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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.


Filed under: Festivals, , , , , , , ,

Tacita Dean at TATE MODERN…

…with ‘FILM’ – a campaign for film.

Dean is a video artist who loves working with analogue and through this 11’ film wanted to celebrate that medium. She got unique chance of doing it by being commissioned by Tate Modern and celebrates their eleventh year with an 11’ film, to fill the gigantic Turbine Hall, opening on the 11 October 2011. The precision of film!

Over the last few years she has been raising her concerns about the threats hanging over the medium with so many labs closing down.  She compares the grim future of not using film with a painter “being told that paint will no longer be available”.  She is not being nostalgic for the sake of it but more interestingly defending the difference in process from working with digital and therefore bringing out not just a different aesthetic but springing different ideas in the making of the film.

I am currently running an experimental workshop with my students and very much arguing about allowing the process to create new ideas or at least allow ourselves as filmmakers to be surprised and thinking of the film as a lab not an end material. The constraints and discipline of working with a medium have an impact to shaping the final film.

FILM  is a visual poem, an ode to analogue filmmaking. It is projected against a monolith at the far end of the Turbine Hall, making the architecture an integral part of the screening. The steel beams which clad the walls also structure the composition of the various shots. It is projected as transparent as a film strip with sprockets holes as if we see through the film itself. This is more than a trick as it draws attention to light as the essential basis of analogue.  Dean returned to the techniques and procedures pioneered by early cinema such as glass matte painting, multiple exposures, mirroring and masking, to create layered, collaged imagery.  FILM  is a series of images: trees, tomatoes, fountains, grasshoppers, patches of very bright blocks of colours bringing us back to various painting references such as paintings of Mondrian – which of course links film and Modernism being born around the same time.

It looks striking and strange because the strip is in portrait, not landscape format, and is 13 meters high! Dean has turned a cinemascope lens by 90 degrees, achieving a verticality that mirrors Turbine’s Hall shape and proportions.

FILM is on a loop, allowing the audience to remain mesmerised for longer than the 11’.

Dean collected quotes from different filmmakers about celluloid  and one of my favourite was from Spielberg when he said “my favourite and preferred step between imagination and image is a strip of photochemistry that can be held, twisted, folded, looked at with a naked eye or projected onto a surface for others to see.”

Check out a short doc on Dean process of making FILM:

Filed under: Out and About, , , , , , ,

‘Under the Surface’ by David R Cairns

'Under the Surface' is one of our latest Bridging the Gap under the theme of Shift.

The film is about a series of suicides by young men in Dundee, during summer 2010 and how their families coped with such tragedy. David R Cairns, the director, straight out of NFTVS, poured all his energy and sensitivity into listening to those families, absorbing their pain, and finding ways to translate it poetically so the film will walk the fine line of telling the harsh facts of reality, living in economically deprived Dundee while respecting their individual stories with enough feelings to go beyond the social worker case study, all this in 9 minutes!

The next hard step of making such a film is to show it to the families. Do we go round screening it to one family at a time?  I don’t think David could cope multiplying that experience times eight, so SDI decided to hire a lovely screening room at Abertay University and give those families the experience to see their faces and words projected, while seating in the dark. A shared yet a private experience beyond being in the living room with many other things competing for their attention. A chance to nearly touch their loved ones on a screen bigger than themselves. Another memory to cherish along the other memories of their dead sons.

I had seen the film many times in the editing room, but sitting there in the dark, with them, feeling the rawness of their feelings 15 months on, made it difficult to switch lights on and break the silence. We were all moved, silent tears to start with and eventually chocked words came flooding with thankful words to David for having captured their pain without pointing the finger at their failure to keep their sons safe from their own hands. They felt the respect they deserve and therefore happy to have their lives exposed to the world, only  wishing that BBC Scotland would give them longer than 9 ‘.

I wish this short film a long life.


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

João Moreira Salles talks about ‘Santiago’ – part II

João Moreira Salles is a Brazilian documentarian and president of the Instituto Moreira Salles. In 2006, he founded the magazine piauí. He has also taught courses on documentary at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro and Princeton University.In 1992 he began shooting a film about Santiago, the butler in his childhood home who left an indelible mark upon the family. Santiago was an educated man who, in addition to his work, produced some 60,000 pages of stories documenting his surroundings as well as tales of aristocratic lifestyles, including that of the house in which he himself served.

Through his personal voice-over, Salles sheds light on his family and childhood, and on the reasons why the film took 13 years to complete. The result is an elegant mosaic with two parallel narratives, dealing with universal topics such as memories, identity, and documentary filmmaking.*

To view an extract of the film please click here.

