Let me share two points with you in this my final edition as editor of DOX – after 16 magazines my 4-year contract has now come to an end. After visiting nearly 30 festivals during this period I see one tendency and some expectations:
First that it’s a lot harder for a documentarian to get a film financed: As BBC’s Nick Fraser wrote once: “While more films are being made each year, budgets are falling. … Malthus-style, filmmakers are becoming poorer.” Today many more filmmakers fight for the same or a lesser amount of money than before.
So what can a director do about it? As a director myself, of non-popular films, you have to learn to do your own shooting. And editing. Flight tickets are cheap, and coming from affluent Europe makes your currency valuable. With cheap DSLRs like the Canon EOS 5D/60D or Sony NEX 5/7, you can shoot good HD documentary – if your content and form is well thought out and felt. With such large camera sensors, lighting is normally not required. Eventually a cheap Zoom h4n recorder can take care of compression-free sound. And regarding editing: after seven updates of the new inexpensive Apple Final Cut Pro X (FCPX), it now works more professionally and effectively. You don’t have to buy expensive Adobe Premiere Suite or Avid. And neither does every documentary have to buy expensive external colour grading – FCPX has colour matching and understandable grading built in. Nor do you need to have Adobe After Effects to stabilise motion. The new magnetic timeline interface of Final Cut is really effective once you have mastered it. Not to mention organising rushes with the search/filtering of clip markers and keywords – so much easier than Adobe Premiere. You can also now import your Final Cut 7 projects, so you don’t have any more to sit and wait on rendering or stabilisation, or waste time and experience crashes with old Final Cut – or the mechanical Avid from the 90s… Let’s say that with 40 percent of FCPX editing time, you get 95 percent of the old results. My point is that you don’t need to have the 300+ thousand Euros financed to make a documentary – but of course some professional camera and editing help is needed on the way. In contrast to the expensive fiction world, it can be acceptable for a documentary to express a more “rough” edited reality. As long as you have something that matters to the audience, something that is well told. Good ideas and the skill to tell a story doesn’t necessarily have to be expensive. But of course, don’t misunderstand me, you need some financial support.
Today’s filmmakers could use more of their time on really making their film than running for pitches – together with a job that provides for your basic needs. As long as you are not one of the Top-30 well-paid independent documentarians.
With these more do-most-of-it- yourself low- and no-budgets films you can get the needed feedback on your developments from some of the excellent pitching workshops around at festivals. Not to mention Dok Incubator, 1 which presented its great, six-month workshop at DokLeipzig. Their interesting new workshop angle is to help you from your rough-cut onwards, refining your work and marketing strategies. As was the case with Georgian Tinatin Gurchiani’s project, The Machine… – the experienced team of editors and producers helped the cut to be realised and she made it straight through to IDFA and Sundance (!) [page 49].
So much for the on-a-shoestring filmmaking situation. Now to my expectation for the years to come. As Nick Fraser also writes in DOX, calling for better journalistic standards – I am expecting writer-directors to deepen their reflections. What does this really mean? Often, a film’s quality follows when it has something at stake – when we can “feel” the director’s urge to make the film no matter what. I also expect more aesthetics – that we have to use the craft of some fiction techniques. There’s more to play on with the DSLR’s shallow depth-of-field, which allows us to direct the audience towards an important object/character or make a mood to enhancen the film.
With my long background in journalism I expect the research part of a film to maintain a high standard – documentaries often today takes the role of earlier investigative journalism, as it was practised in newspapers some decades ago… What newspaper journalist can use two years on research and refinement today?
Let me mention some recent such directors who have something at stake: Peter Torbiörnsson’s personal moral inquiry on Nicaragua in Last Chapter [page 47] – after the premiere in Krakow last year, he openly asked the audience to judge his moral tragedy. And Sophie Fiennes’ The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology, which really investigates the illusion of film and media according to philosopher Slavoj Zizek [page 45]. Or as Zizek himself in this issue of DOX comments on The Act of Killing: “the dislocating effects of capitalist globalisation undermines the symbolics of traditional ethical structures, ending in a moral vacuum.” I can also add The Gatekeepers [page 36] or refer to my discussion of Palme [page 38].
I also have the expectation that more writer-directors will use the essayistic film genre – like the films of Craig Baldwin [page 17]. This cross-over, “non-genre” between documentary, fiction and art film can be the future for the survival of some independent documentaries. The essay-film is topic-driven, typically with voice-over reflections, open, edited associatively, playing with time, and a heretical content. Large TV and internet audiences have for too long time seen the traditional character-driven chronological rise-fall-rise narratives for decades and are tired of this Aristotelian structure of storytelling.
Philosopher Gilles Deleuze wrote abouth a change from this tradition in his 800-page book Cinema in the 80s: from the old “movement-image” of “action” films, to today’s fragmented world of “time-images”. This requires a story-structure that moves more around in time, with both flashbacks and flashforwards or challenging time- levels. Or, as Robert McKee wrote in his classic book Story: from Hollywood’s Archplot, follows a development into mini-plot and anti-plot. So I anticipate more documentary mini-plots with minimalistic expres-sions, idea films that focus more on the internal mind-shifts of the protagonist – and with open endings. Or more of those anti-plots that break up the classical chronology (a person in conflict with his surroundings and an explicit ending) and instead play around with the reality’s accidental nature played at varying time levels. Isn’t accidentiality closer to the postmodern reality?
Now that Vibeke Bryld is going to take over as the next DOX Editor-in- chief, I wish her the best of luck for the future. I am really thankful for the independence I was granted and the trust shown in me by EDN and director Hanne Skjødt these four years. I intended, through my editorship, to make the magazine a little more open to both filmmakers and -goers, and focused a little deeper than before on the films’ content and filmmaking itself. As mentioned above, finance and distribution are important, but they’re not everything.
– However, sometimes finances can make a real impact on an important issue, such as the Why Poverty? project [page 6]. From this great initiative I also chose the ethically important Solar Mama as our DVD this time.
I hope that for you, dear reader, these four years has been an OK ride.
Previously published 2013 by DOX magazine/EDN.