East Silver’s annual industry breakfasts during the last weekend of Jihlava IDFF provides a platform for filmmakers, funds, producers and distributors to offer insight into their documentary practices and present their newest projects and initiatives, highlighting opportunities for East European filmmakers. Participants of this year’s French, German and Finnish breakfasts shared the honest truth to Doc.Revue about their facts and figures. And what surfaces is a clearer perception of the East European reality when seeking co-productions with the West.
Although producer Benoit Gryspreerdt of French Cuisine Productions has collaborated with several French production companies on over a dozen co-productions thus far, none of them have been from the Eastern European region, but rather from the United States, Brazil, Germany, South-Africa and the UK. “I have a personal taste and bound with South Africa,” he says, “A country that has undergone major changes in the last few years is an interesting region – with a reservoir of new talents that need recognition. The same likely applies to East European countries.” Although Gryspreerdt has not yet tackled the region, his interest has indeed been ignited by his Eurodoc network connections, through which he has met several Eastern European producers and directors. “And should the opportunity to work with them arise,” he says “I’d take it with no doubt.”
Producer Cécile Lestrade, a new member to Alter Ego Productions, said she joined the team specifically to develop co-productions, with already Italian and Portuguese collaborations to her credit. East European countries still remain the untouched territory according to Lestrade, but the incentive to co-produce definitely exists among the French. Gabriel Chabanier of Galatica Group, a new producing collective that includes ten pre-existing French companies, has co-produced with Portugal, Germany and Luxembourg, and says practicalities like subject matter, team members, funds and facilities are the determining factors when selecting countries with whom to co-produce.
Turning to cooperating film funds in France, all East Silver delegates suggested the Centre National de la Cinématographie (CNC) as the leading organization. Others mentioned were Procirep (Society for Producers of Cinema and Television), SCAM (author association), and the Ministries of Social Affairs and Culture. Naturally, all funds are specific to regions and topics, but as Benoit Gryspreerdt advised, often the rules and regulations are more flexible when it comes to documentaries.
Making the top of the list for reputable documentary distributors in France are Catherine Le Clef of Cat&DOCS, Andana Films, 10 Francs, Marathon, Terranoa (Gédéon), INA, FRTV Distribution, ARTE, and TF1 Video. Cécile Lestrade adds that “most distributors of feature films can be interested in distributing documentaries as well.” Producer Marie Clemence Paes of Laterit Productions, however, cautions that distributors are often not specific to countries or regions, but rather more focused on authors.
When looking to broadcasters, filmmakers should be aware of the major networks: France Télévisions (includes France 2, 3, 4 and 5), Canal Plus and ARTE. Of course, dealing with French networks is always easier when a French producer is tied to the project – for Eastern Europeans, the best bet is to develop this relationship straight from the pre-production phase. Standards are also important to consider when seeking broadcast. In France, it’s necessary to dub every broadcasted documentary film. Subject matter is also esoteric to each network, along with proposal presentation and artistic approach. Marie Clemence Paes sees a distinct departure from culture, art and philosophy, as tabloid topics are infiltrating the cable channels. In the face of mounting commissioned programs, Paes urges personal films with strong original insights.
Co-producing is just as prominent in Germany as in France, but as the straight facts were gathered from our East Silver producers, it looks like co-productions between Germany and Eastern Europe countries are slightly more common. Countries such as Spain, Norway, Finland, Denmark, Sweden, The Netherlands, Belgium Austria, Switzerland, Canada, the United States, Ireland, UK, and France often surface as co-producing allies on a more regular basis, but German producer Christian Beetz, of the Berlin-based Gebrüder Beetz Filmproduktion, offers a more positive statistic however, with over 9 current co-productions-partners from Eastern Europe. Heino Deckert of Deckert Distribution has co-produced with both Poland and the Czech Republic, but admits that, due to the language factor, his interests lay with Austria and Switzerland. His experiences in Eastern Europe are favorable, however, because of “good stories and low prices,” though he admits that sometimes a lack of experience can create a challenge. Stefan Kloos, of the world sales and distribution company, Rise and Shine, and CEO and producer of Kloos & Co., co-produced with Endorfilm in Prague on the German-Czech co-production series, Breathless (premiering during Jihlava IDFF) and reflects upon it as a “very nice and constructive experience.”
