“It’s hard to calculate what the impact of online networking will be“
Industry Report: Documentary
Firat Sezgin • Producer, Institute of Time
Selected for the 2021 Emerging Producers, the Amsterdam-based producer discusses the role of documentary in the current society
Why do you produce documentaries? Do you understand documentary film as an instrument of social and political change?
Firat Sezgin: Before I decide on a project, I look to see whether I have a unique angle in telling the story. In other words: whether there is anyone else out there who has either the desire or access to the material. If the answer is no, the story most likely speaks to me personally. This immediately gives me an urge to share. I don’t calculate beforehand whether the story has a political or social impact, but it ends up being the case each time! Whether it exposes the daily life in a teaching hospital in Phases of Matter and consequently talks about the work conditions of healthcare workers in Turkey, or shows a man’s journey to become a weight champion in One of Those Creatures and hence talks about patriarchy, I believe it must be quite hard to make a documentary without intending to cause a stir or without calling for a change in society.
How do you deal with the current pandemic situation as a producer? What are your main concerns (or opportunities)?
I tried my best to turn the last year into an opportunity by focusing on applications and the related preparations for going into production. As an emerging producer, I was looking forward to so many of the industry events with my peers in Europe, but the situation forced us to work uniquely on Zoom. It’s hard to calculate what the impact of online networking will be, but it’s evident that it’s harder to build closer relationships. Therefore, my main concern is the feeling of isolation. I don’t know if it’s more psychological, but the fun part of making movies is to be together, learn from each other and share our work. When we don’t have that, the act of preparing and distributing a film only digitally feels all too strange.
What do you think is the future of the distribution of documentary films?
Like many other industries, film distribution went through an incredible change over the past year due to Covid. While all of us miss the smell of popcorn and the big screen, so many advantages of digital distribution popped up. I think the films that have impact objectives have unique chances for self-distribution. There are already some great case studies and healthy pipelines for all online self-distribution methods, like the webinar series by Digital Perspectives. I believe this is a time for producers to learn from these case studies and look at online self-distribution as a healthy alternative even after the epidemic. However, I have to say, there are still way too few success stories.
What projects do you have underway (including in the area of fiction film and other projects)?
We are in late development of One of Those Creatures a body-thriller documentary that explores the relationship between identity and body through the journey of a vulnerable man who feels the need to be manlier in a developing patriarchal country.
We’re also working on fiction film Soviet Jazzman based on the life of Vagif Mustafa-Zadeh, the father of Jazz mugham. The incredible musician will be played by his daughter Aziza Mustafa-Zadeh who is also a remarkable pianist. We’re currently searching for a scriptwriter from the ex-Soviet region.
There are also 3 amazing VR projects I am currently working on.
ARK, a speculative documentary essay told in VR. We have secured development funds from the Netherlands Film Fund and finishing our prototype this June. ARK is a VR installation for museums that talks about the history of VR and simulations in parallel with the history of climate change. The creators, Deniz Tortum and Kathryn Hamilton, are doing an amazing job with the research and we are able to work remotely on this project with no setbacks due to the epidemic.
Another project I’m producing is called CIRKIN, it is a story told using live theatre and VR based on the ancient folk tales from the Eurasian region. This is a difficult project that involves amazing writer/director Firuze Engin from Turkey and interdisciplinary theatre maker Arlon Luijten from the Netherlands. We are incredibly happy to have received a support of Istanbul Embassy of the Netherlands for this project. The project will be a co-creation between the two artists, and we will stage 2 different/native language experiences in both countries in early 2022.
Miracle Basket is a fun VR project that targets the younger generation and the educational system. We are working together with Abner Preis who won the Cinekid Award with his previous VR work. With this work and our educational toolkit, we hope to help teachers and educational centres talk about the climate crisis to kids without causing anxiety as this is a sensitive issue.
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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