Category Archives: Doc-making

Talking about audiences with: Axel Arnö

Dimitra Kouzi: The idea is to open the discussion about audience development, impact producing, and outreach using journalistic skills to create audiences, to reach audiences, to talk to audiences. What do broadcasters do in that direction?

I thought that talking with somebody with your great experience as a commissioning editor and as a journalist, working at the same time in a channel like SVT would be fantastic in order to share some insights on how broadcasters have the power and mechanism to support documentaries to reach a bigger audience. Or do they?

Axel Arnö: So that's quite a new thing; there is a new profession going: impact producers. And I was at Good Pitch in Copenhagen, where it's all about how to create impact.

Dimitra Kouzi: What would your spontaneous reaction be, if I asked you how you understand the phrase ‘audience development’? What is the audience for you? Who is the audience?

Axel Arnö: I think all filmmakers must have some idea of whom they are speaking to. Sometimes filmmakers are so immersed in their own story that they are not really talking to the receiver. Their focus is to be true to their artistic beliefs. I totally respect that, but we must also be aware of the fact that there is somebody at the other end. It's very important to visualise that someone is receiving, which is something I very often say to filmmakers. You need to understand that even if you think that this film communicates really well, if an audience sits there in the dark and doesn't understand what's happening in the film, if you lose that audience because you are making decisions so as to make the film more visually appealing to you, then I think you are on the wrong path. I think you always have to think about who is going to receive your film, and what you want to say with that.

We often have discussions about impact as well, of course – how to present the film in the best way. Impact for us publishers is probably the best we can do to release it at the right time to give the film as much attention as possible. In terms of long-term impact, we can help with exposure, but we don't do impact campaigns. I think our role as commissioning editors is to work together with the filmmaker to make the film as powerful as possible, as understandable as possible, as true to fact as possible in order for it to become a tool for change – which is what many filmmakers want. We are in this business to change the world, so we want to have change, we want to make a difference. I'm really sad when a film I've been working on has low ratings, or nothing happens – nothing in the papers, no reviews – it just feels like a waste of time. We now think even more, together with the filmmakers, how to prolong a film’s life.

Dimitra Kouzi: How do you do that as a channel?

Axel Arnö: Here in the documentary department, we call ourselves ‘web-first’. Ratings are not as important. We need to be out there on the platform where the audiences are. The problem for us is that we have an audience that is quite big in broadcast, but on the web, it's significant smaller. Because we have multinational competitors. SVT has a market share of around 35% in broadcast, and we have been very stable; we are still the biggest broadcaster. And on the internet, we have around 12% market share, and we are number 4 after YouTube, Facebook, and Netflix. With Facebook, it's because they have this autoplay, when you scroll through the Facebook stream, they count the streams even if they are quiet, which is not really fair.

Dimitra Kouzi: Are you competing with YouTube, Facebook, and Netflix?

Axel Arnö: YouTube has a completely different audience. But it's an audience that we want, too. It's really difficult to compete with YouTube. And Netflix, of course, they have a lot of money now. So, we will probably struggle to keep at the top. As a public service broadcaster, we need to be everywhere – your mother, my mother, us, our kids, which is a challenge. Those are very different audiences, and one particular film might have more of one kind of audience than another.

Dimitra Kouzi: In current affairs, you probably have more men and older men, don’t you?

Axel Arnö: That is probably true. All traditional current affairs will be viewed by an older audience. They are used to talking heads and a voice of God that tells you how it is. Which is not the way young audiences understand the world. But I have to defend solid journalism with real facts. So, I think it is a good thing that we do what we do. And I strongly protest against anyone who says that objective journalism is dead. We strive to be correct, fair and impartial. It is really our mission to be true – otherwise we will be dead very soon.

A creative documentary can of course be more subjective. Then, you have to be transparent about how subjective you are and what you are doing. You cannot lie.

Dimitra Kouzi: I agree that objective journalism is certainly not dead, and strong and good journalism continues to be a public broadcaster’s strong card. You often see this tendency to train people who are reporters, cameramen, sound recordists on the spot, like kamikazes who cover the news where it is happening, in order to cut expenses. This is an interesting situation happening everywhere: to use citizens to replace journalists or reporters. How do you as a public broadcaster use these other media which are available? I mean the radio and all the others in order to report, share, and promote the content you create?

