(Un)usual Energy of the Tribes?

In this section, usually people from all kinds of different disciplines assess a specific documentary piece in joint discussion. However, for this issue we decided on a small change.

Tribes: Cosplay

Given the passionate debates concerning the public television series Příběhy neobyčejné energie (Stories of Unusual Energy) and Kmeny (Tribes), to which the private sector financially contributed, we wanted to provide the actual filmmakers with room for discussion. Bohdan Bláhovec and Jan Látal are the authors of some episodes of Tribes. Vít Klusák and Lukaš Kokeš decided not to participate in the project.

BB: A series initiated or coproduced by foundations of large corporations or an advertising agency uncovered a peculiar relationship that Czech Television has towards the production and financing of documentary films. It itself has no intention of investing in them, therefore it welcomes the arrival of external money, without, in my opinion, thinking through where the situation can end up leading to – that there is risk of someone buying cheap advertising space, especially advertising which is distributed under the pretence of creative and open film communication.

JL: In principle, I welcome when any business realises that through supporting others they can promote themselves, or when they decide to support a free creative piece of work in return for a signature below it. It is a new concept of self-promotion, which I see as one part of corporate social responsibility. In the same breath, I want to add, thank God for that. Advertising expenses are then capable of coproducing something other than just empty ad slots in television or a republic that is plastered with billboards. I want to add, that it only comes to this under the condition that there are specific boundaries that the company supporting or coproducing the documentary work cannot cross.

Media under pressure

LK: Some form of sponsorship or patronage over documentary films, is certainly feasible, if they do not aim to criticize a consumer society. Sponsorship and patronage are however not the same as the coproduction of public television with advertising agencies, which aim to hit different kinds of targets. Those are drawn lines that are important to me. When such a coproduction takes place in the context of commercial television, it can hardly surprise anyone.

VK: I want documentaries to originate exclusively for the authentic purpose of analysing an issue through film, uncovering, understanding and preserving it for future generations. Just like that I also want for advertising to be stupid, un-hypocritically utilitarian, therefore, recognizable and clearly encapsulated in an advertising cocoon. I want to understand who is trying to play with me. Who is telling me what type of a purpose they seek. Therefore, I refused to collaborate on the television series Tribes.

LK: The debate concerning the marketing circumstances of both series follows a more general context, which we forget to mention. Those have to do with the transformation of the whole media field. The internet weakened traditional media, which is not capable of effectively distancing itself from corporate, advertising, but also political and ideological pressure. Nothing special is happening in documentary film. If we don’t observe the invasive penetration of brands into creative documentary, which we have so far seen as extremely independent and authentic, then it is because advertising already invaded the rest of public and media space a long time ago.

Tribes: Punk

JL: I do not share this slightly apocalyptic vision of advertising, which devours us without notice. However, it is true that it is changing, has adapted to us and perhaps is even less recognizable. Due to the merging, a new kind of coexistence that does not frighten me may occur. But only under the condition that everything is done under strict and transparent rules, so we do not become vassals of other veiled interests.

LK: Today even respected world dailies such as The New York Times or The Independent are being criticised for so-called native advertising, when there are advertising articles as part of normal content, without appropriate warning, which are paid for by various corporations. These articles don’t have to promote any specific products. On the contrary, all it takes is when they support the ideological foundations advantageous for a specific corporation or group of people. At the end of the film Citizenfour on Edward Snowden there is a scene where The Guardian withdraws and does not publish material regarding wiretapping, in fact they are required to physically destroy discs containing all the documents, all done under pressure from the British government. In comparison with such an example the debatable penetration of advertising into creative documentary film pales.

Budvar worth following

BB : The actual series Tribes can be seen as questionable when it comes to its ability to provide information or depth of expression, but certainly cannot be viewed just as a promotional product. The variety of films and the not so positive reception by the television audience, in my opinion, only underlines the fact that it is an independent piece of work. I also view the piece by Jan Gogola, František svého druhu (František of His Own Kind), from the Příběhy neobyčejné energie as an auteur film.

JL: For me, when it came to the series Tribes, the guarantee of creative freedom was crucial. Nobody meddled with my film. On the contrary, from the beginning I felt a great emphasis was being placed on our authorship. All of that contributed to my impression that lasted even after premiers in clubs across the republic and it was the fact that we are not promoting Budvar, but Budvar is promoting us and our films. That is a change in thinking that deserves to be followed.

