Jan Gogola Jr. (JG): So, Andrea and Filip, welcome to pitching, actually post-pitching. As the main focus of this interview will be the history of the Institute of Documentary Film (IDF), which, thanks to you, saw the light of day around the world twenty years ago. I hope that you will approach the interview in a focused and convincing way, so that you will stimulate readers (especially people from the film industry) to start or continue cooperating with you. I suppose that, as pitching matadors, you should succeed and be able to generalize specifics that, through the prism of local specificity, can achieve a universal message. The method of my moderation comes from the manual I created just twenty years ago, when I started in dramaturgy and teaching, as a starting point for writing literary pitches for film: what - theme; how - form; why - personal and social motivations for making the film; structure - from where, through what, to where; who, when, where - characters, time, places of the film; concretization of content; example of a shot.
JG: Let's start with the "what", which is naturally linked to the title of the film or, in your case, the name of the institution.
Andrea Prenghyová (AP): Opposite our first office on Rytířská street in the center of Prague there was a company that did casting. The ladies who were there were queuing up to our window and knocking on our door to see if we had coffee.
Filip Remunda (FR): It was called Hollywood Studio, and it intrigued me how someone who was probably involved in pornography, didn’t hesitate to give himself such a lofty title.
AP: We had a wonderful rental, but it was bitterly cold in the winter and bitterly hot in the summer, so much so that Filip and I both got heatstroke. Someone gave us an old computer that we used to churn out the grants, and we were figuring out what we were going to call ourselves. Filip said it had to be something big. Let's call it the Institute!
FR: I said, when we start, it shouldn‘t look like a school organization or a club.
AP: No amateurs!
FR: That it must command respect and have a credible name right from the start. And that it has to have a „golden“ stamp, which we did illegally, so that it had an institutional character.
AP: Only state institutions could have „golden“ stamps! But in the stamp shop I convinced them to make the stamp, even though they weren't allowed to.
FR: We were two film school students and I was afraid that nobody would take us seriously. We were credible, of course, but we needed to convince the rest of the world of that.
AP: And it was quite successful. One participant, I think Lithuanian, later told us, "Look, I was in Prague. I was looking for the building of your Institute in Rytířská street, and I didn't find it." So obviously the name worked. When you talk about institutes, people immediately think of a big building.
FR: I was hoping from the beginning that it would really grow into this institute that would represent documentary filmmakers. I’m not sure if it turned out that way. I was brought up in a way that you're not supposed to brag, but when we have Honza here judging the pitching, I need to say that, on a European level, the Institute of Documentary Film (IDF) is a well-known organization that has made a couple of films.
JG: Well, watch out! That has yet to come out of this pitching. But do you still use that stamp?
FR: We do.
JG: So, the 20-year existence of the IDF is illegal?
FR: No. The existence of the IDF is legal. We have all our papers in order, but if the stamp was looked at by investigating authorities, they would tell us to change its material a little.
JG: Well, I hope that with this pitching on the birthday of the IDF we won’t expose you. Otherwise, we have touched here on the ambivalence of what we consider a documentary. On the one hand, pornography is like something literal, while on the other hand, the unique stamp as an expression of the author's transformation of reality. Let us now go from the name to a formation of the objectives. What were the objectives with which you founded the IDF?
AP: I was angry that you couldn't make films here. At that time, I only got support for my film from television and the Czech Film Fund, and still it came to ten shooting days and fourteen days in the TV editing room. So, I realized that it was impossible to make good films under this system.
JG: So, the issue was setting up an infrastructure for documentary filmmaking?
AP: We originally and naively thought that we would bring western money here and that the films made here would make everyone sit up and take notice. So, we started with a pitching forum, and four brave people from European television stations came to Jihlava in the terribly foggy and cold winter. However, after three months, our filmmakers said that none of the producers got back to them. We realized that organizing pitching forums is not enough and we have to go one step further.
