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Wild at Heart: DokLeipzig 2011

“Wild at Heart – An Experiment in Courage” was an intriguing title for a novel industry event hosted by DokLeipzig this year. The intention with this invite-only event was to inject new life into industry conversations, which as festival events go, often end up in panels where we exchange information, but less frequently meaningful conversations of what actually underpins our passion for documentary, and reasons for doing what we’re doing.

The morning consisted of three rounds of 30mins, spread over 10 tables of 8, with a table host each, and three questions designed to get deeper into the heart of courage within documentary. We were told to write on the table cloths. Ilo von Seckendorff, one of the organisers, told me that it took a long time to find the right questions for this event. There were no right or wrong answers expected of us (although it was easy to fall into that mode of thinking), and participants were supposed to drop their roles as commissioners, producers, filmmakers etc and just be present as a person, contributing from the heart.

And here are the questions we debated:

DokLeipzig 2011
HeArt of Documentary – DokLeipzig 2011

1. Which are, for you, the most courageous decisions made in the documentary world?

People talked about history and contemporary courageous pioneers, in documentary as well as in technology;  and noted emotional vs physical courage – by either filmmaker or subject.

2. What does it take to be courageous?
My next table, led by Sean Farnel, drew up a long list of  qualities needed for courage: passion, trust, freedom, vision, etc  and discussed the relationships between them in order to determine what sequence or hierarchy of qualities allowed us to be courageous.

By the third table, it was supposed to get more personal:
3. Imagine a really courageous decision related to your own job. What difference would it make?
On my table, a big debate resulted in some people questioning whether it was permissible to call what we do courageous – aren’t we just doing our jobs? Others debated risk vs courage, and the line between courage and vanity.

Some people struggled with the word courage itself, and some, of course, didn’t care too much for submitting themselves to this entire process; which now makes me think about the difficulty of experiencing “change”. It’s not always easy to just let it unfold.

After three table conversations, we gathered all the “take aways” in a summary session led by the table hosts, and with comments by the floor.

What I found powerful throughout was the open dialogue it created and the realisation how similar the discussions and concerns were in the different groups. It was also a new way to network horizontally, as people simply connected as people via the actual debate, which was also designed to connect people to their values.

The elephant emerging ?

We were told to look out for the “elephant emerging” from our discussions.

For Rudy Buttignol, who eloquently spoke at the end in his role of roving table host, it was “accountability:”  how can we as a group become more transparent and look after ever diminishing resources more carefully.

For me the elephant in the room, somehow, was #occupy, the first global day (15 October 2011) had just taken place two days earlier. This movement is throwing the socio-political debate wide open right now, especially by not coming to the “party” with preconceived ideas, by questioning methods and systems, by being “open” and insisting on consensus.

As Douglas Rushkoff says in an article on CNN: “…this is not a movement with a traditional narrative arc. As the product of the decentralized networked-era culture, it is less about victory than sustainability. It is not about one-pointedness, but inclusion and groping toward consensus. It is not like a book; it is like the Internet.”

For a moment in this room, we too, were equals; realising that an “us vs them” structure is unhelpful and has a psychological consequence: It changes behaviour.

We are the 99%.

I’m excited to see where this kind of conversation will take us. We need it – to cope with all the change.


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Dockanema honors esteemed director, Ruy Guerra

Ruy Guerra

For its 6 edition Dockanema decided to celebrate Ruy Guerra. At the Brazilian cultural centre he decided to talk about the 3 moments of his life: poet, photographer, actor, scriptwriter, editor, but above all film director, born in 1931 in the city now known as Maputo. In his youth in Maputo, he was active against Portuguese colonization and racism, which of course got him into trouble with the authorities. His father worried for his safety and decided to send him abroad.

Moment I

His passion for cinema made him consider 3 possibilities in Europe to learn filmmaking.

1/ Cinecitta – but it was for observers only

2/ Lodze film school, but you had to learn Polish for one year, then 2 years theory and then you got to practice. He was far too petulant for that.

