Antonio Russo Merenda • Documentary film commissioner, Swedish Film Institute
by Camillo De Marco
- Cineuropa talked to Antonio Russo Merenda, documentary film commissioner at the SFI, whose production funding for documentaries has been doubled to 30 million SEK
Klara Grunning and Antonio Russo Merenda have been appointed as documentary film commissioners at the Swedish Film Institute, taking over from Cecilia Lidin. Grunning will take up her new post in September 2015. The production funding section for documentaries will therefore be doubled in size, with two commissioners dealing with applications for financing. Hjalmar Palmgren, head of the production funding unit, says, "I'm delighted that we've been able to recruit two new consultants with a sound knowledge of Swedish documentary filmmaking and its place in the international arena. Klara and Antonio will complement each other well and will be able to support the essential diversity of the genre."
Born in 1966, Antonio Russo Merenda is a film producer who studied Law, Film and Literature at the University of Rome between 1985 and 1991. He is a co-founder of Hysteria Film, which he has managed for 15 years. In 2012, he also founded Ginestra Film in Stockholm, working together with companies in Finland, Denmark, Norway, Germany, France and Poland. His numerous award-winning films include The Vodka Factory, Finnish Blood, Swedish Heart [+see also:
interview: Mika Ronkainen
film profile] and Colombianos.
"Over the last few years, Swedish documentary has occupied a very prominent position in the international film industry," he says, "with great successes such as the award-winning documentaries The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 [+see also:
film profile] and Concerning Violence [+see also:
film profile] by Göran Hugo Olsson, both in competition at Sundance and Berlin. And most of all thanks to Searching For Sugar Man [+see also:
film profile] by Malik Bendjelloul, which received the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature 2013."
Cineuropa: What are the aims of the SFI production funding section for documentaries?
Antonio Russo Merenda: The production funding section for documentaries has, since 1 January 2015, been doubled in size, with two commissioners dealing with applications for funding - Cecilia Lidin and myself. This is an important step not just because it will give us increased opportunities for quality assurance; it also means a significant and justifiable rise in the status of documentary film, which will now be on an equal footing with fiction in terms of the number of doors to knock on. We support a broad variety of documentary films with no limits in terms of screening time or shooting format. We can participate in the financing of international co-productions only through a Swedish co-producer, provided that the film has distribution in Sweden.
What is the task of the commissioner?
One of my goals as a commissioner is to focus my efforts on maintaining and reinforcing what I consider to be the principal strength of Swedish documentary films, and something that has also become their distinguishing hallmark internationally - namely, their broad spectrum of different voices. I want to carry on encouraging different kinds of documentaries, from small personal films to more ambitious projects. If this can help to avoid uniformity, it can also provide oxygen to filmmakers with very different aims by giving them the same opportunities for continuity in their work.
What is your budget and how many applications do you receive?
My colleague and I have a budget of approximately 15,000,000 SEK each to allocate every year. Together, we receive approximately 400-450 applications every year. There is some very tough competition, which allows us to support less than 10% of all the proposals we get.
What are the selection criteria?
The evaluation carried out by us as commissioners is mainly based on the artistic constellation behind the film, and on the urgency and the originality of the story.
Are there any cooperation agreements in place with other Scandinavian countries?
For many years now, there has been a very strong collaboration with all the other Nordic Film Institutes. It usually results in us funding between three and five high-quality Nordic co-productions every year.