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.

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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.

We asked Jonny what did he make of the Interdoc workshops and what happened with his film afterwards and here is what he said:

It was both refreshing and illuminating to meet up and talk with experienced industry figures and emerging filmmakers going through the same agonies and ecstasies of documentary development. What came over most clearly from the sessions was that a passion for your project, though clearly vital, is never quite enough to persuade funders or an audience to buy into your film if you can’t articulate your story properly.

Find the true heart of your story

The workshops highlighted the importance of putting together a professional development package and hammered home the necessity of listening to positive criticism and opening your mind to new ideas. I think the best piece of advice I received during the workshops was to concentrate on finding the true heart of your story. Our film is multi-stranded and it was sometimes hard to see the wood from the trees. Oh, and SDI events always have really great food.

After pitching MY BROTHER THE ARK HUNTER at Interdoc, my Plainview Films colleague Chris Marks and I had constructive but ultimately unsuccessful meetings with a few broadcasters, and then presented the project at The Edinburgh Pitch. We secured development funding from BBC Alba and Creative Scotland to carry out research trips to Stornoway and Turkey, both of which resulted in the making of a new trailer that helped us define our story, get to know our characters and ultimately convince funders to stump up hard cash.

Passion for your project is never quite enough

It is worth adding that getting funders on board was a major struggle. Many found the story interesting but were unable to take a punt on a project that provided so few concrete answers up front. We were confident we had some interesting characters and locations and that our protagonist had a clear goal. But we couldn’t guarantee that he would find what he was looking for, or that his journey would provoke conflict or provide major dramas. BBC Alba was the only body willing to back emerging filmmakers embarking on such a risky, unclear journey. We undoubtedly benefited from being in the right room with the right people at the right time, but our experiences on Interdoc helped to tip things in our favour by helping us to build trust with the funders. Getting BBC Alba on board also allowed us to approach Creative Scotland for match funding.

Production in Stornoway and Turkey was logistically and creatively challenging, but we learned a huge amount. Many things didn’t work out as we had hoped, while other unexpected golden nuggets presented themselves at just the right moments. I was continually surprised by how open the people we encountered in Dogubeyazit were when they realized who Derick was, particularly as we had been warned that most would shut doors in our faces.

Golden nuggets at the right moments

On the one hand, it was never likely that we would solve every mystery, or that every aspect of the search story would fall in our laps. But this was more than compensated by the human elements that were brought out by taking our character from his home environment and watching him sink and swim in an unfamiliar landscape.

Our crew was tight, tireless and enthusiastic and the groundwork we carried out on our research trips and the development process in general proved vital on the ground. I believe Interdoc workshops were crucial both in our ability to secure funding, and our creative planning during the production process. We are now close to finishing the cut and hope to premiere MY BROTHER THE ARK HUNTER over summer, with a broadcast on BBC Alba in autumn.

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The crew of MY BROTHER THE ARK HUNTER. Jonathan is second from right.

Interdoc Scotland currently has an open call for applications. Deadline is Monday 25 February. 

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