Axel Arnö: We are special cases. In Sweden, public TV broadcasting and radio broadcasting separated in the 1970s. I think the reason was that they didn't want television to ‘eat’ everything, because we have so many expenses and we are so much bigger than the radio. But there is now a fear to break this freedom about our presence online. National-newspaper editors think they should go back to broadcast television. But then we are answering that this is just stupid and wish that we were all online. Nobody will tell newspapers to go back and be printed on paper only. So, we all are going to be in the same arena. But I think, thank God we have public television, because we still have money to do real investigative journalism, and soon enough we will be the only ones to have the power to do that.

Dimitra Kouzi: How much is the budget you have?

Axel Arnö: I have a pretty flexible budget so that I can buy, pre-buy, and co-produce films. And sometimes I make a full commission, depending on the subject. Often, I find new projects through the EBU Documentary group, or through my own network. I also try to push my colleagues when I see that we should do more about a specific issue, like you probably heard about Why Slavery? That came from a couple of broadcasters, and it's now going to be six programs about modern slavery. So far, more than 30 partners have committed to broadcasting during the same week.

Dimitra Kouzi: When is the premiere?

Axel Arnö: Right now, the launch is expected in October 2018. I think in terms of impact this is really something we as public-service broadcasters can deliver. By pooling our resources and broadcasting simultaneously, we hope to create a big world-wide discussion about modern slavery.

I can use my network to initiate new projects or to talk about what we should do as public-service broadcasters. We can make a huge difference!

For example, we did a film called India's Daughter, and that film was phenomenal, because it was broadcast in one week, I think in 20 countries, and it exploded all over the world – mainly because India decided to ban it, and that made headlines everywhere. It was a very good film, and luckily we could make a coordinated effort so everybody aired at the same time, and it was a huge success.

We also collaborate to find the best new films, whether already in the market or upcoming. And, of course I go to all these financing forums, I go everywhere. But that's because I want to find the best material.

Dimitra Kouzi: You also act as a producer. What is the target you want to reach? You said that you have to be everywhere – that's a big task.

Axel Arnö: Yes, it is. But the headline of your talk will be ‘creating audiences,’ or do you mean ‘finding audiences’? I think you have to be true to your own personal beliefs. I'm not going out there chasing young audiences; I think young people will come when we do a big thing. I see in festivals, as well, there is a much younger audience, and they like these investigative films. In a documentary film, an investigation can be presented in so many ways. You can do a personal film like in Gasland, or an investigative piece like Inside Job. Icarus is also a very investigative film, but very personal. It can be both: investigative and personal.

Dimitra Kouzi: There’s a gap. On the one hand, television is trying to reach young audiences. On the other, these people do not watch TV. They also don’t go to the cinema. Some of them go fanatically to festivals, and then after the festivals the films are ‘lost’ again.

Axel Arnö: In terms of views, I think it's much more. All the films here that go on cinema have very low ticket sales. But again: exposure. Sometimes we agree to a holdback, because it's better for the momentum, so you can go touring with the film, you can get headlines in all the local newspapers. But sometimes I don't want to wait for a theatrical window, or an Oscar run. If you really want to have impact, I think it might be good with a short festival run; then, it should go to television, because people will want to see the film.

Dimitra Kouzi: There’s a recipe: do a film festival run and then go to television.

Axel Arnö: I want the message to lead the audience, and we still have the mass audience. My first slot, which is 52 minutes, I'm trying to experiment a little both in terms of subjects and in terms of storytelling. It's gaining recognition and viewership, and this is after 35 years. But it's not only the old people – there is a generation that is finding out these things. I think we can do a lot more when it comes to finding the audience. We have to work a lot in the future to have contact with the audience.

Dimitra Kouzi: But how? How would you go about it if you had freedom to do it now?

