“Producing documentaries is like living a hundred different lives”
Industry Report: Documentary
Borbála Csukás • Producer, Makabor Studio
The 2022 Emerging Producer from Hungary talks about the present and future challenges faced by documentary filmmakers
Why do you produce documentaries? Do you understand documentary film as an instrument of social and political change?
Borbála Csukás: I fell in love with producing documentaries because I believe it is a great way of discovering different perspectives. It’s a tool to understand the people and the world around us. In a way it’s living a hundred different lives. For me it is very important to find a true connection to the topic and also the person who wants to tell the story. I believe that all documentaries can be an instrument of social and political change. Even the most intimate, small, personal story can make a huge change, impact. Producing documentaries is also a very creative work, getting through different kinds of challenges day by day, keeps me awake all the time. I feel like I’m learning something new every day, about myself, about my work, about the world.
The pandemic had an impact on the entire sector. How did it influence your work as a producer? Have the projects that you work on changed?
The pandemic influenced my work profoundly. As a producer I believe in personal interactions, persuasion and living this “zoom life” is very difficult. We have finished and after a prolonged period we premiered Divas [+see also:
film profile], my latest feature length documentary, in Sarajevo Film Festival (available on HBO GO). Even though the festival was held on site there was a limit on the audience and the international industry stayed away from the festival, participating only at online events. This made the long-waited premiere different than expected.
Participating with our documentary in progress Narrow Path to Happiness, at Thessaloniki Film Festival was also a very different experience than it would normally have been. There were less people on site, most meetings were held online, there were no offline gatherings. This changed the possibilities of networking, which is a huge part of our producing work.
We also faced special difficulties when filming our documentary about Agnes Keleti, who is 100 years old. We were forced to apply different measurements all the time to protect her. She has spent decades of her life in Israel, and despite our original plan to take her back, it was out of question to travel with her during the pandemic. Under these circumstances even the story-telling needed more creativity, which can of course also be a trigger.
What do you think is the future of the distribution of documentary films?
Even with the boom of the streaming culture, I would like to believe that the future of documentary film will not be only online. I like to see the change that streaming platforms brought as something positive: more people watch documentaries.
But I still believe in cinema distribution and I think I’m not alone. The audience we have today, who goes to the cinema to watch documentaries on a big screen, will stay interested. I believe that it’s a great challenge for all of us, filmmakers, to always find new, alternative ways to bring our films to the audience. I also believe that film festivals have to take a bigger role in distributing documentaries outside of their festival week. They have to be active during the whole year. I know it is a financial question too, but this is in the interest of the whole industry to find targeted audiences throughout the whole year.
What projects do you have underway (including in the area of fiction film and other projects)?
I’m currently working on three projects. Two feature-length documentaries and a short-fiction. Narrow Path to Happiness is about Gergo and Lenard, a couple living in a remote Roma community where being gay is considered an unforgivable sin; and they have a dream so absurd that it seems impossible: making a musical film based on their lives.
Conquering Time is about Ágnes Keleti, a warrior, feminist, super-human: the world’s oldest living Olympic champion, the most decorated female Jewish Olympian of all times and Hungary’s most accomplished living athlete. Lost Fiancé is a short film set in the 80’s, based on a true story. I also just recently moved to Barcelona and joined the DocsBarcelona team, and I am super excited and motivated to work with them.
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 2023 edition is 31 March 2022.
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