Funding, of course, is always a bit tricky in every circumstance. Both Deckert and Beetz have experience with almost all of the fifteen funding institutes in Germany, including the national funds like BKM (Commission of Culture and Media) and the German Federal Film Board (FFA), who focus on theatrical release, as well as the regional funds such as Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg and NRW Filmstiftung.
Deckert Distribution, Rise and Shine and First Hand Films are recognized as Germany’s esteemed distribution companies keen on distributing Eastern European content, but according to Deckert, German broadcasters such as ARD (and its regional stations WDR, RBB, MDR, SWR, BR), 3SAT, ARTE and ZDF can still be considered the major distributors of documentary. For Eastern European filmmakers, the same international guidelines apply when considering a broadcaster’s preferences – primetime series, suitable slots for topic-specific content, and distinct authors. There’s no secret code to deciphering a commissioning editor’s choices, but the best advice our East Silver delegates can agree upon is to liaison with a German independent co-production partner to better understand the formalities and tactics of funding, broadcast and distribution.
Producer Katariina Lillqvist of Camera Cagliostro established her company over 10 years ago and since then has produced 12 international co-operations in the fields of documentaries, animations and radio features. Her future plan is to build new partners from Hungary, Poland, Bulgaria, Romania and Germany, as well as from Russia and Canada. Lillqvist’s interest in the East stems from her company’s experience shooting a doc series about Roma communities which, she admits, was a troublesome experience when trying to co-produce with Czech TV – the biggest problem being the transparency of the projects and wages. On the positive side, Lillqvist congratulates the quality and historical traditions of the Czech film industry. According to her experience, working with animators, post-productions teams for sound and special effects, as well as archival resources was always an extremely rewarding collaboration.
Of the Eastern region, filmmaker Jari Kokko of Karlik Films has only co-produced with partners in St. Petersberg, Russia, with whom they currently have a couple of projects in the works, due their very reliable contacts. “Once we found the right partners, we had the opportunity and pleasure to work with highly motivated professionals,” he says. “Anything is possible, once you find the right people.” On the other hand, Kokko feels that many producers might consider a co-production with an Eastern company to be a one- way street, simply meaning that money goes into the East but nothing comes back.
Markku Niska’s production company Navy Blue Bird is a relatively new company that has not yet co-produced with the Eastern region. His interest lies primarily in the Nordic countries, however, because of cultural and legal similarities, and due to the Nordic Film and Television Fund. If the co-producing benefits on both sides of the partnership are greater than the extra hassle that goes into co-producing, Nisku assures that he would be quite open to other countries outside his region.
The Finnish national film funds are AVEK (promotional center for audiovisual culture) and the Finnish Film Foundation, which aids the Media Help Desk. Regional art councils and cultural funds also provide minor supports, for example, the Central Commission of Arts and State Film Art Commission.
Nisku observes a recent increase in feature length documentaries that have been picked up by the major theatrical distributors in the country, such as Finnkino, FS Film (a quasi joint venture of Svensk Filmindustri and 20th Century Fox) and Sandrew Metronome, which also represents Warner Bros. Nordisk Film is also a big player in Finland, but unfortunately is not so eager on documentaries. As Nisku sees it, Finnish producers are recently feeling the pressure to achieve theatrical distribution for their films, which is naturally encouraged by the fact that an influx of digital cinemas are emerging, drastically lowering the print cost.
Local TV sales are handled directly between networks and the production companies, with no interference between distributors or sales agents. The Finnish Broadcasting Company YLE is the leading network in Finland; along with TV1, TV2, and the Swedish-speaking channel FST. In terms of local commercial channels, our Finnish producers heed a warning – such networks rarely have the interest to invest in serious documentaries and often loosely misuse the term ‘documentary’ in their programming.
For Eastern Europeans looking to Finland for co-productions, one must remember that such factors as dubbing and subject limitations are not to be considered a deal-breaker. In truth, Finnish commissioning editors and buyers seek pure quality, and that can be said of almost any country, east or west, that proposes an international co-production.