This entry is part of a series of edited transcripts of João Moreira Salles’ Masterclass in Doc Montevideo 2011, hosted by Noe Mendelle.

*Unknown author.

The film became possible when I realised that these off screen moments were essential for the film

13 years later, when I got back to the edit suite I asked for the transcripts, but these only had information about the actual shots. There wasn’t a single sentence about what came before or after, so I had no information on all the off-screen conversations that took place. I started looking at what came before and after the planned shots and realised that what explained the artificiality in the film was outside of these shots. And the film became possible when I realised that these off screen moments were essential for the film. The off screen that I didn’t control or what I thought I didn’t need to control. And those were my conversations with him, that in the end were the things that weren’t the object of my obsession with control, of the obsession with the aesthetics…

Noe Mendelle: But the difference between these shots seems to me to be in relation to you, not in relation to him.

João Salles: Yes, of course!

Noe Mendelle: He is the same either in or out of the shot, you are the one that changes…

João Salles: Yes, I was the one who changed once I was off screen. And that first edit didn’t have that. And then I started to listen, when I started editing again, to all of the audiotapes, before the beginning of the shot and after. And I also listened to the off cuts of the film which changed my perspective.

Click on the links to read part I or part III.

Santiago in his living room

Filed under: Masterclasses, , , , , ,

On Filming in Maputo, Mozambique

Noe Mendelle, Director of SDI, was asked to make a documentary about a housing research project led by Edinburgh University and Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts. Here are some reflections on her experience.


Maputo's suburbia from the plane

I rented a room in the centre of town as public transport tends to be reduced to “chapas” – little mini buses which are always so full that you have young men’s bums sticking out of the windows and they have this tendency to break down, making any journey a challenge to time and patience…

First morning, after a night of heavy rain, I woke up to the croaking of frogs and a city landscape transformed into lakes of murky waters and floating rubbish. I’d never thought of packing my Wellington boots. My project is about the way the city of Maputo has dramatically expanded over the last few years, creating a large suburb of what appears to be endless slums. For the first few days it was extremely difficult to access the families I was going to work with, as the lanes were transformed into a slalom of mud. As days passed by I grew more anxious, having only 3 weeks to research and film this project. But the sun returned and I was able to get on with the next challenge, getting to know my families, and start filming.

‘The camera is not only a way of measuring the distance of our two worlds but also an obstruction to a helping hand’

At the beginning of  every shoot I always returned to the same debate in my head: do I start filming immediately, or do I allow myself to settle in? In the context of Africa often you don’t even get a choice as people don’t allow you to film… full stop. There is a well funded suspicion that cameras will take your soul away, only to financially benefit the filmmaker. How can I explain to them that I make a living wanting to give voice to forgotten people… I might be genuine but they don’t really care about me being a messenger. They look at my immaculate white T-Shirt probably produced by child labour in China and my chauffeured 4 wheel drive and hiss “What’s in it for me?” And I think of Sergei Dvortsevoy, when he talked about “feeling bad at turning people’s lives into Art and then abandoning them to their own devices” which led him to his decision to give up documentary. He  could no longer stand that strained relationship with his characters. I tried as much as possible to delay payments by bringing presents, mainly in the form of rice, flour, oil and then at the end some money for the ones who need to buy medication and a new capolena (material used as skirt) in order to offer those women something colourful and for them. But every visit was a reminder and a re-negotiation of that relationship.

It is harder to do it with characters I feel emotionally involved. The camera is not only a way of measuring the distance of our two worlds but also an obstruction to a helping hand.

Mama Teresa

Mama Teresa, left

One of my characters is this lovely old grandma who during daytime looks after her two ten months old grand-children and goes fishing at night. She normally walks 8km to get to the sea, in the dark, barefoot, carrying her nets on her head. The night I went with her, even for the sake of the film I could not let her walk when I knew I had a car at my disposal… so I decided not to cheat it either in the film and pretend she walked there… but how do I communicate the distance she has to walk every night to go fishing? When we got to the beach the tide was still high so we had to hang out for a couple of hours. Mama Teresa  then proceeded to walk in the sea with her fishing companion, up to their necks, despite the rain and the cold wind. They walked and pulled on their nets till 2am.

It was pitch dark and impossible to film so I sat in the car with my assistant, a local young man, who just finished his MA in sociology but could not find any work in his field at university because he was not member of Frelimo, the national party. He went on explaining his political frustration as a young citizen, waiting to see the generation of the Heroes of Liberation to die off to create a gap for change. But he now realised that they have already produced a class of technocrats who were protecting their interests, leaking that corruption into different parts of society… such as the police.

