Polish documentary filmmaking has a glorious tradition. Films of Kazimierz Karabasz, Wladyslaw Ślesicki, Jerzy Hoffman and Edward Skórzewski built the foundations of the Polish School of the Documentary. Other outstanding documentaries were made by Krzysztof Kieślowski, Marcel Łoziński, Tomasz Zygadło, Jacek Bławut and Paweł Łoziński. Today, a new generation has come to the fore: Bartek Konopka, Tomasz Wolski, Wojciech Staroń, Marcin Sauter and Maciej Cuske – directors whose films have also won awards at major international festivals. Our tradition and current successes give us the right to share our experience with others. On the other hand, the insufficient distribution and exposure of Polish documentary films abroad means we not only have to make efforts to present the most interesting projects to foreign visitors, but also to attempt to shape and present these project in a way that appeals to foreign viewers.
Bearing in mind that the film industry and the means of financing documentary production are changing all the time, we have decided to implement in our program a few modifications to the other conventional pitching and development programs organized so far.
Each co-production increases the audience at least two-fold. Therefore, we believe it is important to establish international cooperation at the level of production, or at least distribution and promotion.
As our research on documentaries produced in the years 2012-1014 shows, only 10% of these films were foreign co-productions (19 of 171). Moreover, the vast majority of them were made in cooperation with foreign co-producers (production companies). Only four were created in direct collaboration between a Polish producer and a foreign TV station or other institution supporting production. This means that the form of pitching usually used to date – mainly for foreign TV station commissioning editors – does not translate into reality, it is ineffective. TV stations would rather work with producers they know, mainly from their native countries. They are also more likely to enter into projects that are already presented in such a partnership at one of the main documentary pitchings (IDFA, Leipzig, etc.).
Therefore, in our view, change number one should be to transform the pitching for TV stations into a presentation to the producers (co-producer) and representatives of the industry section, and other pitching platforms at major international film festivals, as well as to festival selectors (because festivals are the gateway to televisions as licensees). Representatives of the industry sections (selectors from foreign pitchings) would have a chance to better understand the project than through traditional applications, they could suggest what they are interested in, and what they might be interested in, if additional requirements are met. On the other hand, they could indicate suitable potential co-producers from their area. Foreign co-producers may be a way to raise more foreign money.
Issue two are positive conclusions of research: in the years 2013-2014, out of 98 films produced, 15 were domestic co-productions (between national production companies). 80% of films received funding from institutions of systemic support to film production: primarily from the Polish Film Institute [PISF] and, increasingly, from Regional Funds, but quite a few were supported by other Polish partners, and not just televisions (Polish National TVP, HBO), but also by the National Centre for Culture [NCK], the National Audiovisual Institute [NINA], the Solidarity Center and the Ministry of Culture.
That is why change number two should be about broadening the Polish representation among the recipients of pitchings – which will be important not only for Polish projects, but in the future also for foreign ones.
The third aspect of DOC LAB POLAND is the plan to make the workshop not only a presentation of the project, but also a platform for comprehensive substantive work on them – the more accurate and better the research and the analysis of the characters, the better the result on the screen. A compelling subject itself is not enough, the filmmakers must really know the answers to the questions: what they really want to make a film about, why, in the name of what, and how to translate all this into the language of film.
It seems to us that what we need to do in order to increase the documentary co-production rate is to work at the roots. Nowadays it is not enough to make a good film to reach foreign audiences. You have to think what to do to make someone want to watch it, what kind of communication and promotion will be most suitable, and to decide what the producer cares about: festival circulation or rather a big budget and cooperation with TV. This does not necessarily mean two different strategies, but it often leads to such a dilemma. We are planning to involve in the workshop producers, sales agents and representatives of festivals – they will help the participants to find the answers to such questions about the target audience and about the method of making the film:
- If you want to make an original short film without making artistic compromises, hoping to win all the festivals, you will not be inclined to cooperate with televisions and maybe then have a bigger budget.
- But if you have a vision of making a film in five countries, you have to be aware of making a very serious commitment and showing a willingness for artistic compromises resulting from cooperation with a television station.
- If you are a novice producer, rather than growing frustrated about such things as the lack of a response from ARTE, you had better try to find a French co-producer who has often worked with them.
- Or maybe your film is a perfect project for crowd funding? Or for a broader transmedia plan?
We hope that DOC LAB POLAND will not only help answer these questions, not only will it provide expert support for the produced projects, but it will also translate into concrete solutions for co-production, promotion and distribution.