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“Telle ou telle campagne d'impact ne convient pas à tous les films”

Dossier industrie: Produire - Coproduire...

Valentin Thurn • Producteur, ThurnFilm

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Entretien avec le producteur allemand sur son vaste travail en matière de films à impact, à quelques jours du Festival du film sur les droits humains de Berlin

Valentin Thurn  • Producteur, ThurnFilm

Cet article est disponible en anglais.

A few days prior to this year’s Human Rights Film Festival Berlin (11-22 October), we chatted over Zoom with Valentin Thurn, of ThurnFilm. The German producer-director will host a case-study presentation during the Impact Day on 16 October.

With his films Taste the Waste and 10 Billion, Thurn has attracted unprecedented audience numbers for a theatrical documentary, and his body of work has had a sustainable social and ecological impact, effecting concrete changes in public perception and consumer behaviour. Thurn is also planning a new campaign on his latest project, Holy Shit – Can Poop Save the World?

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Cineuropa: Could you please introduce your work and your background?
Valentin Thurn:
I’ve been a director and a filmmaker for over 30 years. Starting from around 2007, I began producing my own films, and later, about six years ago, I began producing the works of other directors, both TV and film productions. I’m based in Cologne, and we also work on many international co-productions.

How did you embark on impact producing? What was your first encounter with it like?
My first encounter was like the Virgin Mary getting pregnant; [I mean] it was kind of unexpected [laughs]! We were preparing and developing Taste the Waste [2011] at the Documentary Campus Masterschool. There, we had many Anglo-Saxons who were already doing impact producing, and for them, it had been a topic of discussion for 15 years already. For us, this was something we really included in our thoughts: how do we get this film to be seen? It was already clear that Taste the Waste was made for both TV and cinema. As the topic of food waste was almost unknown in Europe up until that time, we thought about how to attract an audience to see something about an unknown issue, how to spread the word beyond the normal marketing channels. Luckily, we got one idea after another, and I have to say that the other European filmmakers who were taking part in this programme gave us ideas that were as valuable as the tutors’ ones. Of course, later we continued [working on it], but the main idea of cooking with leftover veggies started there.

Could you please zoom in on the impact campaign for this film?
If you think about what we did – cooking for thousands of people in pedestrian areas all over Germany and Austria – that would have been impossible for a small film production. But it was quite clear we needed partners, and those partners wouldn’t just benefit from marketing for promoting the film itself, but for the subject we were going to tackle. So it was a win-win situation. We had to get them on board half a year before our theatrical release. At the Berlinale, we had our premiere, and we also set up a screening for the partners, including NGOs and other organisations. This is something crucial: to start thinking about partners and alliances well in advance. Around 30 cities were involved in the campaign during or after the theatrical release, but this type of event was a sort of blueprint, and it has been copied all around the world.

So you played a kind of pioneering role in Europe…
Yes; it was a simple idea, and people embraced it. We realised we had really reached our target group.

It’s been quite a few years since Taste the Waste. But how did impact producing evolve in Europe from that moment on? Did the pandemic change anything in this respect?
Yes, the pandemic obviously froze everything, including impact campaigns, and it was a hard time for all of us. But what happened is that in several countries, the idea [of impact producing] continued. […] I’ve heard many things are going on in the Netherlands; I met people from France who are doing impact producing there. They have FIPADOC, where they provide support to ten French producers who already have a broadcaster [attached], so it’s for TV projects mostly, but it’s an initial funding boost that can help develop the concept of the campaign. Fortunately, our film distributors were clever enough to see the project was a good opportunity, and they financed a person for half a year, working part-time to coordinate the campaign. I wouldn’t have been able to do all of that on my own. I wouldn’t recommend that small productions handle everything on their own. This needs to be done by professionals.

What are the key ideas you’ll be sharing during your presentation?
I’ll be speaking about some other films as well. First of all, an impact campaign does not fit every film. It’s for films that want to reach out to the general public to spark debate about ethical or political issues. Back then, with our topic, we reached more people than just the ones going to cinemas. It was a theatrical success, but we also intercepted ordinary citizens and big politicians. Depending on the topic, any film can create an audience. It’s all about audience building and creating a demand that goes beyond the release window. For example, Taste the Waste is still being screened at the moment, after 12 years.

What about the campaign you’re currently working on?
The new film [Holy Shit: Can Poop Save the World?, with Rubén Abruña, in which we follow a human turd to understand what happens to it, how it is managed and how it affects us] aims to go beyond German borders, even though it’ll be released here first. [...] I’ve been looking for an editor and an author – and we finished the book at the beginning of this year. Then we’ve already published a card game and there’s a song we’re going to produce over the coming weeks, titled “Holy Shit”. These are some other ways of entertaining and capturing the audience.

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