Pandemic as an opportunity

Ji.hlava's Emerging Producers discuss the opportunity that can emerge from crisis

Friday, 16 April, saw Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival annual Emerging Producers workshop engage in conversation on the topic: "Pandemic as an Opportunity". The conversation, which took place on the Czech festival's Facebook page, brought together four workshop participants, each representing a different region of the continent, and was moderated bu Cineuropa Editor in Chief Domenico La Porta.

The main theme for the panel was how the post-COVID world could provide opportunity for Europe's audio visual sector. Without minimising the pain and financial strife felt by so many, including a vast amounts of cultural workers, «Pandemic as an Opportunity» specifically looked to address two questions:

  • How do we want the film industry to change after the pandemic?
  • How to restart and shape European cinema in the post-COVID world?

Who was there?

The total Emerging Producers workshop sees 18 producers (17 from Europe + one from guest country, Israel). Of those 18, 4 were chosen to represent their respective geo locations, speaking after a group brainstorming session held off camera. The four participants for «Pandemic as an Opportunity» were:

The questions

Following a quick introduction session, each participant dove right into tho the questions at hand, expounding on their group discussions.

First off Racha Helen Larsen and co. asked their own question: What do we want to reshape in the industry? Overall, their main points were threefold:

  1. More fluidity within the co production landscape. "This splits the films and makes them travel less", Helen Larsen explains, continuing, "If I co produce with Germany and we have a screening there, why can't we still get the money from Norway?"
  2. Increased funding for screening, both inside and outside production country(ies). 
  3. A general increase in Media Literacy. "Audiences, in particular the young people, need to learn the visual language of what they are seeing. How do we understand images? How do we the dynamic in those images, especially when we are watching more content than ever? But does the young generation understand what they are seeing? We want to see the young generation educated in understanding the image, equal to mathematics and science," Larsen says.

Next, Iva Plemić Divjak focused on the need to unite, organise, and lobby as members of lower/middle income production countries...or as Emerging Producers describe, the Global South (here, represented by Romania, Croatia, Israel, and Serbia). First identifying the regions strengths, Plemić Divjak presented an "adapt and overcome" approach. The strengths of the region being:

  1. The ability to rely on regional resilience
  2. The talent for improvisation
  3. A shared/similar cultural and historical space

With this in mind, the group looked to see more representation and incentives for Global South productions to be seen in wider capacities. "We would like to see quotas for film from the Global South at festivals and different platforms," Plemić Divjak says.

Third, Maximilian Haslberger, who's approach to the topic was more outside of a linear industry template - something appreciated here at Modern Times Review - argued considerably against the desire to compete and comply with imposed definitions around essential work(ers) and market-based status quo. "We broached aspects of the topic that are not so much pandemic related but are still very urgent right now," coming up with two aspects of the conversation. Those aspects were:

  1. The economic situation attached to production of culture: "While a lot of my colleagues were appalled by filmmakers not considered essential workers, I couldn't help but feel I was not as essential as certain others in our society," Haslberger reminisces on an early pandemic conference call. He continues, "If film production stopped for a year or two...yes, it would be an extremely fucked up situation for everyone working in film...but for the rest of society, the impact would be rather low." He says, "My position is rather that we are non-essential. You could even argue we are doing something very luxurious." This isn't to say that there should be a halt to state sponsored cultural funding, but the acknowledgement of culture at large and those making a living from its production, in the context of the pandemic stimulus programmes, are two separate things.
  2. The reality of VOD/Streaming: "By trying to compete with that (Amazon Prime, Netflix, Hulu, et al), we can only lose," Haslberger says about the monopolistic tech giant streaming reality. "It just leads to this idea that we need to create online content," he continues on why this is the wrong thought track. As a counter idea, Haslberger and group proposed, "what if we don't aim for something online that is accessible all the time, but we aim for the opposite? For something that is not accessible all the time and everywhere" (a sentiment, again, we at Modern Times Review think of positively). In drawing an example, Haslberger describes the idea of a cinematheque as a meeting and social space, where funding for massive cultural institutions (like the €800 million Hamburg Opera House) can be divided and distributed in smaller amounts across wider geographic locations. So, instead of one €800 million venue, there can be 80 x €10 million venues.

