Sapient Voices

Isabel Moura Mendes is Director of the Africa in Motion Film Festival. She previewed POETS OF PROTEST, a documentary series made by SDI Productions for Al Jazeera English starting this Friday, 31 August.

Ahmed Fouad Negm

As a person who is very much involved in the championing of African film for its brilliance and artistic merit, but is also aware of its value as a powerful medium towards global understanding, the Poets of Protest series both inspires me and fills me with hope. 

From Dec 2010, like many other people across the world, I followed the unravelling of events in the Arab World (North Africa and the Middle East) through a 'mediatised' Western eye.

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In the Name of Culture: Stargazing, Pandas, and a Difficult Walk Across Edinburgh

The Scottish Documentary Institute was approached eight weeks ago to produce three short films for the Edinburgh International Culture Summit happening at the Scottish Parliament this week. Ministers and cultural policy makers from around the world are discussing how art and culture can build bridges between nations. You'll be able to find the archived video of their sessions here.

Dark Skies by Anne Milne

We produced one doc, one animation, and one drama – each of these five-minute films were screened at the beginning of one session.

The pressure to deliver films in response to the ambitious brief of the summit, in very short time, and of course on tight budget was tremendous. The conditions of production could not have been worse...

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Chris Marker

While most of us on Sunday were caught up in the frenzy of the first weekend of the Olympics, one of our documentary champions was quietly fading away. Funny enough, his first film, Olympia 52, was a documentary about the 1952 Helsinki Summer Olympics.

He died as he lived, discreetly. Hard to find more than ten photos of him (he often responded to that request with a photo of his cat), even fewer interviews, a few photographic exhibitions – but a world legacy of 52 films which hit the poetical core of humanity in this world.

French filmmaker Chris Marker, better known for La Jetee, is at the origin of the essay film, a form pitched between documentary and personal reflection, exploring the subjectivity of the cinematic perspective.

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African Urban Dreams

African-Urban-Dreams-disc-print.pngLast October I wrote about my experience filming in Maputo. The film is now finished and ready to be distributed. It will be premiered in Maputo in September at the Dockanema festival, in presence of the characters who took part in the film. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to be there. I would have loved to watch them  watching themselves, and see if the meaning I tried to create out of their different stories means the same to them and to the local audience.

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Doo or die...

Paul Fegan's short documentary Pouters is one of the latest Bridging the Gap films, premiering this week. Here are his thoughts on the process.

Pouters is my first short film and has opened up new worlds for me. From the open wasteland of Cranhill, Glasgow to the pages of Darwin's 'Origin of Species' in search of the world behind the Pouter pigeon.

Over the past 9 months, I've been submerged in making what will be Scotland's premier film on one of the country's oldest and little known sports: Doo Fleein'. 40 hours of footage later, countless directional changes as characters came and went and pigeons were won and lost...

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Just like sex in public places...

Chico Pereira's short documentary Polaris is one of the latest Bridging the Gap films, premiering this week. Here's his account of how it was conceived...

Remember, you’re just a fecking bar tender
–said the drunken plasterer.

Apparently when someone says in LA that he is an actor, the other person asks him in which restaurant…

These days, life appears to me full of bridges and gaps, and I find myself jumping over water puddles more often than I would like… One of the main reasons for entering Bridging the Gap was exactly that: to walk the bridge that separates the life of a mature student (point A) from the dream of becoming a professional director (point B). Curiously, point A has vanished from sight, even though I haven’t moved. I extended my school time as much as I could; I became part of the furniture, but in the end, I got termites, and they made a bonfire out of me in the courtyard…

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The Act of Activism: Filming with Tripoli's Graffiti Artists

Graffiti, a short film made as part of the Tripoli Stories at our workshop with the British Council in Libya, is premiering at the Sheffield Doc/Fest. Here's the making-of, written by co-director Ibrahim El Mayet.

graffiti.jpg

It's day two of our week-long documentary film making workshop at the British Council in Tripoli; drawing inspiration from the previous day’s sessions with the professional film makers from the Scottish Documentary Institute, we were tasked with creating our own short documentary films.

