After the success of the Steps for the Future initiative – a collection of films about aids in Southern Africa – came the formation of Steps International. The goal, says ARTE France commissioning editor Christoph Jörg, was to produce docs on an impactful global issue for both international and local audiences.
Themes for the project were discussed at the first official working group meeting at IDFA in November 2003. ‘The question ‘Can you export democracy anywhere in the world?’ was a hot topic in light of the war on terrorism and the invasion of Iraq,’ says Jörg. ‘Our first brainstorming session led to questions both funny and serious: Is God democratic? Does democracy make you fat? What does democracy mean if you live below the poverty line? Will democracy exist in 100 years?’ An often misused word, democracy was the perfect subject for a controversial doc collection, but Jörg says it’s ‘probably the most difficult to deal with.’
A call for projects was made at Sunny Side in 2004, and the working group decided to commission 10 films from indies around the world. ‘We wanted contemporary films about how democracy works and why it doesn’t – easy-to-understand films free of clichés, films that make people think,’ says Jörg.
In flooded more than 700 proposals, and with the CEs involved accustomed to making programming decisions in a more subjective fashion, Jörg says the ability to argue passionately about the selections was the only way to convince colleagues with varying opinions. ‘Luckily, filmmakers were not allowed to record the discussions during the decision-making process,’ he says ironically.
The working group met every three months, and also organized filmmaker workshops and pitching sessions from Beijing to Washington. In late 2005, 20 projects went into development. Some of the stronger ones collapsed for various reasons; Jörg recalls a Baghdad blogger with an inside view on war in Iraq pulled out because he felt threatened, as did a Lebanese marketing guru trying to introduce democracy in the Middle East.
Overall, Jörg says working on Why Democracy? was a very good experience. ‘To see these films come together makes you forget the moments of doubt,’ he says. Jörg quotes Oscar Wilde – ‘Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes’ – and adds, ‘I am ready for more mistakes.’
Working for Democracy
The thought of pleasing a large group of CEs is enough to make any doc-maker twitch, but the process was virtually painless for director Nino Kirtadze. Her film, The Patriots, was one of the Why Democracy? commissions, and working with the long list of CEs made her think globally. With each CE speaking on behalf of their audience’s tastes, Kirtadze says it was understandable that they had different visions. ‘It’s a very interesting process facing all these suggestions and then cooking the film in your way and rethinking it going into the editing suite,’ she says. Surprisingly, Kirtadze says the CEs’ only requested change to the 52-minute TV version of Patriots was to add narration at the beginning to immediately establish that the film takes place in Russia and is about building a Russian society. Patriots follows Mikhail Morozov, the leader of a village where new residents give up their rights and abide by Morozov’s rules. Kirtadze says the CEs wanted a film that was a microcosm of a bigger Russia – looks like she delivered.
Why Democracy? is comprised of much more than the global broadcast of 10 films. International marketing will raise awareness about the colossal project, which has the potential to reach an audience of over 300 million. Here’s part of how:
’10 Questions About Democracy’
Fifty world leaders and celebrities – from Pele to Metallica’s Lars Ulrich – will answer 10 questions, including ‘Who rules the world?’ and ‘Why bother to vote?’ The interviews will receive global press coverage in Metro newspapers.
Marketing partnership with MySpace
MySpace will premiere one of the 10 feature docs, and facilitate online discussions.
The Democracy House
Six interns from around the world are living under the same roof in Cape Town until October to make www.whydemocracy.net an interactive website. Users will find a selection of educational material, games, film profiles and forums. The House will encourage non-governmental organizations and the public to respond through the Internet.
The Why Democracy? working group
Nick Fraser, BBC; Mette Hoffmann Meyer, DRTV; Iikka Vehkalahti, YLE; Hans Robert Eisenhauer, ZDF; Christoph Jörg, ARTE France; Mark Atkin, SBS; Ryota Kotani, NHK; and executive producers Mette Heide, Team Productions; Don Edkins, Day Zero Film & Video