FR: At that time, Vít Klusák and I got the staggering amount of one million crowns from the Czech Cinematography Fund for our film Czech Dream, with the condition that the Fund would only provide half of the budget. At that time, the only option was Czech Television with its Kafkaesque structure, and where we didn't know to whom we should talk. Andrea told me that there were organizations in the West that were looking for partners to make films, and that we could bring a new infrastructure to the Czech Republic. Honza often says that would weaken the monopoly of Czech Television and offer alternative ways. Then I discovered the European Documentary Network, a European organization that has been connecting authors, producers, and people from TV for a long time through pitching forums. At that moment, a fog seemed to clear in front of me, and I realized that the true objective of IDF could be linking Western and Eastern documentaries.
JG: So, from your words, the objective of IDF could be defined as a meeting of imagination and a background in production?
FR: I see such a definition as misleading. In the early days of the IDF it was mainly referenced that way in the Czech Republic, as if it was supposed to be a meeting of independent filmmakers with wealthy western producers, but that structure would intellectually threaten the films. From the very beginning, I saw it as an opportunity for authors and film and television producers to meet and get to know each other, and to create a kind of map of contacts, connections and relationships that could enable long-term international cooperation. The European Documentary Network didn’t have „Network“ in its name by chance, but because they were really creating the network between authors, producers, funds, broadcasters, festivals and industry sections. EDN has unfortunately disappeared, but I believe that the IDF has continued to build on its activities.
AP: EDN helped us a lot at the beginning. We learned from them.
FR: …Led by its founder and then chairman Tue Steen Müller.
AP: We borrowed a car at that time and went to Italy to convince the representatives of the European documentary film scene to start working with us.
FR: And again, it was a bit illegal because Andrea borrowed the car from a friend who got it to produce a feature film. In Italy, we slept in sleeping bags in the garden of an abandoned villa at the sea. There we met Paul Powels, Tue Steen Muller and Stefan Tealdi, the people from the European Documentary Network, who were waiting for us and willing to meet us. They gave us the strength to start because they said they would get other people to listen to us and give us advice.
AP: I think we had good energy. They were impressed by our enthusiasm and the fact that we drove over a thousand miles to see them. We weren't crazy, we just had a certain idea of what we wanted.
FR: Well, at the same time they knew that there was some particular quality in Eastern European films, especially thanks to the reputation of the Czech New Wave. Although Paul Pauwels remarked that it was only at a pitching session, not long before we met, that he discovered that even contemporary Eastern European films could be comprehensible. At the time he told us: "I had a preconception from school that in an Eastern European film, there's a white horse running on the horizon, pathetic music playing, and the shot has to be at least two and a half minutes long."
AP: But there really were films like that back then.
FR: But on the other hand, Andrea, we also have to stick to our way of storytelling, so that we don't just mimic Western films. That's one of the tasks of the IDF, to protect our film language and our integrity, to make something that comes from us.
JG: Now I would move on to the point of "form - genre, method, style". Have you conceived of IDF as theatre, performance, happening or film? Did you build with institutional materialism or with participatory creativity?
FR: It was participatory creativity: on the one hand, a terrible bureaucracy that we had to navigate by ourselves; on the other, a wild improvisation that could be compared to theatre.
AP: It was an experience underscored by very hard work. We were based on the third floor, and when I was catching my breath on the second floor it was still ok, but when I was panting on the first floor, I knew I was overworked. I was twenty-seven back then. We had to learn domestic and European administration rules. There were audits, finance planning, production, and networking. Big relief came only when producer Tereza Horská joined us. I, myself, had worked in an advertising agency before, including accounting. I had a lot of experience, but we still had to learn everything on the fly and, most importantly, create a network of contacts, which we're still building on today.
FR: We were setting up a database, which is a common thing nowadays, and even though Google can find everyone for you, we still had to catalogue all the contacts using one of the first Microsoft Excel iterations, which could only filter by country, city, and profession. We then turned that into a website called dokweb.net - Doc Internet at that time. For example, we provided a service where you could look for a possible collaborator in Serbia or Belarus.
JG: Now we come to the "why". What was your personal motivation for doing this and what did you see as IDF's potential to reach out to Czech and foreign professional communities?
AP: We are the 1980s generation, the years when we took to the streets and risked a lot as students. But it worked out in the end, and we participated in the downfall of the whole system. When that happens to you at seventeen and you win that big battle, you get tremendous life energy, and you believe that you can change things. So, we wanted to change the documentary system, too, so that if it doesn't work for Czech TV, give up on that and try to do things differently. From the beginning, we didn't want to focus only on the Czech Republic.