Just as we were mentioning them, a truck with ten officers, armed with old Russian rifles appeared. The chief, short and angry, possibly drunk, made us get out of the car and question our presence at 2am on Friday night by the seaside. Any other country, we may have had an apology for maybe interrupting what could have been a romantic interlude, here we were immediately treated with suspicion. Of course we had to provide papers for the car, and for ourselves. The search of the car brought the presence of the camera, which made us even more suspicious despite my permit for filming. His preoccupation was, it was pitch dark with nothing to film and the car did not belong to a TV company. We insisted that somewhere in the vast darkness we had a couple of fishing people and that not all cameras belong to TV. The rifles got closer to our chests for extra dose of intimidation,  as we were trying to convince them to fine us , if we had broken the law. Corrupt police hate fines, as it is paperwork leaving trails behind and they only get 10% of the fine, which amongst several of them is not worth the trouble… what they really want is to get people into panic and give them money to let go. Disappointed that our cold sweat did not turn into cash, they drove off, just as our couple was coming out of the sea.

What comes first: the film or the people?

I did not dare getting my camera out for a while but when they started climbing the rocks I just had to go. Mama Teresa was shivering in her wet clothes and her tired limbs made her extremely slow at climbing those slippery rocks. I stood there with my camera, thinking that I should go and help her, but if I did I did not have any ending to this sequence and maybe I did not have any scene as it was so dark. Help Sergei… what comes first the film or the people? You have your answer but I am still searching for mine… or in this case I chose the film. Mama Teresa greeted me with a happy laugh and a clap of her hands. She was so delighted that we were still there, not just because they were going to get a lift home, but because she felt we cared enough to stand in the dark and worry about them. Her life is like a little scratch on the video… it will be seen by people beyond her world. She laid her catch at my feet as proud as a cat with a dead bird and when I enquired how much it was worth she said 200 medicais equivalent of 4 beers or 4 cups of coffee local price!

Click on the links to read part II or part III of this thread.

Filed under: Filmmaking, , , , ,

Occupy Camp at St Paul’s Cathedral

On Sunday I was in London so decided to pay a visit to St Paul protest camp. It was a beautiful, glorious morning with St Paul’s bells imposing silence and respect from the protesters…

One month after the Occupy Movement launch across 900 cities, affiliating to the cause to fight against the extremes of global capitalism, 200 colourful tents set home outside St Pauls after NOT being allowed to occupy Paternoster square, home to London Stock Exchange.

Having just returned from Maputo where the police use any excuse to shove their arms to your face and any other form of intimidation, it was surreal and amazing to see polite, smiling policemen, asking you to mind the steps and standing discretely by the row of portable loos and even baby changing room. A first Aid tent and a mobile kitchen is also at disposal to protesters. Bins clearly posted in different corners to the square so no recycling materials would go in the rubbish. We can protest in full comfort! And so it should be… But already rumors from the Cathedral are voicing concerns that if the camp gets bigger it will become unsightly and block access to visitors (tourists) to access café and shop – reporting takings down by 70%. Our (they are there on our behalf) protesters trying so hard to be peaceful already they took on themselves NOT to put any posters on the walls of St Paul’s in order not to damage the stone, NOT to hold noisy meetings during church services, and now they are proposing to hold a fundraising event to try and make up the shortfall in the cathedral’s takings… How sweet is that?

(see video) The protesters effort for keeping space tidy, beautiful and enjoyable was joined in by the effort of this reporter to keep her hair do in place – must not let down revolution by a bit of wind!


Filed under: Out and About, , ,

João Moreira Salles talks about ‘Santiago’ – part I

João Moreira Salles is a Brazilian documentarian and president of the Instituto Moreira Salles. In 2006, he founded the magazine piauí. He has also taught courses on documentary at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro and Princeton University.

‘In 1992 he began shooting a film about Santiago, the butler in his childhood home who left an indelible mark upon the family. Santiago was an educated man who, in addition to his work, produced some 60,000 pages of stories documenting his surroundings as well as tales of aristocratic lifestyles, including that of the house in which he himself served.

Through his personal voice-over, Salles sheds light on his family and childhood, and on the reasons why the film took 13 years to complete. The result is an elegant mosaic with two parallel narratives, dealing with universal topics such as memories, identity, and documentary filmmaking.’ *

To view an extract of the film please click here.

This entry is part of a series of edited transcripts of João Moreira Salles’ Masterclass in Doc Montevideo 2011, hosted by Noe Mendelle.

 *Unknown author.

The Beginning

João Moreira Salles, cineasta

At the end of the 80’s, Brazil elected its new president, called Fernando Collor de Melo.

