DOC Discussion/ 6

Doug Aubrey writes: Hi Tue, here are some personal comments that I would like to share with you…

I’m glad to see that some of the more – shall we call them – mature protagonists are addressing the issue of the ‘State of the Docs’ across the generation gap at last.

However I have to say that what’s happened is also as a result of the old pitching forum system being hijacked to become a ‘Dragon’s Den’ or ‘Apprentice’ style reality TV show where it’s simply all about money, greed and exploitation – rather than a rigorous platform for a filmmaker’s creative, cultural and political issues to be tested. Indeed one Doc-maker I spoke with compared pitching at IDFA now to being like a performer in a pole dancing bar full of businessmen – only without the dignity!

Still perhaps the worse example of this, is what’s happening at the SIDF (Sheffield, ed.) with its speed pitching, its 1 minute trailer et al culture that favours celebrity filmmakers, shallow ideas and geek/nerd film-making; More to the point it – like many festivals – is rapidly ceasing to be the place where you see difficult, challenging and even experimental works. Instead you can witness 100’s of new film students/ emerging filmmakers (some with a lot of talent) sidling up to TV executives, who mostly are interested in hanging around bars – understandably, far from the maddening crowd – with their pals from the ‘travelling circus’, or hiding in the toilets. They have 12-50 strands to fill a year – with est 2000 films on offer – so somehow sympathise…

SIDF’s trade event calls itself the Meet market for a very ironic reason that’s probably lost in translation (and which the Americans will never understand anyway! – it being a Canadian invention and aw).

Another example of what’s happening, is the evident demise of EIFF (Edinburgh,

ed.)  this year from a through-bred film fest into a delegate/trades event with a few films attached. That the doc programme was curated by/ co-programmed with SIDF should say it all. Anyone ever heard of travelling ‘best of’ programmes?

I’m sorry if I may sound bitter and angry – but it’s because I am.

I have spent the best part of nearly 2 decades working on my current project ‘Minefield’, and instead of smoothing along in the fast lane, am now told instead of a simple: ‘I like/don’t like your film’, ‘it’s not for our marketing mix’, ‘never mind our season’, ‘your content is  not frontline enough for our edgy ‘Diversity’ strand’ etc etc, by privileged young TV execs with very little life – or filmmaking experience!

Sadly the Documentary scene has allowed itself to be hijacked (in the UK at least) by both an economic and cultural elite – who represent a privileged, orthodox and conservative gaze – rather than an auteur, angry or impassioned view on the world.

They make films that deal – mainly with eco issues – that subscribe to a mono-cultural format (the ‘monoform’ as Peter Watkins might say).

Dox are increasingly  both made and commissioned by an elite who – although some do have talent –  for the most part have no financial woes in these hard times, so can in many cases work for very little…. Some even go on to become commissioners after making very few films, in some cases they are “trained” on fast-track schemes to become TV Executives. Weird that, how they can’t understand why we aren’t all like them, but maybe a reason, I think, why many documentaries are now little better than social/war/celebrity porn.

The makers and commissioners have not empathy with and in some case hate their subjects (the worst recent example of this was BBC Scotland’s ‘The Scheme’).

For the most part TV Commissioning and many festivals  are now in the hands of brand managers not filmmakers or Doc lovers even.

Let’s reclaim the territory we’ve lost and find new spaces by all means necessary!

Rise like Lions after slumber

In unvanquishable number  –

Shake your chains to earth like dew

Which in sleep had fallen on you –

Ye are many – they are few

(Percy B Shelley)

Doug Aubrey is a filmmaker from Scotland with an impressive filmography, many times awarded for his work. About his “Minefield” project –

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Tue Steen Müller
Tue Steen Müller

Müller, Tue Steen
Documentary Consultant and Critic, DENMARK

Worked with documentary films for more than 20 years at the Danish Film Board, as press officer, festival representative and film consultant/commissioner. Co-founder of Balticum Film and TV Festival, Filmkontakt Nord, Documentary of the EU and EDN (European Documentary Network).
Awards: 2004 the Danish Roos Prize for his contribution to the Danish and European documentary culture. 2006 an award for promoting Portuguese documentaries. 2014 he received the EDN Award “for an outstanding contribution to the development of the European documentary culture”. 2016 The Cross of the Knight of the Order for Merits to Lithuania. 2019 a Big Stamp at the 15th edition of ZagrebDox. 2021 receipt of the highest state decoration, Order of the Three Stars, Fourth Class, for the significant contribution to the development and promotion of Latvian documentary cinema outside Latvia. In 2022 he received an honorary award at DocsBarcelona’s 25th edition having served as organizer and programmer since the start of the festival.
From 1996 until 2005 he was the first director of EDN (European Documentary Network). From 2006 a freelance consultant and teacher in workshops like Ex Oriente, DocsBarcelona, Archidoc, Documentary Campus, Storydoc, Baltic Sea Forum, Black Sea DocStories, Caucadoc, CinéDOC Tbilisi, Docudays Kiev, Dealing With the Past Sarajevo FF as well as programme consultant for the festivals Magnificent7 in Belgrade, DOCSBarcelona, Verzio Budapest, Message2Man in St. Petersburg and DOKLeipzig. Teaches at the Zelig Documentary School in Bolzano Italy.

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