Podcast Festival Comes to Vancouver This November

Here's what to expect from the first annual Vancouver Podcast Fest.

October 25, 2018

By Stacey McLachlan / Photo: Alice Moore, Unsplash

Odds are that you’ve listened to a podcast in the past 24 hours; in fact, you’re probably listening to a podcast right now. It’s a medium that’s been around for years, but the breakout success of Serial in 2014 took audio journalism and storytelling into a whole new level of popularity. We’re in the midst of a veritable boom right now—so much so that the team behind DOXA, Vancouver’s documentary film festival, is launching the inaugural Vancouver Podcast Festival November 8 to 10, with live recordings, panel discussions and creator meet-and-greets all on the menu. We took our earbuds out for long enough to ask Joseph Clark, who sits on the festival organization committee, for a sneak peek (or is it a sneak listen?) into what to expect.

Why was this year the year to launch Podcast Festival?

It was an idea whose time had come. Podcasting is massive! It represents an increasingly important medium – for entertainment, getting the news, and for digging deeper into politics and culture. But it is also a really accessible medium and Vancouver has an incredible podcasting scene. So we thought a festival that could bring some of the most exciting podcasts from around the world to Vancouver would be a great way to expose the city to new approaches to storytelling, but it would also be a great way to showcase the amazing podcasts being made right here. Once we started thinking about it, we couldn’t believe it hadn’t happened yet.

When you were curating the lineup, what was the goal?

We were really looking to create a festival that represented diverse voices and a broad range of approaches to podcasting. We definitely wanted to make a festival that maintained DOXA’s commitment to innovative documentary media as well as the organization’s roots in social justice issues, but we also wanted to include comedy and the irreverence that makes podcasting an exciting way to engage in serious issues. One of the things that makes podcasting so great is that it often defies genre boundaries and we were looking to reflect that in our choices.

The theme for the first year is “True Crime and Justice”: what makes these topics so fascinating to listeners right now?

So many podcast listeners have come to the medium through podcasts like Serial and true crime shows like In the Dark and Someone Knows Something are among the most popular podcasts in Canada. But what makes these shows special is the way they use audio documentary to tell stories that go beyond the sensationalism of a lot of true crime. At a time when newsroom budgets are getting cut, podcasting represents some of the best investigative journalism out there and podcasts have the time  to go beyond headlines to explore deeper issues like mass incarceration, corruption, and racism in the justice system. Examining these systemic issues through an intimate storytelling medium like podcasting is really compelling.

There are some podcasts in the mix that don’t seem to fit that theme… do you have any justification for why, say, a Harry Potter podcast, The Allusionist and Rap Gods are on the roster?

We never imagined the whole festival being devoted to our theme. We wanted a theme so that we could sustain a conversation across several of our shows and bring our guests together on panels that put podcasters in conversation with activists, lawyers, and academics. But we also wanted a festival that would showcase all kinds of podcasts—including comedy, music, and pop culture. Having said that, you’d be surprised how many legal issues there are to explore in the world of Harry Potter!

What are we getting from podcasts when it comes to crime/justice that we aren’t getting from, say, the news?

Sadly, news budgets are being cut all over the place and with fewer resources newspapers and TV news are increasingly driven by headlines and the 24 hour news cycle. Podcasts offer journalists the opportunity to do long-form reporting, to go deeper, and to engage listeners in a sustained way. The intimacy of audio also allows for different kinds of storytelling and new voices to be heard.

Is the festival more directed at podcasters, or podcast listeners?

We really want it to be for both fans and podcasters. There are lots of podcast conferences that are heavily geared towards the industry; we didn’t want that. We wanted to give local podcasters a chance to meet each other but also an opportunity for podcast fans to discover new shows. We’ve also put together a series of masterclasses and workshops aimed at turning fans into the next generation of podcasters. Podcasting is a really accessible medium and the Vancouver Public Library makes it even easier to get started. The VPL Innovation lab offers anyone with a library card access to a fully equipped podcast studio. We hope fans will be inspired by the festival live shows and next year we’ll have a bunch of new local podcasts to program.

Do you have any stats on how many Vancouverites listen to podcasts/how many hours per day/week they’re listening?

I don’t have any stats for Vancouver specifically, but Canadians are big podcast fans. About a quarter of Canadians listen to podcasts at least monthly—this is even higher for millennials. And the average podcast listener is a podcast a fan—they listen to an average of five podcasts a week.

Do you have any tips for enjoying a live podcast taping?

Expect to get involved: the best live podcasts engage the audience to make it something different than a regular studio podcast.

The first annual Vancouver Podcast Festival runs November 8 to 10, 2018. For a full schedule of events and to buy passes, check out the official website.

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