“There is no going back to the old ways”
Industry Report: Documentary
Mario Adamson • Producer, Sisyfos Film Production
The Swedish producer, selected for the 2021 Emerging Producers programme, discussed documentary production in the current situation
Why do you produce documentaries? Do you understand documentary film as an instrument of social and political change?
Mario Adamson: While I love fiction film, I find myself more and more drawn to documentary storytelling. To me, reality always supersedes fiction and is even more unpredictable and surprising than any human mind is capable of creating. Creative documentary, in particular, has a way of distilling all the noise in the world around us into a gripping narrative. In the same way a still photo captures an instant moment from a long series of motion, I think a great documentary works in a similar way. It creates it’s own time and space and allows the viewer to zoom in on a certain topic or event.
Documentary film, to me, is like any kind of film created to communicate emotions. It transports the viewer into and through a world and, as such, opens up for opportunities of empathy. As a carrier of emotion, it can certainly be used as an instrument to make social and political change, whether or not the film has explicit political content.
How do you deal with the current pandemic situation as a producer? What are your main concerns (or opportunities)?
As I mostly make films in other countries than my own, the current situation has made me explore alternative ways of doing the productions and has given me the opportunity to work with new amazing local professionals that I would probably not have been able or imagined to work with before.
The film festival experience has, of course, been fundamentally changed during the pandemic. While I have been able to participate in co-production forums and pitches in online festival environments, I still miss the connections that can be made by spontaneous in-person meetings after a screening or in the festival bar.
My main concern is that cinemas will survive and remain, as these are such important places to experience film. Streaming certainly opens up opportunities for finding new audiences, but the collective cinema experience is something that we have to preserve.
What do you think is the future of the distribution of documentary films?
I think the changes happening in distribution models need to be approached with imagination and a sense of adventure. There is no going back to the old ways. Perhaps a combination of on-line and physical screenings is possible, even if that means the releases will have to happen parallel on all the platforms.
What projects do you have underway (including in the area of fiction film and other projects)?
Right now, all of the productions on our slate are documentaries, though we are interested in the possibility of working with hybrid or even fiction films. We have two films due to premiere later this year, The Scars of Ali Boulala, about a former pro-skateboarder who has to face his emotional demons head-on, and How to Save a Dead Friend, a story of using the film medium to try to save a loved one who is slipping through your fingers. We have several projects in early development where we are incorporating new elements into the production. Elevated, about a group of elevator enthusiasts on the autism spectrum will also include a VR-experience, and Don’t Make It Easy incorporates musical performances by contemporary artists to interpret the lost writings of the American folk singer, Karen Dalton. We have a number of international co-productions, including Motherland, about violence in the Belarusian army, and 8, about an unexpected friendship between a Serbian film student and a young Roma boy. We even managed to shoot an entire film during the corona pandemic. It is called My Funny Quarantine, though it turns out not to be funny at all. In it, an Italian director films his reality and records phone conversations with family and friends starting with the first days of lockdown. What starts out to be a story of the experiences of others soon turns into an analysis of himself and his personal relationships.
EMERGING PRODUCERS is a leading 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 2022 edition is 31 March 2021.
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