“I perceive the mind of the spectator as the ultimate screen”
Industry Report: Documentary
Rui Ribeiro • Producer
The Emerging Producer from Portugal explains why documentary can be a prime resource for social and political change
An interview with Rui Ribeiro, Portuguese producer selected for the 2023 Emerging Producers programme. Read his EP profile here.
Why do you produce documentaries? Do you see documentary cinema as an instrument of social and political change?
Rui Ribeiro: I see documentary cinema as a meaningful practice in the broader context of what I would call a “documentary approach to the world”, a rich and diverse “territory”, where one could include, for instance, tools such as the microscope or the telescope, disciplines as in anthropology or geography, and activities like investigative journalism or birdwatching, among many other human practices seeking to understand the world through deep observation and analysis.
This common ground of approach, the willingness to claim and, at the end, share the complex reality of things, topics and human beings, is the basis of my own documentary approach to film.
Documentary film, both as a technical tool, artistic form and cultural object, can indeed be a prime resource for social and political change, by raising critical, inclusive and informed awareness in face of major issues. But it can also work at a deep and abstract emotional level, as a powerful vehicle for inner revelation through sophisticated aesthetics and storytelling.
As a producer fully committed to the documentary form, I tend to pursue both.
Where do you find audiences for your films?
I think one has to be quite honest and even humble on this specific topic. First and foremost, there must be a strong and sincere desire to share our work with other people.
Secondly: I do perceive the mind of the spectator as the ultimate screen. Cinema is much more about what’s going on in the spectator’s consciousness; it is not simply a film being projected in an empty theater (remember Dr. Berkeley, and the sound of the falling tree in the forest, with no one there able to hear it?). As much as I truly love the theatrical experience, it might not always be the best context to share a particular work, so I try to stay open minded concerning this subject.
Within these premises, I try to assess the true nature and scope of my productions and identify their target audience accordingly as soon as possible, preferably during development. Then I try to find the right partners/professionals – sales agents, distributors – to assist me in this huge and utterly specific task of boosting the visibility of our films, by making them available to audiences as vast and diverse as possible.
What films have you seen recently and would recommend watching?
I’ve been trying to catch up with some recent documentaries, some of them “rescued” from the pandemic. I watched Radiograph of a Family [+see also:
film profile] by Firouzeh Khosrovani, Looking for Horses [+see also:
film profile] by Stefan Pavlovic, Hà Lệ Diễm’s Children of the Mist and Yrsa Roca Fannberg [+see also:
film profile]’s The Last Autumn. And I’ve been discovering, with great pleasure, some of the films produced by my fellow Emerging Producers 2023.
What projects do you have underway (including fiction films and other projects)?
I’ve just finished the post-production on Fire in the Mud, a first-feature documentary by Catarina Laranjeiro (an anthropologist) and Daniel Barroca (a visual artist). Here’s a very brief synopsis: “Haunted by memories of the liberation war, still inscribed in present-day rituals, bodies, landscapes, and techno-music, a peasant community claims their future in contemporary Guinea-Bissau.” It will be ready for premiere very very soon.
Mysteries, the following documentary film by Gonçalo Tocha (It’s the Earth Not the Moon [+see also:
film profile], 2011, The Mother and the Sea, 2013) is now entering the final stage of its 5 year-long production, filming almost on a daily basis the rich dynamics and events in-between 3 islands of the Azores Archipelago, the famous and puzzling “triangle” in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. It’s an exciting project with a unique scope, and should be ready for premiere somewhere in the first quarter of 2024.
Last but not least, I’m at the very early stage of development of a documentary animation project on the life and work of a famous French composer. I’m looking forward to pitching it at an international event, most likely in the beginning of 2024.
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 2024 edition is 31 March 2023.
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