In 2006, novelist and blogger Cory Doctorow described how ‘technology giveth and technology taketh’; that for every hopeful revolution brought by our networked world there’s a downside, and for every peril, there’s potential. A nice illustration of the idea: running a search to find the article where I first read this quote gives me page after page of results linking to a no longer existing MP3 of Cory's talk, mistaken by a web-bot for a pop song, and I’m invited to send a ‘Technology Giveth Taketh Doctorow’ ringtone to my phone. So while it’s wonderful that the Internet allows you to find – without leaving your home – a recording of a lecture from years ago; it’s not great that the search is full of spam. Conversely, the issues raised in my previous blog – Peak Eyeballs and the Scarcity of Attention – at first glance are quite troubling. They suggest that not only must the independent film sector deal with the collapse of pre-sales and bank financing, with increased piracy and considerably reduced buyouts from distributors and lower acquisition prices from TV – but there’s more filmmakers competing than ever, all trying to communicate with an audience who has far more things hustling for their attention.
But in spite of this, the global market for filmed entertainment is set to continue to grow by over 3% a year to $100bn in 2016 (PWC), and most of the challenges of the web are come hand-in-hand with benefits. So working back through some of the challenges raised in that blog post:
No limits to platform size
While there is much more competition on digital platforms, the barriers to market access have almost vanished. There is no artificial shelf space limit that prevents Amazon, iTunes, Netflix or LoveFilm from offering your film. One of the biggest frustrations for independent producers throughout the 20th century was the challenge of getting a film into a video store or cinema. In turn, the web has a potentially infinite ‘longtail’ distribution curve where hundreds of thousands of archive, niche and minority interest films combined can outperform the top 50 blockbusters at the head of the curve. (There was some academic research looking at 2000-2005 to suggest this may not apply as well to film as to books but this was done before subscription digital services like Netflix and LoveFilm took off.)
Yasmin Fedda is a filmmaker, Bridging The Gap alumna, PhD student at Edinburgh College of Art, and organiser of the REEL IRAQ festival beginning on 21 March 2013.
On 21 March 2003 a US and UK coalition invaded Iraq, under the premise of freeing it from its then dictator Saddam Hussein. On the same day, I found out I was accepted to do a masters in visual anthropology. That day brought together my dream of making films, and the nightmare of understanding the repercussions of what was to become a drawn-out violent conflict. This pushed me further into wanting to make films, using film as a creative medium from which people from different worlds and lives can learn about each other.
Sabine Hellmann is a German-born filmmaker who lives in Edinburgh. Sabine pitched her first feature documentary The Brink of Extinction at Interdoc 2012 together with Adam Barnett who also is an Edinburgh-based filmmaker and editor.
After graduating in Germany with a 40-minute documentary on the use of GMO crops, Sabine moved to Scotland for an internship with renowned producer Leslie Hills. She quickly realised that her passion lies in making films, rather than producing, and completed an MFA in directing at Edinburgh College of Art with two short documentaries. One of Sabine’s graduation films, Joseph’s Road, tells a story of a young boy from Malawi and can be watched on Sabine’s website. She is intrigued by human stories, people at a crossroads, and environmental issues.
Adam Barnett specializes in documentary filmmaking as a director, producer, and editor. His recent feature documentary Argentina in Therapy received a great response and was distributed to six broadcasters including TVE in Spain. Apart from the film Adam is making with Sabine, he also works on another feature documentary, Carbuncle Town.
The tiger or the tribe?
The team’s Interdoc project The Brink of Extinction tells the story of the Soliga Tribe in Biligiriranga Hills of South India, which now faces eviction from their homeland due to the government’s new tiger conservation laws. The government is under international pressure to save the tiger. But it ignores both the Soliga’s basic human rights and the crucial role they have played in protecting, nurturing and sustaining the forest over centuries. Who is really at the brink of extinction: the tiger or the tribe?
This is how Sabine describes the team's experience at Interdoc Scotland:
Su Bainbridge works with Glasgow-based Aconite Productions, making international documentary films which bring stories of global significance to the world stage. She took part in Interdoc Scotland 2012.
