Nick Cunningham talks to programmer Jasper Hokken about IDFA 2018’s experiment with screening series.
IDFA 2018’s inaugural Serialized program ranges from two marathon screenings of entire TV series (Steve James’ America to Me and Matthew Heinemann’s The Trade) to a brace of blitz-style web series comprising numerous episodes compressed into a screening of no longer than an hour’s duration (Bruno Masi’s The Barricade and Leonard Cohen’s Flavours of Iraq). A work-in-progress about putting on a doc fest in the bucolic French countryside (The Village by noted filmmaker Claire Simon) completes the program.
Serialized was devised as an experiment by the festival partly to meet general audience and filmmaker demand but also (finally) to give a home to the series form, which had previously been dispersed throughout other sections. “Documentary series have been booming over the past couple of years. They are all around us and part of our daily life through platforms like Netflix or HBO or even online,” points out program curator Jasper Hokken. “At IDFA over the past couple of years, we have been discussing not if we should present them, but how we should present them.”
The matter was settled this year after IDFA programmers saw Steve James’ 623-minute America to Me at Sundance, and selected it on the spot. The film exposes the radically different standards of education available to students of different ethnic origins in the US. Matthew Heinemann’s The Trade (262 mins) is a five-part miniseries that offers a nuanced and unsettling glimpse into the heroin production/distribution/consumption cycle. Meanwhile the 50-minute Flavours of Iraq, selected for IDFA DocLab Competition for Digital Storytelling as well as for Humanoid Cookbook, comprises 20 sensuous animated films that portray the life, family, and homeland of an Iraqi-French journalist. The Barricade (51 minutes) offers 20 max. 3-minute accounts of the most violent days of protest in Paris 1968.
“The Barricade was originally released through Twitter 50 years after the protests, hour by hour as live coverage of the events happened that day, and told from two different imagined perspectives,” explains Hokken. “We are going to present it on computers at the Ketelhuis, but we decided to show it in cinemas as well so we could invite the filmmakers to discuss the series with our audiences.”
Serialized will screen the first four episodes of Claire Simon’s work-in-progress The Village, about the agrarian/cultural ups and downs in the Ardèchois village of Lussas, a most unlikely setting for a major doc festival. “This is really an exclusive avant-premiere of the series,” Hokken affirms.
Two industry sessions on November 21 will delve more deeply into the Serialized offer. The first will analyse the production/finance of The Barricade and Flavours of Iraq and why the filmmakers chose online for their distribution; in the second, Steve James and Claire Simon will discuss and explain the creative processes behind their series and why they chose this particularly long form.
“I think audiences will leave IDFA with the knowledge that the quality of these series is really high, that the stories are really engaging and that it makes sense for some of these stories to be told this way, instead of in the more conventional 90 minutes,” Hokken concludes.