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“Participating in workshops like this is as important as a first test screening”

Industry Report: Documentary

Irina Malcea • Manager, Astra DocTank

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The Romanian producer, appointed as the new manager of Astra’s industry platform, breaks down how vital industry events are for developing a compelling documentary

Irina Malcea  • Manager, Astra DocTank

With a decade of producing experience and a few impressive documentaries under her belt (for example, Botond Püsök’s Too Close [+see also:
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and Alex Brendea’s Teach [+see also:
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trailer
film profile
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), Romanian producer Irina Malcea is the new manager of the Astra Film Festival’s (15-22 October) industry platform, Astra DocTank. Here is what she has to say about the new directions she is heading in and how vital industry events are for developing a compelling documentary.

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Cineuropa: What is new at DocTank this year?
Irina Malcea:
The novelty lies in adopting a deeper and more applied perspective regarding both the needs of documentary film projects and the purpose of such a workshop. At the same time, this year's selection, in addition to Romanian projects, includes some from Hungary, Poland and the Republic of Moldova.

When I took over at Astra DocTank, I focused more on what I could offer to the participating projects, both from my own experience and in the context of Astra. Therefore, within the four-day event, I designed the structure as a three-day mentoring workshop where participating projects would receive advice on the three main areas that, in my opinion, should be covered all together: directing, production and marketing. The workshop concludes on the fourth day with a pitching session for the eight participating teams, followed by one-on-one meetings with industry professionals, including programmers representing Sundance, Tribeca, Kraków and Visions du Réel, among other festivals, plus sales agents and fund representatives.

As a documentary producer, you have your own experience related to industry events such as Astra DocTank. What do you see as being their most useful asset?
For me, participating in such workshops is as important as a first test screening – ie, it’s an opportunity to explore the impact that my project or film has on other people. If it intrigues them, what exactly intrigues them? How do they relate to the protagonists or to the approach? Things like that. It's a first outing for the project, and in general, I find this stage extremely useful and necessary in the process of making a film, especially in this day and age when so many are being made. At the same time, many such workshops also come with the opportunity to meet people in the industry, people whom a filmmaker will invariably need at some point – sales agents, festival programmers, commissioning editors and so on. Also, from my own experience, I find it useful to attend such events for team building as well.

For this year's DocTank, I set out to combine both what I have received and discovered in the variety of workshops I have attended over the past few years, and what I had missed or felt had not been sufficiently explored there. I think it will still be a while before I get to the optimal combination that I want, but I hope that attending this year's DocTank will be of real benefit to the participants. I think DocTank’s main strength is precisely the structuring of the mentoring sessions in line with the three main levels I mentioned – directing, production and marketing – which I think should be ideal to avoid them clashing with one another.

If you had to give one piece of advice to producers and directors with projects selected, what would it be?
I would advise them to remain open to collaboration and suggestions, digest the feedback and, even if it is difficult, use only what they find really useful, both for their projects and for their personal journey.

Some complain that industry events have become a kind of Procrustean bed that standardises approaches and, at times, even stifles the vision of filmmakers. What is your opinion on this?
In theory, the purpose of teams applying to such programmes is to get support, sometimes in the form of feedback, to help them finish the film and then position it optimally in the market. At the same time, once you become a participant in such events and the tutors share their perspectives on the film, no filmmaker is forced in any way to use the feedback. These workshops, of course, do not have final-cut rights on participating projects. Personally, I've seen many films, including those I have produced, tremendously improve in quality as a result of mentoring in workshops.

In terms of changing the director's vision during the making of a documentary, I have witnessed and been part of such changes, and I believe that in some cases, they are inherent, precisely because it is a documentary film where, most of the time, the main material is a reality that may change and transform. However, I don't think that the main, basic vision of a filmmaker, the one that should always answer the question, “Why do I want to make this film?”, could be stifled by a workshop.

Based on the selected projects, what are the main concerns of documentary filmmakers in the region this year?
They want to sound an alarm, to inspire, to make an impact, to urge us to change for the better and to take a less gloomy view of the times we live in.

What are the Astra DocTank events not to be missed at this edition?
The two master classes on marketing and project development by Hermione Efstratiades and Irena Taskovski as well as, of course, André Singer's master class.

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