The woman in front of us explained that her role in the Bosnian prison camp was to run around cleaning up blood. After the brutal execution of her brother and father – which she was forced to witness – she had to bury them! She lost count of everyone who raped her. But, she survived. She was strong – and following her war experiences, decided to work with helping others – helping women. Her name is Zainab Salbi.
Two years ago, she opened London’s large documentary festival Goodpitch. During the break, we talk, she grabs my hand, holds it, and I stare straight into a pair of large brown eyes set in a round face. Her hair is cut short. I sense a strong woman, with a lot of love and enormous charisma. Her unique ability to communicate has brought her into TV-programmes worldwide, and she has collected millions of kroner for her aid work. Her message is that it is important to carry on. Now she has taken control of the camera, and has directed a documentary.
What exactly is Goodpitch? This British initiative has, since 2008, gathered humanistic inspired documentarists to meet NGOs – non-Governmental aid organisations. Currently, around 250 documentary films under development have been awarded around 120 million kroner to productions and campaigns, from these organisations. This week, the Oslo Opera is hosting Goodpitch. A selection of seven film productions is presented to 100 organisations for potential cooperation or financial support – among these are the Rainforest Foundation, Fritt Ord, DnB, NRC and the Foreign Office.
Is this mostly mutually beneficial for the business partners, or is it more about values? Britdoc, the Ford Foundation and Sundance Institute in the USA was to start with convinced that documentaries are a powerful tool to further societal changes. Probably something the almost 2,500 organisations that have visited Goodpitch are able to corroborate on. However, does an alliance between film makers and private foundations – which have an organisational goal to further – maintain film makers’ critical integrity? They risk ending up in the campaigns of worldwide NGOs, such as the participating Progressive Christianity Network, Oxfam or the World Economic Forum. If they do, it is doubtful if they are able to maintain their necessary distance, and act independent. Completed campaigns have been financed with almost exactly the same amount that it cost to make a film – around two million kroner. For instance, NRK’s Odd Isungset pointed out in 2013, during a Norwegian Goodpitch debate, that campaign-driven documentaries are not that welcome.
One such outreach campaign could portray an environmental issue relation to the continued existence of the planet, weapons critique, gay rights – or the survival of the gorilla, as the Goodpitch film Virunga currently available on Netflix in 60 countries. Several documentary makers do investigative journalism, and the film work could take years. On the other hand, increasing number of personal documentaries are made, inspired by the fictional film dogma about following the rise of a main characters, fall and finally introspective change. A narrative whereby the spectator identifies with the film’s hero or tragic figure.
The common denominator of Goodpitch projects is their focus on ethical issues – questions relating to right or wrong. Something is always at stake. Among this year’s good «pitches» is the Norwegian Rebels by director Kari Anne Moe. She asks why a third of Norwegian youngsters drop out of college – twice as many as the rest of Europe. Another is the environmental film Borneo Case, on illegal logging in the Amazon (also reviewed by Modern Times). The films we are introduced to are as yet unfinished. One looks into whale hunters and pollution outside the Faroe Islands, another the trial of Ratko Mladic (from the area which neigh on destroyed the aforementioned Zainab Salbi). A fifth film portrays a recently graduated South Sudanese solicitor who returns to his native country, where he is again shot at – as in his youth.
The final two are more personal: one is about a blind man – where a tape conveys the sense of loss, rebirth and rejuvenation within his inner world – whilst another follows a transsexual man seeking self-realisation and accept in Turkey. Films where something is at stake? A film about four male Norwegian school-dropouts, a film depicting a man’s blindness, or a transsexual man’s need for recognition – are these “good”? Or is the profit-chasing, predatory logging of the Brazilian rainforest, the pollution and changing living conditions of the Faroe Islands, or South Sudanese violence “better” for the NGOs present?
Two years ago in London, the Norwegian film supported by Fritt Ord, Ida’s Diary – on self-harm among young people. One has to applaud the work film makers and those affected voluntarily invest so we are able to understand each other’s problems, react to abuse, and make sure people within our global neighbourhood are not humiliated beyond repair.
This world is not really that big, is it? Documentaries may be today’s most vital tool to change attitudes – if it avoids culminating in voyeurism or entertainment.