EyeSteelFilm heads to Hot Docs with largest-ever slate

With five films at this year's festival, the Montreal prodco talks about the challenges of managing long-haul projects.
April 28, 2017

EyeSteelFilm isn’t slowing down. After a successful 2016, during which its I Am the Blues was released theatrically in Canada and picked up by Film Movement for distribution in the U.S., the Montreal-based prodco is planning an even bigger year.

EyeSteel is heading to Hot Docs International Film Festival in Toronto with five feature documentaries, including Mila Aung-Thwin and co-director Van Royko’s Let There Be Light,  Kalina Bertin’s Manic (pictured), Chris Kelly’s A Cambodian Spring, Kyoko Miyake’s Tokyo Idol and Fan Jian’s Still Tomorrow, on which EyeSteel producer Bob Moore served as a consultant. Only the NFB has more films at this year’s festival with 16, 12 of which are retrospectives.

EyeSteel typically produces anywhere from two to four films in a year, Moore told Playback Daily. While he said having five projects to support in one year “isn’t 100% sustainable,” – it taxes the post-production department, for starters –  that’s just how the long-gestating projects came together. “It’s an uncertain industry,” he added. “If you have opportunities you want to be able to take them.”

A Cambodian Spring, for example, was nine years in the making. Director Chris Kelly came to EyeSteel with the project after he’d already spent years filming. The company then re-cut and re-structured the project, which follows three activists as they speak out about injustices taking place in Cambodia.

Similarly, EyeSteel met Manic‘s first-time filmmaker Kalina Bertin a few years before it signed on to produce the project. The film documents Bertin’s struggle to make sense of the mental illnesses affecting her siblings. Like many personal films, said Moore, it took some time before it got to a place where it could be presented as a commercial project. “It took a while before we said, ‘OK, we can be useful for you now.’ Then we committed, we triggered the budget and we worked together for about three years.” The film went into production in 2015 with a roughly $500,000 budget, with financing from  Super Channel, the CMF, ESF Distribution and SODEC.

While the company recently had theatrical success with I Am the Blues (which Moore calls the “best example of a theatrical-first project that we have right now”), Moore said that’s not the goal for every project. EyeSteel considers SVOD partnerships, of course, but also looks to international broadcasters to help both finance a film and provide it a wide audience through public television.

Tokyo Idol, for example, received financing from international pubcasters such as BBC, WDR/ARTE, IKON, SVT, NRK, DR, where the doc is slated to air later this year.

The EyeSteel team consists of producers Moore, Daniel Cross and Mila Aung-Thwin, and nine other line producers, production administrators, in-house editors, post-production supervisors and distributors. While Moore said EyeSteel is very much a production unit, having five films on the docket this year, forced the company to rethink roles. With Cross having directed and produced I Am the Blues and Aung-Thwin co-directing, writing, editing and producing Let There Be Light, the company had to juggle who would be answerable to financiers, and individual directors for its four other projects being released this year.

Moore said that after an intense year bringing all these projects to completion, EyeSteel is “trying to slow down a little bit.” That said, the company has three to five projects “simmering” at the moment.

“Ask any producer, you always have to have a bunch of potential projects [on the go],” he said. “But [given] the Canadian climate or our situation, I don’t think it’s super healthy to have quite as many.”

Hot Docs runs April 27 to May 7.

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