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The Diligent Crusader

Get Phil Grabsky talking about his doc project In Search of Mozart and you might think he's in over his head. Although busy with pre-production on the 100-minute special, he's also trying to round up the world's best classical music performers for interviews and coordinate orchestras
August 1, 2004

Get Phil Grabsky talking about his doc project In Search of Mozart and you might think he’s in over his head. Although busy with pre-production on the 100-minute special, he’s also trying to round up the world’s best classical music performers for interviews and coordinate orchestras for live concert performances. But, Grabsky has been producing docs for two decades and is up to the challenge.

In Search of Mozart is not a very sensible choice, because it’s such a huge project,’ he notes. ‘This is the kind of thing that’s normally done big budget, big TV. But, I want to know who Mozart was and why his music is great. It’s something I’m passionate about. And, at the end of the day, your passions drive you.’ Grabsky’s Seventh Art Productions in London runs on a staff of 10, with Grabsky acting as producer/director on many projects. The company releases about a half dozen arts and historical TV docs a year, mostly for the U.K. market. But about four years ago, the filmmaker experienced an epiphany of sorts – a revelation about the possibilities of feature docs.

‘I saw the best films when I went to film festivals,’ recalls Grabsky. ‘That, tied in with new technological developments, meant that I had this incredible creative freedom to decide what I wanted to do. That often isn’t the case when you’re working strictly for television.’

Despite his extensive experience and contacts within the factual community, Grabsky struggled to find financing for his first feature, The Boy who Plays on the Buddhas of Bamiyan. Chronicling the story of eight-year-old Mir and his family, who live in the caves of post-Taliban Afghanistan, Grabsky says broadcasters dismissed the film, saying: ‘Afghanistan is last year’s story.’ He finally licensed the feature to U.K. broadcaster Five, and it has since screened around the world, picking up the Doc Jury Award at the Washington DCIFF and a special award at the Santa Barbara Film Fest. The doc now has theatrical distributors in the U.K., Germany and Austria as well as Australia and New Zealand. Grabsky is still holding out for theatrical in the U.S., but says there is some strong interest.

Grabsky partly deficit-financed the production and is still recouping the funds. ‘It’s very hard to raise money these days,’ he says. ‘But, if money is what motivated me, I would make films about ancient Egypt for the rest of my career. I want to make films that have a voice and a value. They can be entertaining and engaging, but I want television and filmmaking to be something that, in a tiny little way, actually works towards improving the world in which we live.’

This same sentiment drives Grabsky to complete Mozart. The £500,000 (US$906,000) project will piece together letters, contemporary accounts and interviews, and will feature footage of sites in Europe where Mozart was known to roam. It will also be produced in three versions: one theatrical, one for tv and one that will play with a live orchestra. This last version will coincide with the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth, being celebrated in 2006.

Grabsky secured pre-sales from broadcasters Five, YLE in Finland, and VRT in Belgium, among others. Grabsky is also seeking corporate sponsors and banks to help fund the project.

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