FR: Czech TV didn't react at all. It also happened that, once, after many attempts and interventions by the senior teachers at FAMU, Czech TV allowed us to show a film in their production group. The most important person fell asleep at the beginning of the screening, and woke up at the end, saying they would call us. It was a time when people saw documentaries as newsreels. It was also about emancipating the genre and establishing it in the public space. I remember that Andrea and I didn't doubt ourselves at all, and we were very encouraged that people from Denmark, Belgium, and Holland, for example, took us seriously, gave us their time, their opinions, their ideas, and their international perspective.
AP: Back in the 1990s, we didn't have a single teacher from abroad at FAMU. So, talking to people from another part of Europe about films and how they perceive Central European film was all that more stimulating.
JG: Could the experience of a common enemy before ‘89 also have given rise to a capacity for generational or communal sharing and belonging? In your case, in the context of documentary film?
AP: Yes. The generation that participated in the end of one system wanted to participate in the creation of a new system.
FR: I couldn't imagine this togetherness at the beginning. Today, Jaromir Jagr talks about a hockey family, and today I could also say I have a documentary family. Back then we used the term documentary polis. In my case, it first became fully manifested thanks to my relationships with colleagues from Slovakia, who came to us through the spiritus agens of Slovak documentarist Braňo Hochel during the Three Days documentary festival. From these initially fleeting meetings, we formed personal and creative friendships, co-directions with Robo Kirchhoff, and collaborations with editor Janka Vlčková or director and editor Marek Šulík. I gradually began to experience the same with colleagues from Poland, the Ukraine, the Balkans, and other countries. In various European countries, I have someone to call. These people actively help me, and, in this sense, it makes the life of a filmmaker much easier. These people have often worked together for a second decade without the additional impetus of IDF.
AP: Back then, it wasn't normal for films to travel. EDN, then IDF, helped a lot. Television networks didn't need to broadcast foreign documentaries, but EDN found people in European TVs who were interested in international documentaries. They sort of educated them by teaching them to defend the international context to their bosses. That's how the European documentary co-production system started. We wanted to involve Eastern Europe, too. The filmmakers had to understand that if the film was going to run in Poland, then it had to be edited differently. In the West, it is common to accommodate different filmmaking attitudes.
JG: And now to the "concretization" or the actual content of IDF activities.
FR: In the beginning, the backbone was the pitching forum, which we organized for the first time in 2001 in Jihlava. In addition to that, we built a VHS video library with films in an excel database, which we handed out to interested film professionals. Then we organized a training session where people from TV Arte met with representatives of Eastern European TV stations at Czech TV. Then we developed Ex Oriente Film, a year-long workshop that continues to this day, with world-class directors, producers, lecturers, cinematographers, editors, and artists.
AP: We also set up a website on Eastern European documentary with contacts to festivals, institutions, and filmmakers, after which Filip came up with a distribution project.
FR: It's called East Silver Caravan, and it connects filmmakers with festivals and with agents, and it has a dramaturgical board that selects about ten films every year. We send them to the festivals, and we also play the role of distributor.
AP: Well, today IDF distributes films directly to the audience.
FR: The KineDok distribution project is inspired by an Israeli filmmaker who encouraged us to start screening films ourselves. He published a little manifesto, which I think was called From Basements to Attics! KineDok is an alternative distribution channel. It goes to different communities and public spaces: music clubs, elderly homes, libraries, high schools, universities, and of course, those basements and attics... The whole program is also available online.
JG: How many films have been made as part of the Ex Oriente Film workshop?
FR: Probably over two hundred. I'll add an interjection about how people misunderstand the name “Ex Oriente Film” as an effort of the former (ex) East to become the West. But, on the contrary, the title is a manifestation of Eastern pride. It is a paraphrase of the title of the famous Latin saying Ex Oriente Lux, i.e., the Light of the World comes from the East, that our films come from the East, and have histories and traditions that can illuminate any audience with their light.
JG: Another point in the manual is the "who", which refers to the actors of IDF. The main ones for many years were you two. Why did Andrea leave IDF ten years ago?
