At the jury deliberation on Thursday which I shared with Doug Block, AJ Schnack, Pamela Cohn, Adriatrik Kelmendi, editor-in-chief from Kosovo national TV, we remarked on what a considered and excellent programme it had been, and how lucky we felt to be part of Dokufest's 9th edition. After a long discussion about the short and feature award for best international documentary, we celebrated (secretly) the decision until the early hours with local raki, peja (beer) and cheese gondolas. When it was getting light (it seems the bars simply remain open until the last person leaves), Pamela and I explored some other areas of Prizren with our stills cameras, among stray dogs and ghostly, battered shop mannequins.
After a stunning flight over the Swiss Alps, Venice and the Croatian coast, the weather turns hazy and I can see numerous farm fields on fire and it starts to rain. At Pristina airport I realise my luggage didn't make it through in London and that I'll have to wait for 2 days for my suitcase. Oh well! I share a lift with filmmaker Rowland Jobson who is here with his Venice-premiered film Girl Like Me. I've been invited to be on the jury for the international competition, and we're screening Peter in Radioland by Johanna Wagner, Unearthing the Pen by Carol Salter and Amy Hardie's The Edge of Dreaming at the festival. It takes us two hours from Pristina airport to Prizren, a beautiful town in the South of Kosovo, in stop and go traffic. The sun is setting and the light is stunning, looking across the mountainous countryside - houses half-built, abandoned cars on the side of the road, a traffic accident... and we pass the German army barracks as we enter Prizren; around 2000 soldiers are still stationed here we're told.Read more
Last year Adrian McDowall and myself were invited to the beautiful holiday island of Brac in Croatia to show our films Ma Bar and Standing Start on an outdoor screen for the very first Supetar Super Film Festival. We found out that Scotland and Brac have something in common apparently - we're both reknowned for being tight! I'm not sure this is true but they thought it would be the perfect idea to invite us back as we have 'so much in common'!
This year I programmed 13 films from the Scottish Documentary Institute's back catalogue including one feature doc, The Edge of Dreaming by Amy Hardie.Read more
Last week marked the end of our very first Doc Week in association with Edinburgh International Film Festival! We were delighted with the fantastic range of projects from Scotland and round the world presented at the Edinburgh Pitch, Doc in Progress and Docs 360. A fantastic range of films from USA, China, Italy and the UK were workshopped and pitched during the first three days.Read more
SDI has been running very successful workshops in creative documentary storytelling from Edinburgh for the last seven years, however when we were invited by the British Council and the Bangladesh Documentary Council to train 16 inexperienced filmmakers and make four films in six days – that was definitely a challenge not to be turned down!
Many of us still go on assuming that creative documentary means “sleek aesthetics attached to an interesting topic.” The type of workshops we run focus on the effective and creative structuring of a story in order to engage an audience.
We arrived in Dhaka via Dubai and after a shower we met our group (14 men and two women) as well as few local documentary filmmakers that same afternoon. We started the workshop by screening the Oscar nominated film Burma VJ. It was very moving to see our new audience glued to the film. Burma shares a border with Bangladesh.Read more
"What is your understanding of what happens at death? What have you really understood about life? Where do you stand politically?"
The woman firing these questions at me in the marble lobby of a very stylish Barcelona hotel has an impossibly small waist. I think it’s the first time I have seen anyone whose waist you could, really, span with two hands. I should have admired her questions as well as her tiny middle, and said that of course I have no answers: I had nine years of exploring, 100 hours of film, distilled into 73 minutes to create a journey for an audience that brings them close to death, to grief, to fear, to letting go, and back to hope, to sensuality, to pleasure and to life. A shared experience of the sort that can hold contradictions, and is as rooted in the emotions, images, sounds, as in words.Read more
Funding schemes and project workshops often seem a little like X Factor for filmmakers. One fellow participant in this year’s Bridging the Gap talked of a friend who had won through to an initiative in which 10 projects were to be funded from 11 workshoppers. Even Simon Cowell might think that brutal. I was told BTG was different, and so it proved.
This was the first of three development weekends before final pitching in March. Chaired by the immensely warm and inspiring documentary guru Peter Symes, each of the 12 in our group introduced their films in a sentence, and then developed them by opening the ideas up to the room.Read more
Benjamin Wigley is an independent filmmaker based in Nottingham. He works primarily in the public sector producing content for organisations such as Save the Children, Oxfam, Wateraid, The Arts Council and the National Trust. Ben’s first production was a film charting his journey to Siberia to visit a religious community of 5,000 people for a celebration of their leader, a man they believe to be the second coming, called ‘In Search of the Vissarion’. Creatively, Ben tries to produce work that is both visually and intellectually stimulating, dealing with themes such as hope, obsession and fate.
The first BTG workshop led by Peter Symes was very insightful, the projects this year are of a very high standard, and you can be certain it will be tough to get selected for the final 7. The projects range from Arizonian old people living under constant threat of a biohazard attack, to a blind photographer.
I'm sure all the members of the workshop will be entrenched with the dreaded question.... " but what is the film?".... Which is thoroughly engrained into my psyche, and is my new boomerang question when developing a pitch.
Amy is a freelance filmmaker, mainly making documentaries. She did a Masters in Directing at Edinburgh College of Art (ECA), where she made Kirran and the Hatchmaker. This short documentary about a small boy and his chickens has played at festivals in the UK and abroad, and got selected for the Skillset Trailblazers strand at Edinburgh Film Festival ‘09. Amy also works as a documentary and music camera person, and worked in TV for a few years before going to ECA. Amy’s project for BTG is called Twinset.
So, having been shortlisted in December for Bridging the Gap, the first workshop was this weekend. It was headed up by Peter Symes – old school documentary man from Bristol... very nice. Being greeted by his beaming smile over coffee before we began was an excellent thing.
My film is called "Twinset" and is about a 61 year old transvestite called Jennifer, who lives in Holland-on-Sea in Essex. My best mate Jess met Jennifer a few years ago, when she was working for Marc Isaacs on his film about Frinton. Luckily for us, Jennifer didn't end up in the film... so we went back to see her in October this year and our new film grew feet.
The Scottish Documentary Institute has set up this blog to write about various different thoughts and comments related to documentary filmmaking. We will have a blog from our latest Bridging the Gap participants, blogs from 'behind the scenes' of SDI, and even film reviews!