The subjects had been selected from the previous afternoon's brain storming session and we were divided into teams with a director, director of photography (DOP), sound recordist, and editor. Our editors were whisked away to learn the basics of Final Cut Pro editing software while the rest of the team prepared to set off to research our three respective subjects: Tripoli museum, local fishermen and revolutionary flag makers.

Having been assigned the job of sound man on the flag project I was given a crash course in operating the sound equipment and radio mics, introduced to the concept of 'sound design', and tasked with collecting sounds. What we hear in film is just as important as what we see on screen the clinking of a tea cup, the rustling of a flag, the sound of the environment or 'atmo' sound such as passing traffic or the dull buzz of a fridge (which is often only noticed in its absence) must all be recorded and used to create a natural ambiance.

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From Edinburgh Pitch to Festival Success

Most calendars run from January to January, others from September to September, and SDI's calendar from 19 June to 19 June… Why? Well, we're 'Making Docs Happen' at the Edinburgh Pitch!

Our array of panellists is your dream family. New to the family this year, we have a fantastic group of women: Claire Aguilar (ITVS), Diana Holtzberg (Films Transit International), Debra Zimmerman (Women Make Movies), Sabine Rollberg (WDR/ARTE), and Elisabeth Hulten (ARTE France). I am sure they will be charmed by Edinburgh and our gentle approach to discovering talent. This is what the Edinburgh Pitch is about, our storytelling and humanity.

And to help me facilitate the day, as ever, we have Tue Steen Müller, our documentary cultural ambassador, who has helped so many emerging filmmakers from all over the world, and many moons ago decided to embrace SDI vision and team and make Edinburgh a yearly pilgrimage. Together we selected a wide range of projects and Tue will spend a day prior to the pitch polishing any rough edges.

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Films discovered at Hot Docs

I love discovering new films at festivals and testing just how memorable a film becomes amongst so many more. So a month after Hot Docs, which films have stayed with me?

Planet of Snail

This IDFA winner by Korean director Seungjun Yi is a beautiful love story of a deaf-blind poet and his wife. He is extremely tall and child-like; she is very short with a serious face. She uses finger braille to communicate with him. Her fingers were like butterflies liberating him from his silence. The film employs exceptional observational cinematography to capture those intimate moments and the way they share and experience the world. I was mesmerised and immersed in their world. 

The Ambassador

Photo by Johan Stahl Winthereik

Sundance award-winning Danish director Mads Brügger goes to extremes in order to expose how easily diplomatic accreditation can be bought in Africa for purposes of illegal trading. From setting up backroom deals with corrupt consuls and brokers to creating his own business in the Central African Republic, he takes us on an extraordinary journey of corruption and deception. There is a huge irony to this film: to be able to expose how power truly works, the director acts as the main character, and the film turns into a well-crafted black comedy that gets exponentially more dangerous the deeper he goes. We know from the beginning that he is not real – but the situation and the dangers are very real indeed. I would not normally go for such acting in documentary, but the ability to navigate between danger and comedy by making the audience an accomplice allowed the director to create various perceptions of reality within one film.

Sweden had a very strong presence this year at Hot Docs, and the following are among my favourite films.

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Documentary ONLY: Hot Docs and their new cinema

Bloor1.jpgHot Docs has an amazing and magical pull as a documentary festival that brings together filmmakers from all around the world – but more importantly, year after year, Hot Docs develops new ways of increasing their local audience. This year, they offered free screenings to students and anyone above 60, creating the most challenging, yet welcoming audience one could dream of. Toronto as a city is also exceptional, being littered with single-screen arthouse cinemas. Almost every neighbourhood has a their own non-commercial screen, making it one of the best in North America. Whether living in the East or West, Midtown, or down by Lake Ontario, Toronto cinephiles with their insatiable appetite for classic, foreign and challenging cinema are never likely to go hungry.

And now the Bloor cinema is dedicated to documentary alone, can you believe this! Owned and operated by the Hot Docs festival, the theatre has been restored to its former glory, retaining its original 1913 architecture and its art-deco charm, but equipped with a great screen and the latest acoustic panelling to further enhance the viewing experience.

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