“The most important thing though is to fall in love with a story and its universe”
Industry Report: Documentary
Roberto Cavallini • Producer, Altrove Films
Interview with Roberto Cavallini, producer for Italian company Altrove Films and selected for the 2020 Emerging Producers programme
Why do you produce documentaries? Do you understand documentary film as an instrument of social and political change?
Roberto Cavallini: I produce documentaries because they are a form of cinema that can craft reality in imaginative ways, providing a perspective of our world that is usually stranger than fiction. I don't conceive documentaries as instruments but as forms of artistic and (political) imagination. However, the choice to produce a certain kind of stories in the form of a film can be based on a wide spectrum of possibilities and obstacles, on the experience of the producer, the accessibility to funds, resources and, more importantly, distribution opportunities. The most important thing though is to fall in love with a story and its universe, staying close to the creative team; and, as every love relationship demands, be able to evolve and change accordingly to how the story grows, together with all the people involved. I think I produce documentaries also because they are never as predictable as fiction and they give me the chance to discover fragments of the world we live in, always with curiosity and respect towards those we encounter, enriching my own life sometimes beyond any expectation.
What qualities should a documentary producer have these days?
A (documentary) producer should be creative, multi-tasking, honest and patient. And s/he should be able to dance a bit, too! I like to think that the relationship with the director or the crew and with the protagonists is at the core of the film itself, especially in independent small productions. Another skill is to be able to position the documentary and shape its presentation in relation to all the possible funders and partners: it's crucial for the advancement of the project and it's a lot of work as well! Finally, one of the most important qualities should always be being kind to whoever is in front of you and respect everyone’s work: what goes around comes around!
What do you think is the future of distribution of documentary films?
Even though it could seem contradictory, I feel that the future of documentary distribution will be both theatrical and digital: we still need cinema to be experienced collectively but we also need the flexibility of the digital world to reach as many viewers as possible, globally. Distribution, for independent producers, is still a complicated issue: maybe you have been working for 3/4 years on a project, pitching, presenting the film at markets and still the feedback, and not to mention any revenue, is ridiculous. If a producer should base the decision to greenlight a project based on the initial response of distributors, we wouldn't even start to switch on the laptop. Or we would just go for the commissioned projects that fit TV slots or requests from broadcasters - this isn't a bad thing but of course it homogenizes the market even more. There are good opportunities arising from the digital market but, at least in Italy, there is still the need to engage with a real network of theatrical distributors and make them aware and conscious that documentaries have an audience that cannot be delimited to festivals.
What projects do you have under way (including in the area of fiction film and other projects)?
We are currently in the editing stages with Out of Frame (L'Incorreggibile), a debut feature documentary by Manuel Coser which tells the story of Alberto, a man who has spent 48 years of his life in Italian prisons. We are in production with My Upside Down World, a documentary by Elena Goatelli, a portrait of the three times ice climbing world champion, Angelika Rainer. We are also entering production with the documentary Wu Ming and the Art of Radical Resistance, a debut feature doc by Armin Ferrari, about a collective of writers and activists shaping Italian cultural and political life of the last 25 years. I am also slowly entering into the world of fiction, in early development as a writer/producer of an anthological horror TV mini-series set in South Tyrol (Italy) and as a producer of a dark fantasy drama for young adults written and directed by Maximilien Dejoie, a co-production between Italy and Lithuania.
Emerging Producers is a promotional and educational project, which brings together talented European documentary film producers. The programme is organised and curated by the Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival.
Deadline for applications to the Emerging Producers 2021 edition is 15 March, 2020.
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