By Charlie Phillips 23 March, 2009
I've pontificated here a few times on matters Green and pleasant, and perhaps haven't given many concrete things documentary people could do to put the breaks on runaway climate change. So I'm going to advocate one thing from a festival person's perspective, which is where possible to take the train and not the plane.
Here's the answers to your questions.
- Impossible? No, not at all if you're in the UK or central Western Europe, especially.
- A bit difficult to organise? No, it's actually really easy, with an increasingly integrated European rail timetable.
- More time-consuming? Yes but it's also substantially more enjoyable.
- More expensive? Often, yes. But the more people that do it, the more people there are to lobby cross-national governments to change their transport policies.
- Actually impossible if you're talking going across a sea, like even to Ireland? No, you can get a ferry. OK, it does take ages, but you can travel overnight so it makes no difference to your working schedule. And by the way, no ferries definitively aren't as bad as planes, if that's what you're thinking.
In the last 12 months, I've been to festivals/markets in Bardonecchia by train (direct from Paris), Inverness by train (truly romantic) and Amsterdam by ferry (a beautiful ride, trust me). The year before, I went to Copenhagen by train, and it was an adventure. This year, I'm going to Belfast by boat, Nyon by train, La Rochelle by train and I'm sure there'll be more.
OK I'm not denying that for necessity I flew to Sofia, and in the next couple of months will be flying to Toronto, which put simply in carbon terms means I've outweighed the benefits of those non-plane journeys by a substantial amount. But I don't think reversing runaway climate change is just about my personal travel, it's about what large numbers do, and if more people avoided planes for very short distances, and demanded lower prices for doing so, it would make a difference, so hey, that's what I'm trying to do. Call me a hypocrite, or maybe a masochist if you like, but I'm trying.
So if you'd like to try too, and I'm aware by the way that this is a lot easier to plan to do if you're based in the UK, France, Germany, Belgium, possibly Spain, and other countries cuddling the heart of the EU, then try Seat 61 for every conceivable way of traveling without flying. You might like it.
By Charlie Phillips 19 March, 2009
Well I was going to write an overdue account of our recent Newcastle pitch workshop, but now I've decided to do a wrap-up of some SXSW reports. But to whet your appetite, here's some peeks at what our pitching workshops look like...
That's Mark Craig pitching
That's Mat Fleming pitching to Maxyne Franklin from Britdoc.
So interesting reports on SWXW for you - the trumpeted VOD premiers tying in to festival screenings are apparently a bit of a swizz in that if you want them on your TV, you need to already have the right cable package, so it's not on-demand in its purest form. You can get it totally on-demand on your computer, but if we're talking on your TV you can't. So for those of us in the UK, it's like having the Medium package on Virgin which means you can't choose to watch any of their on-demand library even if you're willing to pay one-off. That's annoying.
But for the man who did to get to watch it on that blog, I like his analysis of the viewing experience when you're on a sofa and not on a festival seat. He's right that much of the fun of festival viewing is the communal experience, especially when you know a lot of the crew personally, but that it's not always the case you watch a festival film with a totally critical mind. For me, the critical time comes when I'm home and no-one else can influence me. There's a definite critical mass that builds at festivals where the collective decides on how a film is to be rated, and it's only when the collective disappears that perhaps peoples' actual individual responses are formed. Bit scary now I think about it.
And the Swanberg film he mentions in that blog is a new one in the 'Mumblecore' cluster which has been pretty much ignored in the UK, but which deserves your attention because many of these films apply a documentary method to an improvisational drama content. They're drama-docs in my view, albeit with drama in big letters and documentary in tiny size-6 font. And the new one from the original and best in the scene (well, the most commercial, probably) Andrew Bujalski, Beeswx, is reviewed thoughtfully here. I'm guessing we'll have to wait until the LFF to see it in the UK, but who knows?
Back on proper documentary earth, I like the sound of Died Young Stayed Pretty, which is like this year's Beautiful Losers I suppose, with hip liberal artist semi-punks having their say on modern life. I always like that kind of jazz.
But the really exciting thing in Austin is that they naughtily showed Superstar, Todd Haynes' genius Barbie-powered dramatisation of the life of Karen Carpenter. The world and his wife have possibly seen it on youtube now, where it's lived happily for ages without ever being taken down, but having it on a big screen is very rare. Why don't the Carpenter state just let it have a proper cinema release now and stop pretending no-one's able to see it?
