Good morning dear reader,
Thanks for being with me for a fast report on my last day at the Krakow Film Festival.
As announced in yesterday’s blog, this morning I courageously set out for the festival centre, bravely confronting the rain. I looked a bit like a wet duck when I walked in the very modern building but nobody seemed to notice the difference with the dry me. Maybe from now on I should use a bit less hair gel to tame my wild hairs. As it has been the case since I arrived, at the festival location I was greeted by a bunch of very active young people who gave their very best to make the festival visitor feel at home. I didn’t ask but I’m pretty sure these were all volunteers, and I hereby greet them and send them my sincere thanks.
Since I had to leave in the afternoon I had to rush during the day, and that’s why I didn’t even manage to say hello to many of the friends who sat in the decision-makers panel for the Dragon Forum. Please forgive me for that, I keep a double ration of kisses ready for you for when we meet next time. I noticed that you were also quite busy, taking notes and concentrating on what to say to the nervous pitching teams and I thought I should leave the floor to them.
Once again the pitching was a very inspiring experience, with teams from different nationalities and subjects that were quite varied. I have to say that also the level of performance was quite varied, which often had to do with the different level of the production stage: some were at the very beginning of the adventure, others very near to finishing the documentary.
I’m not going into detail about all pitches, but maybe it might be useful to sum up some of the most common remarks that have been made by various decision makers.
A couple of times these expressed their regret that the pitch (nor the trailer/clip/teaser/mood film) didn’t offer sufficient information about the personal relations between the main characters. Once again it became clear that the funders are not looking for “situations” but for “stories” and real people, a desire I full-heartedly second.
I was also pleased to hear that some of them pleaded to bring some humour in the sometimes “heavy” subject matter. It’s not all doom and disaster out there, every dark cloud has a silver lining and sometimes it’s a relief to focus on that for a short while.
When the decision makers were sometimes remarking upon low budgets of a couple of projects, I could not help but put a cynical smile on my face. It’s not as if producers/directors like to work with small budgets: they are forced to do it because the money pits are drying up and they have to find innovative ways to shoot the documentaries. “Innovative ways” increasingly means not to pay oneself a salary and ask friends and collaborators to make a big financial effort too. This is an unhealthy situation and the powers that be should start thinking about finding a solution for that. Maybe less bullshit crowd-pleasing programs on the public broadcasters and using that money for decent documentary slots could be a start? Is somebody on the management level up there reading this?
A wave of horror went through the theatre (yes, I have been known to put things a bit too strong) when two brave filmmakers cold-bloodedly admitted that their documentary could be called a visual essay. Of course the moderator looked at ARTE to comment on that, and with a deep sigh of regret on her gentle face, Madeleine Avramoussis had to say that indeed ARTE showed this kind of documentaries, a long long time ago. My God, my God… why hast thou left me? The same filmmaker team were met with the comments that their proposal was at this moment too unclear, not focused, too ambitious and lacked main characters. I did not disagree.
A third project had a difficult time because the title of her project was no longer in line with the content and this confused the decision makers. It took some time before she got up to speed but then she got a warm and sympathetic laugh when she had to admit that most of the main characters (and we’re talking about a whole village here) were her relatives and almost all of them carried the same family name as hers. Talking about unique access!
Allow me to mention one project that in my opinion was a real success, even if some questions were raised about moral issues that were linked to the subject, but the pitching team had the right answers to those. Director Damian Nenadic and producer Oliver Sertic performed very well in presenting Days of Madness. The trailer was very well received (which was also proven by the reactions of the audience). The decision makers praised the clarity and the structure of the pitch. The team also had prepared a little gimmick to seduce the panel, and that worked well. I’m not going to give it away, for I think you’ll meet the team again at other pitching sessions and I don’t want to blow the surprise.
FLORENCE, THE CONSUL AND ME was another WOII project that was presented in a very seducing way by the director in a pitch that was very close to a performance. Full of confidence the addressed the panel members in a very direct manner and his simple and short trailer did attract a lot of attention. His unique selling points were the fact that soon Europe will be celebrating the 70th anniversary of the liberation from Nazi terror (and he promised his documentary will be ready by then) and the unique archives that he has found. The images we saw in the trailer certainly made us want to see more. One panel member wanted to know whether he was going to script the documentary before shooting (what he would consider a plus) and the answer was a strong “yes”.
