Artur Liebhart • Director, Millennium Docs Against Gravity
“Since day one, we didn’t want to be just one more dot on the industry map; we wanted to invest mainly in audience development”
by Ola Salwa
- We talked to Artur Liebhart about this year’s edition of Millennium Docs Against Gravity, taking place across several cities in Poland
Cineuropa sat down with Artur Liebhart, director of Millennium Docs Against Gravity (MDAG), one of the biggest festivals in Poland, which focuses primarily on documentaries.
Cineuropa: How did the pandemic influence the programme of the 17th Millennium Docs Against Gravity? The festival usually takes place in May.
Artur Liebhart: We had already closed the programme in March, right before the country was “closed” by the coronavirus. Actually, two days before announcing the lockdown in Poland, we decided to move our festival to September. In our case, it was probably a bigger logistical challenge than in the case of other events — MDAG takes place in seven different cities in Poland. But all of our local partners were on board with our decision to postpone the festival.
Incidentally, the fact that we had more time to prepare the festival enriched our programme. Some of the films we wanted to book after Sundance were unavailable in March, but in the meantime, they found sales agents, who decided to have a Polish premiere at our festival. That is for example the case of The Painter and the Thief [+see also:
interview: Benjamin Ree
film profile] by Benjamin Ree and Spaceship Earth by Matt Wolf. Rebuilding Paradise directed by Ron Howard will also have its European premiere with us.
Your festival takes place in seven big Polish cities, but you also are distributing films in cinemas all year long and sell rights to them to Polish broadcasters. Why not focus on just one event?
The original idea for our festival was not to shut its door, so to speak, two weeks after the closing gala in Warsaw. We wanted to promote documentary films all year long, and in different ways too. In 2009, we spread MDAG from Warsaw to Wrocław, then other cities joines: Gdynia, Poznań, Bydgoszcz, Lublin and Katowice. There we present around 80 films, which is more than half of the Warsaw programme, but we also invite filmmakers there and organise discussion panels, while local authorities sponsor the awards. Every city presents documentaries from our main competition, which comprises 13 contenders this year, which means that every film has a chance to win more than one cash award. This makes our offer to film producers and distributors rich and varied.
But are they your main target?
Since day one, we didn’t want to be just one more dot on the industry map, we wanted to invest mainly in audience development. I know that some of my colleagues who are running other documentary festivals don’t believe, or at some point stopped believing, that building an audience is possible. We do, and we think that viewers are important for documentary films and their makers. This is why we invite so many artists from all over the world to Poland for Q&As or master class. With audience growth, the market for documentary films grows as well. We sold 100,000 tickets in 2019, which only proves my point.
How do you lure your audience in? There are many film, music and literary festivals in Poland. There is a huge competition.
After what I said, it may seem like we are just picking the best, most publicised films of the season, which is not all that we do. We try to get to know our audience really well and prepare a programme that will be interesting and relevant to them. Every two years, we make an in-depth analysis of our audience — this is how we learn how varied and diverse our programme must be to interest them. MDAG is attended by students and seniors, artists and engineers, high school students and professors, so our offer must be really broad. We say that our line-up this year ranges from Molesta to Krystian Lupa.
Molesta is a popular hip-hop band, Krystian Lupa is an arthouse theatre director.
Our audience is somewhere in the middle, so to speak. We are trying to reach them with extensive publicity — we are working with approximately 60 different NGOs, we promote our festival in as varied media outlets as the Polish edition of Vogue, general interest weeklies, film websites, national dailies, etc.
The theme of this year’s edition is “Tenderness to the world”. Can you explain its origins?
Every year we present around 150 films, and we are often asked if there is a main theme or if the films are connected in any way. We usually can’t answer that, since the films come from all over the globe and focus on different topics and issues. Some talk about politics, while others are intimate family dramas or focus on the art world. But they have one thing in common — they display tenderness towards their subjects and the world around them; the audience, who is willing to dedicate their time to watching these films, also does so out of tenderness. We took that expression from the Nobel prize acceptance speech of Polish writer Olga Tokarczuk.
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