By Charlie Phillips 18 March, 2009
A disclaimer - I know it's not all about who wins and loses at festivals, but if you're not there, then it's still good to know, so you can look out for the winners at future fests. I say this because I had a nameless person complaining to me the other day about how all anyone reporting on festivals ever talks about is winners, so for that person, it's OK, I understand.
Anyway, spread the news, the documentary winners of SXSW are announced! And you can find them here along with the fiction winners. So the Doc feature winner was Bill Ross' 45365 about small town America (have you seen it? Is it different to other small town America films?), an honourable (sorry, honorable) mention went to The Way We Get By, the latest in the subgenre of jolly old people docs.
The Emerging Visions winner was Motherland, which intrigues me; the audience voted for MINE, concerning lost pets after Hurricane Katrina - which is a nice angle. And another winner was Sister Wife about Mormon marriage - now THAT is a name for a film.
Also coming out of SXSW is the good news that brilliant distributor Zeitgeist has bought Afghan Star to show to the US. And, if you're in the UK, you can see it this weekend you know, at the ICA. And you should, you just darn well should, it deserves big audiences.
And actually, 'pon browsing the ICA just then, I saw that they're showing Is it Easy to be Young? on the 28th, an ultra ultra rare 80s Russian doc which enraged the powers that be by suggesting some Russians might be a bit sad. I haven't seen it, but I'm desperate to. Anyone seen it? Worth my hype?
SXSW and Stupid
By Charlie Phillips 16 March, 2009
The greenest factual movie in town had its big premiere last night (that was this), and if you weren't there, you missed a brilliant humbling of a government minister - excellent stuff. Whether you like the film or not - and you should go and see it to decide, don't take my word for it - launching it in a big solar-powered tent, and using the opportunity to semi-trick an MP into being made deeply uncomfortable by his supposed agreement with the ideas he's just seen portrayed, is impressive.
Building movements around your film, and extending its reach beyond the 2 hours people sit on seats watching. That's a hot issue, and if we really are going to have a year of 'rage' and activism on many fronts (not just environmental, but from all political directions), I wonder what role documentary will play in all that.
And as groundbreaking, if in a different way, is SXSW, going on at the moment. Although I'm sad not to be there, the good thing about it is that it's so modern-thinking as festivals go they encourage attendees to bring a lot to the non-attendee screen anyway. So if you're into the interactive land, you can't miss the PDA blog with its parade of glorious gadgetry and acronyms. Or if you like them film things, then basically check every blog you normally check and there'll be endless discussions. You'll feel you've already seen the films, like I do with Winnebago Man, a bizarre uncovering of this minor internet phenomenon.
Less sexy but kind of just as important if you follow these things is that there's 2 new BBC commissioners and there will be many more changes as part of their previously-mentioned BBC Knowledge restructure. And if you're really as geeky as me about documentary funding, then you'll be interested to know that Canada has a new funding model. It's of use to you, don't smirk back there.
By Charlie Phillips 13 March, 2009
Sofia's an interesting place to be. I'm here for the Sunnyside Rendezvous, meeting lots of Eastern European filmmakers and documentary people.
The pitching's informal and the atmosphere is supportive. There aren't many of us here, and it's pretty low-key for a documentary event (getting proper sleep, it's a strange feeling) but the interactions are really creative and there's some excellent facial hair too.
My highlight was the launch of the Balkan Documentary Centre, from the team at Agitprop, the big force behind imaginative documentary in Bulgaria. They're renovating a derelict building to make it a creative centre for documentary so they all wore overalls with the BDC logo on. I like a gimmick to my presentation at docs markets. Plus their handout was a selection of colour swatches, backed with slogans on the back, to help them decide which colours to paint the walls of the new centre.
They have some get up and go in these parts. I met a doc-maker from Armenia who is known for growing peaches, and explained the best manure to source. And filmmakers from this area and beyond seem to need their self-motivation in spades. Eastern European state funding seems to be growing all the time, but it's not necessarily happening directly through local TV channels or other media sources, and it's also not always open to international copro.
