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ONE WORLD PRAGUE 2024

Zdenek Blaha • Director de programación en el IDF y responsable de la East Doc Platform

“Lo único que une a todos los documentales que hemos seleccionado es que todos tienen potencial internacional”

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- El experto en documentales comenta el programa de la East Doc Platform de este año, que incluye sesiones de formación, paneles y clases magistrales organizadas junto con el One World Film Festival

Zdenek Blaha  • Director de programación en el IDF y responsable de la East Doc Platform

Este artículo está disponible en inglés.

Cineuropa sat down with Zdenek Blaha, who is programme director at the Institute of Documentary Film (IDF) and has been head of East Doc Platform since 2018. His experience in the documentary field dates back to 2009, but he also advises on festival and distribution strategies. Blaha commented on the programme of this year’s edition of East Doc Platform, which features project presentations, training sessions, panels and master classes prepared together with the One World Film Festival (currently unspooling from 20-28 March). For the second time, this industry gathering, which is dedicated to non-fiction projects from Central and Eastern Europe, has a specific theme: this year it’s “soft spots”, as the event is “embracing softness, comfort and safety”.

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Cineuropa: Are there any trends among this year’s projects being presented at East Doc Platform?
Zdenek Blaha: Actually, we always try to select projects that are different; we try not to follow just one, single trend. Although we’re connected with the One World Festival, which is a human rights film gathering, we adopt a broader approach when it comes to the themes. Our projects focus on social issues, family and personal stories. They make use of very creative aspects of documentary filmmaking, playing with the format and with the cinematic language, like Under His Spell, which is a project about a famous Polish hypnotist who made it big in the Soviet Union. And this one is different to, let's say, the project What About Petya, which shows a single father raising a son with severe autism. We also have projects about the war in Ukraine, so it's very broad. The only thing that unites all of the documentaries we have selected is that they all have international potential.

You have also included the presentation of a documentary series project, which is a recent addition to the programme. Do you think this format has potential?
We strongly believe in documentary series. I think it’s connected with the shift in recent years – the audience has moved towards streaming platforms, which is not just because of COVID-19, but also the way we consume content now. Serialised content – not just fiction, but also documentary – is something people are very interested in. Because if you have a good story, it doesn’t matter which genre it is; it’s the way you present it and communicate it that’s important.

It was in 2021, which was still an online edition, when we organised a call for series, and we had five projects for the markets. We tried to find out what was happening in the region, and we discovered that there is potential, and it’s also slowly picking up in terms of industry support because many countries are now introducing funding slates for series – and not just one-offs, but regular ones. For example, Bulgaria has standalone support for series. So, from this point of view, we see that there is potential, also among the broadcasters and in terms of international collaboration, too. We have projects like Tito, a big one involving Croatian and German television channels, and other partners.

We are seeing that more and more players are interested in this format, and in response to this, last year we introduced a new training programme for series, which is part of Ex-Oriente, our long-term workshop, and we basically created a new branch just for series. As far as I know, we were the first ones to do it. The initial results – the pitching of the five projects that went through a whole year’s training – will happen during this year’s edition. I want to add that we were lucky to get very specific tutors, like producer Ruth Reed, who was working with HBO Nordic and who is now working with Netflix, so this is some great input. We have also had experts, producers from the USA, who are working with Netflix. There are lots of questions about how to work with the streamers, and we try to bring this knowledge to our region.

This year, One World introduced fiction films as part of its programme: are you considering adding fiction feature projects to East Doc Platform, given they fit your profile?
Not yet; this is not something I would like to start with just yet. We’ll see how it works for One World. I understand why they did this, because it makes complete sense for the audience. For us, it's important to stick with documentary, although we’re open to any hybrid approaches, so in the past, we have also had projects combining actors and recreations of scenes, and also involving elements of fiction films but still made in highly documentary fashion.

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