3/ IDHEC; now known as La Femis French National Film School.

Off he went, to live the Rive Gauche bohemian life, which no doubt was a great training for future hardship as a filmmaker. After the course he remained in Paris and got involved with the Nouvelle Vague at a time when a major debate was taking place: Is there such a thing as authored cinema and can it be the 7th art, when it is produced with machines and a team of people?

Moment II

Missing speaking Portuguese and not being able to return to Mozambique, he finally decided to migrate to Brazil in ’58, passing from Nouvelle Vague to Cinema Novo, a group of Brazilian filmmakers trying to break with tradition in search of a new Brazilian identity, beyond football and Samba. This radical, political cinema became a movement but was stopped in its tracks by the violent military dictatorship when they came to power in ’64, and stayed there for the next 20 years.

Moment III

In 1975, when Mozambique became independent, he was able to return to his native country and offered to help in the creation of Mozambican cinema. He played an important role in training young filmmakers and setting up a popular network for distributing and showing films. In order to support film production in Mozambique he created Kanemo. He brought in prominent figures from the international world of film to collaborate with the National Cinema Institute.

Ruy Guerra is better known internationally for his fiction but while he was in Mozambique he produced many documentaries. His work, regardless if it is fiction or documentary, is imbued with visual poetry. The slow pacing allows the viewer to soak in every detail of the image and characteristics of the characters. His artistic output is marked by a close link between reality and fiction.

“I have a tendency to treat reality as an aspect of fiction.” he told Cahier du Cinema in 2000. He views fiction as documentary or the documentary as fiction because “reality is already fictionalized from the symbols of our world” – the representation of our world and the way we perceive it through our senses is already fiction…

‘Os Fuzis’, 1964

His two films that have won the most awards ‘Os Fuzis‘ and ‘A Queda‘, are probably the highest achievement of his vision of cinema.

It was such pity that most people who turned up to listen to him were mainly of his own generation, when he has so much to share with the up and coming filmmakers. Did the political will not just leave the government but also an entire new generation?

In order not to leave his audience with this depressing thought, he cracked a joke about wanting to live until 117, in order to have a fourth moment in his life and finish writing a novel. I hope that does not mean no more films…

Noe Mendelle

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Noe’s Letter from Maputo

Some of you may have heard of Maputo, the capital of Mozambique but I wouldn’t be surprised if you haven’t. It is a large country in the south of Africa, with a very long coast on the Indian Ocean and sharing many borders with South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi and Tanzania. Not only do they share borders but also a history of wars and colonialism. Except that Mozambique was the only territory in that part of Africa colonized by Portugal, which meant independence only came once Portugal got rid of its own fascist government in 1975.

Samora Machel, President of Mozambique from 1975 until 1986

Then came the golden era of its left wing liberator, Samora Machel. Again many people wouldn’t even know his name, but he was a bigger version of Mandela, with as much of a passion for his people as he had for life. Less than 10 years later – at a time when Aparteid in South Africa was at its most threatening, and in retaliation of Mozambique’s offering political refuge to South African militants – his presidential plane crashed ‘by accident,’ leaving Mozambique a helpless widow.

This is a long introduction to talk about Dockanema, Mozambique’s annual documentary festival, but Mozambique has always had a special place in the history of cinema. After independence, Machel realized that cinema would be crucial in communicating ideas to the people, so the Institute of Cinema was created and every week films were made and distributed around the huge bush territory with ambulant cinemas. That caught the imagination of European filmmakers who took into spending time in Mozabique, such as Godard, Jean Rouche etc…To this day, France is one the main provider of finance to filmmaking here.

