Category Archives: Doc-making

Interview La Chana, IDFA’s Audience Award 2016

La Chana is the portrait of the self-taught Gypsy dancer, Antonia Santiago Amado, an amazing flamenco dancer and with it the personal story of a now elderly woman. Excellent editing with archival dance scenes and highlights of her career (here with Peter Sellers in The Bobo). Full of humour and passion, a great scene where she talks about Dali, how he attended her performances bringing along his “cat”, his leopard, which was upset by her tap-dancing and roared!

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Lucija Stotevic the director and producer of the film originally comes from Croatia, but moved to Austria when she was 6. While studying architecture in Edinburgh, she discovered she loved film more, so she moved to the Czech Republic to study film for one very intensive year. After that, she moved to Barcelona, Spain, and started to work for production companies and independently doing video journalism for newspapers like The Guardian. La Chana was the reason why she set up her own production company. She produced and directed this feature-length documentary against all the financial obstacles for a newcomer. The film has participated in a series of workshops, such as EsoDoc and Rough Cut Boutique. Four years later, La Chana was premiering at Idfa Panorama and was also nominated for the best female-directed film. While this interview was taking place in her co-working space in Barcelona, her seven-month-old daughter was one floor above, playing in the baby facility provided by this co-working space.

Is it common in Spain to have a baby facility if you are a working woman? No, it’s a completely new thing; we are pioneers and trying it out. I was like, “This is perfect” because, she is depending on me, but I need to work. My poor baby is seven months old and has been to five countries in seven months.

So, you were pregnant while doing the film? During the editing process, my belly was just growing. So, I was thinking, if she doesn't have a sense of rhythm, I will be surprised. She is getting so much flamenco, she’d better have a good sense of rhythm.

_mg_9526Do you think your background in architecture influences this way of reacting and thinking? This structure you have, is it coming from there? There are overlaps between film and architecture. For example, in the working process, in both film and architecture, you work on different aspects and still always have an overall picture the whole time, too. It’s also a echnical and creative mix, and I think there are a lot of crossovers, which is actually why I got into film. I did my final project on editing theory in film and architecture and was looking at how these two things can influence each other in the creative process, in the way you think about montage and architecture and construction, and the way you think about montage and constructing through sequences in storytelling. There is similarity. During that period, I became much more interested in film than architecture, so my boyfriend at the time told me, ‘You seem so much more into the film aspect, why don't you just go to film school?’ and I thought that actually was not such a bad idea.

_mg_0760How did you meet La Chana?
I met her through my teacher, Beatriz del Pozo. La Chana is her ‘maestro’. Beatriz always talks about La Chana, about her rhythms, about her beats, about how she had fallen into the shadows and she shouldn't have because she is an amazing, wonderful artist and does things nobody else had done. She put some videos on for me when I was at her house, of La Chana dancing and I was just dumbstruck. I think the one that really struck me was the one where La Chana was dancing in The Bobo [the Peter Sellers film], where she is nineteen years old and looks like she is forty – the passion and the pain and the suffering – she was like a sorceress!
Beatriz suggested that we meet so we went to her home, and she prepared an amazing paella for us. She was very open with me from the beginning in terms of what happened to her, she just told me everything. There was so much story here, and this character was amazing. She could carry a film as an individual character – nothing else was necessary. I proposed we start working together, and the first thing she told me was, ‘OK, come to the party on Saturday. I am having my whole family here, but only you can come, you can’t bring any men with you, no camera guys, and if my family ask you, tell them that you are a student of mine.’ She was very careful, and what worried her the most was her own environment, and how they were going to react if they knew she was doing this film. But then, little by little, she became much more open about this.

It does come across in the film that she has this worry about how others will think of things and that she was always between these two things, what do others think and what is my own soul telling me. Exactly, very much so. It has always been a struggle for her, this combination of ‘this is me, this is what I want, what I am feeling and this is what I am supposed to be doing.

How did you deal with all these layers of her character, all these directions the film could take?
There were many directions the film could have taken, as there were many elements to deal with: her art, the social circumstances, the abuse. But I think going into general topics would have been a mistake. So, it was very important that we just stick to the core, and let her lead it, and just look more how these different things influenced her, rather than what they are. And La Chana’s core is her dance, her art. That’s why there is a narrative told through the transformation of the way you perceive her dance in the film. When you watch the early part of the film and you discover who she was, you see her dancing and you think, ‘Wow, amazing dancer,’ but it’s only when you find out those different obstacles that she had, that her dances take on other meanings, other layers. You understand all that emotional charge then. That was very important to me, that we go to where her core is – her music, her rhythm, her dance – and to do that we should understand her pain and her suffering and her environment, and her tragedy, and stay close to that.

