I see the future of documentary films in transmedia

30. 6. 2014

Author: Filip Šebek

One of the main tutors of the first week-long session of Ex Oriente Film 2014 workshop in Rijeka, Croatia, will be the renowned Swedish filmmaker and producer Magnus Gertten. Author of a number of documentaries awarded at prestigious festivals is looking forward to the mutually inspiring meeting with the participants of the workshop.

You work in the documentary field as a producer and a director. Would you recommend this experience to the young filmmakers in Rijeka or do you think it is better to focus on one of the roles (directing/production) only?
I started out as a director of documentary films and that is still my main occupation. But as a documentary filmmaker you need to know how to deal with some of the producer work. I have producer credits on all my own films, but I work with together with my colleague Lennart Ström and he's deeper in to the budget and application stuff. I like the creative part of the producer work, which to me means developing an idea, shaping a financing and distribution strategy and in general representing the project against financers and others. It's very tough to be both the director and a producer all by yourself, and I don't recommend that.

In the Czech Republic we have been experiencing a boom of documentaries in the last 8-10 years, meaning they can be seen regularly in the cinemas nowadays and have good attendance. Is there a similar situation in Sweden?
It's great to hear about the boom of documentaries in the Czech Republic. We had some major documentaries on the cinemas in Sweden the last two years, so it works good here now and then. The latest, well attended doc's on cinemas in Sweden are Searching for Sugarman and Palme, a doc about the former Swedish prime minister who was killed in 1986. I'm releasing a new feature length music doc in September and it looks like it's going to get a wide distribution in Sweden and Norway. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for a big crowd!

You also work as a producer on international co-productions. Do you observe some specific trend within the documentary genre in the last few years, for example a focus on human rights?
Yes, there's definitely a lot of documentaries for social change and human rights out there. The activist films has a big audience. Otherwise we are in the hands of the tv companies, which tends to create a lot of documentaries that are theme based and close to current affairs. But still there's always room for the unexpected, character driven documentaries based on universal and existential stories.

Don't you think that a lot of documentary filmmakers, who are focusing on human rights issues, often "sacrifice" the artistic form of the film to the content?
Sometimes the activist filmmakers tend to care less about storytelling and the artistic form. It's just about the good guys and the bad guys. The cause comes first. The great thing with documentaries is the possibility to create films about the complexity of human beings and touching existential issues you usually never experience on television. Human rights films are very important, but the best one's has always several layers in the content and usually a creative visual language.

From your point of view, what is the recent development of the form in the documentary filmmaking, do you see some new trends for example in narrative structure or in using new media more?
There's obviously happening a lot when it comes to narrative structure and storytelling in documentaries right now. Act of Killing is a good example of how to approach a story in a different way. There's also loads of hybrid documentaries with fictional parts. I see a lot of doc's connected with transmedia projects, which gives the film a longer life and builds an audience on the net as well. Most likely this is what the future looks like. Just watching films on the tv and on a cinema, is disappearing, even though it might be true for some of the bigger projects still.

What is your opinion on the current situation concerning financing documentaries in Sweden? Is it a good example for Eastern European countries to take inspiration from?
We have a decent system for financing documentaries in Sweden. We have tv-money from SVT, support from The Swedish Filminstitute (which is the big part of the film budget) and then regional money. We should not complain, even though the competition for the money is fierce. But it's not enough, I still need to find international financing for my films. Mainly in the Nordic countries, but usually also from some other European countries. Finding international financing is important for every filmmaker in Europe, and elsewhere. When it comes to financing documentaries it's important to put pressure on politicians on different levels. The filmmakers have to inform politicians and decision makers about the importance of documentary filmmaking.

Why did you agree to be one of the main tutors of the first Ex Oriente Film workshop and what do you expect from the meetings with the young filmmakers? Do you have a similar experience already?
I love to meet filmmakers with fresh ideas and a great energy. That's what I expect from the Ex Oriente Film workshop in July. I'm happy to share my experiences and usually I also learn a lot from these meetings. I'm sure it will be an inspirational experience for all of us.

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