‘Nostalgia de la Luz’, Patricio Guzman, 2010

This year I’m honoured to be a guest of the 6th edition of Dockanema. We are talking about a low budget, no frill festival. Yet Pedro Pimenta, the director and his wonderful team managed to squat four wonderful spaces with screening facilities and cafes for people to meet and have a good selection of international films at their disposal. Not the latest, but definitely good food for thought….and this is what festivals are about: feelings and reflection, and what better opening film than ‘Nostalgia de la Luz’ by Guzman, in which he mixes astronomy and historical memory. The visiting of memory is crucial at a time when there are so many political and economic insecurities, not as a nostalgic journey but as a tool to create a forward vision.

The success of Dockanema is allowing other mini festivals and distribution networks to slowly develop in other parts of the country.

Official Website:

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+/-20 Celsius: From Rome to Lerwick

In the last two weekends I’ve been fortunate to travel South and North to attend two small festivals. They offer different kinds of opportunities to big industry events, and the ripples of a visit can last much longer in some instances.

At the end of August I attended Rome’s 2nd Gender DocuFilm Festival, situated in the 10th annual “Gay Village” – a beer and event garden which pops up each summer between June and September, with disco nights, film screenings and other cultural events on two stages. As president of the Di’Gay project Imma Battaglia said when she welcomed us with a buffet dinner: “We love putting Gay Village in the park to remind people of how important it is to look after the environment. It’s about going beyond LGBT issues – if we don’t care for the trees, we’ll be nowhere politically!” For me the idea of celebrating open hearted diversity, a stone throw (or shall we say an apple’s throw…) from The Vatican is at once amusing and very progressive. I found a place full of history, looking to the future.

Gay Village, Rome

(c) Robert Greene

Gender DocuFilm Fest’s artistic director is Giona Nazarro, who also programmes for Locarno, Visions du Reel and other festivals. He carefully picked 7 films (30′-90′), his 4 jury members (of which I was one of them) and his visiting filmmaker guests and arranged open air screenings of all the films in the evenings. In the day time we had ample opportunities to explore Rome, mingle with fellow guests, or to lounge by the pool in the hotel (yes, on occasion with computer). Gay Village audiences were mixed, gay or straight and the atmosphere supportive – when one screening got delayed the audience was most forgiving and did not move from their seats, despite ample opportunity to succumb to a glass of alcohol. There is a party each day after midnight (Thurs – Sat) when even more crowds pack out the garden to dance the night away, or try their luck at Karaoke.

The selected films included the Danish film Romeo and Julius, by Sabine Hvid, the award-winning Swedish film The Regretters by Marcus Lindeen, both very accomplished, deceptively accessible pieces which blow open our understanding of gender transitioning, and our performance of social and sexual roles. The jury (including filmmakers Robert Greene & Luca Guadagnino, & festival director Alberto Lastrucci) decided to give the award to Kathakali (The Table with the Dogs) by Cedric Martinelli & Julien Touati, a film in which we look east only to find the body is truly the last frontier…(Trailer here.). Regretters picked up its first audience award in Rome to Lindeen’s delight.

TundraThis weekend I’m just back from a trip to Lerwick in Shetland where our slate of Bridging the Gap shorts on the theme of Shift were screening as part of the Shetland ScreenPlay film festival, now in it’s 5th year and running alongside the 10th annual WordPlay festival, and co-curated by film critic Mark Kermode, who was launching his latest book The Good, The Bad and The Multiplex, with an amusing account of what’s wrong with modern cinema. (The short answer is “Michael Bay”).

Martin Smith, director of Jimmy came out to Lerwick for a Q&A full of perceptive questions. It’s always great to see the shorts shown as a showcase together, something we’re trying to do more this year, so watch this space.

Jimmy in ShetlandActor Jim Broadbent was also guest of honour and we watched his acclaimed Longford, in which he plays opposite Samantha Morton as Myra Hindley, in the C4 production directed by Tom “King’s Speech” Hooper. Broadbent also showed his self- penned A Sense of History – a short satire directed by Mike Leigh, in which he plays an aristocratic landowner with some “darker” secrets.