AP: I went on maternity leave, and when I came back, we found that our ideas about the future of the IDF were different. Filip and I were at a standoff.
JG: Well, finally a conflict. It could have come a little earlier in terms of the narrative, but it's more rewarding for the readers who stayed with us. Was the conflict personal or conceptual?
FR: Over time, there was a problem with Andrea's professed authoritarian management style and my team management style. I left first. I returned to the IDF at the time Andrea decided to leave again.
JG: Is it possible to say, Andrea, that it was a conflict between the network structure and the strong-arm government?
AP: Filip had good ideas, but many times they were unrealistic in terms of personnel and finances. For example, he wanted to do a showcase of films translated into five languages, but we were not able to agree on a compromise, on the fact that we had to stick to Czech with English because of the lack of people and funding. I didn't want to stay in a permanent conflict. I had two small children, so I said to myself, “you have to move on”. I also took the whole thing as an opportunity to move on.
FR: I have a different opinion than Andrea about the reasons for the break-up. In that particular case, it was about supporting our linguistic territories, so that everything wasn't just in globalized English. Today it is instrumental for me that Andrea and I are happy to see each other. I am happy that she was able to build and run a successful dok.incubator project where she is her own boss. I am also happy that IDF was able to build a new team and that our projects are developing.
JG: Well, for the next time it would be good to pause on the conflict and explain it better, as many times it is what is hidden that is more exciting. Maybe Andrea could say a few words about the dok. incubator.
AP: I started the dok.incubator as a workshop with a focus on editing because I felt that many finished films were actually unfinished, that they didn't get the most out of the material. Filmmakers sometimes dedicate years to a film, and then they get tired and often finish their films poorly under the pressure of the deadlines. In addition, there are many workshops to help develop films, but paradoxically, none for making or finishing films. The point is to help the filmmakers who are in the middle of a complicated creative process. They need to clarify what they actually want to say with their film and to whom they want to say it. Additionally, those people need to be found and made to listen, which is basically marketing and distribution. At the time, it was very innovative to combine the editing of the film with the development of the whole project, and to include the whole team, all the professions in our workshop. Personally, I also needed to be directly involved in the making of the films again, not sitting over papers or some samples, but over the films in the editing room.
JG: Did you use the IDF experience in dok.incubator?
AP: Of course. In the IDF I experienced all the stages of filmmaking - from concept to premiere to distribution. In retrospect, it seems to me that if filmmakers had decided to go back to their initial ideas in the editing room, it would have done those films good. Nowadays, I would also run IDF more practically because the filmmakers often only become aware of the content through the material. I would motivate filmmakers to shoot rather than write.
JG: So, you think that literary background is a waste of time?
AP: No, it depends on the nature of the author. I think it's a virtue for a director to learn to write. It helps them sort out their thoughts, but I think for some people it’s much better to shoot a trailer.
JG: Going back to the IDF and the Ex Oriente Film, could you give a specific example of one of those films that you think are important and different than the others?
AP: In retrospect, even more than the workshop films themselves, it was important to help build up producers, such as Martichka Bozhilova or Siniša Juričić, who have influenced the documentary atmosphere in their countries.
FR: Martichka founded the Balkan Documentary Center (BDC), bringing together filmmakers from Turkey to Slovenia, and they created a huge industry section at the Sarajevo festival. What was crucial at the time is that many people who came to us were inspired and then set up organizations similar to IDF or events in their countries, not only Martichka in Bulgaria, but also Petra Seliskar in Macedonia, or our friends from the Krakow Festival in Poland, or DocuDays in Ukraine. We brought together a lot of creative people from across Eastern Europe who went back to their countries and helped to set up grassroots film institutions and organizations.
JG: And can you name any of their important films?
AP: Speaking of Martichka, I'd say Georgi and the Butterflies.
FR: This is one of our first successful films. Director Andrey Paounov and producer Martichka Bozhilova made a poetic, humorous film. It is an allegory of the capitalism that has reformed Bulgarian society: the story of a “madhouse” to which the state has stopped contributing, and whose director invents the craziest businesses, including silk production and snail harvesting, in order to save the institution. For example, he had a snail farm and tried to sell French snails to Bulgarians. The film's presentation made the audience laugh so much at the IDFA pitching that the authors immediately raised the money for it at the roundtable meetings. And it ended up airing on a number of European TV stations that probably wouldn't have gone for it initially because they found the grotesque subject matter to detailed and the form too arty.