VK: You say that the work was carried out without any interference, but you neglect to mention the fact that the advertising nature influenced the choice of themes. Techno fans refused to participate in the television series Tribes, in the case of ČEZ (České Energetické Závody – Czech Energy Industries), which co-funded Příběhy neobyčejné energie, a man who somehow alternatively mines gas from shale was kicked out. The intervening doesn’t always have to mean that the agencies with the client are on the spot and want to discuss the shot with the director at the monitor. The essence of the problem lies in the merging boundaries. In the attempt to borrow authenticity and independence of film documentaries and the non-commercial reputation of Czech television, there is an effort to blend it with an advertising message.  The advertising only subtly refers back to the sponsor, alias client, and plays up a phenomenon – the brewery and distillery connected with "the independent" subculture world and identifies ČEZ with nonprofits.

Tribes: Cosplay

LK: Creative documentary in its original authenticity is an excellent potential carrier of advertising messages. Therefore advertising agencies pay attention to it not only here, but worldwide. In the competition of Sundance festival the documentary film, Escape Fire, was produced by the agency Ogilvy in the year 2012. The film did not promote anything in the traditional sense of advertising. It only promoted the ability of the Ogilvy agency to "authentically" break into the space of the independent film festival. I find it important not to lose sight of such things.

BB: The situation surrounding both series certainly opened up an important debate within the documentary community and also started a joint pressure that other creators intend to impose upon television. One of its outcomes could perhaps be that the autonomy of creative producer groups could be enforced in CT Programming Council and ideally there will also be an increase in the number of broadcasting hours for individual documentary films.

Translated by Floriana Skorulska

more articles from a section:  Situational review

2.20The creators of Havel didn’t know that they don’t know. And that’s the worst kind of not knowing!Is director Slávek Horák’s film Havel truly chaos that says nothing at all about the recent history of our Czech nation or its first president? Or are the filmmakers entitled to artistic license and allowed to create whatever they like, despite giving the film and its main character the name Havel? And what does it say about the times we live in that from the legacy of the influential playwright, intellectual, politician, and master of words, the filmmakers chose to focus solely on his slightly sensationalised private life?Kamila Boháčková
1.20Will our civilisation negotiate this turn?American documentarian Jeff Gibbs’ activist film Planet of the Humans, which criticises the way we treat renewable energy sources, has evoked numerous controversial reactions. It’s no surprise that the producer is well-known filmmaker Michael Moore, who released the film freely on YouTube on Earth Day, when the worldwide corona virus pandemic was at its peak.Kamila Boháčková
1.20Caught in the Net should really be on the net if it’s going to change anythingDiscussion about the new film by Vít Klusák a Barbora Chalupová Caught in the NetKamila Boháčková
3.16From Disillusionment to KiskaA discussion on movie Difficult Choice by Zuzana PiussiJitka Lanšperková
2.16Wasted Potential of the Good Old TrabiA film critic, a social scientist and a traveler discuss the latest of the series of films by Dan Přibáň called With Trabants to the Last BreathJitka Lanšperková
1.16Living in a Moral VoidA discussion on new documentary Doomed Beauty by Helena Třeštíková and Jakub HejnaJitka Lanšperková
6.15Multi-layered Personal TestimonyA debate about the film Czechs Against Czechs by Czech documentarian Tomáš KratochvílJitka Lanšperková
4.15Tears for Steve JobsThe 19th Jihlava IDFF will show a premiere of a documentary film by the academy award-winning director Alex Gibney, Steve Jobs: Man in the Machine, about the emotional bond that can form between a man and a technical device.Jitka Lanšperková
3.15Alcohol and Heroin Are All the SameA discussion on Mallory, a new documentary by Helena TřeštíkováJitka Lanšperková
2.15Addicted to Living TogetherDiscussion about movie Always Together directed by Eva TomanováJitka Lanšperková

starší články

07. 04. 2015

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 LovejoySportPandemic as an opportunityJi.hlava's Emerging Producers discuss the opportunity that can emerge from crisisSteve RickinsonInterviewThe 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