Passionate about making films, Su has years of experience spanning documentaries, drama, commercials, music and arts. Su has worked as a Production Manager, Producer and Assistant Director with many production companies for almost two decades. Also, in 2004, David Hayman invited her to join the team at his charity Spirit Aid to develop and run a pilot film project which enabled a range of young people to make their own films. They learned how to develop films based on their own ideas. Su looks back at it as a great success. She continued to work with Spirit Aid to further develop the Shooters Film Project and to roll the project out to other areas around Glasgow. As a freelancer she has made many programmes and films for theatrical release and for broadcast on BBC, Channel4, STV, ITV and ARTE. One of the latest productions she managed was My Lives and Times for Aconite which was nominated for a Creative Diversity Network Award and broadcast on BBC2 last July. A longer version will be released later this year, called Everybody's Child.
Su was selected to participate in Interdoc Scotland 2012 to develop an international documentary, Playground directed by Palestinian director Wesam Mousa in the Gaza Strip. The film explores how four children, between 12 and 14 years old, play in the streets of Gaza. Their games, dreams and fantasies reflect their desire to live normal lives and also their way to survive the consequences of war. It is an intimate portrait that exposes how children view the world and their future when their playground is in the middle of a war zone.
Here is what Su said about her experience at Interdoc:
This is part two of our portraits of Interdoc Scotland alumns. Today we'd like to tell you about Jonathan Carr and his film MY BROTHER THE ARK HUNTER.
Jonathan Carr graduated from the University of Edinburgh with an MA in History, and then worked for ten years as a journalist, writing and sub-editing for a variety of national newspapers. In 2007, he studied practical filmmaking at the New York Film Academy. After gaining practical and administrative experience in London, Jonathan set up his own production company, Plainview Films, and created filmmaking workshops for schools, adult education units and community groups. Jonathan’s short documentary Get Luder produced through the Bridging the Gap scheme, won the Delphic Art Movie Award 2010. It was also selected for screenings at many film festivals such as Sheffield Doc/Fest and Palm Springs ShortFest. In 2012 Jonathan took part in the Interdoc Scotland workshop which is geared towards helping Scottish producers secure feature documentary commissions. He pitched his first documentary feature under the working title, My Brother the Ark Hunter.
The film tells the story of Derick Mackenzie’s brother Donald, a self-styled evangelist adventurer from Stornoway, who went missing in September 2010 while searching for Noah’s Ark on Mount Ararat in Turkey. No one has heard from him since. He may have fallen from the mountain, perished in a storm, been killed by bandits or targeted by Islamic militants. Or he may have crossed paths with the archaeologists who claimed to have found the ark to exploit those who make the annual pilgrimage to the mountain. Derick leaves his family home in the Western Isles of Scotland and travels to the remote eastern edge of Turkey to retrace his lost brother's last journey in an attempt to discover what became of him.
Following our series of Bridging the Gap alums, we'd like to introduce you to previous participants of our Interdoc Scotland workshops, starting with Karen Guthrie.
Karen is a freelance artist and filmmaker who came out of Edinburgh College of Art and is now working on independently generated and commissioned projects. From time to time she gives lectures and professional development workshops within educational contexts, having lectured in Fine Art extensively over the last 15 years.
Karen’s first feature doc was co-directed with Nina Pope: Bata-ville: We are Not Afraid of the Future, a left-field road movie which premiered at the Edinburgh International Film Festival in 2005. Their latest film Jaywick Escapes, which is a portrait of the people of Britain's most deprived place premiered at Sheffield Doc/Fest in 2012. Karen was selected for Interdoc Scotland in 2012 with her solo directorial début under a working title What About Dad? Hear what she has to say about her experience:
There are only so many hours in the day. Take a look – if it’s not etched already in your film business memory – at the graph of cinema admissions in the UK following the launch of television. TV's arrival, peaking in the 50s, did not herald an end to people engaging with mass-market moving image – but it dramatically changed the platform and format for where they did that.
This impact of TV on cinema, which cut admissions by some 3000% from the peak in 1946 to the very bottom in 1984, left much of the industry terrified of new distribution technology, leaving them erring on the side of caution henceforth. Indeed the first video-on-demand system running over a phone line was Zenith’s PhoneVision and was unveiled back in 1951. It aimed to offer Hollywood films direct to people's homes for a $1 a time, but in a pattern that many start-ups today could sympathise with, it never got the studio support it needed. It's understandable the majors were scared: thousands of cinemas had closed and laid empty or were turned into bingo halls and night clubs. Perhaps hundreds of thousands of people lost their jobs. But the appetite for great films didn't decline, it just moved to a different space.
