In the second installment of realscreen’s Forum report, we bring you coverage of four of the nine Central Pitches presented on day two (Nov. 21) of the IDFA Forum in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Part one of the coverage can be found here.
The themes of politics and justice led the Central Pitch projects from the second day of the Forum, with documentaries focused on a controversial Israel politician, a refugee longing to express his culture through music and a female Indian journalist fighting for equality. A pitch from the Moderator’s Hat selection – a wild card team selected randomly from the audience – about controlling the human mind via machine added a twist in the subject matter to the socio-political heavy first half of the session.
For the films pitched during the first day of the Central Pitch, there was a media blackout on Madame Tran’s Last Battle from Alan Adelsonand Kate Taverna.
Of the projects filmed on the second day, there was a media blackout on Hiding Saddam Hussein from Alan Adelson and Kate Taverna.
Journey to the Morgentand
Director: Frank Scheffer
Production company: Muyi Film, Selfmade Film
Production budget: €509.028. Secured some funding from NPO Fund; The Netherlands Film Fund; Dutch Cultural Media Fund.
Still needed: €208.309
IDFA logline: The more the composer and musician Kinan Azmeh is cut off by war from his homeland Syria, the stronger his desire becomes to discover and express his cultural tradition through his music.
Syrian composer and clarinetist Kinan Azmeh fled the Syrian war which tore apart the country, leaving millions displaced and thousands dead. Kinan feels the urgency to engage in his music the musical traditions of the region he comes from since the war broke out. It is his dream in his compositions to bring together the soul of music from the Middle East with Western musical traditions to conduct a true musical dialogue. Azmeh and his friends look to play Holland Festival 2018.
Tabitha Jackson, director of documentary film programming at the Sundance Institute, kicked off the discussion, noting that the strength of the project lies in its imagery. “The slow revelation of a master that lets you see something that you’ve never seen or didn’t expect to see. I hope this is what the film will do. You have some beautiful transcendent elements but I’m not totally clear how they go together yet.”
Annika von Hollen, commissioning editor, RTL Germany said the documentary covers an important topic and presents a fresh take on how to tell a culture’s story.
While France 5′s commissioning editor Sophie Chegaray said the trailer was moving, but wanted to know more about the balance between its musical elements and how it would be contextualized with the ongoing tragedy in Syria.
And Christopher Hastings, executive producer, Boston broadcaster World Channel, said what he appreciated about the premise from the trailer is how Scheffer presents Syria in a different light than how audiences have come to see the country in the past few years.
Ehud Barak – The Elusive Nature of Reality
Director: Ran Tal
Production company: Lama Films
Production budget:€457.470. Some financing secured from Keshet Broadcasting; Foundation Rabinovich for the Arts
Still needed: € 279.470
Status: Start production
IDFA logline: Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak is a war hero and Statesman, pummeled by setbacks and success, as historical circumstances spun out of control. His story is the story of the modern State of Israel, with all its bold achievements and jarring disappointments.
Israeli director Ran Tal described his latest film, which features archival material and hours of interviews with the former Israeli-prime minister, as ” an intimate look at the mindset of people in power.” At 76, Barak is ready to talk about his life and experiences as Tal tries get at what makes the man tick.
Barak is the most decorated Israeli soldier in history and a controversial politician and prime minister. He supported targeted assassination and spent decades trying to bring down PLO leader Yasser Arafat.
The Elusive Nature of Reality has met its halfway financial target and has started shooting with plans for completion in 2019.
Nathalie Windhorst, head of factual acquisition, VPRO in the Netherlands was exuberant after the pitch. “Israelis come with great projects. They are such good storytellers.” She continued by saying that Tal, who also directed Children of the Sun, always finds a way to tackle complex politics in new original ways.
Tal has extraordinary access to Barak which comes with a responsibility to challenge him, remarked Christopher White, producer, POV/American Documentary. White wanted to know if the interviews would be conducted with Tal asking Barak questions, with the audiences being privvy to his reactions, similar to what was done in 2003′s Fog of War by director Errol Morris with Robert McNamara, the controversial secretary of defense in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations.
The director said the form of questioning would depend on the script and what makes the script more dramatic and interesting.
