What’s on the mind of the young, up and coming European filmmakers and producers, whose documentaries we will be watching for many decades to come? ULLA JACOBSEN asked eight of them the same four questions and met open, international, optimistic attitudes.

Ulla Jacobsen
Jacobsen was previously editor in chief of the DOX Magazine from March 1998 until early 2009. A lot of the DOX articles republished in ModernTimes was ordered by her. After 2009 she worked freelance, until she died in 2013.

Jasmila Zbanic, (b. 1975), Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Director and Producer at Deblokada. Recent documentary: Red Rubber Boots.

What documentaries will you be making in the future?

We at Deblokada are working on three documentary films. New Old Bridge is about the reconstruction of the Old Bridge in Mostar. We are documenting the process of the bridge reconstruction, and concurrently documenting the film crew and me go through the same experience asking “Is it at all possible to ‘reconstruct’ ourselves?”. The second film involves digital research about young people from Sarajevo who were wounded during the war. I record their memories of those extreme moments of injury and work on that. The third film is a compilation of the huge collection of home-video material from the time of the Sarajevo siege. For me, this film is an X-ray of a specific human experience.

To sum-up our work: it is obvious that we are still dealing with the war and post-war experience. This need comes from our necessity to tell the stories we have gone through, but not really worked over, and to make the research of our own emotions and thoughts, questioning the new reality. One might say that we use documentaries as a tool to overcome what is recognized as “trauma” (though I dislike this word). Well yes, but to me this post-war period of making documentaries is like learning about the world as a newborn, exploring life and world for the first time. This time with the weapon: camera.

Who is your biggest inspiration? Which documentary traditions do you approve of? What would you like to renew?

My inspiration comes less from films and filmmakers and more from people I meet and their energy. It is them who make me go through the walls. Films come as a luggage, or sandwiches for the trip. To mention some of the main dishes, desserts, appetizers… I would take Kiarostamy, Macmalbaf, Lars Von Trier, Lozinski, Makavejev …with their documentaries, fictions, documentary-fiction or fiction-documentary pieces.

When I receive the reply from festivals saying, “Sorry, your film is a documentary and is not eligible for our festival,” I feel sad for this superficial and traditional approach to films. In the era of new technologies when we examine time, space and reality with new tools, Films are only Films: important, meaningful, creative … Not separating them helps both documentaries and fictions, to take maximum creativity and responsibility towards the audience and film as an art.

Do you work internationally? Do you see it as positive / as a pure necessity?

In Bosnian the word ‘Deblokada’ means breaking the siege, a word frequently used during the Serbian siege of Sarajevo. Now, the aim of Deblokada is to break the sieges that are around us. Also, we work in a country where the film system is not functioning (no money, law, laboratory, equipment or market). Working internationally is our positive necessity but certainly it is in the nature of film (picture moving through our eyes, going directly through the nerves and then, it depends: to heart, to liver, to sexual organs…with no stops, no barricades).

Which media do you think you will produce for (TV, cinema, the Internet)?

Internet is timeless, spaceless, and personalityless and it is wonderful to imagine placing a film on it with no clue when, where, who will watch it. Cinema is timelimited, spacelimited, very human and it is a joy to produce for it. I think the two of them could live parallel and compatible…and it will be nice to produce for both. (TV has power. Since it already exists, why not?)

Linda Västrik, b.1972, Stockholm, Sweden

Director. Graduation documentary Dad and Me has travelled to numerous festivals around the world.

What documentaries will you be making in the future?

I do not know about the future nor do I know about the reason for the future.

What is you biggest inspiration?

PJ Harvey, Fransesca Woodman, Bruce Gilden, Brian Weil.

Which documentary traditions do you approve of?

Still photographers as Nan Goldin, Fransesca Woodman, Araki, Brian Weil,

Robert Frank.

What would you like to renew?

I want explore my own life.

Do you work internationally?

Yes.

Do you see it as positive/ as a pure necessity?

It is extremely positive.

Which media do you think you will produce for (TV, cinema, the Internet)?

I will produce first of all for cinema and cityrooms.

