Brief Encounters

The series features straightforward, unpretentious documentaries on Europeans, their lives, their surroundings, their work, and sometimes even their inner thoughts and dreams.

“The Masseuse from Karlovy Vary”, “The Photographer from Riga”, “The Countess from Sartène” are some of the titles. “Hassan” or “Eva” or “Didda are others”. “A Shop in Paris” or “A Shop in Istanbul”, “The Bridges of St Petersburg” and “Uzupis”. “The Republic of Angels” are all documentaries – and they are all part of the new Arte strand “Faces of Europe” (“Visages d´Europe/Gesichter Europas”), that in 2007 will be aired every weekday at 6.30 p.m.

The documentaries are 26 minutes long and the intention is to invite the viewers to meet people in the so-called “geographical Europe” (Arte is German/French). ZDF is responsible for 70 of the 260 “Faces in Europe” documentaries (50% of the total), while the rest of the German contributions are handled by the ARD stations (e.g. WDR, NDR, RBB). Arte France produces the other 50%.

ZDF’s editorial staff specifies that “themes for the series could be subject-related (e.g. celebrations), focus on places (marketplaces, shops, Italy, etc.) or be personal (strong women, my world).”Arte France has chosen a concept called “Bienvenue chez…” (Welcome to…) about “European women and men of all conditions, all ages and from all countries.”

No Problems, Please!

The tone of the documentaries is light. No problems or (major) political problems are raised. There are those who might call the series whitewashed of all stains, very politically correct and worthy of applause from the EU. It has been said that the well-behaved cultural channel of Europe, Arte, takes no chances and does not know the meaning of the words “provocation” or “debate”! The opposite view, if you choose to be positive, is that Arte is doing what most national broadcasters avoid in their narrow domestic programming. Arte takes us to ordinary people living more or less ordinary lives and makes us meet them in these everyday lives to hear what they think and do. A little dreaming and philosophy are conveyed and lots of daily reality.

At the time of writing, around fifty “Faces of Europe” have been broadcast. DOX has watched half of them. Most are about ordinary people and ordinary life, some have been made playful and cinematic, while others are driven by words subordinating the image.

A Man in Paris

holger-preusseA charming, charismatic man-Armenian by origin and a refugee from Turkey-is the main character in “A Shop in Paris”, by Holger Preusse and Valerie Theobaldt. He is cornered in a colourful oriental shop in Rue Lamartine, talking to his colleagues and to the shop’s owner Madame Kathy, a Greek. The sweet man is a philosopher of life who pushes not only spices, but also wisdom over the counter to his customers-and to us, the viewers. This is a nice documentary and the directors are able to create an atmosphere.

“We want as much diversity from one programme to the other as possible,” says Linde Dehner, one of the ZDF commissioning editors behind “Faces of Europe”. Dehner is also looking for different cinematic approaches from one documentary to another. In the guidelines she has set up with her colleagues, filmmakers are given creative freedom in terms of the music and are urged to be ready to capture unplanned events. At the same time, “the camera should convey the proximity of the protagonist, as well as present everything that surrounds the main figure with intrigue and humour.”

A Man in Brussels

Like Sezan in Paris, “Hassan” (the name of protagonist and title of the film) came to France from another cultural background: his parents are Algerian and Hassan grew up in Belgium. On entering his shop, you meet ‘un grand enfant,’ as his mother calls him, as he is still surrounded by toys, which he sells. He is a collector with a complete collection of Star Wars paraphernalia and other objects from sci-fi films. He is clever, loves cartoons, reflects on life and love and the possibility of having children-all in a clear, playful narrative form set up by director Patric Jean (“Letter to Henri Storck: The Children of Borinage” and “La Raison du plus fort”).

Arte France commissioned three bigger companies for the production-RIFF International, Cinétévé and Les Films d´Ici. The one about Hassan is produced by the latter, whose executive producer Serge Lalou says, “All the new space on cable and digital television is taken over by magazines and talk shows. Can we invent a kind of documentary approach compatible with the economy of this part of television? This is what we wanted to do here.”

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