In the evening we stroll around Lerwick’s Broch (or ancient round house) and head back for a delicious buffet and natter over food with local filmmakers, and Martin strikes up a conversation with Shetland’s youth filmmaking group, some of whom I met last year at our workshop.

We were lucky to stay in a house in Trondra, thanks to Screen Hi, an island right by Scalloway (Shetland’s ancient capital), with stunning views of the sea and the wind-ridden, rolling mountains either side. There wasn’t much time to explore further this year, but I know we’ll be back – especially when Mareel, the new cutting edge cinema and arts venue opens sometime next year.

More information on Shetland Arts & ScreenPlay here.
Link to Gender Docufilm Festival here & Gay Village.

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10th edition: Dokufest, Prizren, Kosovo

Dokufest no 10To get back to Kosovo this year I flew to Tirana, Albania, which has a brand new airport. I’m told it’s at least a 2.5 hours drive to Prizren, “if the traffic is good” on a newly built motorway which winds through the mountains for a journey that used to take up to 8 hours. I’m assured the driver “used to race rally” and relax into my seat – never mind the Italian car which later blocks us from over-taking by hogging the line, at 160km/h; and the 10 cm which separate the bumpers of our cars. I ask the driver if he’s seen “Senna”, the documentary – as if that might alleviate my sweaty palms, or distract him from pursuing the chase. (He hadn’t.)

After some considerable road rage involving honking horns and middle fingers, I arrive in the serene old centre of Prizren with wonderful memories of last year’s trip, and a long list of films I want to see, and people I want to meet. Veton Nurkollari (artistic director of Dokufest), assembled over 200 filmmaker guests & jury members this year, to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the festival in style.

CobblesOn first impression I notice that things have changed in the town – new hotels are being built in the centre, old streets and forecourts have been cobbled and cleaned up, some buildings, mosques and churches have been renovated. The ethos of watching the films “open air” hasn’t changed, however. The river bed cinema is still there, as well as the cinema at the castle wall and Cinema Bahçe, in the city centre. And some indoor venues for day time screenings.

Last year was a good programme, but this year Veton definitely pulled out a bumper issue; around 180 docs and short films: it included a spotlight on Mohsen Makhmmalbaf and James Longley’s work, both in attendance; a new section “Unorthodox” for those boundary defying films like Empire North and Le Quattro Volte, I’m Still Here, Son of God, etc.; a Balkan section; Artists on Film; Dox Fests at Dokufest and a few more, including the International Competition.

One of my highlights was finally watching the festival favourite Leonard Retel Helmrich’s Position Among the Stars high up on the castle wall. To take part in an Indonesian family’s life for two hours – “POV insect” included – is a privilege. Helmrich’s fluid camera work is key to his cinematic language; his gaze does not dwell on poverty, but on humour, surprise and universal relationship struggles within a family.

Another stand out screening and part of the Cities on Film programme, was watching the classic Man with a Movie Camera on the river bed cinema with live accompaniment by the Sheffield duo In the Nursery. What an endlessly modern film, with a smooth electronic/ambient score. I had forgotten there was a graphic birth scene, and some breath-taking montages that could have been edited last year as far as I’m concerned.

Other new films I liked was Nicholas Geyrhalter’s Abendland, looking at Europe by night on a big Gursky-type canvas; Gabriella Bier’s Love During Wartime, a love story between a feisty Israeli dancer and a Palestinian artist and their struggle to be together; and Mona Nicoara’s Our School – a subtle film about three Roma children from a small Transylvanian town who participate in a (EU) project to desegregate the local school. The film denies us the more common journey towards “hope”, but shows the systemic inability in people’s hearts and minds to embrace difference and the emotional & psychological effects it has on the Roma children who cannot even begin to consider to celebrate their “diversity”.