Axel Arnö: I have freedom; I don't have time. I would probably go somewhere in rural Sweden. It's a big country, with many areas where we never really go and talk to people about their needs and what they want. I think we should do that. I don't know exactly how to do it, you know, how to have a dialog with the audience. Sometimes I'm not the best one; filmmakers might have a better recipe for finding their audiences. Because if you know who you are speaking to, if you know where you are coming from, it’s always good. But we also have different objectives sometimes, filmmakers and television. We are public; we need to reach the whole population and make sure that we can offer something for each and every one, and we should be everywhere in the nation.

Dimitra Kouzi: But what about rural Sweden? What is going on there?  

Axel Arnö: I think, because there is a notion that we have the same development as in most European countries and the United States, that there is a growing disbelief about mainstream media, and that's bad for democracy. We should go out there and listen. And American media doesn't listen, and the way the media in Germany or the Netherlands do it is maybe too little. We have to be aware of what's going on.

Dimitra Kouzi: Offering programmes after listening to what the people say.

Axel Arnö: Perhaps yes, but we are the public broadcaster. We can't have groups of people that don't find the public broadcast interesting or that don’t take part in what we do. We need to be there for them as well, and there I think we’ve failed and we should be better. We have to try hard to find them.

Many people are not aware of what we are doing. When I tell some people what we offer, they find it fantastic. They just didn’t know. We need to be in people's agendas somehow.

Dimitra Kouzi: What is your personal listening and viewing habits? I know that you are a broadcast fan of these crime series. Or is it over?

Axel Arnö: You mean True Crime? I'm a bit tired of it. How much true crime can we have?

Dimitra Kouzi: I would like to hear you as audience, what are your personal viewing and listening habits?

Axel Arnö: Oh, I watch so much! But I mainly watch rough cuts, so I'm pretty damaged. Yet, I like to watch well-made series. O.J. Simpson: Made in America is very good; I like The Promise. That is a crime story, about a murder case in the U.S. I watch other series and documentaries, as well. In my spare time, I can watch Homeland or an arts and culture doc. I'm very curious, so if it's a good drama I will watch it. But I'm a journalism junkie, so if there is an investigative story with a personal touch, that will be my favourite. I saw a couple of great films at Sundance, such as Icarus; unfortunately, Netflix picked up many of them. It’s really hard for us to compete on American films. Of course, if a cool film premieres at Sundance with all rights available, Netflix will take it. I think they spent 20 million dollars on documentaries this year. Crazy.

Dimitra Kouzi: Is that good for the documentary industry?

Axel Arnö: Well, it's more money into the business. We as public broadcasters have to adapt by making more and better things ourselves. So, I had a discussion yesterday that we need to commit a bit earlier, work closer with the filmmakers that we like, and secure our territories. It's going to be a rights war for VOD rights. Because everybody wants sort of the same thing now.

Dimitra Kouzi: I wanted to ask you about VOD programmes.

Axel Arnö: Yes, we have to be as attractive as anyone. We have so much on our VOD platform. And it's free.

Dimitra Kouzi: I was talking to Simon Kilmurry about his job at POV, and he was telling me, of course they have a different structure there, that every time they launch a film they sit down together with the marketing and the communication departments and make a strategy for that. People don't know – that's the problem. Because we are the public broadcaster, we think that people know about it, but people don't.

Axel Arnö: I can give you one example of where we made a difference and how we treat the audience. We had a film called Cries from Syria, which is an HBO film by Evgeny Afineevsky. He was Oscar-nominated with his previous one, Winter on Fire. So, he made this film. It's about the victims in Syria. It's long, it's extremely graphic, and it's devastating to watch. You are filled with rage, sorrow, and despair. It’s an important film but very hard to watch. So, we made a special introduction where one of our news anchors interviewed Evgeny; then, there was the film, where we warned right before the most graphic images, and after the film, after almost two hours, we went to a studio discussion on Syria. This is how we can create an atmosphere around a film. Because the audience has many needs. And just because we did these things, I think the film landed very well. Had we not done anything, we might have had the audience against us. It got a lot of love, and it's spreading now. But it was a long discussion.

Dimitra Kouzi: I think that this is what all the event-based screenings in cinemas also do. That's why they are successful, they engage the audience to react. And these theme evenings are really something special, and should be on television, too.

