Noé Mendelle, director of Scottish Documentary Institute recently attended CPH:DOX for the first time. Here she writes about 'The Look of Silence,' the much anticipated follow up to Joshua Oppenheimer's Oscar-nominated feature, 'The Act of Killing.' This time, with an equally compelling and devastating narrative, we hear from the victims instead of the victors of Indonesia's communist massacres in the 1960s.
Last night, in the glamorous Hotel D'Angleterre, the award ceremony for CPH:DOX was held - all glitz and good humour. My colleagues in Copenhagen are such good nature and company.
I was all the more pleased to be there because Edinburgh was amongst the many cities around Europe to take part in the Europe-wide release of 1989 for the opening of the festival. SDI is always eager to join hands with our beloved international documentary community.
Many awards were given out. The least surprising and yet the most deserved went to The Look of Silence by Joshua Oppenheimer. Joshua, despite his Oscar nomination in 2014 and huge international acclaim for The Act of Killing, received his award with great emotion and humbleness, making sure to share the spotlight with his most admired producer Signe Byrge Sorensen.
The Look of Silence, is the story of a young optician, going round his community and openly confronting the men who tortured and killed his brother during the '65-'66 Indonesian genocide. Murderers, who are still in power...Read more
Scott Harris came to Scotland four years ago to pursue an MFA at the Edinburgh College of Art. He previously specialized in short observational documentaries but is today releasing his first feature, a personal doc called Being Ginger. Rather than attempting to screen at film festivals or sell to a broadcaster, he is releasing the film for sale directly on his website.
When the Scottish Documentary Institute approached me to guest blog for them they suggested I might write about why I'm doing a direct release of my new documentary "rather than the festival game." The simple fact that they'd call it a game is a big part of why my film won't appear on the film festival circuit.
I should start by saying I'm not quite sure how I should present this. Which is to say that I am mindful of my tone. While I want to be accurate and honest, I don't want to sound bitter and angry, because I'm not. But I also don't want it to seem like this has been easy, because it's been anything but.
I'm a relatively young filmmaker, just 32 years old. I graduated from the Edinburgh College of Art two years ago with an MFA in Film. Being Ginger is my first feature. My graduation film was a 23-minute doc by the same name. It was about my experience as a redhead and my quest for love. If I may be allowed to say, it was charming, warm, and painfully honest. It screened twice, first at the college's degree show, then at a special industry screening, and both times it brought the house down. I had lofty expectations when I sent it to festivals, 35 in all, but I was nervous. Previously, I'd been very proud of my first year film only to see it rejected by every one of the 80 festivals I applied to. I privately told my friends that if the same thing happened this time I was done making films. I didn't see the point in trying to bang my head on the door hoping that someone would let me in. One friend, an industry professional who has been extremely successful with several short docs and was at both screenings, told me not to worry: "There is no way a film that gets that kind of reaction from an audience won't get picked up by some big festivals."
I sent it to most of the usual suspects, plus a few smaller festivals, and it was rejected by each and every one. A handful gave me feedback, and while I won't name names, some told me the film was just too long to program, which is fair (but they had all programmed longer shorts). Two others said there was no audience for a film about redheads.
"No audience for this"
While the film was still out to all these festivals I began to think that I had really only scratched the surface of the topic, and that I could go much deeper, so I decided to turn it into a feature. The original short would essentially become the first act, and I went on filming. I approached several broadcasters and numerous pitching forums but no one was interested. I tried not to take it personally, I was aware that there were an incredible amount of more experienced filmmakers out there, which makes it a very competitive market. Also, I have no problem admitting that for some people my film is just a hard sell. They don’t understand what it’s really about, and some people don’t want to give it a chance. You see it isn’t really a film about my hair at all, my hair is just a MacGuffin of sorts. The film is actually about something much more universal. It’s about being different and never feeling like you belong. It’s about not having any self-confidence. It’s about trying to get over the effects of bullying that went on long ago. Not red-hair bullying, which most non-redheads think is funny, but the kind of nightmarish stuff that you wouldn’t wish on anyone.