PJ Harvey - Let England ShakeDokufest’s big star guest this year was English singer PJ Harvey who came to present her album Let England Shake on the big screen, with videos directed and shot by renowned photographer Seamus Murphy. To hear her haunting music, projected in the middle of Prizren, with the pop music of the local bar wafting in, made for a special moment – along with the cat who was chasing a mouse underneath the cinema screen.

Beer & Poltics & PrizrenThe main plaza full of restaurants and cafes was once again the centre for gathering guests until late at night, dawn even. The Dokufest bubble engulfed us in endless conversations about film and politics, the smoke of the kebab grill wafting upwards, among the raising of glasses of beverage, the sound of the call to prayers and the disco beats. Dokufest variety.

“If you drink from the well in the market square it means you come back.” Veton tells me. Well I’m not sure I did last year, but I’ll be back for sure. I heart Prizren.

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Albert Maysles – Find The Good

My last evening on June 10, 2011 at Sheffield International Documentary Festival was a real treat when the noisy party was interrupted and brought to a whispering silence when Roger Graeff announced the arrival of the veteran documentary filmmaker Albert Maysles to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award.

Helped to the stage by festival director Heather Croall (someone should create an award for most energetic festival director) – he walks shakily to the microphone in his crumpled black shirt, and wearing odd socks, one grey, one green – to a standing ovation by the crowd.

The minute he started talking, you could see the teenage twinkle in his eyes. He was moved and his reaction to the crowd reflected his genuine surprise. All his films are about people,  so he proceeded to tell us about developing empathy with his subjects. “Constant empathy. That’s my technique.”

He believes he has a “duty” to “find the good” in his subjects. “We wanted to feel. What was great about our kind of filmmaking was the whole process of discovery”. No surprise that he is still a working film-maker! Discovering for ever.

He walked off stage with his little statue and went straight to the dance floor, a few shots of vodka and started shuffling his feet to the disco beat, surrounded by young female admirers, till the early hours of the morning. Not bad for 84!

As he left the party an impromptu wave of applause exploded and a corridor of arms rose, saluting, like a guard of honour. A special moment for a very special man.

Hope you enjoy the excerpt from his acceptance speech. Watch Albert “pontificating “on how to show “people are at their best.”


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Jane in America

Jane McAllister is a Glasgow-based filmmaker whose first film Sporran Makers was produced through Bridging the Gap: Future and nominated for Best Scottish Short Doc award at EIFF in 2009. Her second film, Caretaker for the Lord, made as part of the Screen Academy Scotland Documentary Directing programme at Edinburgh College of Art, got her invited to Full Frame and Tribeca this spring. This is her account.


Jane McAllister

Jane McAllister

I forgot my glasses, had flammable shoe dye in my hand luggage by accident and didn’t know the address of my hotel in America… but when they finally let me on that plane with an “involuntary upgrade to business class” things just got better and better.

North Carolina stole my heart first. It was warm and green. The hotel had a pool. And as I sauntered up to the festival after a swim, people said Hello Mam, as I passed by. I had sweet waffles and chicken and made friends with documentary film makers. It was the best place to be.

At my screening the next morning, people laughed and clapped. I did a Q&A and was asked many questions. The combination of Scotland and Religion had hit a popular note. I was stopped throughout the rest of the day by people wanting to talk about the film and particular scenes they liked. Full Frame is the festival for documentary lovers so you are made to feel very at home.

At the awards ceremony on the last day, I hadn’t ran the possibility through my mind that I might win something. When Caretaker for the Lord was called out, I kind of went into shock. I can’t really remember what I said, but it was pretty breathless. The prize was $5000, enough for me to buy a camera. I am so grateful.

So I found myself quite at home in North Carolina and was almost dragging my feet to New York… but that city was something else. It’s been said before, but you do feel like you are in a film. Steam does rise from the pavements and when you shout taxi and stick your hand out, they stop.

Tribeca Film Festival is on a very grand scale. I was spoiled. You do feel like you are at the centre on the world. I spent my time going to films and wandering about with my head up, eyes wide. Highlights were… cycling through times square at night, feeding a baby squirrel in central park, chatting with Peter Mullan on a rooftop, and generally being pulled on board into a real film making community.