Gunnar Dedio, b.1969, Rostock, Germany

Producer. Established Looks Medienproduktion in 1995.  Documentary producer. Recent documentary: Fit for Jesus

What documentaries will you be making in the future?

If it is a good story I don’t want to exclude anything. Our next films are: Executioners (about the last European executioners), King of the air (about the falcon hospital), El Negro (a colonial story told by a mummy), Cobra in the kitchen (about the anti-poaching unit of the Botswana Defence Force), Hawaii-Marathon (about marathon swimmers)… The only focus is a good story and attractive pictures.

Who is your biggest inspiration? Which documentary traditions do you approve of /What would you like to renew?

My biggest inspiration is not someone but something: good fiction films. I believe in “factual beats fiction”. To make such films I have to use the tools technically and dramatically adopted by fiction. I want to tell good stories, not to pretend to be objective in a situation where this is a boring lie. In German the word for lens is “Objektiv”. That’s where the lie starts.

Do you work internationally? Do you see it as positive/ as a pure necessity?

More than half of our output is made internationally. We have a branch of Looks in Germany and one in Botswana. Our next steps will be to Tanzania, Poland, Lebanon. The newest production is a Spanish-German-Botswanian Co-production (“El Negro”). I love to learn how to see the same thing from another side; I like to enlarge my horizon and I prefer to raise a bigger budget but keep some rights. And the grass seems always to be greener on the other side of the fence, so I jump from the German fog into the African sun and from the dryness of the desert back to my fertile homeland. That’s why I work internationally.

Which media do you think you will produce for (TV, cinema, the Internet)?

All of them. I don’t think that the name of the media and the way of the distribution will have a big influence in defining what is a good story and what is not. The way of financing will change, the thinking and the contracting.

Maria Leonida, b.1969, Athens, Greece

Documentary director. Currently project manager for Lynx SA. Recent Documentary: Tough Pose

What documentaries will you be making in the future?

My framework is very common to that of most documentarists: people and their world. I don’t know what documentaries I will be making. Things progress and I follow my point of view in life as this develops. I hope that life and myself will be able to surprise me as it has sometimes happened so far.

What I know are the subjects and matters that bother me now. I can see two different kinds of stories prevailing. The very personal, unique and thus common to everybody’s experiences of life, from birth to death, and on the other hand our last resorts of seeing what is happening on this huge-small planet on which we happen to find ourselves. Coca-Cola is everywhere but there are still differences in our cultures and experiences. This is why studying our mentalities, actions and reactions at home can be interesting to others far away.

Who is your biggest inspiration? Which documentary traditions do you approve of / What would you like to renew?
Two titles that come to my mind are State of Weightlessness by Polish Maciej Drygas and The Medellin Notebooks by Colombian-French Catalina Villar. Of course there are several others that also retain their juice and weight in my heart and mind. Those two however are very important for me because of the way the personal and the political come together. In each of them, quite different in style, directorial approach serves the subject very well, is delicate, particular and strongly emotional – but not sentimental – at the same time.

For me there is no particular issue of approving of a tradition. I am much more for approving or liking particular works. Often works that follow a particular tradition are generally less strong.  It is about experimenting and going further than the given. Next to the subject, what I am very much interested is the form of documentary. My aim is the combination of content and form and how reality joins poetry. The essence of documentary is to allow the observation of life to transform into something else.

Do you work internationally? Do you see it as positive/ as a pure necessity?

I am very keen on working with good producers, meaning producers with a creative concern and proposals, and as this is not very common in my home country, so far, it may be possible to find such people abroad. I understand co-production as a positive element when there is need for joint forces from more than one country.

Which media do you think you will produce for (TV, cinema, the Internet)?

All three and I am working on this. It is interesting to work for different formats and channels to present your work. Talking before about surprises, actually getting involved in an interactive edutainment game opened up a wide spectrum of possibilities which are now going back to the documentary concern.

Andreas Pichler, b.1967, Bolzano, Italy

Director of dance videos and documentaries in Italy and Germany. Recent documentary: Tube Mountain World’- tales of heroin in the Alps

What documentaries will you be making in the future?