Axel Arnö: How to create an audience is also marketing. If you have done a journalistic job, you need to use all your tools to make as many people as possible to watch it. We have our own trailers, of course, we have our audience, we have also sometimes used social media to promote what we do; we make small excerpts of the film, hoping they go viral. We have a newsletter with around 60,000 subscribers, in which every Sunday morning they get links to all the upcoming films and can watch them.

Dimitra Kouzi: On the VOD platform?

Axel Arnö: Yes. We try to engage with the audience as much as we can, and we can always be better. It's about the audience finding us, and us finding the audience. We also have focus groups. We have all the tools of a public broadcaster.

Dimitra Kouzi: You have focus groups and working groups? So, you talk with representatives from the audience?

Axel Arnö: My department does it all the time. And we have other tools, for example an audience group that have agreed to be interviewed by us, and that can be segmented according to education, age, everything. So, you can have a slice of that group and post questions to them, engage with them, and find out whether something works, if they understand it, if there something that would interest them. We use it more and more.

Dimitra Kouzi: Is this new?

Axel Arnö: That's new. We have done it in different ways before, such as focus groups, more irregularly; but now the tools are getting better.

Dimitra Kouzi: This is great. Do you know if other EBU members use that?

Axel Arnö: I would definitely think so.

Dimitra Kouzi: But you are very innovative, so I don't know if other countries from Eastern and Southern Europe do it.

Axel Arnö: I don't know. I get the impression that the broadcast world is getting a bit divided. Some of us are still going mostly for ratings. Ratings are still very important but will become less and less important. When we exchange statistics from the web, it seems that it's a big difference. So, it’s a beginning: We don't really know much about the web audience; we should know more about them.

Dimitra Kouzi: Can you elaborate a bit on exchanging internet clicks?

Axel Arnö: It's just the way we see the shift from broadcast to the web. People stop watching linear television, that group is getting bigger by the week, they cut out television from their habits. And then everything will be by choice – you will not just adapt to the programme because you are watching TV. You have to actively choose. So, what do you choose? And then, in that universe, we don't only have all the channels available in Sweden, but we also have all the VOD giants. So, it's completely different. And we don't know as much as we know about our television audience, because the television measuring system is very easy to work with, and then we know pretty much everything about these families. On the internet, how can you get the same depth of information for people sitting in front of a computer? We don't. Not yet. But I am told that new measuring tools are coming soon.

Dimitra Kouzi: I think this trend is something all EBU members together should explore. It's huge and it's there. You hear it all the time: ‘I don't watch television.’

Axel Arnö: Indeed. You can talk to the media director. Or the TV director. They will, now, because they do services, they develop tools, and they can speak more about how divided Europe is in terms of how people are watching TV.

Dimitra Kouzi: Do you think that these changes will also apply to documentary viewers?

Axel Arnö: Documentaries are at the forefront. Most people who watch documentaries will watch them online. Most people my age and downwards watch films on computers, on phones, or on the iPad, not on television.

Dimitra Kouzi: Then it makes sense that there are television broadcasters that screen documentaries at midnight, because nobody would watch them anyway.

Do you have any statistics for that from VOD, when do people watch documentaries?

Axel Arnö: No, I don't. But we should find out.

Dimitra Kouzi: Because the slots are very specific, and when you see the numbers, when people see documentaries, this could bring about change.

Last but not least, could you tell me what documentary slots or whatever the documentaries at SVT are? You have the current affairs, you have feature length etc. Just briefly tell me what is being broadcast as documentaries.

Axel Arnö: We have many slots. Weekly, we have a lot of prime-time slots. But let's go through the week: First of all, we publish every Sunday for the coming week. Then, on that Sunday night is the first slot, a 60-minute slot at 10 o'clock. And that is about 35-40 programmes per year, comprising the best journalistic documentaries that I can find. It's topical: films about war in Syria, about U.S. elections, French elections. My ideal is that by watching these programmes you will understand what's happening in the world. Whereas the news is only fragments, this will be the whole picture. And then, I have a feature-length slot, like a year-round film festival, where I try to find the most talked about, the best new awarded films made in the world. I try to be part of them. And that's also about 35mm films. Then we have the domestic documentaries, films about Sweden. And that's a weekly 60-minute prime-time slot, Thursdays at 8 o'clock.