I’ve been back a few weeks now and have hardly been able to look up with all my work. Though it feels like a dream, it happened, I was there and I stood by my film. I have got this far because SDI put their faith in me two years ago and funded my first film Sporran Makers; because of the expert tuition I received from Emma Davie and Noe Mendelle at Edinburgh College of Art; and because Creative Scotland supported my visit to America.

Film making can be quite a solitary pursuit, in the edit suit and behind the camera; to have such institutions to step in at crucial moments and back you up is so vital. I feel very lucky to be making documentaries today in Scotland.

Filed under: Bridging the Gap, Festivals, , , ,

Scottish Films Galore!

We’re thrilled to see so many Scottish films out and about at international festivals and on your cinema screens!

Jimmy by Martin Smith

This week will see the world premieres of two of our brandnew Bridging the Gap: SHIFT films: Jimmy, by Martin Smith – a moving film about the tireless work of disabled rights campaigner Jimmy McIntosh, MBE, and The Perfect Fit, by Tali Yankelevich: It’s about a part of the ballet world even Black Swan did not reveal to us: Who actually makes those uncomfortable point shoes? Well there’s only one factory in the whole of UK, and one special shoemaker, as you will find out!  Bridging the Gap’s key supporter has again been Creative Scotland, who recently launched their new film and arts funds, in case you haven’t had a look yet.

A shout out also goes to Edinburgh filmmaker Tomas Sheridan who is showing his short Radiostan at Sheffield, as well as Mariana Oliva, an Edinburgh College of Art graduate whose Humanoids will be screening alongside James Marsh’s Project Nim; You’ve been Trumped, by Anthony Baxter whose film made waves in Toronto last month when Donald Trump was considering running for the US presidency. The Guardian calls it: “compelling stuff.” It will make you angry and sad – so come to its UK Premiere during Sheffield Doc/Fest this Friday, or to its Scottish premiere in Aberdeen (Belmont) the week after (17th June), or to its Edinburgh premiere in July, thanks to Take One Action Festival.

Jig by Sue Bourne (Wellpark Scotland) is continuing its breathless UK/Ireland release; it gets a screening during Sheffield Doc/Fest as well, and is now in cinemas in USA.  It’s fantastic to have two Scottish feature docs out and about at the same time. You can follow Jig’s movements on its UK or US website here… We’re also proud that it was associate produced by the multi-talented & Glasgow-based Ruth Reid, who has just finished directing a Bridging the Gap for us, Nightshift.

Then, right after Sheffield we have, on our doorstep, of course the legendary Edinburgh International Film Festival from 15-26 June. After carrying around EIFF festival bags year on year, we look forward to its new edition – and a new bag! EIFF has entirely revamped its programme with new director James Mulligan, and will test a host of new venues, like The Teviot as the Industry Centre (known to many as a major Fringe venue during August) – where, incidentally, we will also host The Edinburgh Pitch on 14th June – please sign up for last minute Observer seats here; and George Square Theatre, where we will have our Bridging the Gap Shift screening followed by drinks on 23rd June, 14:15. In fact, no more walking along the desolate stretch that was Fountainbridge in order to get to Cineworld, as no films will be screening there at all this year.

Other news is that our most industrious MA/MFA documentary graduates at Edinburgh College of Art/Screen Academy Scotland, who we regularly see coming out of their editing suites late at night, have banded together to form a collective “Wee Red Films.” They’re proudly putting on an industry screening during EIFF as well – “Scottish Stories: Documentary Films from ECA”. Don’t miss this outstanding bunch of short docs if you’re in Edinburgh –  some of them have already hit the international festival circuit, and won awards at Full Frame and San Francisco. More here.

