The 2022 East Doc Platform was held from March 25th to 31st and featured a variety of screenings, panels, and classes for its participants. I attended these events as an intern, filming content for Instagram reels and the Institute’s archive.
The first day started off with the screening of The Filmmaker’s House, a piece illustrating the vibrant characters that entered and left the director, Mark Isaac’s, home. It’s a personal film about family, hospitality, and love that appeared to be an unassuming documentary but later revealed itself as a completely staged and scripted project. I loved it.
As I watched the film I realized that there are certain sounds that become a central part of our lives. The drip of a faucet. The annoying footsteps you can hear through the ceiling. The coughs from the smoker that lives next door. The use of second person perspective for the film also made for an immersive experience, allowing us direct access to the emotions of the person at the other end of the conversation.
I filmed Isaac’s lecture “The Art of Provocation” the next day, and when he began discussing his work the audience immediately grew louder. “It felt like I was just a puppet in a game!” one lady exclaimed. Issacs responded by telling her that the feelings the audience had felt were still real, and he had simply provoked real responses by manufacturing unexpected situations. Isaacs’ talk made me ask questions about the truth and reevaluate how accurate documentaries really are to our realities, making me realize that sometimes there’s a bigger, emotional truth that we all strive for.
In the evening there was a screening of the film 1970, a documentary representing protest stories of communist Poland. The director Tomasz Wolski used stop motion puppets to add an interesting twist to the format of typical archival films, allowing us to better imagine the meetings between communist officials that had deadly impacts on its civilians.
Sunday called for an early morning with a lecture by Mikael Opstrup called “Character Driven Documentary is the Only Art Form Beyond Control of the Creators.” In this session he shared that real life only has events, and it’s our responsibility as filmmakers and journalists to construct stories out of them. Documentaries are heavily based on the characters it portrays, and how well we communicate interesting storylines truly make or break a film.
There was also a dialogue between Tomasz Wolski and Anna Gawlita in the evening called “Be a Documentary Maker and Survive” where they showcased many of their previous projects. I thought it was impressive how different each of their films were because of the dynamic use of angles. For instance, their work about music had an extremely long shot that swept along the musicians whereas their piece about a small Polish town’s annual horse riding tradition featured many quick clips of rapid movement.
In relation to the screening of 1970 the previous evening, Wolski shared that a lot of archival footage was actually incomplete, either featuring only audio or video. He had taken the liberty to manufacture a lot of these incomplete pieces and create a cohesive film for the viewers. Someone from the audience jokingly called him a liar, to which Wolski agreed. Sometimes journalists have to become “liars” to better tell a story.
The fourth day was kicked off with a keynote from Esther van Messel called “Loving the Audience.” During her presentation she emphasized the importance of navigating life as story listeners and watchers, taking in all the details of the world around us. She also addressed the struggle of creators to walk the fine line between subversive and commercial content as well as the need for filmmakers to sell emotions in today’s industry. She ended her speech on a hopeful note, quoting Aristotle and stating that together we can create “a whole greater than the sum of its parts.”
Because of my class schedule, I was only able to attend one screening on Tuesday for the film This Rain Will Never Stop. This piece follows the journey of Andriy Suleyman from Ukraine to Germany to Iraq as he tries to decide where he should go. It uses dialogue sparingly and leaves a lot of unanswered questions, allowing audiences to draw conclusions themselves. It was a moving portrait of the grief that comes with war and migration. I especially liked the stylistic choice of black and white cinematography because it effectively highlighted light and darkness throughout the documentary. I think this piece is also incredibly relevant to the current Ukrainian situation as refugees move to unfamiliar places and try to carve out a new future for themselves. It definitely made me reflect on the contradictory treatment of Ukranian and Syrian refugees.
On Wednesday there was a case study on producing a series for Netflix by Davide Gambino, the producer of Vendetta: Truth, Lies and the Mafia. It was a rainy day and people trickled in slowly, but conversation flowed naturally with a genuinely interested audience. I think it’s amazing how big the streaming industry is becoming outside of the US and look forward to seeing how much it grows in the future. Gambino discussed taglines that helped his piece and shared that people like stories about celebrities, stories that are original, and stories that are glocal (both global and local at the same time).
The last day of EDP featured a series of presentations, and the one I attended was East Doc Interactive. The projects introduced during this segment explored the world of virtual reality as a method to directly incorporate audiences into stories.
In the evening The Earth is Blue as an Orange was screened in support of Ukraine, with all revenue going towards Ukranian filmmakers. The structure of the film and the close understanding we develop of the featured family created an intimate space where we could understand them on a human level. There’s a specific authenticity to real stories that makes fictional ones less appealing to me.
The week I spent attending the East Doc Platform will definitely be one of my favorite memories from Prague, as it reinforced my desire to create my own documentary films in the future! After being told in New York that I would just suffer as a documentary filmmaker, EDP really reminded me why people tell stories in the first place.
Cover photo: Štěpán Lohr
Video: Michal Švarc
[Edited on April 27]