Finally, Marek Novák expounded on the importance of production and film professionals within the post-pandemic landscape. Novák's group consisted of Dutch and Slovak colleagues, who also discussed the idea of culture as "essential" or not. "In the Czech Republic, at some point it was officially noted that it (culture) is a leisure time activity, which enraged many people," Novák notes.

"It is important to think a little bit broader than just about he immediate impact we are currently experiencing. We need to do this not by revolting but by being united and knowing our value. We need to know what we want to fight for?" Novák says in comparing the possibilities of a post-pandemic landscape to the destruction of feudalism as a result of the Bubonic Plague. "We need to lobby and protect the tools we have. That can happen through discussion and being united, starting from producer's guilds in our countries, sharing and building policies at the European level, and then being able to effectively communicate them among ourselves and also to our partners," Novák says.

Participants of conversation

Further debate

Following the brainstorm presentation, moderator La Porta asked a handful of more general questions, like:

  1. Can we eliminate middle men and address audiences directly?
  2. What is the most direct way to address audiences?
  3. Is the cultural cinematographic work inherently conservative?

For the full dialogue around these topics, please watch the video below, however the group did extrapolate at length on one interesting aspect of the discussion: Big Data.

Initiated from the Marek Novák's introduction of how the audio streaming landscape (and its affect on the music event industry) compares with what can be learned/avoided for the film industry and streaming.

"There is little transparency when it comes to data to actually access, know and understand better," Racha Helen Larsen explains about streaming companies lack of open data insights.

"When it comes to documentaries, it is impossible to predict or assess the income that will end up in our hands when yo re considering including platforms in your distribution and financing plan. It is completely de regulated," says Iva Plemić Divjak.

"It's very non-transparent but also very hegemonic," Haslberger interjects.

"It is surprising that in 2021, where algorithms are in every service that we do not work with this enough," Marek Novák adds, asking the question, "if the streamers were transparent, then maybe we don't need them so much. Maybe we don't need Facebook so much?"

"It is not the right approach looking at what will attract audiences. It's a gamble....maybe the connection between 'market' and funding should not be thought about in the same stream," Haslberger says in response to Novák.

"I don't think sales agents are using data in any form. Distributors also, not so much. Exhibitors may be using data from the local cinema," explains La Porta on the extent of data usage within the documentary industry.

"The scary scenario is how you are going to use it (data)," says Racha Helen Larsen on the downside of data usage.

"If what we are doing is important, then shouldn't it be important independently from what the data suggests?," asks Haslberger.

"You never have to do what people want. You have to do what people need," explains La Porta on his view of data usage.

The conversation continued...


As mentioned, you can watch the entire conversation below, however (and, in my view) the overall consensus seemed to lie twofold:

  1. In the idea of regional unity, ultimately creating a more robust and fair dialogue between continental regions.
  2. Pushing back against market trends like big data harvesting for the sake of content development, but also in engaging with direct competition with monopolistic entities.

→ More information about the EMERGING PRODUCERS programme can be found here.


This article first appeared in Modern Times Review: The European Documentary Magazine. Subscribe for full access to their online archives and print magazines sent directly to your door - HERE.

