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REPORT: Lisbon Docs 2014

by Vitor Pinto

Twenty-one projects (22 initially, but there was a last-minute drop-out) took part in the 2014 edition of Lisbon Docs (14-18 October). The financing and co-production documentary forum, which takes place every year in parallel with the DocLisboa Film Festival, started with a three-day workshop with professional tutors followed by two days of pitching sessions moderated by Paul Pauwels (European Documentary Network – EDN).

Ranging from arty and personal-orientated subjects to more socio-political-driven themes, a total of 14 European projects were pitched by their respective directors and producers during two public sessions. It was a chance to screen teasers of the films and to get some initial feedback from both commissioning editors and other audiovisual professionals.

For Sofia Carolino, whose Lisbon-based association Apordoc co-organises the forum with EDN, the main selection criterion was “trying to open up to new markets and pick up projects that could be interesting not just for TV or theatrical distribution, but also for the new distribution platforms. Participants have to change their mind-set and open themselves up to market changes. We want to develop that aspect even more next year.” In terms of statistics, “one-third of the projects are Portuguese; the others are European. EDN selects the European ones, while Apordoc focuses on the local ones.”

Although there is not such a thing as a single official winner – “It was a consensual decision this year not to promote competition between projects,” Carolino explains – there is “a prize to be distributed among some projects; and those projects will continue to have online consultation meetings with Paul Pauwels for a one-year period. We also try to broaden the participants’ network by putting them in contact with other forums around Europe.”

Cineuropa was invited to take part in the pitching sessions, in which projects were assessed by a panel of commissioning editors, this year including Anne Charbonnel (ARTE, France), Calum Gray (Independent Film Company, UK), Claire Aguilar (ITVS, US), Jenny Westergård (YLE, Finland), Robert Salvestrin (Lucky You, France), Tom Koch (PBS International, US), Jan Daae (DR International Sales, Denmark) and Wilbur Leguebe (RTBF, Belgium). So what was there in store?

(Group photo of the participants in Lisbon Docs 2014 - © Ana Sinde/Miguel Fernández – EPAD)

Fourteen European projects pitched

France’s Les Produits Frais presented Miriam and the Empty Space, in which directors Janos Tedeschi and Christof Schaefer follow the close relationship between British theatre director Peter Brook and one of his muses, German actress Miriam Goldschmidt. Shot in English, French and German, the film was designed to have two versions (60 minutes and 90 minutes), and is currently looking for co-producers and sales agents. 

Another director – this time one dedicated to film – is at the centre of Stefania Casini’s Paul Morrissey – The Independent of Independents. The Italian director and producer – who was once cast in Morrissey’s Blood for Dracula – has had privileged access to the director of the legendary indie trilogy TrashHeat and Flesh. Casini, who is willing to tell the story from her own personal perspective, received positive feedback from the panel but was also advised to resist the temptation to appear in the film, instead allowing the narrative arc to focus on Morrissey’s memories.

Lithuanian director Albina Griniute presented her arty black-and-white project Paradise Gowns, about the Finnish archipelago and its people. Already supported by the Lithuanian Film Centre, the film is trying its luck with Finnish pubcaster YLE.

Spain’s When a Dream Comes True, by Eduard Antoja, had a mixed reception due to his unexpected mix of personal/professional introspection and a journey in search of the American Dream.

Estonian producer Arko Okk presented Hi, Rasma, the new film by Cannes-winning Latvian director Laila Pakalnina. With 50% of the budget already in place, the movie evokes the memories of Estonian people on Rasma, a Latvian ship that sank near the island of Mohni 72 years ago.

Projects with a broader socio-political background but featuring very diverse tones and styles also made their mark at the forum. Irish director Colm Quinn’s Going Viral was praised for being an unusually “entertaining” and “funny film” about the crisis, while Germany’s Transit by Lisa Violetta Gass also won the sympathy of the panel for her intimate way of portraying the life of an illegal Vietnamese immigrant in Berlin. Piotr Zlotorowicz’s The Families takes a look at the families of LGBT people in Poland. Facing opposition from a conservative society, some of these families are considering moving abroad. The documentary follows their daily lives and their potential decisions.

Croatian director and producer Tomislav Zaja’s new project, Hello and Goodbye, follows a group of disabled people who are reintegrating into society after several years locked up in a mental hospital. The panel pointed out the generally positive tone of the trailer and praised its observational style. Produced by Gral FilmHello and Goodbye is already supported by the Croatian Film Institute and by the Open Society Foundation. Norwegian production outfit Skofteland Film also attended the forum to present The Naked DreamJan Dalchow’s new project explores the issue of why nudity still sparks so much controversy, believing that feelings of fear and shame related to our own bodies can be unhealthy. The film, which is already supported by the Norwegian Film Institute and by Creative Europe, was lauded by the panel as a sort of “manifesto for body freedom”. Co-producers are welcome to get on board.

