Friday, 16 April, saw Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival annual Emerging Producers workshop engage in conversation on the topic: «Pandemic as an Opportunity». The conversation, which took place on the Czech festival’s Facebook page, brought together four workshop participants, each representing a different region of the continent, and was moderated bu Cineuropa Editor in Chief Domenico La Porta.
The main theme for the panel was how the post-COVID world could provide opportunity for Europe’s audio visual sector. Without minimising the pain and financial strife felt by so many, including a vast amounts of cultural workers, «Pandemic as an Opportunity» specifically looked to address two questions:
- How do we want the film industry to change after the pandemic?
- How to restart and shape European cinema in the post-COVID world?
Who was there?
The total Emerging Producers 2021 workshop sees 18 producers (17 from Europe + one from guest country, Israel). Of those 18, 4 were chosen to represent their respective geo locations, speaking after a group brainstorming session held off camera. The four participants for «Pandemic as an Opportunity» were:
- Maximilian Haslberger, representing Berlin’s Amerikafilm – Germany
- Marek Novák, representing Xova Film – Czech Republic
- Racha Helen Larsen, representing Oslo’s Yellow Log – Norway
- Iva Plemić Divjak, representing Horopter Film Production – Serbia
Following a quick introduction session, each participant dove right into tho the questions at hand, expounding on their group discussions.
First off Racha Helen Larsen and co. asked their own question: What do we want to reshape in the industry? Overall, their main points were threefold:
- More fluidity within the co production landscape. “This splits the films and makes them travel less”, Helen Larsen explains, continuing, “If I co produce with Germany and we have a screening there, why can’t we still get the money from Norway?”
- Increased funding for screening, both inside and outside production country(ies).
- A general increase in Media Literacy. “Audiences, in particular the young people, need to learn the visual language of what they are seeing. How do we understand images? How do we the dynamic in those images, especially when we are watching more content than ever? But does the young generation understand what they are seeing? We want to see the young generation educated in understanding the image, equal to mathematics and science,” Larsen says.
Next, Iva Plemić Divjak focused on the need to unite, organise, and lobby as members of lower/middle income production countries…or as Emerging Producers describe, the Global South (here, represented by Romania, Croatia, Israel, and Serbia). First identifying the regions strengths, Plemić Divjak presented an “adapt and overcome” approach. The strengths of the region being:
- The ability to rely on regional resilience
- The talent for improvisation
- A shared/similar cultural and historical space
With this in mind, the group looked to see more representation and incentives for Global South productions to be seen in wider capacities. “We would like to see quotas for film from the Global South at festivals and different platforms,” Plemić Divjak says.
Third, Maximilian Haslberger, who’s approach to the topic was more outside of a linear industry template – something appreciated here at Modern Times Review – argued considerably against the desire to compete and comply with imposed definitions around essential work(ers) and market-based status quo. “We broached aspects of the topic that are not so much pandemic related but are still very urgent right now,” coming up with two aspects of the conversation. Those aspects were:
- The economic situation attached to production of culture: “While a lot of my colleagues were appalled by filmmakers not considered essential workers, I couldn’t help but feel I was not as essential as certain others in our society,” Haslberger reminisces on an early pandemic conference call. He continues, “If film production stopped for a year or two…yes, it would be an extremely fucked up situation for everyone working in film…but for the rest of society, the impact would be rather low.” He says, “My position is rather that we are non-essential. You could even argue we are doing something very luxurious.” This isn’t to say that there should be a halt to state sponsored cultural funding, but the acknowledgement of culture at large and those making a living from its production, in the context of the pandemic stimulus programmes, are two separate things.
- The reality of VOD/Streaming: “By trying to compete with that (Amazon Prime, Netflix, Hulu, et al), we can only lose,” Haslberger says about the monopolistic tech giant streaming reality. “It just leads to this idea that we need to create online content,” he continues on why this is the wrong thought track. As a counter idea, Haslberger and group proposed, “what if we don’t aim for something online that is accessible all the time, but we aim for the opposite? For something that is not accessible all the time and everywhere” (a sentiment, again, we at Modern Times Review think of positively). In drawing an example, Haslberger describes the idea of a cinematheque as a meeting and social space, where funding for massive cultural institutions (like the €800 million Hamburg Opera House) can be divided and distributed in smaller amounts across wider geographic locations. So, instead of one €800 million venue, there can be 80 x €10 million venues.
Finally, Marek Novák expounded on the importance of production and film professionals within the post-pandemic landscape. Novák’s group consisted of Dutch and Slovak colleagues, who also discussed the idea of culture as “essential” or not. “In the Czech Republic, at some point it was officially noted that it (culture) is a leisure time activity, which enraged many people,” Novák notes.
“It is important to think a little bit broader than just about he immediate impact we are currently experiencing. We need to do this not by revolting but by being united and knowing our value. We need to know what we want to fight for?” Novák says in comparing the possibilities of a post-pandemic landscape to the destruction of feudalism as a result of the Bubonic Plague. “We need to lobby and protect the tools we have. That can happen through discussion and being united, starting from producer’s guilds in our countries, sharing and building policies at the European level, and then being able to effectively communicate them among ourselves and also to our partners,” Novák says.
Following the brainstorm presentation, moderator La Porta asked a handful of more general questions, like:
- Can we eliminate middle men and address audiences directly?
- What is the most direct way to address audiences?
- Is the cultural cinematographic work inherently conservative?
For the full dialogue around these topics, please watch the video below, however the group did extrapolate at length on one interesting aspect of the discussion: Big Data.
Initiated from the Marek Novák’s introduction of how the audio streaming landscape (and its affect on the music event industry) compares with what can be learned/avoided for the film industry and streaming.
“There is little transparency when it comes to data to actually access, know and understand better,” Racha Helen Larsen explains about streaming companies lack of open data insights.
“When it comes to documentaries, it is impossible to predict or assess the income that will end up in our hands when yo re considering including platforms in your distribution and financing plan. It is completely de regulated,” says Iva Plemić Divjak.
“It’s very non-transparent but also very hegemonic,” Haslberger interjects.
“It is surprising that in 2021, where algorithms are in every service that we do not work with this enough,” Marek Novák adds, asking the question, “if the streamers were transparent, then maybe we don’t need them so much. Maybe we don’t need Facebook so much?”
“It is not the right approach looking at what will attract audiences. It’s a gamble….maybe the connection between ‘market’ and funding should not be thought about in the same stream,” Haslberger says in response to Novák.
“I don’t think sales agents are using data in any form. Distributors also, not so much. Exhibitors may be using data from the local cinema,” explains La Porta on the extent of data usage within the documentary industry.
“The scary scenario is how you are going to use it (data),” says Racha Helen Larsen on the downside of data usage.
“If what we are doing is important, then shouldn’t it be important independently from what the data suggests?,” asks Haslberger.
“You never have to do what people want. You have to do what people need,” explains La Porta on his view of data usage.
The conversation continued…
As mentioned, you can watch the entire conversation below, however (and, in my view) the overall consensus seemed to lie twofold:
- In the idea of regional unity, ultimately creating a more robust and fair dialogue between continental regions.
- Pushing back against market trends like big data harvesting for the sake of content development, but also in engaging with direct competition with monopolistic entities.
More information about the EMERGING PRODUCERS programme can be found HERE