But if I say I’ve made a film about bullying I’m not going to reach the audience that I want. So I decided to approach the subject with humour. My natural audience is redheads, but my hope is that it will branch out from there...Read more
What a year it's been for us at the Scottish Documentary Institute, premiering three features internationally, starting with Maja Borg's Future My Love (93') world premiere at last year's Edinburgh International Film Festival (EIFF) which set it off on a great journey around the world, to more than ten countries so far, and counting.
Then we launched Pablo's Winter (76') by Screen Academy's graduate Chico Pereira (shot by Julian Schwanitz) in Leipzig, Amsterdam and Glasgow before opening MoMA's Documentary Fortnight (Museum of Modern Art, NY) in February this year. It has continued on its international journey, picking up multiple awards in the process.
Since November 2012, I Am Breathing (73') by Emma Davie and Morag McKinnon has been making the rounds in over 14 countries after its IDFA competition world premiere and is now launching at EIFF on 20 June, on the eve of our big Global Screening Day in aid of MND awareness. You can book tickets here or arrange home or community screenings (outside of Edinburgh) here.
But that's not everything by a long mile at this year's EIFF. Edinburgh filmmakers are on fire! EIFF will also host the UK premieres of these fine films (click on the titles for ticket links):
Yasmin Fedda is a filmmaker, Bridging The Gap alumna, PhD student at Edinburgh College of Art, and organiser of the REEL IRAQ festival beginning on 21 March 2013.
On 21 March 2003 a US and UK coalition invaded Iraq, under the premise of freeing it from its then dictator Saddam Hussein. On the same day, I found out I was accepted to do a masters in visual anthropology. That day brought together my dream of making films, and the nightmare of understanding the repercussions of what was to become a drawn-out violent conflict. This pushed me further into wanting to make films, using film as a creative medium from which people from different worlds and lives can learn about each other.Read more
"Reclaim the Vision" was the title of one of the DOK Leipzig industry talks Sonja Henrici attended recently – and also the festival's overall motto. The debate got Sonja thinking about branding, the market vs the public, and how we stay relevant in what we do.
Media academic and creative director at Exozet, Friederike Schultz kicked off with a keynote summarising the big technological and behavioural changes under way. Producers will have to learn to provide for an audience that likes to "lean smart": "lean forward" when we want to engage, and "lean backward" when we want to view in a more traditional way. A world in which we can watch and interact, as Schultz calls it: "any place, any time, any line."
A world which is becoming more complex, app-ified and controlled in 'user-friendly' walled gardens. Even Google fears we have reached "peak search" – much like peak oil – which could threaten its entire business model (see Guardian article), as browser search is on the decline. Multi-screen is already commonplace – who doesn't use their mobile or iPad as their 'private' secondary screen? Brands – from broadcasters down to individual productions – are becoming de rigeur: How will you otherwise stand out in a post-broadcast era without schedules; how will you be found online or in the app shop?
"Ask yourself, what do you stand for?" Schultz says. To communicate this, is your brand.
Simon Kilmurry from POV emphasised the need for public broadcasters to keep championing diversity of opinions and culture, and to resist the simplistic measurement of audience ratings. In an increasingly self-curated media schedule, how do you ensure that you don't just watch films and news which confirm your already-held opinions? How do we expose ourselves to a multitude of opinions? (I'm sure an app is already on the way for this.) Public broadcaster brands still have a really important function to uphold. But once you're into branding, how can you stand outside the market to provide for 'the public'?
Gargi Sen from Magic Lantern in India said wisely: "The market doesn't see the public – only consumers."
In my eyes, most of us see no difference between the public and the market – no doubt, a neoliberal legacy. Perhaps we should debate the difference between the audience or user and the public more? In all our thinking about new business models I believe this question is rarely addressed. In a world where we're jointly scrabbling for scraps of money, we've resigned ourselves to the market model.Read more
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.
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.Read more
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.Read more
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.
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.Read more
Hot 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.Read more
12th Feb 2012
No point in describing the dance of Victor Kossakovsky across the stage – the camera did its best to catch him and missed. No, ok, I missed from my static seating position. A little lesson here in how to interact with a film-maker with the fanciest footwork I've ever seen. Either his feet dance with his thoughts, or vice versa. Anyway, unable to move with him and get the photograph I wanted I shifted and cursed in my front row seat for the first 10 minutes, watching the official photographer move around him with inconsolable jealousy.