12 projects representing Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Russia were pitched by their respective films teams made up of directors and producers (mostly) to a panel of international decision makers. These decision makers represented the gamut of the documentary industry, including producers, sales agents, distributors, and festival programmers. Amongst them were representatives from Pitch the Doc, RIDM, DOCUMENTARIST, Documentary Association of Europe, and more, both in person and online.
B2B Doc is itself an international NGO, which provides creative tutoring for documentary projects (many from young filmmakers, often presenting their first or second films) from the Eastern partnership countries and Russia. In this pitch lab, projects came from the countries most underrepresented in the film industry, emerging democracies, and dictatorships with social injustice, corruption, censorship, and gender inequality. In such countries, documentary filmmakers are often exposed to threats and incarceration.
The 12 projects pitched at the 2021 B2B Doc Launch Pad Pitching were (many feature working titles):
Foma (presented by Julia Vishnevetskaya and Evgenia Vengerova) – Russia
From the Russian filmmaking duo behind Hey! Teachers!, Foma unfolds as a mystery with 35 year old psychology student Perepel searching for the mysterious Russian artist, Foma Jaremtschuk. Jaremtschuk produced artworks from a Soviet psychiatric hospital, many of which have been sold at international art auctions for tens of thousands, but no one in Russia has ever heard of him. Throughout the film, Perepel’s journey takes viewers from the glamorous art fairs of Paris to the gloomy mental hospitals of Siberia to shed light on the identity of this elusive artist, as well as shed a light on the shadowy business of the International art market.
Mountains and Heaven in Between (presented by Polina Herman and Dmytro Hreshko) – Ukraine
As the entire world stopped in its tracks to prevent and reduce the spread of the coronavirus, on remote Ukrainian village in the country’s vast West looks like nothing has changed. In Mountains and Heaven in Between, the daily procedure of two local paramedics juxtaposes with a defiant culture at the height of its wedding season, where no one will stand against its traditions of faith and family.
Twin Fences (presented by Yana Osman) – Russia
Twin Fences begins as an investigation into the architect who created an iconic fence that now covers 40% of Eurasia. This rhombic design can be seen everywhere from Russia to Ukraine to Afghanistan, which takes film maker Yana Osman to confront her own cross cultural differences as a child of Ukrainian/Afghani parents.
Diary of a Christ Bride (presented by Natalia Libet and Marta Smerechynska) – Ukraine
In a quest to understand why she disassociated from her religious family values, director Marta Smerechynska approaches her estranged sister for the first time in several years. Her sister has taken to opposite path, choosing to join the Bride of Christ as a nun. In her inquiry, Smerechynska struggles not only with the nunnery’s rules, but also her own beliefs and values, ultimately regaining her sisterly love.
Manifesto of Tenderness (presented by Ksenia Okhapkina) – Russia
Ksenia Okhapkina, the filmmaker behind the well received Immortal brings the story iof three Russian artists who go into a self imposed exile inside their city of St Petersburg. Modern day St Petersburg is drenched in its history, and also surrounded by water, divided into two worlds of majestic facades and dark courtyards. Behind its opulent centre and feelings of safety, dissidents are forcibly removed from the streets. In Manifesto of Tenderness, three artists from different walks of life and parts of Russia, lead their lives in a direct reaction to the harsh climate all around them…the polar opposite of the state induced hostility.
Don’t Cut Me Off (presented by Max Tuula and Marina Potapova) – Estonia, Russia
The lives of three young, deaf, lesbian women cross paths as they share the common dream of competing in the Deaflympics. As handball participants, the women explore their existence on and pff the court, wondering what comes next. Debts, jobs, little money, family, all come into play, but being deaf and gay in modern Russia make these far from obvious dreams. By diving into the women’s daily lives, Don’t Cut Me Off immerses viewers into their experiences as both a visual and auditory experience.
Mara (presented by Sasha Kulak and Louis Beaudemont) – Belarus, France
In Minsk, Belarus, 20920, the city is overflowing with massive protests. Although citizens had been living in constant feae since Alexander Lukashenko came into power 26 years ago, Mara attempts to capture the new weapon of his: the distortion between reality and fiction. A hybrid documentary and video essay, Mara guides viewers through the streets of Minsk on a journey of fear.
Bitter Sugar (presented by Irina Gelashvili and Ana Barajadze) – Georgia
While their absent mother provides for their family from abroad, the brothers in a small, dying Georgian town navigate life, only relying on each other. This universal story follows Nika, Gika, and Levan and the unique bond of brotherhood between them develops in an intimate way. As the film unfolds, we realise that this story is not exclusive to the three brothers, nor the country of Georgia itself.
Death Therapy (presented by Olga Prokopenko and Serhiy Volkov) – Ukraine
Perhaps the most intense of the pitching lab’s projects, Death Therapy looks at the prevalent issues of drug abuse and rehabilitation in Ukraine. Specifically, the film looks at a non-traditional method of drug rehabilitation where patients engage in stress-shock hypnosis. Otherwise known as Death Therapy. Taking viewers on the journey into the facility is former drug addict, now therapist Alexey as he tries to preserve the treatment developed by his beloved mentor, Dr. Vitaly Vasilenko.
Dreamer (presented by Imam Hasanov) – Azerbaijan
Former football player Mamad looks to form an all girls football team in remote Azerbaijan. Together with his supporting wife. they face many challenges in meeting their goals due to the unshakeable patriarchal traditions of their country. Dreamer is a story about falling and getting back up again, while holding on to a fragile dreams in the face of deep rooted tradition. It is a story of a family who just won’t give up.
Til the River Ends (presented by Yana Sadulaeva, Natalya Palyonova, and Maria Krasnoperova) – Russia
One of the awarded projects from the pitching lab, Til the River Ends tells the story of the retirement of a 67 year old ship traversing the long, wide Yenisey River. But this is not any old ship, it is the heart and home of a remote Siberian community. As modernity reaches the village, the ship-dwellers wonder what life will be like after this big change as the complex nature of isolation encounters a rare reckoning.
Homemade Mulberry Vodka (presented by Sona Margaryan and Angela Frangyan) – Armenia
One of the most vibrant Armenian traditions centres around the mulberry tree. Symbolising joy, ritual, and family gatherings, from its harvesting to distillation, many of the mulberry trees of Armenia have been destroyed by the recent 44 day long war. Now, an Armenian filmmaker (Angela Frangyan) and a befriended soldier set off on a road trip of return to the war-torn areas of the country. Across their journey they search for a common memory and a renewed, mulberry infused taste of life.