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“We don’t want to create another unnecessary event”

Industry Report: Documentary

Weronika Adamowska • Co-founder and programmer, HER Docs Forum


The co-founder and programmer of the HER Docs initiative explains how she aims to connect female documentary professionals and create a new, safer space for women

Weronika Adamowska  • Co-founder and programmer, HER Docs Forum

Guided by its slogan, “engaged gaze”, the HER Docs Forum is a new event dedicated to women and their filmmaking. Organised in cooperation with the Goethe-Institut and the French Institute in Warsaw, it aims to connect female documentary professionals and create a new, safer space for women, enabling them to develop personally and professionally. Co-founder and programmer Weronika Adamowska breaks down the initiative, which will take place from 13-17 September 2023 in Warsaw (click here for more information).

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Cineuropa: Where did this idea come from? From your conversations with filmmakers attending the HER Docs festival?
Weronika Adamowska:
We wanted to offer them something concrete. During the workshops at our festival, we were surprised at how many women wanted to participate – even very experienced filmmakers. They said they felt very safe among other women. They didn’t have to worry about competing or about being criticised. We decided to organise an event on a larger scale and not just for directors, because we want to allow for this professional exchange.

I have to underline that we won’t be hosting typical pitching sessions or your usual panels where people share their experiences and you can’t really relate to it. After the second edition of the festival, we want to embrace this post-COVID reality, at the same time supporting female artists and focusing on the problems specific to our region. We are not pretending that nothing has changed: there are new challenges ahead.

Exactly – you will have a special programme dedicated to Ukrainian female filmmakers.
There are many people in Poland now who have fled their countries, be it from Ukraine or Belarus. They are completely cut off from their network of contacts. We want to create a space where documentary filmmakers located in Poland can get to know each other. It’s crucial that Ukrainian filmmakers feel safe, so the participants from Belarus are all anti-regime. We will put a lot of emphasis on workshops, conversations and meaningful exchange, while taking into account the specificity of the documentary world from the perspective of women, because the struggles they face are quite different.

You mentioned it before, and it’s interesting: you won’t have any pitching sessions or show any works in progress. For most industry events, that’s the most important part.
We won’t do it this year. We want to focus on films that have been created and on experiences that we can already learn from. However, if this event becomes an annual occurrence, it might change in the future. At the moment, our biggest challenge is to reach out to communities outside of Poland, and we have succeeded in doing that. We received applications from different countries. I guess we will see what will be needed because we don’t want to create another unnecessary event. We want to make sure these women come out of it stronger, with new knowledge and a new set of skills.

What’s the situation for female documentary makers in Poland right now? There is a wave of films coming up, dedicated to the refugee crisis on the Belarusian-Polish border.
Yes, like Lidia Duda’s Forest [see the news]; The Guest, co-directed by Zuzanna Solakiewicz; and Agnieszka Zwiefka’s Runa [recently awarded at New Horizons’ Polish Days – see the news]. I have the impression that there are many bona fide female documentary filmmakers in Poland. But very often, people jump into [fiction] features after one or two films. We want to talk about that, too. Why aren’t they going back to documentaries? One of the reasons is that we can never reach the same level of funding. I would say the situation is good, but obviously it could be better. Luckily, we have successful Polish co-productions, like Alisa Kovalenko’s We Will Not Fade Away [+see also:
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or Apolonia, Apolonia [+see also:
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, which is also a great sign for the community.

Your event is for women. Does that annoy some people?
This question does come up, also in our own conversations. We want to be inclusive, and we would like to stop talking about gender one day. There are some comments calling us “chauvinistic”, but my answer is always the same: “We want to create a safe space.” And those who are making these comments would probably make them during the event.

It might change, but right now, we don’t want to expose our participants to such discussions. Also, there are so many events for everyone, so no one should be harmed by one that’s aimed solely at women. We want to amplify their voices and address a real problem here: the underrepresentation of women in the film industry. Because sadly, it’s still very much the case – just look at the line-ups of most festivals and all those white, male experts speaking at panels.

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