But the times are changing, it's exciting to be somewhere the docs industry is exploding, credit crunch potentially ruining it notwithstanding. So I'll go home tomorrow in thoughtful mode.
And on thoughtful, great blog yesterday, Hussain, I read it over three times!
Doc/Fest submissions are open
By Hussain Currimbhoy 12 March, 2009
This is the part we've all been waiting for.
Today Sheffield Doc/Fest opens its film submissions to the world. And I mean the world!
The sofa is almost reupholstered and now I must re-arrange the living room furniture so that everything is within arm's reach. I'm going to be in that room for a while. I admit I'll talking to the screen or talking to my sister in Australia (who, though she has no film training to be speak of is one of the most articulate and astute film readers I know) or talking to no one at all while I consider, re-consider or consider out of hand the 1500 short and feature films that will come to us in Sheffield. I'm looking forward to the packages with 'things' in them. Like the chap who sent a film about drug addicts that thoughtfully included syringes in his package. Ok, its about drugs - got it.
I'm trying to not smoke so I started running. I find the parallels striking. Your first run, like viewing, starts small: 3-4 films a day, then you get used to it or you hit the wall, you get cocky, you do 5-6 a day. You forget to eat. You're back down to 3. You hit a rhythm, you start doing 7 a day. You see a great film in the batch that you didn't expect and you're on a high and you're thinking: I'm gonna go full retard. I'm doing 9.
Like running, sometimes you love it and sometimes you are just not in the right state of mind for it. But you can't programme a festival without loving the submissions process - and it is a process. Its the odd glee that got most programmers into this work in the first place: this uplifting, addictive sense of discovery that I felt at the first festival I ever attended. 'God, this film is great and no one knows about it except for me and the 3 other trench-coat clad guys in this cinema??'
If you assume the average length of a doc is 60 knows, then it would take 62.5 days of non-stop back to back viewing to get through our submissions. Praise the good Lord we have a team of bone fide, certified, more or less qualified previewers who are functioning doc-addicts from Sheffield to London and from Romania to Australia. They are TV practitioners, architects, Phd candidates, filmmakers, friends, good citizens. The more diverse the group the better. I'll get a text at like, 1am from a previewer who has hit a nugget and I'll think that he/she has just been watching too much and start acting like a doctor: 'Give it a day,' I'll say, 'and see how it feels tomorrow night. Call me if it still hurts.'
Will Doc/Fest's delegates respond to this nugget and miss a session for it? Perhaps it'll do better in the Videotheque? What about the Programme Advisory panel? They'll beat me to death with this nugget. There is considerable consideration to endure. Especially now. Its going to be at once a difficult year and a very interesting year for doc festivals. Every day a festival is either announcing one of its key creatives is quitting and / or it will showcase a smaller programme this year. In the case of the Chicago doc festival is just shut down entirely. But I've not heard complaints. A smaller programme? So I don't have to sprint between 5 venues, just 3. Brilliant. A tighter programme (and by that I mean about 10-20% smaller) can be negotiated better, the audiences are concentrated, my chances of seeing something 'bad' are further reduced because every film has to be not just great but multi-functional. For filmmakers, I guess it just means that its going to be that much more competitive to get a film into a festival.
Yes, its a weird time but I'm not afraid. Not today. I've started viewing already but I'm going to remember that after prolonged, extended viewing you have to give it a couple days. Let the films sink in and sit with you so you can imagine them in the bristling bustling cinema with a helplessly engaged audience. Ask yourself why the image or quote that is still in your head from a film you saw 72 hours ago is still there. Is it just taking up precious space or is it linked to something 'internal'?
I gotta get opinions, google it to death, feel irreversibly sidetracked and be surprised that I came back to the theme at hand. This time I gotta remember to let the message of a film earn its stripes by making a path from my eyes to my head, to mouth to pen to heart. Then maybe we got something to screen.
HotDocs! Tribeca! Archive! Guardian!
By Charlie Phillips 10 March, 2009
8 days - that's the longest I haven't written for, for a good while. But it does mean I can write lots now.
So first to Sean Farnel for yet another toppermost blog about programming HotDocs. He's getting harsher, the fog of festival madness must be descending. I love the line:
“Are you an Oscar qualifying event?” Um, I don’t even know. Are we?