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I could see the passion of La Chana but I could also feel your passion in doing this film. I am sure you had difficulties in many ways to make it. How did you balance these two roles – director and producer?
I think the way the documentary world is today, if I look at it from the producers’ perspective, most people would have just put this film into the drawer looking at it in terms of financing and what was possible to raise, unfortunately. That was one of my worries initially, because we started this film exactly when the crisis hit, so we had the problem that the arts were the first thing to get cut – production companies were closing left, right and centre. Everybody was telling me, ‘We love the film, we love the idea but we don't know if we are going to survive one more year, and it will be very difficult to get funding for your film.’ We had a lot of interest also at the international level, but this was complicated, because of the fact that it is character-driven, a human-interest story, but of a character who is not so well-known outside of Spain – I mean she is not so well known inside of Spain either, except to the older generation. Only Spanish is spoken, and it was very hard to find co-producers who could do anything. In the end, I established a production company in order to be able to produce it, and then we eventually started getting interest from a direct audience. We ended up raising a huge part, more than 50% of our budget, from individuals. Otherwise, it would have been impossible. It was funded by women mostly. Women wanted to watch this film.

4-17In a film like La Chana it is important that you are a woman. Do you think that the fact that you were a woman filmmaker made her trust you and open up to tell her story? Was it important that you were a woman?
I think so. She grew up in such a macho society that I think there are certain things that she would certainly not share with a man. It made it easier for her to relate to me and open up to me. Initially, one of the things I was worried about is that I am a foreigner and I think that played as an advantage for me because, especially in the beginning, she didn't feel threatened by me. She thought ‘the girl with the funny accent’, you know (laughing). That, in some way, helped her to relax.

You are not only stubborn, but very smart, too. I wanted to ask you a bit more about flamenco?
I am interested from an intellectual point of view but you can’t be shy and perform in flamenco. I absolutely adore it and I loved learning it, but I wouldn't describe myself as a flamenco dancer. In order to be really good, you need to be really raw and really let everything come out; show everything that you are. In flamenco for it to work you have to let all that fall, and I am too private of a person to do that.

In the film, you talk about the aging process, the loss of acceptance, but also the reinvention. You manage to do this very smoothly. I wanted to hear more about that coming from you, what are your thoughts about aging and reinvention?
What La Chana shows us in a very nice way is that you have to accept the passing of time and that you can do something with it; you don’t have to just sit there and do nothing anymore. She demonstrates it so beautifully, that you can’t let your passions die even if you are physically getting older. You have to find a way to change them into a format that you can still enjoy.

Through the film, you helped her do this also, to go back.
We kind of inspired her to go back on stage, which she loves; she loves the attention, she loves the audience, but she also loves being filmed. She is living with memories but quite isolated. Now, I think we won’t be able to stop her anymore (laughing) – she wants to go everywhere and is going to be the great diva again, and she will do anything.

_mg_0048What was her reaction when she saw the film?
She always said she prayed for us (the film team), but when I showed her the film in January she told me she stopped praying for me. Over a nine-month period.

Why?
She hated it; she had a really hard time with it, which was normal. I mean, I was expecting her to react, but she reacted very strongly. It might sound sadistic and horrible, but i thought, ‘OK, this is a good sign’. Because if she loved it from the beginning, it means we didn’t really go under the surface. It had to affect her; it wouldn't be normal if it didn’t affect her because it’s her life. There is a psychological process she never went through. It was extremely difficult, and she was very angry at me, but by the time we showed her a final version, after many months had passed, she had had time to process it and now stands behind it.

This is the films Trailer. The film won the audience award at IDFA 2016. Shoot in Barcelona, here is the video message to accept the award.

 

 

THE INVISIBLE CITY [KAKUMA]

I met Emmy Oost (the producer) and  Lieven Corthouts (the director) in Nyon during Vision du Reel last year. We were all attending the interactive documentary workshop id w. They had a film which was also a Dok Incubator baby, and they wanted to create an app to help the people living in this enormous "city" of 200,000 refugees in Kenya, Africa (built in 1991) to find their family and relatives. Now, the film is ready and it has already premiered in Belgium.

An amazing feature-length documentary film, it explains why, despite the closed borders and fences built in Europe, people leave (and will continue to leave), and make this devastating journey to Europe, hoping to start over and build a new existence where they can have a future. Nothing is more permanent than losing your home.

