The world premiere of The Sound is Innocent (2019, dir. Johana Ožvold), the Czech-French documentary essay on the past, present and possible future of electronic music, took place in Visions du Réel, Switzerland, last year. With Kristýna Michálek Květová, the graduate of the Department of Production at FAMU (Film and TV School of Academy of Performing Arts in Prague) and the founder of Cinémotif Films production company, we were talking about the process of its origin, presentation at the prestigious film festival and about usefulness of workshops.
How would you characterize your production company? What was your vision at the time you founded it and what projects besides The Sound is Innocent have been produced within the company?
I established Cinémotif Films in 2016 when I was studying production at FAMU. At that time I had several projects, however I did not have any “base” – i.e. a company within which I could start to gradually implement those projects. Back then I started collaboration with Johana Ožvold and also with the director and my fellow student Fiona Ziegler with whom we were working on two films: her documentary film The Road Between Two Worlds about Ingeborg Bachmann and the fiction film Lost In Paradise. The later one was after several mishaps shot this summer and is currently in editing. So I wanted to deal with both fiction and documentary films from the beginning – I was interested in the cooperation with the author or the director and not necessarily in the form they chose for their story.
Very soon it became clear to me that these project would be never finished if they were dependent on financing in the Czech Republic and that my company could not sustainably work. Let’s say that my vision is the fact that all projects I choose want to succeed abroad and therefore have co-production potential. This became real in case of both projects that were made within the company, The Sound is Innocent and Lost In Paradise. The Sound is Innocent originated in Czech-French-Slovak co-production (with Films de Force Majeure and Punkchart Films) and Lost In Paradise in Swiss-Czech co-production (with Cognito Films).
This helped me to realize that especially for starting producers it is necessary to get beyond the Czech environment already in the early stage of a project. Therefore I started to submit the projects to international workshops and co-production forums. Even if it is often financially challenging, sometimes even repetitive and its benefit is not immediately visible, I try to look at this experience from a different angle: you may easily and casually meet more experienced filmmakers from all over the world, share your concerns and enthusiasm with them and ideally you become excited about any of the films and start collaborating on it.
For me personally co-production is not only about financing, but foremost about exchange of experiences, outside perspective, debates on films, art, etc. I am lucky that I get along with my foreign colleagues not only when preparing materials and budgets for foreign funds.
Though it has never been formulated as a vision, the last finding is that I work mostly with female directors. Currently I am working on a new documentary film under the working title The Visitors with the director Veronika Lišková. The film is about Czech scientist and anthropologist Zdenka Sokolíčková who has moved, together with her husband and three children, to the northernmost European town – Longyearbyen, Spitsbergen – for two years. This unique project has been in development also thanks to the support of The Czech Film Fund and we are now asking for the support for production.
However, female directors are definitely neither rule nor concept of the company, and I do not choose films necessarily according to the genre or subject. Whereas I am involved mostly in film d'auteur, the personality of an author and his/her perspective on the given subject is extremely important to me. I think that these aspects cannot be separated, the combination of both is very important. Together with the producer Tomáš Michálek we have been developing Arved, the first feature by Vojtěch Mašek, the theatre director and the author of internationally honored comic books.
Were any networking programs and workshops useful when developing The Sound Is Innocent?
Definitely. When developing this film, participation in workshops was particularly important. I mean, all procedures that originated within the group of authors were to certain extent tested on participants and mentors of workshops who were often from abroad.
These platforms may generally result in two kinds of contribution – financial and creative ones. From the creative point of view it means that each author responds to confrontation with tutors in a different way. I think that it was useful to Johana mostly because she defined what she did not want – and I think this is a contribution too. The comparison with the foreign world definitely broadened horizons of all of us and the film was thus moved forward.
The first workshop was Ex Oriente Film organized by Institute of Documentary Film. This was the first time I encountered the environment of European documentary film and I am very grateful for that. And then I became aware of Eurodoc – a workshop which is focused especially on production of projects, searching for co-production and eventually distribution facilities for the given films.
What both of these workshops had in common was necessity to constantly define principles and loglines – what the film is about and how it is going to look like… It became clear that the original concept would not work in the feature film. This process would probably happen even without workshops, but necessity to present the project mostly to the foreign filmmakers accelerated its development.
This contribution of “collective” sharing does not have to work every time and must be viewed critically. As a result the authors should take the best both for themselves and for the specific film. But the fact remains that existence of these platforms is absolutely wonderful for filmmakers from such a small country with limited finances – if you take the best of it, you may move forward.
It is important to realize that the contacts you get at such events can be used even later and not only for that specific project. This especially applies to documentary film, because in comparison with motion pictures documentaries have more limited opportunities for financing and distribution. It is evident that the specific kind of film should reach audience even abroad – therefore such “education” is important for producers.
All workshops were significantly beneficial for us with regard to financing. Even though I had met both of our co-producers already before these workshops, thanks to our participation in these platforms we were perceived more credible. I think this applies especially to beginning filmmakers.
The film was presented at the Visions du Réel festival. Do you think it was significant event for film’s reception?
Definitely. The premiere at such prestigious festival is a great start for documentary films. There is a beautiful story behind the film selection – we met Giona Nazzaro, the programmer and curator for Visions du Réel, already at Ex Oriente workshop. He has a wide range of knowledge and loves films. And when we met him at Ex Oriente, he was very critical of this film.
Two years later, when the film was finished, I was discussing the world premiere with several festivals. It took about two months. From one festival we got the response that they still needed time, we were accepted to Rotterdam, however, only as a part of non-competition section. We got on the shortlist at another festival, but they were not definitely decided.
At first we logically tried festivals that take place at the beginning of the year, therefore Visions du Réel was not included in the first wave of applications. But on the 23rd of December I sent a link to the finished film to Giona. And 72 minutes later [the film is 68 minutes long, author’s note] I got a call from Italian number. It was Giona who dramaturgically analyzed the film. Even though he was still partially critical, he told me he definitely wanted this film at the festival.
At that time I realized the most important fact – it is necessary to entrust your film to someone who likes it and really wants it. Of course, the selection process at the festivals is more complex: there are too many films and the decision must be made by more people. Even Giona had to show it to his colleagues, who could have stopped him. But especially in case of such nontraditional films d'auteur, this enthusiasm is essential.
A few months later at the festival Giona told me he was sure our film would travel. Although Visions du Réel is not the biggest festival with the biggest market, it is visited by selectors from other festivals and due to the clear dramaturgy they know what films they can expect to see there. This is also reason why the British premiere in Sheffield and the German premiere at DOK.fest München were confirmed soon. I think that with regard to dramaturgy, Visions du Réel was great.
Read the interview with Johana Ožvold.
The interview is part of our Czech Doc Newsletter #13, released with kind support of APA - Audiovisual Producers' Association.