One of the things Fernando Collor de Melo did was to suspend all the laws that supported film production in Brazil. So for three years or maybe a little before that, whilst he ruled the country, Brazil didn’t make any films. I think there was one film, maybe two, maximum, which was a real problem for production companies, such as the one I have with my brother, Waltinho,  where we used to make TV series, documentaries and features.

Suddenly we couldn’t do that anymore. So we, like any other production company in Brazil, had one solution only, and that was advertising. We all started making adverts. Video Filmes, which is our joint production company, became one of the biggest advertising production companies in Brazil. The other production company was Fernando Meirele’s O2, based in São Paulo.

That had another consequence, which is not important to this conversation now, but as a little parenthesis, a whole generation of directors in Brazil learnt film practice by making adverts, and come the 90’s one can see that in a lot of films. Productions extraordinarily… well, very well produced, virtuous filming techniques using all of film’s technical resources. Extraordinary photography… and all of this was a consequence, for better or worse, of a generation of directors who started making films, having learnt the basics of filmmaking on 30 second film sets with big budgets, because the advertising industries in Brazil have always been expensive and required a lot of money.

‘We didn’t have a “project” or an “incentive”

So there you have it, a little parenthesis. And what does this have to do with Santiago? Well, it’s very hard to make adverts even though it’s an important learning curve; it’s a job without any perspective of permanency. It’s never work that “lasts”. And that has consequences in our brains. One starts to feel as if one is living in a desert. So, in ’92-’93, I decided to start using the off cuts of some advertising campaigns to start filming ‘Santiago’. It’s a film that, at that time, in its origin, was made completely unprofessionally, in the sense that we didn’t have a “project” or an “incentive”. We picked up the cans that were left from other advertising projects and spent five days at Santiago’s house, someone who had been very important to me. At the same time, around ’93-’94, Collor’s mandate was over, and Fernando Henrique Cardoso, the following president, had already changed the laws of film production in Brazil, and Waltinho, my brother was already in production of ‘Foreign Land’ which was made with the same off cuts, same camera, and same cinematographer, Walter Carvalho. So some of the footage was adverts and some of it was my brother’s film, ‘Foreign Land’. With those offcuts and a crew we went to Santiago’s house and we shot the film in 5 days.

‘I gave up’

Jorge Luis Borges, writer

I got into the edit suite just after that and then, as I told you yesterday, I tried to edit it but I couldn’t do it. The film was to be all about Santiago as an exotic character… a character that already existed before being filmed, I mean, he existed in my head more than anything. I just wasn’t prepared to take in whatever Santiago had to tell me. I had preconceived ideas. The character that I had imagined could have been taken from ‘Funes, the Memorious’, that story by Borges. And I thought Santiago was similar. Therefore, I never meant to be a character in the film, my relationship with him wasn’t to be part of it. All those takes weren’t to be used, except for the last one and it wasn’t supposed to be narrated. It was to be a portrait of a picturesque character. And… the film didn’t work! We can talk about it later. But… I gave up. I couldn’t see that it should simply be a film about the relationship we had… and I didn’t touch the film for 13 years.

Click here to read part II or part III.

Filed under: Masterclasses, , , , , ,

Werner Herzog’s Rogue Film School, the experience part IV

Marcelo de Oliveira is a filmmaker and sound designer who graduated with an MFA at eca. His graduation film, ‘The Great Flood‘, granted him a place at Herzog’s Rogue Film School, earlier this year.


Day 3: Constructive Feedback

by Marcelo de Oliveira

Our final day began with yet another strong note of caution. As if the previous evening and night had itself merely been an illusion, Werner jumped back into commenting on commentary and advised us to take it easy with text that is overloaded with too much depth. ‘There are moments when you can depart far from the text’, he said. He gave the end of Cave of Forgotten Dreams as an example.

Albino alligator in 'Cave of Forgotten Dreams', 2010

The commentary moves into the abstract form of perception with the albino alligators. Only once the audience is comfortable with the subject can you go wild but it is important to anchor it well. The audience has to be taken by the hand and guided through the film.

Werner then delved back into the staging of moments in documentaries. For example, there is the scene in the Kinski documentary where we are taken on a visit to his old house, which was all choreographed. The basic pattern of the trip was rehearsed. ‘Sometimes it is better to come as a surprise but here it was right to set up the scene. The real surprise renders the best effects but this is not only always the case. We must sometimes be quick to take drastic steps in order to solve a problem.’

‘Be cautious about festivals’

Turning the focus onto film festivals Werner delivered a scathing attack on the culture of film festivals. He called for a climate of cinema, ‘You have to get a film out to audiences. A movie is not alive unless it is played in front of audiences. Pay attention to what is going to happen with your film. There is a problem with film festivals. Today there are more than 4,000 festivals in which there will be an average of 4 good films. Out of 20 films up for awards at Berlin recently, 15 were garbage. Festivals have become dangerous. Only festival people see the film – there is no distribution. It is appalling that a film comes to life in the incestuous festival circuit. Be cautious about festivals.’