Watch the trailer:

Bugs for dinner?

 

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Hmm, I was thinking, “What to cook for dinner?" Then I received Salma Abdalla’s email: Bugs? Ben and Josh, the two young chefs from the Nordic Foodlab founded by NOMA's Rene Retzepi, investigate the eats and tastes of insects around the world – said to be the future of food. First, I will see the film, which premiered 16/4/1016 at Tribeca! Then I will taste and come back to you. In the meantime, I can tell you that the first reviews say that its the best food film since Food Inc!

Directed by Andreas Johnsen (Ai Wei Wei – The Fake Case), produced by Sigrid Jonsson Dyekjær (recently awarded Best Danish producer and the Producer´s Guild Award).

Have a bite! and watch the trailer:

 

Interview with Marianna Economou (The Longest Run)

The Greek feature-length documentary The Longest Run [Ο πιο μακρύς δρόμος] by Marianna Economou, on two underage irregular migrants detained as smugglers of irregular migrants in the prison of Volos, premieres in Greece at the Thessaloniki Documentary Festival Images of the World on Wednesday 16 March at 20.30 at the Olympion Theatre and on 18 March 2016 at 13.30 at the Stavros Tornes Theatre, Warehouse 1, Port. Dimitra Kouzi spoke with the documentary’s director, Marianna Economou.

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Director Marianna Economou

The film began about two years ago, when Marianna came across the book At school I forget the prison by Prof. Kostas Magos, which features accounts by underage migrant prisoners from the storytelling workshop run by Prof. Kostas Magos at the Volos prison. “This book shocked me,” says Marianna Economou. “At the same time, it filled me with questions. How can it be possible for these kids, who are struggling to flee from their predicament in their countries of origin, to find themselves in prison, to be tried by a foreign court in a language they do not understand, and many of them to end up serving extremely long sentences of up to 25 years?”

The professor was the first person she met at the prison. “If you manage to get a filming permit, I’m in for the documentary,” this extraordinary teacher told her. Next stop was the prison director’s office. Marianna needed his permission, as well as permission from the Ministry of Justice, before she could film inside the prison. The Director was positive from the outset, since the film would publicise juvenile prisoners’ training. It took six long months to get the coveted filming permit from the Ministry – an authorisation that had never before or since been given, and this was only made possible by circumstances and people. There was “an extraordinary woman at the Ministry, Eftychia Katsigaraki, says the director, who had been involved with the issue of children’s victimization by irregular migrant traffickers; another contributing factor was that prisons were packed full of child migrants and refugees. The issue had begun to attract European attention; it had been brought up in Brussels.”

YET, HOW DO THESE CHILDREN GET IMPLICATED AND END UP IN PRISON?

“The borders have become harder to cross, especially in Evros because of the fence. Traffickers are organised in a pyramid: the head trafficker at the top and the local ones below. The last smuggler, the one to bring them into Greece, does not want to risk further. He is well aware that if he is caught, he faces prison for life. So what does he do? He brings the people to the border, finds an easy victim – a child or a minor – and blackmails them in different ways. He will say, ‘If you don’t get them across and come back to get the rest of them, we will go to your village and kill your mother.’ Or, ‘Do you see that woman and her child? I will drown them if you don’t go.’ That’s the kind of blackmailing techniques that they use. And of course the other thing they often use is to say, ‘If you take people across, you will not have to pay for your own passage.’ And so they convince these minors, who are in effect caught doing this job and are arrested by the Greek authorities. The Greek law is very strict: for each person trafficked, you get 10 years in prison.”

“I started filming during classes. That’s when I started to identify the most interesting stories and the children that were able to bear the weight of this film.” Jasim was the youngest; he was 17. He was totally lost and scared, unable to grasp what had happened and how he had found himself spending four months in prison waiting for trial. “He was just an inexperienced child,” remembers Marianna Economou. “He came from a small village in northern Iraq and found himself in Greece, a country that he did not even know existed; he thought he was going straight to Germany to his brother. Alsaleh from Syria had already been in prison for 14 months waiting for trial. He spoke Greek well, so he helped Jasim with the language. They also shared the same cell and became friends during their months in prison.”