But it's important to add that we don't tell the writers in the workshop how to film, we try to inspire them. We also introduce them to personalities outside the context of the film. So, the conceptual artist, Kateřina Šedá, shocked our filmmakers by saying that she spends up to a year on research for her projects. It was in Split where a workshop was held and local filmmakers came up with the idea of people bathing in the sea in their city, while a short distance away, terrible poisons were being released into the water. Kateřina read the topic, thought about it and came up with the idea of going to all 300 houses in the bay and asking if she could stay the night. "Ninety percent of the people would throw me out, but the other ten percent would let me in. So, I'd go there for six months and spend thirty nights with those people aware of the problem. When you wake up and have breakfast with someone, they'll tell you something different than when you just walk in the door," Šedá added, demonstrating that even the so-called documentary requires a long-term and creative approach in order to not become like any other film.
JG: What do you think about the fact that the Western space still views the Eastern European one primarily as a kind of post-communist open-air museum of dramatic, existential, or grotesque bizarreness and curiosities laden with visible and mental entropy, and that this is reflected in the prevailing demand for this type of film.
AP: Let Filip answer first because I'm much more radical about this.
FR: I'm curious to hear what you have to say. I discovered something when I inadvertently overheard a conversation at a cinema festival between two professionals from Western television who were talking about how Eastern films are “ratings killers” or that nobody watches them. It made me mad. Then I tried to look at it from their point of view, like they are responsible for some TV stations, and they do not want to promote (our) films in which nobody is interested. It was an intense experience that, although it made me sad, in hindsight, it energized me again to continue those IDF meetings and to insist that it's not just the subject, characters and setting that define a film, but also the form. The internet is full of information, but a lot of documentary films are on the intellectual level of novels with universal narrative values.
AP: I don't think in East-West terms anymore. We should be more confident. The border between Eastern and Western Europe was there in the past, but that was thirty years ago, so why go back to it. Salaries in the Czech Republic are at the same level as in Italy, for example, so times are changing. I think we are already somewhere else.
FR: But Andrea, even if we don't want to think about the Iron Curtain, the difference still exists, which I am aware of based on my 20 years of international documentary experience.
AP: Yes, but there are differences between Spain and Germany, for example. I've moved to the point where I don't distinguish anymore whether a given film is from Poland or France, and we don't even think that way when we select them in the dok.incubator. I don't think the only films to break through will be those that reflect the clichés with which the West views us. We just need to make modern films in a contemporary language. It all has to do with conservative film schools where only the classics are taught and not, say, Tykwer. Television doesn't care where a particular film comes from. What is important is the subject matter and its treatment. We don't need to cover just the regions of Eastern Europe, so to speak.
JG: For example, I remember my surprise at how Western professionals reacted skeptically to the presentation of Lucie Králová's Lost Holiday at the Ex Oriente Film. I was also a lecturer at the time, and I talked to them about it outside of the pitching. I tried to explain them that the intensity of the film, that is, the frame for thinking about identity here, is the concrete and universal situation of standard tourist photos of anonymous Asians: why is someone being photographed somewhere, in front of something, standing somehow, dressed somehow, in a certain constellation of a group photo, with some facial expressions, gestures, attitude? Or a banal photo as an opportunity to reflect on one's place in the world. The dimension of the essay is grounded here by the suspenseful, almost detective-like narrative of the search for the owners of the photos. But they found the principle of the film too intellectual. On the one hand, most of them were personally interested in its philosophical overtones, but at the same time they felt it was more of a topic for a philosophy department seminar.
AP: Do you think they would have accepted the presentation if Lucie had been from Norway?
JG: That's a good question, of course, because the truth is that depression of a personal or social nature is almost a prerequisite for a film to succeed, no matter where it comes from. But as a more current example of what I'm talking about, I would cite the Romanian New Wave phenomenon in narrative films. I don't mean to say that this kind of film isn't important in terms of what the human being and society is as well. My point is a question of proportion, or rather disproportion, in what resonates, and the fact that, in addition to expressing how we shouldn't live, we should also try to make visible the possibilities of how to live.