more articles from a section:  Sport

1+2.19How to Teach Documentary FilmmakingThis year’s Ji.hlava IDFF offered a panel discussion on how documentary filmmaking is taught in Visegrad countries. Methods used to teach documentary filmmaking in different V4 countries were discussed by lecturers from selected schools. Vít Janeček introduced documentary courses at Prague’s FAMU, Attila Kékesi represented Hungarian University of Theatre and Film Arts in Budapest, Viera Čákanyová talked about study programmes at Slovak Academy of Performing Arts in Bratislava – VSMU, and Maria Zmarz-Koczanowicz discussed documentary education at National Film School in Lodz. What emerged from their fruitful discussion? Vít Janeček, Kamila Boháčková, Maria Zmarz-Koczanowicz, Attila Kékesi, Peter Kerekes
1.17Czech Documentary AlchemyAmerican freelance critic Daniel Walber examines alchemy within contemporary czech experimental movies which were screened at the 20th Jihlava IDFF in the Fascinations: section.Daniel Walber
3.16Czech Docs on Public Service TVWhat shows the analysis of the programme composition of Czech Television?Kateřina Šardická
2.16Don’t Forget to Smile!Notes on reviews of Vitaly Mansky’s Under the SunJitka Lanšperková
1.16Digital RestorationWhat goes on in Hungarian laboratories when restoring 14 Czech archive films?Jitka Lanšperková
6.15Scandinavian Freedom Comes at a High PriceRepresentatives of Danish and Swedish public television Danmarks Radio and Axel Arnö and their their approach to international documentary productionJitka Lanšperková
5.15Digitisation and its Stewardship AspectNotes from the discussion on the process of digitisation organised as part of the 19th Jihlava IDFFKateřina Šardická
2.15KVIFF Enthralled with Documentary FiguresAbout the relationship between Karlovy Vary International Film Festival and documentary moviesJitka Lanšperková
1.15Czech Television in NumbersHow many documentaries are produced annually by the Czech Television (CT)? What categories are they divided into and what does it cost?Tomáš Stejskal
1.13SportSix films that premiered at One World 2013 through the eyes of their authors

starší články

19. 04. 2021

from current issue:

New releaseShooting About KunderaDocumentarian Miloslav Šmídmajer describes the process of making a documentary about Milan Kundera with the working title “Milan Kundera: From the Joke to Insignificance.” Miloslav ŠmídmajerThemeNest in the bedroomPeter Hames, well-known British film historian and author of the book The Czechoslovak New Wave sent his remembrance to Karel Vachek to our magazine.Peter HamesThemeNever stop laughingPaolo Benzi, the Italian film producer and founder of the independent film production company Okta Film, describes for dok.revue how he met famous Czech documentary filmmaker Karel Vachek, who passed away last year. Paolo Benzi is also the main tutor of the Emerging producers in Ji.hlava IDFF.Paolo BenziThemeBehold, if the river is turbulent he is not frightenedIn this English issue of dok.revue we have collected some remembrances to Karel Vachek, the respected Czech documentarist who died in December 2020 at the age of 80. One of the contributors is Olaf Möller, a well-known film theorist and critic collaborating with many renowned film magazines (Film Comment or Sight & Sound), film museums and festivals (e.g. Il Cinema Ritrovato or International Film Festival Rotterdam).Olaf MöllerThemeEvery human being should get to wear comfy shoesThe Czech documentarist Karel Vachek was a chairperson of the jury at Yamagata international documentary film festival (YIDFF) in 2009. The board member of YIDFF and the former director of this festival, Asako Fujioka, has a remembrance of him smoking his pipe and going to the mountains with Japanese poet and filmmaker Yoshimasu Gozo to recite poetry to the skies.Asako FujiokaThemeLike the dog on the beach...American film historian Alice Lovejoy writes her remembrance of Karel Vachek, the remarkable Czech documentarist to whom we dedicate this English issue of dok.revue.Alice LovejoyInterviewThe times of lifelong careers are overAn interview with documentarian Jindřich Andrš, whose film A New Shift won the Czech competition section Czech Joy at Ji.hlava IDFF2020.Vojtěch KočárníkInterviewGoing to the Polish Turf with Our Own TeamInterview with documentary filmmakers Filip Remunda and Vít Klusák about their latest joint film project Once Upon a Time in Poland that shows how religion and faith are misused in contemporary Poland for mass manipulation and political purposes. The film‘s Czech premiere was held as part of the Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival 2020.Kamila BoháčkováIntroductionDok.revue 1.21This issue is dedicated to the doyen of Czech documentary filmmaking Karel VachekKamila Boháčková