Remember feeding the penguins?

Running up to the opening of our new Bridging The Gap call on 2 September we are publishing blog posts from four filmmakers selected in the previous call. They will give you tips for a good application.

Felipe Bustos Sierra is a self-taught filmmaker with Belgium-Chilean roots. He is born to a journalist who was an exile of Pinochet’s military coup. This spurred him into making his Bridging The Gap film Nae Pasaran.

Felipe.jpg Remember that instant on your first day of work – when someone asked you to froth some milk, check the gate or feed the penguins – and you realised: 'I don’t know the first step to any of this!' That thought never seems to go away when making a film.

Collaboration is key, especially with more experienced filmmakers. Bridging The Gap offers a depth of experience, a wide network of collaborators within the Scottish Documentary Institute and beyond at each stage of the story, and allows you and each participant to become mirrors for each other’s projects.

After three short films done on little to no budget, it was comforting (I use 'comforting' lightly, as comforting as filmmaking gets) to be part of an established team backed with a respectable budget. Nae Pasaran required access to many eyewitnesses, the use of specific archival footage and music, hibernating classified documents, and three minutes of 3D animation. The support from the Scottish Documentary Institute unlocked doors to new techniques, earned the trust of contributors almost instantly, and secured the help of dedicated researchers.

It’s far from over as the film is now being submitted to festivals by SDI. More doors, new doors, and a more confident boot to open them.

I am now researching a larger film on the solidarity movements for Chile in the UK and their relevance today and looking forward to seeing how Nae Pasaran is received outside of Scotland. It is going to be seen throughout the UK in September as part of the commemorations for the 40th anniversary of the coup in Chile, and that alone is worth everything.

I would suggest these things...

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Tips for Bridging The Gap applicants

We are getting ready for a new year of Bridging The Gap. Running up to the opening of our call on 2 September we will publish blog posts from four filmmakers selected in the previous call. They will share what it means to be Bridging the Gap alumni – and give you tips for a good application.

The first post comes from Genevieve Bicknell, an artist and filmmaker based in Edinburgh who came to film by way of social anthropology and then painting. Her work explores themes of family, memory and of how we relate to others and to ourselves. 

Genevieve_sm.jpgIt's hard to express just how great an experience Bridging The Gap was. We got in-depth feedback on our projects from top international filmmakers, the expertise of the Scottish Documentary Institute whenever we needed it, both creatively and business-wise, and we were able to pay people to work on our films (I even had enough left over to pay myself). This mixture doesn’t happen often, so to my mind it's pretty special.

It is a lot of work, especially if you are trying to balance it with another job. During the editing stage of Swallow I felt like I was working on it every minute of the day and I regularly hated the film. But that's a normal process for me and even in the depths of despair I never regretted applying.

Thinking back, it was the sharing of ideas with the other participants and later my crew, that really made the experience so worthwhile. There was such commitment and energy and support, it was a very exciting process to be involved in. I discovered that many had applied to Bridging The Gap before and so perseverance definitely pays off, it's probably a matter of finding the right project.

I applied just after finishing my Masters and still felt very uncertain about my abilities, but now I’m beginning, on occasion, to call myself a ‘filmmaker’. My next project is with SDI again, making a 15-minute film about the Commonwealth. I’m also starting an experimental collaboration with friend and filmmaker Matt Robinson. 

Here are my tips... 

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Putting the Edinburgh back into EIFF

What a year it's been for us at the Scottish Documentary Institute, premiering three features internationally, starting with Maja Borg's Future My Love (93') world premiere at last year's Edinburgh International Film Festival (EIFF) which set it off on a great journey around the world, to more than ten countries so far, and counting.

Then we launched Pablo's Winter (76') by Screen Academy's graduate Chico Pereira (shot by Julian Schwanitz) in Leipzig, Amsterdam and Glasgow before opening MoMA's Documentary Fortnight  (Museum of Modern Art, NY) in February this year. It has continued on its international journey, picking up multiple awards in the process.

Since November 2012, I Am Breathing (73') by Emma Davie and Morag McKinnon has been making the rounds in over 14 countries after its IDFA competition world premiere and is now launching at EIFF on 20 June, on the eve of our big Global Screening Day in aid of MND awareness. You can book tickets here or arrange home or community screenings (outside of Edinburgh) here.

But that's not everything by a long mile at this year's EIFF. Edinburgh filmmakers are on fire! EIFF will also host the UK premieres of these fine films (click on the titles for ticket links):

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Surviving in an attention-poor world

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.)

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The invasion of Iraq, 10 years on

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.

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Interdoc Alums (4): Sabine Hellmann & Adam Barnett

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:

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Interdoc Alums (3): Su Bainbridge

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.

Su-Bainbridge_320.jpgPassionate 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:

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Interdoc Alums (2): Jonathan Carr

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.

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Interdoc Alums (1): Karen Guthrie

Karen_Guthrie_320.jpgFollowing 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:

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Peak Eyeballs and the Scarcity of Attention

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.

Source: BFI Statistical Yearbook

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.

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