FR: What we encounter at the IDF is that when we offer filmmakers the opportunity to relate to a subject in a different way at the beginning of the development of a film, they often take a back seat. To a certain extent, we go around in a circle of films about despair made in a suggestive aesthetic way. We find ourselves in the sewer with the protagonist, appreciating the director for how skillfully he has moved us there, until it also makes us sick to our stomachs. Festivals show and award these films, inspiring other filmmakers to pick up on these tendencies. I'm one of the long-time critics of this closed circle, and I'm delighted when a film like Lost Holiday is made. I often find these films linking the essay to various film forms in our latitudes. I'm not content to recycle films about marginalized people and communities, and the films we try to encourage in the IDF have diverse content and form. For example, Lessons of Love, which has travelled around the festival world, is the story of a Polish woman, who lived her life as an immigrant in Italy with her oppressive husband, and gradually began to return to Poland until she stayed there and began to live an independent life. It is a film about her liberation from an ultra-Catholic marriage at an age when her children had left the family and a new era had begun for her. The personal framework here is only contextually touched upon by patriarchy and a society controlled by religion. Above all, this is the story of a woman who found the courage to live her life.
AP: I would also like to add that as far as films about different forms of crisis are concerned, nobody wants to see those in these times of different crises. No television will take those now. It is necessary to look for a different, original view of what is happening today.
JG: I meant festivals, where this kind of film dominates.
AP: Yes. This year's IDFA was full of films about refugees, immigrants, and border situations of all kinds. These are also the most popular to do because it can be harder to make a film with less intense subjects.
JG: Let's add other important people of IDF and its collaborators to the "who" point.
AP: Of the foreign ones, the key one was Tue Steen Müller, former director of EDN, who came to lecture for years at the Ex Oriente Film and taught us absolutely everything: how to think about film, about filmmakers, about workshops. Stefano Tealdi, who helped us organize the very first Czech pitching, was also quite important, as was Paul Pauwels, producer and director of EDN after Müller, who again explained how to polish the films to make them look good.
FR: Also, our dear Dutch friend, mentor and consultant Marijke Rawie, former commissioning editor from Finnish TV YLE Leena Pasanen, or Iikka Vehkalahti, who used to work at YLE too, now organizer of the important Rough Cut Service with its humor and philosophical dimension. Our long-standing collaboration with the DOK Leipzig Festival, Krakow FF, the Ukrainian DocuDays, with colleagues from CinéDoc-Tbilisi, with Vitaly Mansky and his ArtDoc Fest, which connected us with Russian filmmakers, is also important. And then, of course, there is the plethora of colleagues from IDF, Tereza Horská, Ivana Pauerová Miloševičová, the current program director and long-time colleague Zdeněk Blaha, Anna Kaslová - manager of the Ex Oriente Film and the East Doc Platform, Alena Beránková and Bojan Schuch, who run our finance department. The team now has over twenty people, and there have been dozens and dozens more of them over the years. Important support has been given to us from the beginning by the Cinematography Fund, the Ministry of Culture of the Czech Republic and the EU Creative Europe program.
AP: Also, the people from IDFA, Alena Müllerová from Czech Television, and Marek Hovorka, the director of the Ji.hlava IDFF gave us support, which was very important for us, especially at the beginning.
JG: And now to the point of "where" or the locations of IDF activities.
FR: Jihlava, Prague, Poland, Croatia.
AP: We were also in Hungary. I remember that because not long after that my uncle died.
FR: Italy, France, Slovakia...
JG: What "example of a shot" or situation would you cite as emblematic of the history of the IDF?
AP: I think at the beginning it was mainly playfulness and constant improvisation, where we tried to do a lot with very little. For example, when we didn't have much money to rent a large hall for the pitching forum, we came up with unique decorations made of plastic waste for zero crowns to give at least an artistic impression and make it look intentional. Similarly, we didn't have the money for accreditation to European industry events to begin with, so we were very creative in how we got in. We were mostly shadowing waiters and waitresses. I still remember how to get in through the back entrance at the Berlinale, or how Filip often had to pretend to be a woman with a borrowed accreditation. There were a lot of bizarre situations, but we enjoyed it and had fun with it. We didn't join the official industry at all. We made fun of them with the confidence of youth. Compared to the old days, now we are a part of the establishment.
