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REPORT: Visioni Incontra 2017

by Camillo De Marco

The winners of Visioni Incontra (© Visioni dal Mondo)

Documentaries need "good stories, passion and creativity." Walter Bencini's Gli ultimi butteri won the Best Documentary Award yesterday, in competition with the 15 works in progress that participated in the second edition of Visioni Incontra, the industry section held at the International Documentary Film Festival Visioni dal mondo in Milan.

Punishment Island by Laura Cini and Shadowgram by Augusto Contento both won awards in the Italian section of the festival, which is currently on its third edition (read the news here).

In addition to various pitching sessions, some more in-depth panels were also organised for the Visioni Incontra event.

The first panel on Thursday 5 October was led by Chris McDonald, president of Hot Docs in Toronto (perhaps the largest documentary festival in North America), in which he talked about Hot Docs' strategies, philosophy, mission, history, and rapport with producers, lenders, and directors. McDonald provided producers and current filmmakers with some precious advice: in order to be selected for a festival it's vital to choose the right title for your documentary, send production photos, and fill out registration forms correctly. You’ll then need to enquire about where and when the screening is due to take place and you should promote it via social media and the local press. Doings things correctly pays off in the long run. Last year the Italian project Happy Winter, produced by Indyca and Zenit Arti Audiovisive, won Best Pitch at the Hot Docs Forum. "We have no preconceptions about Italian documentaries. We look for good stories, good characters, passion and creativity." 

In the second panel, which was moderated by Cinzia Masòtina and focused on the distribution of documentaries in cinemas, Chris McDonald spoke to Stefania Ippoliti (Fondazione Sistema Toscana, Head of Mediateca and Area Cinema and president of Italian Film Commissions) and Domenico Dinoia (President of FICE, the Italian Film Industry Association). Dinoia recalled FICE's "Racconti italiani" initiative (lit. Italian Tales), which helped to circulate documentaries. A selection of 6-10 titles would be offered with favourable rental contractual conditions, which would then act as an incentive and a means of solicitation for exhibitors. The results aren't always exhilarating: “with the transition to digital there has been a turning point in terms of cost reduction, big names like Michael Moore brought the documentary to cinema screens, and now we’re seeing festivals selecting them for official competitions alongside fiction films. Some independent distributors specialise in documentary and at this point in time various titles are in cinemas, perhaps distributed as part of a one, or several, day event. Many, however, are still out of distribution. The cinema law reform approved in November has so far failed to produce results, and I hope that the implementation of decrees will bring about incentives to raise the level of quality of repertory cinemas that screen both historical and real-life films."

Stefania Ippoliti spoke about an experience she had with the project promoted by Regione Toscana La Compagnia, which involved the purchase and renovation of a historic cinema in Florence that now only screens documentaries. A 463-seat screen with advanced technology for 35mm and 4K (2D and 3D) projection. "Multi-programming for a mature and educated audience, but our goal has also been to target a young audience via titles relating to music or certain social issues, as well as via partnerships with universities. I'm interested in understanding how best to do the work of the operator, in a contemporary way, taking new routes, keeping in touch with the public, not giving people what they're used to but finding shapes and patterns that make the audience feel at ease. With the new law in place, we hope we can get some help to operate more effectively in marketing and pricing policies, maybe we could also bring some younger members of staff on board."

The Company has just signed up to be twinned with Toronto's Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema, a cinema that screens Canadian and international documentaries, with Chris McDonald as president. "We’re facing the same challenges as Italy. We consider an audience of 40 people for a documentary about Syria or other political or social issues to be a success." In terms of content coming from Europe, McDonald stated that music and virtual tourism themes work well.

The third panel included Francesca Johnson (director of development and production for National Geographic Channel in London), sat next to her was the head for the Italian market, Andrea Bosello (Executive Producer of Entertainment and Factual Production). The theme of the panel involved the "productive standards and examples of publishing strategy" of the group that has some 760 million consumers. Johnson revealed Nat Geo's "new direction" via some up-and-coming projects, such as The Story of Us With Morgan Freeman; One Strange Rock, in collaboration with Darren Aronofsky, Dian Fossey: Secrets in the Mist, narrated by Sigourney Weaver, Diana: In Her Own Words,a tribute to Lady Di, and the new seasons of Genius and Mars. "No more of these low-budget reality TV series that have dominated the channel for years. We’re taking a gamble on large innovative projects.” Francesca Johnson explained the criteria for getting onto Nat Geo's program, including the North American market. We're talking about projects with a minimum budget of $150,000 (for the Italian section) going up to a potential $800,000. The ability to build a strong and exciting narrative, with a high production value, use of the power of the National Geographic brand, well-known stories approached with a new perspective, exclusive content that’s of global interest, spanning various genres: these are the main things we’re looking for. Italian Nat Geo is more ready to evaluate one-off documentaries rather than series, both those in full commission and co-productions of projects that have already started.

The fourth panel, dedicated to opportunities and means of co-producing with the RSI - Radiotelevisione Svizzera di Lingua Italiana, focused on a successful case story, Valerio Jalongo's Il senso della bellezza, which opened this year’s edition of the festival and will be released in Italy on 21 and 22 November by Officine Ubu (First Hand Films will be distributing in Switzerland). The director talked about his meeting with the Swiss producer Tiziana Soudani from Amka Films in order to launch a rather ambitious project that involved the permanent residence of the film crew at CERN in Geneva: "Four years of shooting and fighting with the press office for the Nuclear Research Centre." Without the RSI as a partner, explains Tiziana Soudani, "we independent producers wouldn’t be able to make films, be them fiction or documentaries." Also present on the panel was Silvana Bezzola Rigolini (purchasing and co-productions manager for RSI), who followed Il senso della bellezza from the very moment that the screenplay was developed. 

The fifth and final panel focused on updates to the new Cinema Act, whose implementing decrees are now operational. The news and opportunities for real-life cinema were illustrated by Alberto Pasquale (professor of performance organisation and economics at Rome Sapienza university), who collaborated with MiBACT to draft the decrees. "This law, largely inspired by the French system, is a concrete attempt to modernise the industry," Pasquale explained. €1,900,000 of selective contributions is dedicated to the production of documentaries and shorts. This PDF looks at the situation of the implemented decrees thus far.

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