Those of us who have seen Vlad Ketkovich pitch know that he never shows up with a bad subject and never fails to put on a good show. I wish I were a millionaire, able to invest in his projects, even if it would only be to have couple of drinks after the production meetings, but that would certainly not be the only reason. Maria Murshova’s Gatherers of Seaweed promises to become a great creative documentary.
Sometimes it’s hard to predict how the panel members will answer to a proposal. I had expected a strong reaction to Lucia Stojevic’s Hunger Brothers and was surprised that it did not manage to create a stir, in spite of a pitch very well performed and a teaser that I personally liked a lot. It shows again that in this life you can’t please everyone.
Sometimes the panel members had a hard time themselves; they watched a pitch and the accompanying trailer, loved it and would like to see the finished film… and then had to admit that they did not know where on earth they could program it. To me, that underlines that there’s something rotten in the state of television. In quite a lot of cases it were film funds that had to come to the rescue, because representatives of broadcasters had to throw in the towel. In this respect we also heard a couple of times that although the panel members personally loved the subject, there was no link with the own country, region or whatever and therefore they could not enter into the production. A proposal: why don’t the broadcasters offer a small camera to every family and have them shoot their own home movies that they then can watch in the evening, so that the audience doesn’t have to look at all those boring stories from people further than a couple of kilometres away.
A very funny – but effective – pitch was delivered by a team that wants to make a documentary about a man who sings in Yiddish and who actually did a tour with that repertoire in – of all places – Germany. I’m still not sure whether I find his main character arrogant and provocative, but the director won the hearts of the audience with the anecdote that the tour he filmed was not really successful; he mentioned a gig where at the beginning there were 120 people in the audience, and after a couple of minutes only 8. I think I’d like to see that film very much.
One project (about an esteemed director who started as a very creative filmmaker but who’s mostly remembered (by gentlemen of my age) for having directed soft porn films like The Beast and Emmanuele 5, was received rather well but remarks were made about the risk of the film becoming too “academic”. The director answered that if he wanted to treat the subject in an academic way, he would have written a book about the man. One panel member said that the director was unknown to her: give me some time to go through the old DVD collection of a friend of mine, and that problem can be solved quickly.
Another project was met with criticism because – once again – the proposal was not focused enough and the documentary would have too many characters. Also the rather pessimistic way in which the director intended to approach the subject raised some eyebrows. Actually, I think that these reactions were caused by the clip that was shown. It was clearly defined as not being a trailer, not being a teaser or not being a scene from the film, but should be seen as merely a mood board to present the subject and some of the characters. Apologies to the director, but in me too it created the same critical reactions as were expressed by the panel. This shows once again how a clip can make or break a pitch. Think carefully before you show your baby to the world.
Prepare yourself to be informed about the invasion of Iceland by the Poles, using as a weapon… a chocolate covered candy bar, called Prince Polandia. A pitch that was delivered with humour, irony and self-mockery and that created a lot of goodwill. It was well received, but the team will have to buy some more candy bars to offer to the panel members before there will be money in the bank.
Is it because I’m getting old that I found the pitch of STOCZINIA – from the shipyard to young city very endearing. We saw a charming Canadian filmmaker, full of passion for her project, flanked by the more mature producer who actually directed the pitch as a kind of theatre play, firing questions at her and thereby structuring the pitch in a very clear way. If I ever saw a duo presentation that worked well, this was it.
And then our old companion Murphy entered the room to play games with the last project of the day WAITING FOR MARINA. Everything that could go wrong did! The team was introduced by the wrong slide, which made their opening gimmick fail. Then the trailer started without sound. Then we heard the sound without the images. Then we saw both but at the wrong moment. And during all this time the team kept smiling, trying to keep their calm and to present a coherent story. Respect. The unfortunate situation brought them a lot of goodwill, but nonetheless a fierce discussion started between the filmmakers and some of the panel members who had a very strong opinion about their main character and art in general. In my opinion that’s a good sign: the team hit a nerve there and I’m sure the discussion will not have ended today. Actually the panel members started making suggestions about the possibilities for a transmedia project, and I think they were absolutely right about that. But the team had such a hard time that I could not help myself and go over to one of them after the pitch, telling her that in my opinion a bad dress rehearsal often leads to a great première.
And so ended of a rather full morning and early afternoon. There was just enough time for one last glass of local beer in good company and then it was back to the hotel and back home. So, from seat 12A on flight LH1024 I’m sending you my very best wishes for a great weekend. Keep an eye on the blog: more travels are scheduled over the next weeks.