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Documentaries promote global awareness of social justice


- CANNES 2016: Filmmakers discussed the power of documentaries at a meeting organised during the Cannes Film Festival

Documentaries promote global awareness of social justice
l-r: Gianfranco Rosi, Gabo Arora, Thierry Garrel (moderator) and Askold Kurov

During the Cannes Film Festival, European and US filmmakers such as Gianfranco Rosi (Fire at Sea [+see also:
film review
film focus
interview: Gianfranco Rosi
film profile
, Sacro GRA [+see also:
film review
film focus
interview: Gianfranco Rosi
festival scope
film profile
), Askold Kurov (The Trial) and Gabo Arora (My Mother's Wing, Clouds Over Sidra) discussed how documentaries can raise global awareness of social justice. The event was part of the Doc Day, which was launched by the Film Market in collaboration with JustFilms and the Ford Foundation.

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When Italian director Gianfranco Rosi shot his award-winning documentary Fire at Sea on Lampedusa, he spent three months by himself on the Italian island and didn't even have a camera. “It is always a new experience with a sense of adventure,” explained Rosi as he outlined his approach to filmmaking. “I have to be able to capture the emotional changes in the character who creates those emotions. I had already lived through this experience with the character, and the camera changes that relationship.” First, he filmed the island, followed by the immigration tragedy. “The third element outside the frame is politics. That gives you room for interpretation.”

On the occasion of the tenth anniversary of The Inconvenient Truth by Davis Guggenheim, producer Lawrence Bender reported on the production of this groundbreaking documentary. “We wanted to film the insurance industry, but then Hurricane Katrina happened, and New Orleans turned into a third-world country. We did make a difference,” stated the producer. And sure enough, Al Gore won a Nobel Peace Prize and was present at the COP21 in Paris. “But the issue of climate change is not enough; there has to be an emotional element.”

Meanwhile, Uzbek filmmaker Askold Kurov is working on the documentary The Trial, about Ukrainian director and activist Oleg Sentsov, who was arrested on terrorism charges two years ago because he protested against the annexation of Crimea. “That can happen to anybody in Russia,” emphasised Kurov, who is currently editing the film. “It is very difficult to work in Russia. We don't have a single chance to show our films in the theatres or on TV. We have to protect our footage; your mobile phone is tapped, and you are followed by secret-service guys.”

With his internationally successful documentary Darwin's Nightmare, Austrian filmmaker Hubert Sauper changed a lot of people's minds. “I received a few death threats,” reported the director. “The Tanzanian government put other filmmakers in jail.”

As a human rights officer at the United Nations, Gabo Arora wanted to check out some new technologies. He got some initial experience with the viral video Keep the Oil in the Ground, which racked up two million hits. “Virtual reality is something that gives you a presence in another place,” he said. His film Clouds Over Sidra, which gives viewers a highly immersive experience of a refugee camp, was presented at Davos.

But it is not always so easy to bring documentaries like this to the audience. “We only get reviews if a film premieres in the cinema,” said Signe Byrge Sorensen, CEO of Final Cut for Real. “It is the only model that makes money.”

“We are fighting for a theatrical option: that is where we belong,” underlined Daniela Elstner, CEO of world sales agent Doc & Film International, who sold the Berlinale competition winner Fire at Sea in 54 territories “It was the opportunity of a lifetime,” concluded Elstner. “It used to be one territory and one contract, but now we have to do four contracts for one country, which is a lot of work and does not make much money. It is tricky to survive.”

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