“I see a huge demand for authentic and simple stories”
Industry Report: Documentary
Zora Jaurová • Producer, MPhilms
The Slovakian producer chats about why she works on documentaries and what are her main concerns about the current industry
Cineuropa: Why do you produce documentaries? Do you understand documentary film as an instrument of social and political change?
Zora Jaurová: I produce films I find important and inspiring from the creative point of view, evolving from collaboration with people who inspire me on various levels. And with this approach I don’t really see any clear dividing line between documentaries and features, so I produce both. What I find interesting is how the hyperreality and continuous theatricalisation of public life creates the need for “simple reality” seen on screen instead of magic and intricate film reality. This is a shift one could see also in other artistic forms (e.g. documentary theatre) and is further fueled by postfactual erosion of the concept of truth. If we don’t believe in factual truth anymore, is there in fact any difference between documentaries and fiction films?
So, if it comes to the capacity of contemporary filmmaking for social and political change – this is where our opportunity always lay and now seems to be even more prominent – while “facts” are not credible anymore, stories are the only way how to speak about the world.
How do you deal with the current pandemic situation as a producer? What are your main concerns (or opportunities)?
We were lucky to shoot a major part of a quite large international production (Power, a co-production between Slovakia, Hungary and Czech Republic, directed by Mátyás Prikler) just before the pandemic hit Europe, and the first months in lockdown were good for sorting the material and editing. However, we are now struggling to finish the last few days we need to shoot; just a week ago we had to cancel the shooting in the last minute, since one of the leading actors was tested positive for Covid.
The cruel effect of the pandemic is seen especially in film distribution– our feature documentary Paradise on Earth [+see also:
film profile] (directed by Jaro Vojtek), which was premiered at the Ji.hlava IDFF 2019, had the cinema release cancelled twice as a result of pandemic measures, not to mention a festival release.
Of course, we work on the development of several new projects and try to get the best out of this pandemic time rupture, but what is probably most difficult is the uncertainty and not enough light at the end of the Covid tunnel.
What do you think is the future of the distribution of documentary films?
As I’ve already said, in a world full of constructed and dramatized hyperreality and amidst a flood of user-generated content I see a huge demand for authentic and simple stories, and tranquil observation. So I am not afraid about the lack of demand for good documentaries.
If it comes to distribution, it is hard to give an accurate forecast of its future now, we can only see certain trends. It is quite clear that people will not return to cinemas and visit big events such as festivals or large screenings any time soon. And it is very likely that we will never return to the same way of consuming films as we did before the pandemics. The gradual shift of capital in the film industry from traditional large film studios to streaming and pay-TV services such as Netflix and HBO had been evident even before the pandemic, which only accelerated this process. The good news is that documentaries are very popular on such digital platforms. The dark side of it is the entire problem of new digital monopoly capitalism, which needs to be regulated in a way we have not fully invented yet.
Personally, I think that the physical experience of watching a film together on the big screen will still be interesting, but the dominance in audiovisual content distribution has already shifted online. Cinema experience will, on the one hand, move towards technological upgrades by adding new technologies (such as virtual reality), on the other hand, it will remain an exclusive vintage experience (just as people buy vinyl records again today). And each of these directions concerns a different type of cinema.
Nevertheless, the future of cinema ultimately depends – as always – on whether it has something to say and whether it can materialize and reveal the secrets of human existence even in the endless flood of audiovisual content. And I strongly believe that we – filmmakers – are still capable of doing so.
What projects do you have underway (including in the area of fiction film and other projects)?
We are finishing political thriller-drama Power, directed by my partner producer Mátyás Prikler. I am quite fascinated by how the slightly dystopian character of this moral dilemma story, conceived and shot before the pandemic, adds new layers of meaning with pandemic events. In a couple of weeks, the project will participate in First Cut Lab and we hope it will be ready for cinemas by the end of this year.
I am also working on the development of Kid – first feature by young and talented Slovak film director Gregor Valentovič – a coming-of-age portrait of the generation born in 1990s with a specific Central European twist.
And I also have to mention a quite ambitious project we are developing with documentary film director Peter Kerekes – his first feature Marathon is the story of 20th century Central Europe told on the backdrop of adventures of a man with two left legs and through the history of the Košice Marathon.
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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