VOICES ON THE OTHER END OF THE LINE, FROM ANOTHER WORLD

The film begins with children waiting in line to phone their parents. For Marianna Economou, this was the most shocking of all the scenes in prison. “I saw how anxiously they waited for their turn to phone and struggle to get through to Iraq or Syria. In the beginning, I did not understand a word; I only watched their eyes and expressions, and when I asked, they replied, ‘Our parents are in terrible condition. They are worse off than we are. They are in a war.’ It was the time when Kobani was being bombed, while Isis was beheading the Yazidis in northern Iraq, the ethnic group from which Jasim comes. His whole family had to flee into the mountains. I decided that these phone calls were decisive when I heard their parents’ voices on the other end of the line, from another world, speaking with such intensity, such despair, telling them about the war and at the same time asking them, ‘ Are you all right, my child? I love you! I cannot live when you are so far away from me. Take care of yourself!’ It was always a mother talking to her child. These kids have left a family behind; they are not just ‘irregular migrants’; they all had a mom and a dad who cared for them, who loved them. They could be our own children.”

The film achieved something unprecedented: it received a filming permit for the trial of one of the two characters before the court of Komotini, in northern Greece. “The legal and judicial framework for these minors in the courts of Greece is a huge issue. Very few children have legal representation. The court appoints a lawyer five minutes before the trial begins. Good interpreters are scarce,” says the director. “I felt that there is a serious human-rights issue. Social workers are doing their best to support these kids at prison, but it all stops there.”

The film began, like most films in Greece, with two funding applications: one to the state broadcaster, ERT, and one to the Greek Film Centre (EKK). Shortly after, ERT was closed down. When filming was completed, all you could do was to get in touch with foreign channels, funds, etc. As always, however, they came up against the question: “What funding have you already received from your own country, Greece?” Then came the first prize at Docs in Progress at the Thessaloniki Festival and participation in the co-production meetings of Dok Leipzig Festival, where the prevailing response was: “Go ahead; keep us informed, and we will see.” What tipped the scale was the fact that the refugee emergency had broken out and the issue was already in the news. Thus, the film had to come out and the story of these children ought to be heard. They went into editing, using their own funds, in order to submit the film to Leipzig. The film was indeed accepted by DOK Leipzig and premiered on 27 October 2015 in the International Competition for Long Documentary and Animated Film. It won two awards – the PRIZE OF THE UNITED SERVICES TRADE UNION VER.DI and the INTERNATIONAL COMPETITION LONG HONORARY MENTION.

The Longest Run has officially participated in the festivals:

DOCPOINT (Finland), TEMPO (Sweden), CROSSING EUROPE (Switzerland), ONE WORLD Prague (Czech Republic), and DOCSBARCELONA (Spain).

The film premieres in Greece at the Thessaloniki Documentary Festival 2016, on 16 March 2016 at 20.30 at the Olympion Theatre and on 18 March 2016 at 13.30 at the Stavros Tornes Theatre, Warehouse 1, Port.

In Athens, the film will be screened by CineDoc on Friday 22 April at 20.30 at the French Institute (Institut français de Grèce à Athènes, Sina 31, Athens) and on Saturday 23 and Sunday 24 April at Danaos Cinema.

“Leipzig was a revelation after all, adds Marianna Economou: It was a great vindication for us and, thanks mainly to the help of Sabine Lange and Madeleine Avramoussis, the film was acquired by ARTE and aired on 2 February 2016. Eventually, the Greek Film Centre also approved the proposal. This is not the way to do things, though. I hope this film opens up a path abroad for me. Yet, if the possibility for co-productions and international productions with ERT is not re-established, I don’ t know how things will be for documentaries in Greece.”

Film Synopsis

In the Volos prison for minors, Alsaleh from Syria and Jasim from Iraq are awaiting trial, facing heavy charges for irregular migrant trafficking. From inside the prison, they talk on the phone with their parents, who live under the terror of war and ISIS raids while struggling to save themselves. The Longest Run closely follows the story of the two friends in prison and in court, revealing how innocent underage refugees often fall victims of coercion by traffickers and serve heavy sentences in Greek prisons while traffickers continue to operate undisturbed. Alsaleh and Jasim know that if they are convicted, they face imprisonment for up to 25 years.

Trailer on Vimeo

Official Web Site

The Longest Run on Facebook

Interview translated into English by Dimitris Saltabassis

EXOTICA, EROTICA, Etc. on DocStories

The film by Evangelia Kranioti was selected at the 56th Berlinale Forum, and Evangelia won  the Best Emerging International Filmmaker award at Hot Docs.  Next week Evangelia's film will be the opening film at the Syros International Film Festival (Greece) and will then travel to Karlovy Vary. The director was my guest at Hellenic Radio 3 (ERA 3)'s show DocStories on documentaries and storytelling last summer.  