FR: I am glad that we have the opportunity to fly through memories together like this. Except for the ending, Andrea and I are in complete harmony. I just don't associate myself with the establishment. I've often thought that I should make a film based on the IDF experience, and instead of a synopsis, just a couple of slogans: "TV producers are not walking wallets, but people like you”, “Don't offer them your ideas while urinating on the toilet", or "No more Holocaust stories"- which caused the devastated expression of a Hungarian director who came to tell the story of his 90-year-old great-grandmother who survived both Auschwitz and the Gulag. And then there was the presentation of explosives during the pitching of the Velvet Terrorists, with the laughing Paul Pauwels, who, full of wonder and joy, glossed: "I have been coming to you for 10 years for pitching and only this year have you revealed to me what the word means in your Slavic languages!" And the classic one: ”A white horse on the horizon...”
JG: I congratulate you on the fact that, thanks to your collaborators, you have managed to get IDF and dok.incubator to turn out time-lapse institutional films that have become the projection of so many events, not only of a cinematic nature, although the evaluation of your presentation is up to the readers themselves. In conclusion, on its anniversary I wish the IDF the ability to propagate continuously, which reminds me to ask you for your wishes and ideas for IDF and its possible future.
AP: I would recommend IDF, in the spirit of not distinguishing between West and East, open up, for example, the Ex Oriente Film to filmmakers outside Eastern Europe.
JG: So, abolish the name Ex Oriente Film?
AP: No, but conceive it more geographically open and resign from the rhetoric that we are somehow special here in this region. Our otherness has pluses and minuses. On the positive side, I see a more local sensibility as a worldview with which filmmakers should enter and enrich the international scene. On the other hand, I think that we are much more conservative than the West. We are looking to the past and we lack films about modern society and its changes: what we gain and what we lose by these changes. When I talk to my children, they tell me that we have destroyed the planet. They are already dealing with the problems of their time. What we are missing is an idea of the future and a search for its roots in today's world. Eastern Europe loved films about the Second World War, about communism, but we should have moved on by now. We have common issues with the West, including the impact of digitalization. In addition, documentary is becoming something of a minority, on the fringe in today's society - something like an opera that is only for educated fans instead of speaking to the general public. And in conjunction with the emerging era, a lot of pressing questions arise: will it apply in the digital age? Will it retain an audience? Can producers cope with the pressures of today? Take COVID, for example, which has fundamentally influenced all aspects of production and distribution, itself having become not just about getting something into the cinema, but about all sorts of technological and social tools. We have to face competition from computer games and other newfangled platforms. So, if a documentary wants to stay in the market, it has to be a modern job in every way, the people behind it not only creative, smart but also knowledgeable and educated. That includes IDF, which has helped set the film infrastructure in many Eastern European countries and faces new challenges in our age.
FR: I promise, on behalf of all my colleagues from Štěpánská 14, Prague 1, IDF will do its best. Within the East Doc Platform, we will launch a program to support quality documentary series for big players like HBO, NETFLIX, or Current Time TV. We are preparing to support short documentaries suitable for the web, looking for new partners outside the traditional TV houses and we are turning our attention to the web platforms of major world dailies. In these times of pandemic, we have started to film a series of podcasts with directors and producers called True Story. We also are developing dokweb.net as an opinion-based online information portal. I feel that our work cannot end now. We continue to be true to tradition, to what we founded here twenty years ago with my dear Andrea, to build on the needs of filmmakers, and to create an environment that both stimulates and supports them. For me personally, it has always been important not only to look for a place in the market, but also to experiment, learn and, above all, enjoy the experiments.
JG: Thank you, dear Andrea and Filip, for your activities and this pitching, which, I hope, can continue thanks to our readers in many possible ways…
Jan Gogola Jr. - director, dramaturg, lecturer at the Audiovisual Production Studio of the Faculty of Film and Television Studies at the University of Technology in Zlín
The interview is part of series of talks with European documentary filmmakers marking 20 years of the Institute of Documentary Film in Prague.