Arte France’s commissioning editor Mark Edwards said the broadcaster had done many films over the years about Israel and Israeli leaders over the years, pointing to Dror Moreh’s The Gatekeepers as an example. He said Barak embodies both the military mind and political reality.
“Picking apart that duality in his experience but also in his thinking I think is one of the central issues of the film, and having that critical edge and seeing how much he is willing to have a critical look at himself, I think, is a way we would look to open the film.”
Meanwhile, Ontario pubcaster’s Naomi Boxer, acquisitions programmer at TVO, said before seeing the trailer, it wasn’t clear to her how the film would transcend a standard biography, and thought it might be missing the director’s point of view. After viewing the trailer, she saw an angle and said she wanted to see more of the film, as it may fit with the network.
And Barbara Bieman, head of documentary films at Germany’s ARD, ended the pitch by saying she wasn’t sure what the film would bring to its audience, as they were involved in The Gatekeepers, 2016′s Settlers (Shimon Dotan), and a Ben Gurion film for the 70th anniversary of Israel. “If this film had come a bit earlier it might have been very good for our audience to program for with 70th anniversary. But for us, it’s falling a little bit out of the time.” Bieman acknowledged that she could be wrong about her assessment and looks forward to seeing the final film.
Moderator’s Hat Pitch: Remote Control
Director: Pedro Barbadillo
Producer: Marieke van den Bersselaar
Technology, neuroscience and electronic convergence are making it possible to hack the human mind. It’s something that has already been done in decades past in the U.S., in Europe and across the world over. In the race to control the brain, the tech giants in Silicon Valley have pushed into the space. The technology has the potential to be used for good and bad and there are ethical concerns that director Pedro Barbadillo looks at through those working with the science.
Remote Control is a fact-driven film about surveillance – about hacking the human brain.
The team is looking for a coproduce or pre-buyer.
When Biema saw trailer she thought of the film Men Starring at Goats. “It’s an old dream of mankind to control other minds.” She said it’s an intriguing and interesting idea but needs further information on how Barbadillo plans to flesh out the story.
Edwards of Arte says the trailer goes in many directions with the challenge of getting the baseline facts and who is the most reliable in the story. “Telling us the surprising facts of the existence of these means of intervention is one thing and getting into the implications is another. I think the order in which you do that and the kind of investigation that you construct is very important.”
Writing with Fire (pictured)
Director: Sushmit Ghosh, Rintu Thomas
Production company: Black Ticket Films.
Production budget: €214.650. Secured some funding from Sundance Institute; IDFA Bertha Fund; Tribeca Film Institute; Alter-Cine
Still needed: €119.500
Status: In production
IDFA logline: This is the story of a courageous woman journalist’s dream of battling all odds to create the world’s first digital news agency run entirely by rural women
Sushmit Ghosh and Rintu Thomas’ first feature film follows the life of Meera, a professional Indian journalist in a region where there are very high levels of violence against women. Married at 14, she was the first person from her family to go to school. She also created India’s first Hindi news agency run entirely by rural women.
“Women like Meera are very rare in India because of the background she comes from. In doing what she is doing, she is shaking the tree of patriarchy at its roots,” said Ghosh.”That is leading to a lot of opportunities to people threatening her and her newspaper.”
Ghosh also raised the important of contextualizing the story of Meera against the backdrop of what is currently happening in India which he said is battling a rise in right-wing Hindu nationalism. There are also government crack downs on journalists who criticize them and in the area Meera is from, there has also been a spike in attacks on women and minorities in the past year.
It’s in this environment of risk and fear that Meera and her team operate.
PBS’ Marie Nelson said “I cannot imagine a film more important than this.”
While her fellow PBS colleague Lois Vossen of Independent Lens said she was curious about how the directors balance the story of Meera and the stories the journalists are covering.
BBC ‘Storyville’ commissioner Mandy Chang said she nearly burst into tears during the trailer. While it’s clear the film is full with emotion, Chang added there is also the layer of social-political context. “There are not enough stories of empowered women in this world so I’m all for it.”
The final commissioner at the pitch was Fiona Lawson-Baker of Al Jazzera English who said the network had done many stories about journalists that have done well with Indian audiences. What she found striking was Meera’s move towards the digital world which she said the directors captured.
Stay tuned for the third and final part of realscreen’s IDFA Forum coverage