Most documentary filmmakers in Europe looking for support take it for granted that they will have significant access to workshops, courses, programs and other mentorship opportunities to assist them in their goal of making and finishing a film project. However, this is far from the case for makers in other regions of the world. EurasiaDOC is an initiative financed by the European Union and produced and run by Ardèche Images, an association based in Lussas, France that runs its own creative documentary film festival. Based on the successful experiences of its ongoing AfricaDOC program, which began in 2003, the small Ardèche team now brings its three-week scriptwriting and editing residencies to places such as Yerevan, Armenia (in partnership with the Golden Apricot Film Festival), Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia and Siberia. EurasiaDOC’s expanded three-year initiative will enable the Lussas team to continue to offer regional scriptwriting workshops and access to the international film trade where select projects will be presented to European-based producers, distributors, broadcasters and financiers.
This past autumn, I was a member of the international jury at the XI International Documentary Film Festival Flahertiana in Perm, Russia. There, I met Nicolas Bem, the artistic director of the Siberian Studio of Independent Cinema, and Rebecca Houzel from Ardèche. They were there to introduce a new workshop that will take place in Perm in February as an extension of a five-year Ural-Siberian regional initiative. Bem and Houzel have been working together in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia (Bem’s hometown), and at the behest of Moscow-based filmmaker, Marina Razbezhkina, who was a tutor in Krasnoyarsk, are now expanding their program in the region in partnership with the Flahertiana Festival.
The residencies – offered at no cost to selected applicants – host between eight to ten directors. Based on past experience, more than 30 creative documentary films will find European co-producers. Developing these projects successfully takes strong partnerships; one of the program’s bigger goals is to forge many more alliances between European producers and Eurasian filmmakers. Perm, known as the easternmost city of Europe, is a natural spot for staging workshops, and the call for applications will bring candidates from all over the Ural region.
In 2007 Bem met Christophe Postic, the artistic director of the Festival du Film Documentaire de Lussas, who had come to Krasnoyarsk with writer, translator and filmmaker, Hélène Chatelain, who has a great interest in the area and wanted to work with some young documentary directors in the region by offering a workshop. Bem wanted to participate, but his ideas were associated only with fiction. Nevertheless, excited and encouraged by Bem’s commitment, the team agreed to work with him and he ended up making his film. Six months later, Postic asked him to organise some more workshops in Krasnoyarsk, and thus the SiberiaDOC project was created.
Bem explained to me: “We all know that in Russia there are very strong traditions of cinema. But within this huge territory, there are only two cities where you can get an education in film making, Moscow and St. Petersburg. In each region (such as Krasnoyarsk, Novosibirsk, Irkutsk), there are documentary studios, which receive some funding from Moscow. But, at this juncture, these studios do not receive sustained public support. If you are a young filmmaker living in Siberia, and you want to make a film, you have to go to Moscow because it is the only chance to train and professionally work in cinema. But maybe I don’t want to leave Siberia, and that is why these French producers became, for me, like a ‘lifeline’. To develop a cinema tradition, you need to organize local educational programs, find new authors, create an independent network of cinemas and go to the audience yourself, to organize production of films. We are trying to do all of this because the potential here is very big.”
When I asked Christophe Postic how, specifically, the tutors help “pull out” this artistic expression from a filmmaker’s idea, he told me: “The main challenge is that we work with participants who have no experience watching film—they have no context, no experience in analyzing narrative. Their main exposure to documentary is what they see on TV. One of the most important aspects of these workshops is sharing as many styles and genres as possible with the participants, supplying them with a visual vocabulary in which to express their own ideas. A documentary filmmaker must show us something complex; filming ‘reality’ is not simple, not easy. But it is essential that the storytelling be as complex as the reality it represents.”
He continues: “In the workshops, we ask many, many hard questions to drive the directors forward. We also continue to recommend films to view, not necessarily about the same subject matter as their idea, but more to define ways in which a story can be told in a personal way. This can be discerned even in the application, this necessity of the project on the part of the filmmaker. The Russian language, in particular, is very strong since sometimes in a few sentences, one can imagine the film. They are thinking about and articulating images, sounds. As experienced professionals, we can see the film, even if the director cannot at the beginning. It’s a very arduous process, but very useful.”
By the end of the residency, the makers should trust their own project and be committed to doing it, enough to move forward and figure out the rest. It is this “figuring out the rest” part that has been the main impetus for the workshop leaders to become active producers on certain projects, as they did for Territory of Love, the affecting feature film début by Krasnoyarsk-based photographer, Alexander Kuznetsov, and other projects they feel are strong. They want to be able to continue to help these isolated filmmakers access the European documentary funding structure, as well as European co-production markets.
Postic feels it is imperative for the program to be able to help produce certain projects post-residency, further guiding them along into production, post-production, exhibition and distribution. “In their native places, these makers are totally alone. With this European alliance, they can have strong partners. People of diverse backgrounds will come together because of cinema, enabling them to make both personal and complex representations of the world they live in.”