The graph is significant as it not only shows how dramatic an impact such a new ‘empowering technology’ can have on a business model, but also how slow adaptation allowed for the recovery of some lost ground. With the TV-saturated market of the 1980s and the threat of multi-channel TV and cable, cinemas began to split their screens into smaller spaces so they could show a wider range of films. It was a step backwards for the architecture but a jump forward for audiences and producers. The rise of the multiplex in the 1990s, a further unfortunate footnote in the history of architecture, helped to drive a resurgence in film-going that has not abated since, with admissions rising more than three-fold since the mid-80s and continuing to grow through recent recessions. In these adaptations, the cinemas had found that they could keep their base costs of running a building and box office roughly the same while offering more films to attract wider audiences. In other words, cinemas (eventually) evolved, much to the benefit of producers and filmgoers – and the cinemas' survival.
Kostas Spiropoulos, who has done so much for creative documentary in Greece and for international cooperation throughout the Mediterranean through Storydoc training, has just been fired by ERT (the Greek state broadcaster) for his contribution to Kismet, a documentary on Turkish soap operas and their effects on the societies in which they are broadcast. Kismet is a Greek production, very successfully pitched at IDFA this year and supported by ARTE, among others, and with strong international potential. The board of ERT found the documentary to be a form of propaganda for Turkey while in fact the documentary depicted realities about Turkish dramas.
Tali Yankelevich's Bridging the Gapshort The Perfect Fit is currenty on the Oscars shortlist for documentary shorts and nominated for tonight's Creative Scotland Awards. She is also just finishing a film for Why Poverty?. SDI's Agata Jagodzinska speaks to her as part of our mini series following up with former participants of SDI's flagship shorts programme.
Congratulations on the shortlising of The Perfect Fit for an Oscar nomination. Where did the idea for the film came from?
It came from an internet article I found while I was researching an idea for a ballet documentary. For a long time, I had been wanting to make a film on the topic, but I never found an approach I felt was original enough, since so many films have been made about classical ballet. Also, a couple of years back, I researched an idea about instrument makers, specifically on the craft of violin making which I found fascinating. Later it occurred to me to look into the story behind the making of ballet shoes. When I started reading about it, it really moved me on a personal level. Even though I was trained in classical ballet when I was growing up, it never occurred to me that the shoes could have been hand-made. And it is a contradiction, as the shoes are so beautiful but at the same time cause so much pain for a dancer, and you cannot dance without them. And knowing that there is someone on the other side of that story, making those shoes with their hands, and damaging their own hands to try to make them more comfortable, is really intriguing. After reading the article about the shoe factory, I immediately wanted to make the film. As documentary makers I think this is what we look for, as we investigate the world around us: a story which is universal and also unique, and that is hidden in places we often do not pay any attention to, where there is drama, beauty, mystery and humanity.
In our mini series following up with former participants of SDI's Bridging the Gap programme, SDI's Agata Jagodzinska speaks to Jane McAllister who is currently working on a 30-minute documentary for Bridging the Gap PLUS, commissioned by BBC Scotland and Creative Scotland.
Jane, how did you get into filmmaking, and what did you do beforehand?
For a long time I have been making tassels for sporrans. The job has given me many things over the years; most importantly, time to think. When your hands are busy your mind is free. I listen to a lot of audio books and the radio. It is piecework so I sew from home and that can be anywhere; I have lived in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee, and Inverness. I have also tasselled a while in Uist, Perth, and on trains back and forth to Aberdeen when I did a passenger survey job. I have found a lot of films over the years, and have a long list.
It took me a while to realise that documentaries would be the best way for me to do justice to my ideas. I tried writing a philosophical work in my mid twenties, 'The Philosophy of a Young Mind'; but soon embarrassed myself enough to stop. I made conceptual jewellery and obviously wrote poetry.
"First lesson: record it now, do not wait"
The first time I picked up a film camera was when I lived in Dundee. The way I had explored the city was via its churches. There are around 75 in various stages of use. I would walk to each one and plot it on the map. My favourite had a flock of starlings living in its rafters in the winter. I had never seen starlings flock before and I couldn't believe how beautiful. I was determined to film them. There was a media access centre in Glenrothes at the time that rented out equipment at very cheap rates. All winter I was going to rent a camera. But I missed my chance, the weather got warmer and the starlings left. Next year, I thought. The next time I went to look at the church it had construction signs all over it. So angry with myself, I rented a camera and filmed the church’s demolition. First lesson in documentary film making learned: record it now, do not wait.