Suspicious of the climate that reigns at festivals, Werner described how Sundance was a complete disappointment. Sundance has 3,600 submissions but it was full of younger people talking to him about film. ‘You meet young filmmakers who talk to you, but they just put on a show about how good they are. They don’t talk about the style of a film, their aim is how quickly they will be signed by a studio. It is a dangerous life of festivals. Beware of this secondary type of culture which circles around its own navel. They are too structured around cliques. You have the duty to find the distributor, to get the movie out there. Don’t neglect it.’ In a post session moment we Rogues mulled over his festival musings, a relief seemingly apparent as conversations agreed that these words were refreshing to hear at a time when film festivals appear often the only way for filmmakers to have their work screened. I recalled how having The Great Flood screened at a certain festival felt frustrating as the people who wished to view the film were often in other meetings over funding at the time of it’s showing on the big screen. Perhaps the funding of films and the screening of films should be held at different times, or even at different festivals? The Rogues pondered this and on the randomness of festivals in particular when a film can be rejected one year from a festival only for the same film to be accepted the following year at the same festival. Surely there must be a better way, we gathered without forming any real conclusions.

‘When an actor can milk a cow, there is something solid about them…’

It was now deep into Monday afternoon and the feeling that the end of this illustrious, illuminating seminar was definitely apparent gained just a hint of momentum when Werner began to talk about the longevity of film directors. ‘Very few directors survive longer than 15 years’, he stated. Filmmakers are very much in danger of being broken by the system. ‘Filmmakers don’t end well. Orson Welles for example had a very short life in cinema. You have to look at those who disappear. Very often it is about ego. They are lured into the abyss by earning too much money. If you are successful the system rewards you, if you are not the system punishes you. What can save us from this force? We are illusionists. It is best to do nothing other than be illusionists. If you have no other legs to stand on it can break you. When an actor can milk a cow there is something solid about them.’

‘Raising children brings you down to earth, do something different. It’s a good attitude to know how to handle a Kalashnikov. A man should know how to handle a hand grenade.’  There followed an exchange of views from various women in the group as to should women also know how to handle a hand grenade. Feeling the nature of his audience, Werner pushed through with his point, ‘You have to take it that you may be disconnected from your peers. Try to look beyond the profession that you are doing. The moment for me came after working on one film after another, for 10 years no one wanted to see my films. I was very lucky as I had a mentor and she said ‘film history is not going to allow you to quit’, and with that she munched on a cookie.’ With that and in wry defiance of his critics Werner uttered, ‘I’ll plough on doing my films because I know you’re all wrong.’

‘I am trying to make a film about dying languages but people are only interested in making films about fluffy animals at the moment, I envy you.’

Post coffee Werner set his sights on some more of our films.  Some great examples of cinema were shown including animations, a trailer for a fabulous looking German winter set thriller made by Wim Wenders’ assistant editor, a cinematic black and white LA road movie starring a bunch of rock drummers made by Rich, the tattooed musician, and an Italian styled B movie with plenty of blood, guts and action. Werner took each film and criticized the flaws with dignity whilst singling out what he thought worked well. He advised where the film could be improved. For example, he examined the choreography of the actors in a wonderfully conceived single shot short drama whilst critiquing the director’s choice to over rely on her monitor specifying that directors should be watching the action instead. He also reflected upon the good acting performances of the two protagonists in Megan from South Africa’s short film about the misunderstandings of love.

'The Great Flood', 2009

It was a requirement for each filmmaker to come up to the front of the class and stand next to Werner after their film had been showed. Megan sat herself back down next to me flushed from the experience of having had her film critiqued by Werner. Those of us around her passed on encouraging comments yet before too much comfort could have been afforded to her Werner called up the next person for his critique. ‘The next film I’d like to show is The Great Flood by Marcelo de Oliveria, where is he?’ That stern gaze scoured the floor of rogues. Reluctantly I raised my hand, ‘Ah, there you are, can we show it please?’ he called to the assistant at the back of the room. The lights wilted in the room as I feared the wrath of Herzog.