Dimitra Kouzi: When is the feature documentary film festival?

Axel Arnö: It's at 22.00 on Tuesdays. They are pretty strong on the web. People find them. I try to find documentaries that are oriented to the festival crowd. But in a really cinematic festival, like Nyon, a film will probably have a slow, poetic narrative, because that's what you do in cinema films. On TV or the web, the landscape is the opposite, you need to have a really strong narrative. In the cinema, films should have a good ending. In the TV or web landscape, you won’t survive without a strong start. Unless a film has had a prior life on cinema and people have a previous knowledge about it.  But if you haven't seen or heard about a film, I think the start is everything. That's a message to filmmakers. Everything is about the audience. You have to hook them, and then tell them your story.

Dimitra Kouzi: At pitching, nobody asks how a film begins; everybody wants to know the end.

Axel Arnö: That's just to create an image in your head about what this person is trying to achieve. I think audiences nowadays are so spoiled with really strong storytelling that it also creates new demands for super-strong, skilful storytelling docs. There are now experiments, hiring feature script writers for writing the script for a doc, even if it is in production. Because you will have an A plot, a B plot, a C plot, and you need to know what to do with it. There is also an increased demand for series, but they are a bit harder for a broadcaster to place in their schedules. Sometimes we can, sometimes we can't. But on the web, everything is possible of course.

Dimitra Kouzi: But this is another trend, series.

Axel Arnö: Yes, it's a different thing: Some films work well as series. The Promise is a good example, because that film was made as a two-hour special, two times 90′, three times 60′, and six times 25′. That’s a good case study; it’s interesting to explore the different demands from different broadcasters.

I think that BBC broadcast the feature version, the one-time version. And then, simultaneously they put out the six-times 25′. And they had a million views the first week on the series.

Dimitra Kouzi: It’s interesting, but it makes sense, because the audience is different.

Axel Arnö: Yes, but if you want to talk about how to create an audience, you also have to be aware of that: different formats will probably suit different audiences. So, of course, you should do your director's cut, which is important for you. But then, it would also be good if you are open to cutting it in different lengths, because there might be different audiences out there for the film. Sometimes it's impossible because of budget constraints.

Dimitra Kouzi: Let’s go back to the slots.

Axel Arnö: Domestic is on Thursdays. Then we have cultural slots – that’s not my department – both domestic and international, every Friday at 8 o'clock. But, of course, super prime time on Friday is very difficult because there are very popular shows all around. But they are doing a good job. My acquisition colleagues are buying loads more topics – nature, history, wildlife. They have also started to buy Channel-4-type docs, which is more sensational. And, of course, they get an audience. So, there are many hours of docs. My responsibility is the current affairs and the feature-length slots. I do different things, as well, Swedish films, special projects.

Dimitra Kouzi: Budgets are not increasing to cater for the need to create impact campaigns around the films by the producers.

Axel Arnö: I'm not paying more because they need to make impact.

Dimitra Kouzi: Exactly, it's in the budget, and it has to be covered by the budget.

Axel Arnö: Yes, but that makes sense; we have to be independent, so, we can't fund the impact production. That's why they have things like Good Pitch. These are problems we can't cope with. They raise funds. For example, Borneo Case is now starting its tour, and I'm in discussions about when SVT should broadcast it. They've got some money from impact, from other sources. Could be interesting to talk to them about their impact campaign.

Axel Arnö became a Commissioning Editor at SVT in 1998. Previously a newspaper reporter. Since his move to national television, Axel has been reporter, editor and editorial executive. He became the Editor of SVT’s flagship current affairs magazine Striptease and later created the investigative documentary strand Dokument inifrån. Since 2004, he works at SVT’s documentary department, dealing mainly with international co-productions (current affairs, creative, social documentaries). He was an original partner in the Why Democracy? series. Axel is chairman of the Eurovision Documentary Group.

This interview was edited for clarity and brevity by Dimitris Saltabassis

 

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