Alisa in Warland
A candid, personal self-portrait by a young woman traveling through Ukraine after the outbreak of the revolution.
“The baton is being passed”, director and tutor Kim Longinotto concluded at the close of the IDFAcademy Summer School. Sixteen projects and their makers received intensive guidance from 3 to 8 July in Amsterdam.
The program was filled with masterclasses, one-on-one conversations, screenings with Q&A’s, as well as a bit of much-needed relaxation. The participants - directors, DoP’s, editors and producers - could lavish in the support of eight distinguished tutors: director Kim Longinotto, DoP Ed Lachman, sales agent Gitte Hansen, director/producer Tone Grøttjord-Glenne, director Walter Stokman and editors Ollie Huddleston, Jesper Osmund and Menno Boerema.
Kim Longinotto was at the Summer School for the first time. “It's great to experience. I’m not necessarily here to teach; it's more of an exchange. I have always remembered to not trust the advice of tutors - as my friend Nick Broomfield told me. In any case you have to filter all the advice you get and keep what’s good for you.”
One golden rule Longinotto applies herself is to make sure you find a good editor. She has been working with Ollie Huddleston for years, who is an experienced Summer School-tutor. “I met him 18 years ago and have worked with him on almost every film I made since. To find an editor who truly understands you, is very liberating. You are free to take risks and use your imagination.” Longinotto is excited to see a new generation filmmakers as committed and enthusiastic as she is. “The baton is being passed. In my case very clearly: I’m paired with filmmakers who are shooting a project in exactly the same region where I made Pink Saris. It’s a place where women’s rights are being violated on a daily basis - an issue which is dealt with in the project by Rintu Thomas en Sushmit Ghosh.”
This project is Writing with Fire, about a female journalist from the lowest caste in that particular region in the north of India. She’s trying to transform a printed newspaper into a digital news platform, while dealing with all kinds of personal, societal and professional struggles. Director Rintu Thomas is extremely happy with Longinotto’s tutorship. “As she already filmed in the same region, she understands the context of the issues. We could take our conversation to the next level straight away. We were talking about the rigidity of my own prejudices. And about getting our protagonist to live her life in front of the camera.”
Like Longinotto, cinematographer Ed Lachman made his debut at the Summer School. The high quality of the projects was a pleasant surprise. “We are dealing with accomplished directors and DoP’s. They know what they’re doing. It is just a matter of narrowing down the story or developments. I think I’m getting more out of this than they are. I see myself in who they are. At the same time I feel they’ve outgrown who I was when I was that young.” For Lachman it's important that cinematographers develop a strong relation with the subject and keep an open eye while filming. “And when you’re not filming you have to be a good observer of the world around you, too. This will broaden your horizon.”
Norwegian director Benjamin Ree and producer Kristoffer Kumar, with their project Crime Pays about an art thief, are taking all the advice to heart. Ree: “We wanted to learn about shooting observant scenes and we now know better how to move around in a space in order to take up as little room as possible.” The two Norwegians not only benefit from the specialists, but also from their fellow participants: “It was incredibly inspiring to see all the different, brilliant projects. It makes you think about the choices you made, and why you made them.”
Watching many different documentaries is part of the advice that first-time Summer School tutor and sales agent Gitte Hansen gives. “This here is an amazing opportunity for talented directors and editors. I am here to develop their business hearts and prepare them for the market. It's a fast-changing market, influenced for instance by the development of online storytelling. This changes existing ideas of set lengths and ways of financing.” When it comes to regular documentaries Hansen suggests that filmmakers travel and network a lot, make sure they're well-prepared and, when in a meeting, don't just talk but also listen carefully. Something she herself has applied at the Summer School. “I mainly ask questions, which lead to discussions and personal insights. About ethical matters, for instance. Why and how should you protect your protagonists?”
This question is something participants Gábor Hörcher (director) en Inez Mátis (producer) are dealing with in the making of The Emma Show, their project about a famous sex-chat couple who decide to quit their online career in an attempt to save their marriage. They return from the U.S. to Hungary to start their own studio. “We are a year and a half into production”, Hörcher tells us. The director almost made it to the Summer School in 2011, when his project Drifter was accepted, but he had to cancel at the last minute. The documentary later won the First Appearance Award at IDFA 2014. “We have been filming for a few months now, so it's the perfect moment for the Summer School. We can reflect on what we've done and think of which way we should take it. And we can discuss the delicate aspects of the film. Our two protagonists are very open, but Emma has had a lot of tough experiences. We're struggling with how far we can go in showing that and how much we need to protect and help her.”
Hörcher isn't the only participant with experience at IDFA. Director Alisa Kovalenko of new project Home Games was at IDFA last year with her debut Alisa in Warland. While Kovalenko could not make it to Amsterdam for the Summer School, her editor Olha Zhurba and producer Stephane Siohan make sure she attends the editing sessions with tutor Ollie Huddleston via Skype. Home Games is about 20-year-old soccer talent Alina, who has to decide whether or not to end her succesful sports career to take care of her family after her mother passes away.
Tutor Ollie Huddleston is an old hand at the Summer School by now. Kim Longinotto's regular editor says working with talented filmmakers is always inspiring. He looks at the participants more like colleagues than students - a modesty which is reflected in his attitude towards his work. “As an editor you need to put the film first, not your ego. At every turn you should wonder whether something is important to the film and its characters. Aside from that, you should trust yourself and your instincts. That's how you know when something is finished.”
“Ollie helped us clarify the storyline”, Zhurba says. “And he helped develop the second protagonist of the film. That's often difficult, because with two storylines you have to keep them distinct while also interweaving them.” An extra challenge was bringing that second character, Alina's deceased mother, to life on film. “We didn't film her”, producer Siohan says. “But now we're working on creating an image of her through photographs and the stories people in teh film tell about her.”
Their sessions with Huddleston helped them with that, as well as garnering many more insights. Zhurba: “One of the most important questions he asked was: ‘where in the film are the moments of truth?’ Those are the moments where you come closest to the real story.” Siohan: “When we were looking at the raw footage he also found some hidden treasures which we had dismissed because we didn't think they were strong enough. That was very valuable.”
Photos: Nichon Glerum