‘Can you come up here to the front please?’ The previous five minutes having felt like five seconds. Staring out to my fellow rogues I noticed the uncontrollable shaking of my hands. ‘Can you tell us how you came to find these people?’ My voice trembled with humility and fear. I told him how I went in search of the story of the spirit of noise that was not true in the end. He said, ‘do not worry about that’. I tell him of how difficult it was to go to Patagonia and the problems we faced in filming. My explanation summarized before Werner interjected, ‘There is great serenity in your film, it is deep with serenity. There is a good pace and rhythm, keeping to the rhythm of the pace of the footage and not pushed in the edit.’ He added to the other rogues that there is too much quick editing and not enough attention paid to the pace of the footage. Thank you Fiona and Josh, I thought. Werner then asked, ‘Did you do your own voice over?’ I humbly nodded, eyes down expecting retribution, ‘Stick to doing your own voice overs and I say this as someone who does his own voice overs.’ As the reverberation of that comment faded away within my mind I felt myself becoming incredibly emotional. Werner’s sentiments were the echoes of thoughts previously reflected by my father who, at that moment, had been very ill. Finally, with the shaking now spread to my toes he looked me in the eye and told the audience, ’You have been to this place where there are only fourteen people left in the world and their culture will soon be lost. I am trying to make a film about dying languages but people are only interested in making films about fluffy animals at the moment, I envy you.’ With that he ushered me back to my seat, I sat back down, my head spinning. My body trembled like someone walking barefoot for days in the Antarctic winter.

A final handshake from the man, a final smile, a perfect postscript

Werner Herzog signing the book 'Conquest of the Useless'

Back down on Earth, a book and individual certificate signing signalled the end of the session. We were called up in groups, a final handshake from the man, a final smile, a perfect postscript. So the curtain came down on the thoughts and insights of Werner Herzog. His reasons for conducting his own seminars are very clear; his mistrust of the traditional film school mixed with the desire to share the experiences of a maverick filmmaker, one who goes it alone when necessary. Now in his third outing of the Rogue Film School and perhaps his last for a while, his desire to share the craft of filmmaking that is changing quickly and yet celebrate it as an art form was clear. Could it be that he is out of touch with the new ways of filmmaking in an over saturated digital world, or is it that he has truly mastered his craft in a way few others have? Interestingly no one mentioned 3D. Whatever the answer, for me this experience was one that constructed new inspiration deep down; an experience that felt down to earth and truly rogue.

In the bar for the last time with the last pint, we Rogues mulled over why this had been such a unique experience. Werner Herzog’s convictions and his stoic belief that he is on the right path stood out, as did the extraordinary insights into how he makes films. When Werner told us to look into the hearts of men, I assumed I would be looking elsewhere. However maybe I ended up looking into my own heart. Perhaps this was not new confidence, just a reaffirmation.

I shall walk on foot whenever I can, I shall look into the hearts of people when looking for a character in my next film, I shall not be a slave to facts, and my first film document has already been forged with complete success…

With gratitude and dedicated to Jader de Oliveira.

For more info on ‘The Great Flood’ please visit:

Click here for Part 1, Part 2 or Part 3.

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Werner Herzog’s Rogue Film School, the experience part III

Marcelo de Oliveira is a filmmaker and sound designer who graduated with an MFA at eca. His graduation film, ‘The Great Flood‘, granted him a place at Herzog’s Rogue Film School, earlier this year.

Day 2:  Being a lion tamer

by Marcelo de Oliveira

The morning session began with an unexpected occurrence, an occurrence that sublimely facilitated the forgetting of the Fitzcarraldean trial that was reaching Crawley train station first thing on a Sunday, whilst engineering rail works shut down the entire local network. There was, of course, the other painful recollection that it was indeed early on a Sunday morning. Werner began the day with the reading of the passage of the horse’s death from Virgil’s ‘Georgics’. His eyes gazed at the manuscript with intent yet they burned wildly, completely transfixed in the text. Werner read the passage with that distinct accent of his whilst we hypnotically stared, captivated in a long gone moment in time. He explained how Virgil saved his Antarctica film. Arriving with no notion of what he would find Werner stepped onto the South Pole, looked around and thought ‘We will do it like Virgil!’

‘Yoga will not make you into a great filmmaker as it empties out your thoughts’

Digressing somewhat into the notion of the outdoor spirit, Herzog encouraged us, film students, to do constant sports, particularly physically challenging ones. For example, we should try boxing or basketball, the choreography of which is good for understanding cinema, he said to a surprised audience.

With that Werner changed direction into the topic of producers. ‘I never stick to schedule and I finish much earlier,’ he proudly pronounced. ‘Try to see the film from their point of view’ he said; ‘do not go over budget and deliver on time. Do not, for example, produce a cut that is over 4 hours long. If a director cannot deliver the film then you are an incompetent director. The film will be wrestled away from you. At least earn your money for your film. Then you will understand the necessities of budget, financing and marketing.’

Werner Herzog and Klaus Kinski on set

‘Directing is practical. It’s an endless chain of humiliations, banalities, and you have to be a lion tamer out there. If you are not the lion tamer you may not make a film on time, to budget, nor make a good film.’ Must remember where I put that whip, those boots and the top hat, I thought.