It took Evangelia Kranioti nine years to complete the film research and shooting. She became a sailor herself,  travelling to 20 countries, from the Mediterranean to the Black Sea, venturing into the Atlantic, the Magellan Straight and the Pacific, from Panama to the Baltic, all the way to the North Pole. The material – 450 hours of video footage! – was edited by Giorgos Lambrinos.

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"Exotica, Erotica, Etc. navigates centuries-old trade routes and speaks to the universal orientation towards exploration, expression and affection. But above all, it is a love note to the forgotten, hidden and ignored men and women whose long sojourns, dangerous travels and bouts of loneliness are paradoxically essential for societies to function. Exotica, Erotica, Etc. is a documentary conceived as an endless journey, an ongoing dialogue between man and woman, nature and the world. The film's non-linear narrative embraces the rhythm of merchant ships in perpetual motion and unfolds like a landscape, an archipelago : a retired woman of the night reflects on encounters with past lovers long gone, perhaps lost at sea. We listen to her as she longs for one to return and fulfill the final romantic chapter of her life. The voice of an old captain coming from faraway –the solitude of the ocean or the hotel room of an unknown port– becomes an echo to her monologue. Both characters are real and their personal narratives, kept intact, eventually weave a dense discussion on longing, memory and loss."

Watch the trailer.

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Evangelia Kranioti with Dimitra Kouzi at ERT 3rd Radio Programme's show DocStories on documentaries and storytelling

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The Longest Run in Leipzig in Competition 2015!

The Longest Run is one of those films that can't wait until funding is found before shooting. You either do it now or not at all. And Marianna Oikonomou (Food for Love) did. It is an important story unfolding in a juvenile prison in the city of Volos, in Greece, where the director enjoyed access – which is not a common occurrence at all. The film was already presented at the 10th International Dok Leipzig Co-Production Meeting in October 2014.

Here is an interview that the director, Marianna Oikonomou, gave me at the 17th Thessaloniki Documentary Festival in the aftermath of receiving the award for best Doc in Progress in March 2015.

The story follows two teenagers, a Syrian from Kobani and a Yazidi from Northern Iraq, who spend their long days in a juvenile prison in Greece, accused of smuggling illegal immigrants, while their parents experience  the war in their home countries. The Longest Run  follows their lives  before, during,  and after their court case and exposes the  tragic  phenomenon of professional smugglers forcing  underage illegal immigrants to transport  people across the border from Turkey to Greece,  thus making them smugglers themselves. This means that innocent young boys can serve sentences up to 25 years in a foreign country while their parents are equally ‘confined’ in their war-stricken countries.

The Longest Run documentary photo
Jasim in his cell in the Greek prison

The project garnered the top prize in Docs in Progress, receiving 17.000 euro in editing and post-production funding, but still needs a distributor, pre-sales, and more funding.

Here is a 7-minute demo of this interesting film:

https://vimeo.com/121977493  (password:32015)

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Alsaleh & Jasim in Prison

Prix Europa 2014 starts now!

Once again it's time for this year's Prix Europa in Berlin!  Although I'm personally involved in the festival since 2011, I can't help but recommend it as a showcase for Europe’s best television, radio and online productions.

A total of 13 PRIX EUROPA Trophies will be awarded. This year's competition includes 210 entries handpicked from more than 650 projects by 294 organizations from 35 countries.

Media professionals from all over the continent flock to Berlin in October 18-24 to watch the films, listen to radio projects, surf through websites and vigorously debate the nominated productions. There are no juries like in other festivals. The juries in Prix Europa categories are the nominees themselves! Starting Monday October 20 2014 they will watch all the nominated projects in their respective categories; every afternoon they will discuss and vote, and on Friday the winners will be announced.

Listen to an interview with the directors of the fantastic Meet the Fokkens, TV Documentary 2012 winners.

The festival is open to visitors. If you are involved in the media business, a director, producer in TV or Radio, a journalist, or a student, it's totally worth it to visit Berlin's Haus des Rundfunks, next to the broadcasting headquarters of the Rundfunk Berlin Brandenburg. It is a great opportunity for networking and inspiration! Check out this year's exciting entries in the programme.

PRIX EUROPA is organized by a coalition of 28 major European broadcasters and institutions, including the European Broadcasting Union.

How about a look back at the 2013 winners to relieve the tension?

See you at RBB in Berlin!