I’m sorry, the list continues, but I’ll be brief:

We have various shorts going to numerous festivals across the pond and beyond:

We are thrilled to  know that Palm Springs ShortFest loves a Surprise, and no less than four of our BTG films will be showing in the heat of California later this month: Get luder, PS: You’re Mystery Sender, Twinset and Surpriseville.

Twinset by Amy Rose in fact is screening from coast to coast:  at Outfest in LA and at Newfest, NY’s premiere LGBT festival (presented by none other than Marc Jacobs), and then at Silverdocs too!

Silverdocs is also showing Lost Every Day,  Surpriseville, Twinset, and  Humanoids. We look forward to some New York Rooftop screenings, and last but not least, some screenings of Bridging the Gap and Dhaka Stories films at the London Open City Festival 16-19 June – next week.

Phew. Exhausted already? Let’s call June officially “documentary month”! Enjoy it where ever you are and don’t forget to come to The Edinburgh Pitch on Tuesday 14th!

Filed under: Bridging the Gap, Festivals, , , , ,

Characters, Subjects, Participants or just People?

With our Interdoc programme we have been running some clandestine Whisky tasting soirees at different festivals wherever we are running sessions.  A special guest list is invited but only get to know the time and the place via a text at the last minute. Such evenings are good fun and great way of networking.

Of course we also get a few gate crashers and this time, one of them was a woman who stepped straight out of a vogue magazine, and when I enquired who she was, she replied “but I am Melissa, the star of Melissa’s film” !

Funny enough the following day – American filmmaker David Wilson (True False Film Festival), was questioning at the Soap Box event on what should be the best / correct way to refer to our documentary subjects?

Characters? Participants? Actors? People?

Any of those words are ok within the context of a proposal or a pitch, but of course none of them are adequate when we are introducing them to an audience. For the time being, the problem will remain unsolved, but then it is only lately that we are using our “characters” as a marketing tool and inviting them to premieres and festivals.

This is not just a semantic debate – it raises more problematic questions linked to the filmmaker’s relationship to our characters… do we pay them? How responsible are we for their lives? Do we interfere?

We all have different ways to cope with it, but no one solution.

In fact, the world of documentary lost Sergey Dvortsevoy for exactly that reason, to the the clean-cut world of drama, with paid actors and red carpets.



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“Best Audience” Award goes to…

If we had an award for “best audience” it would go to the city of Toronto. Every single screening at Hotdocs was packed with a crowd, which gave themselves over to the story on screen and lived through the roller coaster of emotions, laughter and tears. It was palpable.

There was a ritual:

Every screening started with a humoristic advert to celebrate and thank all the volunteers who make the festival happen. Everyone applauded.

Every screening finished with a Q&A. Nothing unusual here, but what is unusual is the quality of the Q&A facilitators. They are the best I have ever come across. Armed with the full information about the director, the team, the film, they are able to engage an intelligent and emotive dialogue between the audience and the filmmaker.  On The Bully Project I sat next to a 12-year-old girl who managed to overcome her tears and ask the filmmaker and an audience of 600 people if one should denounce bullies?

After the screening of James Marsh’s new film Project Nim we were surprised by the presence of three of the main characters, who talked very candidly and emotionally about their relationship to Nim, the chimp, twenty years on. Never mind they mildly shocked us with their 70s hippie-ish attitude;  one of them, Nim’s “adoptive mother” breast-fed him alongside her own children…

After The Bengali Detective, the main character (the detective) received a standing ovation of loud applause for several minutes as recognition of the humor demonstrated in his life against all odds.

When I talked to Sean Farnel, director of Hotdocs, about Toronto’s incredible audiences, he said that both audience and Q&A facilitators get plenty of practice all year round, with a rich exposure to a vibrant documentary culture in Toronto. A model to be up held!

Every commissioning editor complains that there is no audience for one off documentary films proposed by indies, but again and again, hundreds of people were queuing in the cold and rain in order to catch another international documentary and the chance to share the viewing with the filmmaker.


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