‘Yoga will not make you into a great filmmaker as it empties out your thoughts’ he bluntly stated to scattered gasps. In provocation Werner asked, ‘Do we need to declare holy war against yoga classes?’ Werner championed the opposite of emptying oneself of meaning and thoughts, ‘You do not always have to understand all the ramifications of what people are doing. There are limits to understanding. Dismiss pre-conceived ideas in a documentary. Only find out what drives these men. Go there and make sure the camera does not fail in extremities.’

In Antarctica there was no clue as to what would happen but he went there with some order. Werner underlined that he does not believe in writing scripts for documentaries.’ This only creates dead films as seen on TV’, he said. He does not need a proposal for TV, though he will write one when it is needed. He does it reluctantly however, and is pushed to do it if it is necessary. Otherwise, he said, be cautious of scripting a documentary.

Werner probed us about character finding, how do you fall in love with someone and blindly follow him or her around? How do you introduce your character and bring the audience to like your protagonist? He showed us the beginning of ‘Viva Zapata’ where Herzog claims that you cannot achieve any better than how Brando’s character is introduced to us. At the start of the film the other Mexican workers hide Zapata from the audience and yet, when he is revealed, you cannot help instantly liking him and it’s not just a question of camera positions.

Editing, commentaries and funding

Seamlessly adjusting his thoughts onto editing, Werner advised us not to shoot a large amount of material. Editing is related to what you are shooting. For example, Werner has never been a slave to continuity. ‘Material of great substance will always fit together. Be relentless with your footage. You have to be able to throw out a scene. Throwing away a scene is hard but it is the fate of filmmaking.’ Werner recalled how he was very careful with his raw stock, as he was conscious of the expense. Poverty and a question of filming in barefoot in the past affected his expense, but even now he tries to be disciplined and economical with his footage. He had thirty hours of footage for ‘Cave of Forgotten Dreams‘. ‘With digital technology you can edit as fast as you can think’, he warned. ‘This is dangerous. You can make too many versions and become lost in parallels.’ Editors may be surprised, as may those who like to edit in their own space, to note that Werner always sits with the editor except if there is technical stuff to do.

Werner Herzog in 'Grizzly Man', 2005

Commentaries can be an art form per se. There were wild commentaries in ‘Grizzly Man’ and in Antarctica. He underlined that he tries to say something intelligent. He has no problem in being opinionated yet he stepped in to say that he is not totally wild about commentary. Interestingly enough he mused on being a character in his own films. ‘It is not too healthy to become a character in your own films – it becomes embarrassing. The joy of storytelling is throwing yourself in it, it is healthy to look at yourself with a sense of irony.’ Admitting he often makes up quotes at the beginning of his documentary films Werner summed up, ‘Think the unthinkable, go anywhere when making a film.’

Before the afternoon break Werner spoke about how hard it had become to find funding for his films in today’s climate. However, his determination to follow the topics he thought were achievable showed no sign of waning. Werner’s current project, a documentary film about inmates on death row, is not too expensive to film yet he confessed to us that the proceedings of this Rogue Film School seminar were to be invested into this film. A Rogue in the audience roguishly exclaimed if we were therefore all owed a credit on the film. Thunderous laughter resonated in the room, Werner laughed and smiled but without any further comment he moved on. By no means though did this seminar give the impression that it could feel comfortable sat among the ever- increasing ranks of gala fund-raising events by previous prime ministers or CEOs. There was passion in what was said and shared by Werner. Yet the fear that many of my fellow Rogues felt, that this would just be a session of anecdotes and memories, also failed to materialize even if some of the more biographical questions from the floor could have encouraged that type of seminar.

During the coffee break, I went up to Werner to tell him that I liked the idea of my fee going into his latest project. I reflected that I had wondered what would be happening with the money. I also commented that it was a shame that we could not choose which of his projects these funds could be applied to, as I would have preferred to have my money funding his dying languages project. Werner replied that right now the climate does not wish to know about endangered human species whose cultures are almost extinct. The TV channels, he mustered, merely wish to see films about fluffy animals. There was an air of resignation in the sound of his voice that perhaps reflected his perception that this project, although perceived as an incredibly important aspect of humanity to document, was as doomed as the people he is trying to film. His words resounded the saddest point of the seminar for me, that a filmmaker with the experience and achievements of Werner Herzog cannot find funding for a film that he is so passionate about. It was perhaps a little naive of us to assume that a legendary filmmaker such as Werner Herzog could just brainstorm an idea one moment and make it happen the next. That look of resignation upon his face brought my general mood back down to that of the real world, even if only for a moment.

