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?
"I didn't want to be a woman looking over my shoulder. I rather go towards things that frighten me – and draw attention to the situation." (Penny Woolcock)
Penny Woolcock, born 1950, grew up in Argentina's English ex-pat community before settling in England in 1970, working in factories and other jobs. Even as a school girl she was more interested in the edges of things - for example the life in the favela underneath the bridge she passed every week on the way to church. She only took to filmmaking in her thirties and never formally trained as a filmmaker, which has led to some crew members commenting: "You work really differently." Penny says: "Ignorance can be bliss!"
Pitching workshops can be a bit brutal. They ask you to distill your film into a sentence or paragraph and sometimes simplify your film a bit too much. Focus is good, but you do need some unknowns to keep the mystery of the filmmaking process alive, and the urge to find out more.
Our commissioned Bridging the Gap filmmakers were relieved when they realised that the directing workshop with Mike Palmieri and Donal Mosher (October Country) was not about finding the great one liner, but going deeper into the heart of their films, uncovering what makes a character great, what made the filmmakers interested in them, and how to get most from them. It was an intense two days in which Mike and Donal gave themselves whole-heartedly to the films and filmmakers. Often it's not about discussing camera technique, or 'knowledge', but what you bring to the table as a person with life experience beyond your identity as a filmmaker.