“Scriptwriters’ imagination can hardly beat current life”
Industry Report: Documentary
Alice Lemaire • Producer, Michigan Films
The Belgian producer, selected for the 2021 Emerging Producers programme, discussed documentary production in the current situation
Why do you produce documentaries? Do you understand documentary film as an instrument of social and political change?
Alice Lemaire: As a former history student, I’ve always felt bonded to our reality that I think is so complex and full of layers that scriptwriters’ imagination can hardly beat current life. I have also always found documentary film to be the most fertile playground for filmmakers’ experimentation and research in the language of cinema – especially in Belgium which is a great “land of freedom” for documentary filmmaking. I think that films are very rarely effective instruments of change, but I believe that the choices we make in terms of writing, making films and even producing them are political choices. The great power of documentary filmmaking is to give a singular view of a fragmented and complex world, to provide clues and different perspectives that can help us think and give meanings to life by offering us time and unexpected encounters.
How do you deal with the current pandemic situation as a producer? What are your main concerns (or opportunities)?
This crisis will certainly change a great deal of the cinema production and distribution, but it is hard to predict these things… In Belgium, we have so far been lucky to have public funding to support independent filmmakers and producers. Besides, being a small company like us is a strength: we bend but we do not break. We are used to making films in times of crisis and we have learnt to be inventive in terms of production designs and methodology.
What do you think is the future of the distribution of documentary films?
I think people still need stories and pictures, and even more during lockdowns and troubled times. There will be a room for these stories to be heard, at festivals and online. But we shall fight for independent cinemas to survive, and we also need television channels to take some risks and show our films.
What projects do you have underway (including in the area of fiction film and other projects)?
Last year, after 15 years of producing mainly documentaries and art films, we started to move toward more fictional films. Still, we are trying to nourish our fictions with a deeply rooted social understanding, and to use documentary tools in these films. We try to keep what we learnt from documentary filmmaking and employ it in a more fictional production process.
We are now developing several feature films:
Le fléau by Eléonore Saintagnan is a chaptered film about the relationship between humans and animals, recounted through three stories inspired by real events: the slaughter of sparrows in the 1960s in China, an insect trial in the Middle Ages and a mysterious lake creature becoming a tourist attraction (co-produced by Ecce Films, France).
Life Ahead by Olivier Meys is a coming-of-age film about the friendship of two teenage girls waiting for asylum in a refugee center (in development).
We are also currently in post-production with Aya by Simon Gillar. The film portrays a young girl living on a fishermen peninsula in Ivory Coast that is being eaten away by water, forcing her and her mother to move to the capital city (co-produced by Kidam, France).
We also have European co-productions, including Alessandro Comodin’s upcoming documentary produced by Okta Films in Italy, more experimental short films (Francisco Rodriguez Teare, Sarah Vanagt and others) and documentaries (Pauline Fonsny, Samira El Mouzghibati and others) in the coming years.
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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