My next documentary project, an international co-production, The Mirabella –Sindelfingen Line will be on the identity and life of three generations of Sicilian workers at the Mercedes Factory in Germany and the astonishing communication system they build up between Sicily and Germany. Another documentary project I’m working on, Three peaks – is a story of the icon of a famous mountain, a sort of history of the gaze at the mountains. It’s very hard to finance, because I wanted to make a stylistic mixture between documentary and video, so I am rewriting the project to make a more ‘classic’ documentary. The same is happening with a project on European boundaries, On Europe Skin, which on the other hand is moving towards a fiction project.

What is you biggest inspiration?  Which documentary traditions do you approve of/ What would you like to renew?

Some people say that the inclusion of non-documentary elements in documentary films is the result of not enough effort.

I don’t think so, on the contrary: reality is absurd fiction, sometimes. As I admire Jean Rouch’s films the same way as J.L. Godard’s, I would say that there is no real difference between fiction and documentary at the level of style; it’s all a question of the gaze. The films of Jean Rouch are fictional the same way as the films of J.L Godard are documentaries. And both of them tell reality of the 60s. That’s why I can’t understand that some people blame the Austrian documentary director Ulrich Seidl (Models, Tierische Liebe, Good News) for using his characters as actors and to make a mise en scène. I think his films tell about people and special social contexts you would never hear of in another way.

With that, I already said a lot about the tradition I approve of. At the same time I think everybody has to find his/her own way. My greatest inspiration at the end is the complexity of reality, memory and the tenderness of people. That’s what I want films to be.

Do you work internationally? Do you see it as positive/ as a pure necessity?

I think international co-production for documentaries not only gives more projects a chance, but is a great opportunity to redefine subjects and to make, in the end, stronger films. I really hope international co-production is going to be the norm.

Which media do you think you will produce for (TV, cinema, the Internet)?

Most of my films are going to be for television, I think.

Even so, working in the Internet could be very interesting – in the way of a cheap, very personal diary like small documentaries. This could be a new chance for the documentary. Not the institutional live webcams of ‘Big Brother’, but personal storytellers of the European underground.

Kristine Briede, b. 1970, Riga, Latvia

Producer, writer and director for Locomotive. Recent Documentary: Borderland.

What documentaries will you be making in the future?

My colleagues and I are working on two film projects – my first short fiction as a director It’s never too late and a feature-length documentary Borderland (director Carl Biörsmark). The latter project tells several stories of today from our Baltic region – right here, right now in “borderland”.

*Who is your biggest inspiration? Which documentary traditions do you approve of / What would you like to renew?

My biggest inspiration is to meet the fantastic characters – everyday’s heroes during the working process. A scientist, a witch, a drunk, a spy and so on. To meet little big men and women and tell their stories. My inspiration is to go to the film archive and in a cold and empty room watch black and white images made by, for example, Uldis Brauns – my idol in documentary filmmaking. Poetical documentary – with less words and texts, using the film language.

In Soviet times we had short documentary screenings before the fiction features in cinemas. Most often it was a kind of propagandistic film magazine. I’d like to renew this tradition – there are wonderful short documentaries to be screened today.

*Do you work internationally? Do you see it as positive/ as a pure necessity?

Yes and I see it as a positive fact. Latvia is small and needs to overcome the borders with its filmmaking. Financially it is often a necessity, but at the same time it brings in interesting different angles. We in Latvia often still dislike the situations where some foreign co-producers have their commercial demands. As our small market does not allow us to call filmmaking an “industry”, filmmakers in the most cases are idealists.

*Which media do you think you will produce for (TV, cinema, the Internet)?

Our company “Locomotive International” is a good friend of new media. At the same time we appreciate the classic and beautiful black and white films. We will produce both for TV, cinema and the Internet. It is possible that our documentary in production, Borderland, will come out in all three versions.

Margrét Jónasdóttir, b.1969, Reykjavik, Iceland

Researcher, scriptwriter and producer in MaGus Productions. Recent production: In My Life. Women in Fishing Communities.

What documentaries will you be making in the future?