Now you know what the likes of Sean and our good Hussain go through. It's not like war, but it's an ordeal and a half. Though that's not to say that you shouldn't be honest in what you're feeling - it's your film after all, if you want a distributor, that's fine - just make sure that you do listen to them, they're good with free advice.
And there's more festival programming just bubbled over - Tribeca has announced its programme - Defamation looks brilliant (and apparently sure is), plus there's our mate Beadie Finzi's first directing outing, Only When I Dance, made by Tigerlily Films, and a new one from rabble-rouser Kirby Dick.
Which is about America's proposition 8, which makes it pertinent to mention that apparently Parvez Sharna, the director of a Jihad for Love, received death threats surrounding the screening of the film on Channel 4, although having looked into a little, I'm not sure how big a set of complaints there's actually been. Wouldn't be wise to drown the film's great message of tolerance in knee-jerk intolerance from the other side. I will investigate more.
And in exciting tech news, I like it that the BFI is opening some archive to the masses, with the help of the BBC, though I'm not clear how much it is or how good it is and indeed what you can do with it. It's just a Memorandum of Understanding at the moment, innit. More transparent, if confusing, is the good old Guardian's development of an open platform where it will release datasets for the public to use. This is pretty good, all told - we can be our own Guardians, that's true liberty.
London International Documentary Film Fest as well as something completely different.
By Hussain Currimbhoy 09 March, 2009
Surely you must know that the London International Documentary Film Festival has just launched their new website. Its clean, accurate and to the point - much like the event!
The LIDF runs from Friday March 27th to Friday April 3rd with over 70 films screening, Q&As with filmmakers and some sessions that treat docs as another form of storytelling instead of money making schemes as is evident in other festivals.
Eva Webber's new doc 'Steel Homes'is screening and should not be missed but other films I'll def be attending are 'This Palestinian Life' by Philip Rizk and 'Megumi' by Mirjam van Veelen. 'A Refusnik's Mother' by Ori Ben Dov looks like one of the more pertinent docs that deal with the Palestine / Israel issue coming to terms with the moral consequences of the occupation.
If you like your docs with a political bent this is the festival for you. A focus on Pakistani documentary is one that has been sorely missing from the doc scene. A collection of films will screen along with substantial time for conversation afterward with with Mohammed Hanif, Z Sardar, Sara Haq, John Goodhand, Sean Kenny.
Also, if any of you happened to catch 'Second Skin' by Juan Carlos Pineiro Escoriaza at Doc/Fest last year you might be interested in some new short docs he's produced for Vice TV called Motherboard Brilliant little doc in 3 parts about the man, commonly known as 'Lord British' who inspired a lot of gaming that we know today.
I know what you thinking, and Vice TV isn't just about do's & don't's any more. Vice is becoming a little favorite for surprise gems like this during those late nights when I'm done watching me docs. These little docs that you can watch (for free!)are a great example of what I like in short on-line films. I can only recommend it all over the shop.
Congrats to 'The English Surgeon'!
By Hussain Currimbhoy 06 March, 2009
A hearty congratulations to Doc/Fest brothers-in-arms, Geoffrey Smith and producer Rachel Wexler for their film 'The English Surgeon' which has just won the Audience Award at Zagrebdox in Croatia. Its 2009 and the film is still running around collecting honors like it was launched yesterday!
Last year's winner at Zagrebdox was Marc Isaac's 'All White In Barking' - another Doc/Fest champion - that was also produced by Rachel Wexler's Bungalow Town Productions. I'm starting to see a pattern forming here.
But no pattern in the winners apart from being British. Its the depictions of such diverse realizations of what is 'British' that make these award winners all the more interesting.
Do keep an eye out for Marc Isaac's new doc which is currently in production. Especially if you like Descartes. You'll know what I mean in about six months.
Tigerlily docs at Rich Mix
By Charlie Phillips 02 March, 2009
Those of you in London can submerge yourselves in excellent documentary later this week, with two screenings being organised by the team at top production company Tigerlily.
They're screening Goth Cruise, and Black Power Salute, both of them mighty fine docs, at the Rich Mix Cinema in Bethnal Green and this page will tell you more.
News of the Newcastle pitch workshop to come - it was brilliant - and looking ahead to Sofia, here's why Sunnyside have gone East