21st THESSALONIKI DOCUMENTARY FESTIVAL [1-10/3/2019]
Market Talks: Documentary Festivals
Let’s Talk about Programming
Doc Market’s “Market Talks” session in the 21st Thessaloniki Documentary Festival continued on Wednesday 6 March 2019, at Warehouse C, focusing this time on festival programming.
“Market Talks” is a successful series of discussions where prominent film professionals give practical information and advice to Greek and foreign filmmakers, as well as to the audience attending this year’s event.
The speakers in Wednesday’s session were Emmanuel Chicon (Visions du Réel, Switzerland), Miguel Ribeiro (DocLisboa, Portugal) and Elena Subira (Docs Barcelona, Spain), heads of programming at big European documentary festivals. TDF’s head of international program Dimitris Kerkinos moderated the discussion.
In the beginning of the session, Emmanuel Chicon talked about the history of the Swiss Visions du Réel, the oldest of the three festivals. He has been head of programming there for the last ten years; however, Visions du Réel exists since 1969, having started out as a “leftish” Documentary Festival, where the audience could watch films from Eastern Europe and GDR (former East Germany). It was dedicated to powerful political and social matters, such as capitalism and feminism, until mid-90s, when the artistic director changed and the festival’s philosophy was radically differentiated, focusing instead on creative documentaries ( unconventional films as to their narrative), which is the case until today. “This is the style we’re trying to maintain, defending the creative approaches of feature and short films. Each year we screen 180 films, but we receive about 2,000-3,000, making open calls every September and November. In masterclasses taking place during the event we try to put experienced filmmakers side by side with younger ones -this year, for example, we welcome Werner Herzog. We estimate that around 40,000 people attend the event, through which we try to establish a strong relationship between professionals and the audience”, Mr Chicon said. Noting that he never seeks something particular in the films he selects, Mr Chicon added that the festival team consists of six people specialized in different thematic areas, who meet twice a year to watch the pre-selected films and form the final list.
Miguel Ribeiro from DocLisboa took over afterwards, explaining that the Portuguese festival is now in its 17th year, adding that its purpose is not to see documentary within the established context, but to reflect upon the relationship between documentary films and truth/reality, either objective or subjective, such as in dreams. “We are a festival trying to defy categorization by screening films of any duration, thematic or approach. Creating small sections within bigger ones, we try to reflect on modern and timeless, political, social, personal. In addition, we have a section dedicated to student films, to be announced this year for the first time, and another one called ‘Cinema of Urgency’, dedicated to video-activism, that is videos made for activist purposes that circulate on the Internet”, he said. Asked about the relationship that DocLisboa wishes to establish with the audience, Mr Ribeiro replied that Lisboa never had a significant history in documentary. “This is what we’re trying to change, since we believe that the films we are screening provide a platform for conversation and consideration. In collaboration with various educational programs, we wish to initiate the audience to documentary world. In fact, we are screening films apart from the festival, once a month all year long, and on top of that we organize summer screenings in beautiful places in the city”, he said. Speaking about the film selection process, he noted that the six-member programming team is responsible for all sections. After each one of them selects a number of films among around 3,000 applications, they gather at Instituto do Cinema e do Audiovisual (ICA) and watch all documentaries on the big screen. Consequently, they do a lot of brainstorming trying to highlight the pluralism and diversity of their selections. “Conflicts happen, of course, but ultimately this is the most interesting part of the process”, he added.
At the end of discussion, Elena Subira from Docs Barcelona said that this is certainly the “youngest” of the three festivals, since it only operates for the last 12 years in its current form; the previous 10 editions were professionals-only. “Our goal is to be able to listen to and discover daring productions, which we include in our ‘What the Doc?’ section. We are mainly interested in documentaries from the Iberian Peninsula and Latin America, without excluding others, of course. We eventually screen about 40 features out of the 500-odd that apply each time. Besides Panorama, we have a section called ‘Latitude’ which is only for Spain, Portugal and Latin America. Besides these main programs, we have other sections out of competition; the most important is a students section, which attracts about 4,000 pupils-viewers each year”, Mrs Subira explained. Asked about the festival’s relation with the audience, she said that efforts are made to include a multitude of options to satisfy not only professionals and a more familiarized audience, but a broader one as well; she also made mention to the effort to connect the festival with viewers who are used to watching documentaries online. “For a limited time we screen documentaries in our own online platform. We have noticed that the audience does not face a dilemma before these two options, but moves more easily from the one to the other, from a collective and public viewing experience to a more private one”, she noted. As for the selection process, Mrs Subira replied that the festival’s team consists of six people who are grouped in two teams with separate responsibilities. “Ultimately, out of the 500 films I mentioned before, we select 150 which we watch again with the festival’s artistic director and conclude on the final list and their inclusion in different sections”, she added.