I am doing research for a documentary series about a volcano eruption that took place in the Westman Islands, Heimaey Iceland in 1973 which changed the lives of the 5000 inhabitants. At the same time I am working on another project, The Private Mission, in search of Fairey Battle P2330. The story is wonderful, and the character – whose private mission it has been to search for an old WW II British aircraft that crashed into a glacier in Iceland in 1941 – is wonderful too. This summer this man fulfilled a promise he gave in a dream 20 years ago. In the dream, he promised the pilot of the aircraft to give him and his friends a decent burial. Up until now I have focused on doing projects that need thorough research, and I have been putting great effort into having the interviewees give the documentary a mixture of history and human interest. I am also using my time to explore other documentary forms for my company, to go into side by side with the historical ones.

Who is your biggest inspiration? Which documentary traditions do you approve of / What would you like to renew?

I read in a book that “Ideally, the relationship of the filmmaker and the adviser (historian) is one of partnership. But in the end, one person has to decide on the nature of the program, and I see that person as the filmmaker. You ignore the historian at your peril.” Fortunately that is not the case in my company, since I am a historian and my partner is a filmmaker. We have an excellent working relationship. For me it has been inspiring to work with my partner and commissioning editors who have been willing to share their experience with us and give us good advice to improve our projects. But in the end, I enjoy what I am doing, and I think that is the most important thing.

Do you work internationally? Do you see it as positive/ as a pure necessity?

MaGus Productions has from the beginning focused on working internationally. I see it rather as a positive thing to do so, even though it can be seen as a necessity for some projects that require big funding.  It can be a dilemma giving a local Icelandic story an international appeal. It can be a long way from Iceland to the rest of the world. But a good story travels. Our audience in Iceland is small, so for us to be able to finance and show our work internationally is a great challenge.

Which media do you think you will produce for (TV, cinema, the Internet)?

I believe that distribution of entertainment, be it feature films or documentaries, will be through the Internet and terrestrial TV in the forthcoming years. We in MaGus are working on ideas that focus on cinema and the Internet as well as TV, but we believe that the form of distribution is not of the main importance. It is the content of the production that counts.

Abbildungszentrum, Hamburg, Germany: Jan Peters (b.1966), Doro Carl, Silke Fischer, Peter Ott (b.1966), Bertram Rotermund, Tobias Sandberger (b.1964), Jörn Staeger (b.1965).

I approached Jan Peters, who insisted on answering on behalf of the “Abbildungszentrum” which is an association of seven young filmmakers.

Recent documentary: Dezember 1 – 31 (Jan Peters).

What documentaries will you be making in the future?

We will be making: theatre pieces that look like documentary films (Wie ich ein Höhlenmaler wurde); fiction films that are simultaneously based on historical subjects and facts and on current cybertheories (Hölle Hamburg); fiction films that look like documentary diary films (7 Methoden…); documentary films that deal with the border, because something new will be created in the peripheries, not in the centre (Das verordnete Geschlecht  – “1/100 und Blende 11 – Ansichten über Gertrude Duby Blom); and fiction film that deal with documentary subjects (Orly Allround) and animation films with fiction film elements (Das Buch des Eremiten). We are even planning projects for experimental radiophonic workshops to be broadcast on the radio.

What is you biggest inspiration?  Which documentary traditions do you approve of/ What would you like to renew?

In the centre of Abbildungszentrum we are seven people, who are surrounded by a big pool of friends we are working with. We think that the variety is our strength! But the seven of us can agree on one big inspiration that applies to all of us: Dziga Vertov!

Do you work internationally? Do you see it as positive/ as a pure necessity?

We think that it is a pure matter of course to work, to think, to live internationally. We do not believe in the necessity of nations and we are hoping for interplanetary cultural exchange soon… but organizing European funding still seems to be very hard work.

Which media do you think you will produce for (TV, cinema, the Internet)?

We will produce for all kinds of media: for books, theatre, radio, television, the Internet, for video games and PC screens, for aeroplane-seat-screen-channels and subway-tunnel-projections, for manifestations, demonstrations, and talk shows, for Guerrilla TV and www.zapatist.com, as well as for all the media we do not even know the name of yet.


© EDN/ModernTimes (previously published in DOX Magazine).
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