10th edition: Dokufest, Prizren, Kosovo

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

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Our first documentary PhD!

We have our first documentary PhD by practice! Amy Hardie (The Edge of Dreaming) and the rest of the SDI team celebrated yesterday with champagne and strawberries at ECA's last independent graduation ceremony. Edinburgh College of Art merges with Edinburgh University from 1 August.

But we have another ten PhD students with projects in the pipeline, so watch this space.

To find out about post-graduate opportunities, please go to our website.


Albert Maysles - Find The Good

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

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

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Stem Cell Revolutions

Stem Cell Revolutions is an independent, feature length documentary exploring the history, development and ambitions of this fascinating field - from the first discovery of stem cells in the body to leading current clinical and scientific developments.

The result of a close creative collaboration between scientist Clare Blackburn (University of Edinburgh) and filmmaker Amy Hardie, Stem Cell Revolutions features eminent international figures in stem cell research – including Nobel Laureate Sir Martin Evans and Sir Ian Wilmut, creator of Dolly the sheep – as well as acclaimed novelist Margaret Atwood. Beautiful hand-drawn animations bring science to life on the big screen.

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Jane in America

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

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

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

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Scottish Films Galore!

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

We’re trying to get a handle on audiences (let’s not use “the market”). Let me rephrase that:

How can we interest individuals in what we do, the documentaries we make and the questions we – or YOU – raise with them? How do we get people involved online and in person, and perhaps affect change? And how does this translate into a more sustainable business for filmmaking as a whole? That is what we want to be working on for the next 18 months thanks to funding from Creative Scotland.

Our colleagues in North America have been doing it as a matter of necessity. They have nurtured relationships with donors, individual giving and sponsorship for a long time. It’s tempting to focus only on how much money this might “bring” to a film. What is much more interesting is how “getting to know YOU” (one by one) can be an enlightening part of the whole process, deepening our understanding of the film and its need to exist in the world. Or, in other words, how and where do you want to meet your filmmaker?

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Characters, subjects, participants, or just people?

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

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

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

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'Best Audience' Award goes to...

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

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

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The Perfect Sneeze: On the Hot Docs Soap Box

For the last two years Hot Docs has been experimenting with ad lib sessions and one of them is The Soap Box where you can rant, shout or just wonder aloud. This year was again hosted by filmmaker and blogger AJ Schnack, and I was selected with a few other speakers, including Peter Wintonick, to speak from the 'pulpit' of the documentary church.

moratorium on about

Ban the word "about"

Peter did a very eloquent plead to ban the word “about” at festivals and documentary forums. What a challenge! How can we talk about our films without that magical word? Why should we even consider banning it?  Well, he had a good argument: "About" leads us straight into content of the film and makes us forget that we are storytellers selling stories, not social workers outlining sets of problems.
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I AM BREATHING
FUTURE MY LOVE
PABLO'S WINTER
STEM CELL REVOLUTIONS

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