Wild imaginations and the passion of people from within

Dr. Clive Oppenheimer, volcanologist

With the end of the break, Werner announced that the guest speaker would be Dr. Clive Oppenheimer, the volcanologist from ‘Encounters at the End of the World’, who he met up a volcano in Antarctica. He had come to talk about wild imaginations and the passion of people from within. Him and Werner dove into a discourse about the fragility of human culture and civilization. They delved into the world of volcanic eruptions and pondered with great excitement and depth into how 74,000 years ago the population of the human race became decimated to as low as between 2-10,000 people due to the huge volcanic eruption of Mount Toba in South East Asia. Humanity was almost at its end. Fascinated in their personal, yet public imaginations, it seemed as if they were lost in their topics cocooned within a certain childhood splendour and curiosity. These conversations led Werner to step out from their world for a moment to ask us in the audience to imagine what would happen here in the UK if all the power were to be cut off, ‘after 2 weeks there would be pandemonium!’ he exclaimed.

Day two did not quite finish at that moment but continued in my mind, past the now traditional post class bar session and onto the 21:34 train from Crawley, elatedly musing upon the power of the human mind, it’s wonderment and our desire to tell stories even if these desires were slightly tarnished by the realities of financial restraints.

Click here to read Werner Herzog’s Rogue Film School, the experience part IVClick here for Part 1 and Part 2.

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Emerging Producers Training: Interdoc Scotland

This year we added a short course lead by Sandra Whipham (London Fields Pictures) to our selection of offerings to Scottish producers and filmmakers. 2×2 days (April & September) on what to consider in order to get your films ready for the international market and the role of a producer in shaping the strategies for a film.

Have you ever thought about how many roles we take on as producers? We need to be creative and nurturing, counsellors and confidantes, we need to know some technical stuff and not shy away from accounting, marketing and legal contracts. Maybe “Jongleur” would be a better description. And of course we need to accept sometimes that we’re “the boss” technically, and literally, and not worry about being unpopular. In fact if you like being popular, perhaps it’s not the right career choice.

We selected 6 projects and 6 observers in order to brainstorm the projects’ budgets, financing and distribution strategies. It  soon became very clear to everyone that the landscape is very tough. Not every project made it to the second weekend, as the willpower needed to continue developing a project on this scale is significant. This is not always a bad thing. I’d rather see people make shorter films or TV hours, than spending a few years never getting a film off the ground.

The desire to make films for the international market often stems from the idea of making a “theatrical documentary” – and the difficulty of achieving financing from your home country alone. If getting money and making the film is difficult, distribution is another blackbelt level! We explored different distribution avenues in the first weekend with Debra Zimmerman of Women Make Movies. She explained the traditional “distribution pyramid,”  in which we can go down the way, but not up – the top being your carefully orchestrated world premiere, the bottom being widely distributed dvds etc. These “windows” are slowly but surely collapsing around us, and increasingly we’re trying to exploit our films simultaneously in cinema, on tv and online.

We had a session on the UK tax credit by Moses Nyachae from Tenon. It was reassuring to hear that the DCMS really does want us to qualify our films and it was the first time I had an accessible explanation of tax credit, which ironed out some questions I had about how to calculate certain value, specifically in terms of documentary. It has to be intended for theatrical release of course, but it does not have to have a guaranteed release. It is a % cashback of your (eligible) actual core production spend. It is automatic, once you’ve certified your film as British (or under European Co-production Convention). So get on to it, if you think you can qualify. (More info here and here)

Geoffrey Smith talked about narrative strategies and the “controlling idea,” a concept borrowed from fiction film. What the film is REALLY about should be in every scene of your film; working out what it is REALLY about will help you when struggling to know what to film, and whether to put the camera on. He talked about multiple camera shoots and how we can make it easier on ourselves by intercutting real emotions and reactions, shooting a film in a relatively short space of time, as opposed to tracking someone for years, at a high cost to the subject’s – and director’s – patience. “I’m a populist, I want as many people as possible to see my films,” he said, and: “People go to the cinema because they are hard wired for story telling.” We’re naturally curious how other people decide what to do when they encounter a fork in the road. It’s as simple and difficult as that.

All in all what we aim to foster with Interdoc and all our workshops is a sense of sharing and pooling of knowledge and resources. Producing, directing, it all can be a lonely place. Sharing quality time by exchanging info and stories makes us stronger and more resilient to the vagaries of our profession.

We aim to run Interdoc Scotland again next year (2012: April/Sept) and open a call for applications mid December.

Contact Flore ( for more details.

In 2011-12 we aim to run Docs in Progress screenings (by application). Watch this space.

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