“I have a strong belief in online distribution”
Industry Report: Documentary
Niklas Kullström • Producer, Hillstream Pictures
The Finnish producer, one of the 2021 Emerging Producers, talks about his work and producing documentaries nowadays
Why do you produce documentaries? Do you understand documentary film as an instrument of social and political change?
Niklas Kullström: Documentaries are for me a way to understand the world and what it means to be human. I think that all documentaries are in some way political and have the potential to change society, but I don’t have any illusions that my films will start a revolution, I’m a very feet-firm-on-the-ground realist type of a Finn. I produce films because they are involved with topics and issues that I find personally important, or they try to answer questions that I would like to understand better. So I make films mainly for myself, and I’m that selfish that I think that if I’m interested in the topic, then somebody else will also be. My starting point is never the question: “What would this or that audience want to see?”, I couldn’t care less, I start with the question: “Does this interest me enough that I would like to see a film about it? And would I like to invest sweat, blood and tears into making that film?”. If I answer yes to both, then it's a reason enough for me to get involved. And hopefully there are others who answer yes to my first question, which then gives an audience. After all, there needs to be some kind of audience, no point in making a film just for myself, it would be impossible to fund it. I also believe that it’s pointless to make a documentary if you don’t have anything to say to anybody with it, so you need to think about the audience, but only after you have thought about yourself and your motives first. There are other producers out there who only want to please and find the easy money, but I find all of that quite silly and meaningless.
How do you deal with the current pandemic situation as a producer? What are your main concerns (or opportunities)?
On my part I’ve been quite lucky in having most productions in post or development. So the risks faced by colleagues who were stuck in the middle of production and needed to navigate all the new obstacles, or in the worst case, had to shut down production, have been absent. Of course, being in post and mainly relying on electronic communication and no or minimal face to face hasn’t been ideal, but a lot more manageable than what the alternatives could have been. Production phases are, however, coming up, so I do hope that the pandemic will be under control by summer, but all planning needs to have some kind of contingency plan at the moment.
What do you think is the future of the distribution of documentary films?
I have a strong belief in online distribution. The pandemic has shown that the need for access to quality content from your home is crucial. For documentaries, online distribution democratizes access. A producer could basically put up a film on Vimeo for minimal cost and make it accessible to a global audience and generate some revenue. This would probably not be a huge money-maker, but at least the film would be accessible, which is not the case with many older documentaries that can’t be seen anywhere. In a perfect situation big players like Netflix, HBO and Amazon would also invest in niche documentaries and give them a place to be found by a broader audience. There are platforms like Mubi and DAFilms, which is extremely important, but their audience is already looking for the films offered there. The big challenge is for documentaries to be found by the big audience. Online platforms give us the tools to do it, but how to actually reach a substantial audience is the big challenge.
What projects do you have underway (including in the area of fiction film and other projects)?
I’m currently working on a few feature documentaries as a Finnish minority co-producer. Good Life by Marta Dauliūtė and Viktorija Šiaulytė is in post-production and I’m the film's editor in addition to being a co-producer. It's about entrepreneurs, neoliberal economics, and living your life as an enterprise. It has MDEMC from Sweden as the main producer and Just A Moment from Lithuania as the second minority co-producer. We are looking for an end of year, early 2022 release. The second film is called Daughter of Fuji and is directed by Eri Mizutani. It’s about traditional culture and the struggle of women in Japan. It’s a Polish-Finnish co-production with Warsaw-based Anna Fam as the main producer. We are hoping to continue shooting in Japan during the summer and have it released during 2022. In addition, I have a short fiction film in post-production directed by Petri Hagner and set in an alternative 60s Finland where the Soviet Union won the war, and a few media artworks in the pipeline to be finalized. And then of course a bunch of things in development, TV series, feature docs, feature fiction, etc.
EMERGING PRODUCERS is a leading promotional and educational project, which brings together talented European documentary film producers. The programme is organised and curated by the Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival.
Deadline for applications to the EMERGING PRODUCERS 2022 edition is 31 March 2021.
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