Israel is the country with the second-largest vegan community in the world (the first being India!). This curious fact is the starting point for Gil Golan’s project, Veganarchy. Reflecting on the high public visibility of Israel’s Animal Liberation Front (ALF) and on its radical methods, the film will question what such facts say about Israel: how can a country facing so much criticism about human rights due to the never-ending Palestinian conflict suddenly become so concerned about animal rights?

Belgian production outfit Off World presented Andres Lübbert’s The Color of the Chameleon, which was definitely one of the most interesting and challenging projects at the forum, pitched by its director as “a story that seems to be more fiction than reality”. Co-produced with Chile, the film is a cathartic family tale set against the memories of the post-Pinochet coup d’état.

Director Bijana Tutorov made a splash with her observational documentary What Are We Waiting For, Grandma?, in which a retired Serbian grandmother tells her grandchildren about the history of the Balkans. Focusing on her daily life, the project is an unexpected portrait of an atypical political activist, which delighted both the panel and the audience.

Finally, the 14th European project presented at Lisbon Docs was the UK/US/Egypt co-production The Magic Circle. An embargo has been placed on this film, which is to be directed by Cressida Trew. Expect something big, though!

(Producer Isabel Machado and director Maria Clara Escobar pitching Departed Houses - © Ana Sinde/Miguel Fernández – EPAD)

Seven Portuguese projects try their luck

Seven Portuguese documentary projects also took part in the 2014 edition of Lisbon Docs, for which the pitching sessions were held on 17 and 18 October at the Culturgest.

Two of those projects were introduced by Portuguese producers but are to be directed by foreign filmmakers. Rita Gonzalez is co-producing Braima with France’s Quilombo Films. Lisbon-based French director Justine Lemahieu follows the harsh life of a 56-year-old construction worker who left his native Guinea-Bissau 26 years ago and never went back, not even to meet his daughter (his girlfriend was pregnant by the time he left). The 52-minute film has a budget of €60,000. As for producer Jacinta Barros, she is working on the project Vadio along with Austria-born and also Lisbon-based director Stefan Lechner. In a funny pitch that included a glimpse into Lechner’s singing skills, the audience got more familiar with a project that aims to portray the life of a fado singer wannabe from Lisbon. Some positive feedback from the panel came with a piece of advice to universalise the theme of the film and to contextualise fado as a starting point to depict how Portugal’s economic crisis affected a certain part of the population.

37°48’N 25°12’W is the title of Manuel Bernardo Cabral’s new project and also the geographical coordinates of the place in the Azores archipelago where a French plane crashed in October 1949. On board were celebrities such as boxing champion Marcel Cerdan and violinist Ginette Neveu. The tragic accident became a local legend and will be investigated in this project, which is still at an early stage of development.

After his Berlinale 2013 entry The Battle of Tabatô, director João Viana is back with a new project entitled A New Girl’s Order, still in development. It deals with female violence, which will be analysed from the perspective of a Portuguese female sociologist.

Producer Isabel Machado from C.R.I.M. (What Now? Remind Me) introduced the Portuguese/Brazilian co-production Departed Houses, to be directed by Maria Clara Escobar. The project, currently at an early stage of development, is an essay-film about belonging, and will be shot in Lisbon, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo.

Finally, two interesting projects are set against the backdrop of the sea (after all, Portugal is, historically, a country of sailors!). In Expedition 81, directors Tiago Cravidão and Henrique Loff get on a ship with 30 fishermen for five months on a trip that is also intended to be an inner journey. The project was praised by the panel and advised to get a Canadian co-producer on board. Mourning at Sea was presented by producer Liliana Lasprilla and is to be directed by Pedro Magano. The film’s promising teaser revealed a project about the inability of fishermen’s families to mourn when their relatives die at sea – and they are financially incapable of bringing them back to be buried on local soil. Since one of the fishermen the film focuses on was buried in Saint John, New Brunswick, a Canadian co-producer would be perfect to help the project to reach dry land.

According to Sofia Carolino, the quality of the local projects has increased over the years, but likely due to the economic situation of the country, there is still a gap between them and the European ones: “We noticed a different attitude. In Portugal, there are no development workshops, so local participants are mainly interested in the workshops, rather than the pitching sessions. On the other hand, European projects get to the forum and they are already at a more developed stage, aiming to find partners and buyers.”

So what can be done? “We want to reduce that difference. Next year, we are considering the organisation of a development workshop targeted at local professionals. We did it this year with Paul Pawdel, a few days before the forum. The workshop went fine, but we heard there was too much information to assimilate in a single day. We intend to repeat it next year, but long before it, so that participants have more time to work on their projects,” concludes Carolino.

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