saying, code or decree you live by as a filmmaker?
During my days, I do a lot of user-centered design for a major Canadian corporation. The key to every good design thinking process is to put yourself in the user's shoes - or empathize. It is helpful when coming up with potential solutions to design problems, and is just as helpful in filmmaking as it is when creating an app or designing a website. The ability to empathize with my crew, my cast, my characters and my audience is critical when I'm put on the spot to come up with creative solutions to filmmaking problems. I guess the decree I live by is to practice empathy in your everyday life - it'll make you a better filmmaker and a better person.
What word of filmmaking advice would you give to your younger self?
Probably the same advice that I'd give myself today: do your research, listen more, trust your gut, say no when you need to, take more creative risks, and keep learning.
How do you continue to educate yourself as a filmmaker?
I try to experience as much as I can. I try to talk to people who are different than I am. I take courses that expand my horizons. I travel. Our lives inform so much of what we create. I would hate to create from a bubble.
What lesson did you learn from your first moments as a filmmaker?
That I'm never going to stop learning. Many of my initial assumptions about what this job would be like turned out to be false. Many of the lessons I learned on my first film didn't work on my second. I worked with different people to create something very different than the first time around. The ability to adapt is maybe the most important thing I learned. Change is constant. Every new film is a new learning experience.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome as a filmmaker?
My biggest challenge to overcome has always been myself. We're all our biggest critics, and I tend to criticize every decision I make from development to post production. It's difficult to make a decision on a film - they are permanent and can change the way your film is read. It's something I've worked on a lot, and will continue to work on just as I will continue to work on my craft.
What’s great about making films in Canada?
I can only really speak to making films in Toronto. And the best part about Toronto is the fact that we have such a diverse pool of talent - so many different people from so many different backgrounds and life experiences. I'm not sure what filmmaking is like elsewhere in Canada or the rest of the world, but I'd love to be able to experience the differences some day.
What Canadian film inspires you?
Oh geez. Pick a Cronenberg film. Maybe Videodrome. I've always been a big genre fan (can you tell?) and Cronenberg has always been an influence and an inspiration. Especially now as virtual and augmented reality begin to shift the way we see and interact with the world, as the line between what's real and what's imaginary becomes more and more blurred, as technology becomes more integrated into our everyday lives. Cronenberg's prescient, McLuhanesque body horror film probably had a bigger impact on me than most.
What do you love about the art of filmmaking and why?
Collaboration. I work better when I surround myself with passionate, creative people. It's my favourite part of the filmmaking process, and it's the reason I get excited about making a new film.