Before doc projects were pitched and production finances sought, the online CPH:Forum opened 24 May with a debate in which organisers and stakeholders expressed their gratitude to the festival and the doc industry, and offered both support and opinions on the way forward in the wake of coronavirus.
Lucia Recalde, Head of Unit Creative Europe, stressed that CE “will grant extensions on time to enable the implementation of projects that are currently on hold because of the outbreak”.
She also pledged support to festivals and markets recently affected by the crisis and signalled her intention “to find solutions in order to co-fund the cost borne [by] events that have been cancelled and to provide extensions of time to submit applications.”
“We are also discussing with the European Investment Fund to examine to what extent the current guarantee mechanisms for cultural and creative industries could be adjusted and maximised to mitigate the negative impact if the outbreak,” she added.
Opening the debate, CPH:DOX Head of Industry Katrine Kiilgaard acknowledged the tsunami of support that she and her team have received. But she admitted to a sense of “strange eeriness”, referencing Edward Snowden who had Skyped in the previous evening after the screening of Tonje Hessen Schei’s iHuman, “saying how temporary measures have a nasty habit of outlasting emergencies.”
“It feels a little bit eerie when we are being hailed almost as heroes of tomorrow, industry innovators blue-printing the future. It’s not that it’s not nice and flattering. It’s not also that it’s not maybe true, because I am sure that good things will come out of this experience that we and maybe the entire industry will stick to.”
“But I think we need to be wary of emergency measures becoming too sticky too quickly. I feel that we need to properly evaluate, see many more tests being done at other events over the next months, hear the needs from all corners of the industry and give ourselves the time and the brain space to critically assess the pros and cons before we move on.”
Tereza Simikova, head of Forum, underlined the ongoing need for festivals, saying how they are like “hearts, cardiovascular systems of international filmmaking [that] are pumping new films and new projects on one side and making sure they get the needed oxygen of support [on the other].” She saluted Netflix’s recent “Marshall Plan of 100 million dollars for corona virus relief fund for independent film. It is amazing to see private companies honouring the creators and producers without whom we would have no industry.”
Axel Arno, commissioning editor of SVT, stressed how public broadcasters play a key role in first-hand news provision during times of crisis, quoting a recent spike of 14% in public viewer figures across Europe, which includes a 20% increase in the elusive young audience sector, “which is amazing.”
“But [people] also crave alternative things to watch,” he said, which is being addressed with the programming of archive, talk shows, feel good programming, re-runs of sporting events and even religious programming. “And since there is no live sport anymore, we said, ‘why don’t we fill that void with documentaries’, so we did… and people flocked to docs.”
“I think we should have some kind of thinktank on how in this situation we can work together,” he added. “This crisis also spikes innovation in a good way. A lot of work can be done digitally… We can be creative in how we make interviews, we can be creative in how to use foreign camera crews in those countries where it is still allowed to go out and shoot, and as broadcasters we can do digital doc festivals. There are so many things that we can do and will do, and I think if we keep together we can still beat this situation.”
Maëlle Guénégues of Paris-based sales company CAT&Docs urged caution and asked us not to forget that filmmakers have been striving to complete their docs to present within a theatre space to a real and present audience.
“The filmmakers are happy that the festival still happened in some way, but they are obsessed by when the physical premiere is going to happen, so that’s what we are trying to figure out,’ she said.
“Now there is no answer, we don’t know when this whole thing will be over… we can only count on the solidarity of the whole industry. [Solidarity] is a word that I have seen used a lot on social media from all the players. I am hoping it’s not just going to be a hashtag on a post on Facebook. I really hope it is going to translate into actual steps…I think we really need to pay close attention to these films that were hit by this wave of cancellations.”
Danish producer Signe Byrge Sørensen (The Act of Killing) added a further cautionary note and implored us not to forget those who are quite often the very subjects of documentaries.
“[These are] not least the participants without whom we would not be able to make the films at all, and there are a lot of those participants in our documentary films right now that find themselves in very difficult situations, maybe much more difficult situations than a lot of us,” she said.
“We live in a world that is extremely unequal. Of course as a documentary industry we can’t change this overnight, but I think it is important in this situation to be aware of this equality.”
In Denmark, there are 1000 Intensive Care Unit beds for a population of 5 million people, she commented. “In Zimbabwe, where we are currently doing a project there are two ICU beds, and they are not working, and they are for a population of 16 million people.”
“I want to emphasise this perspective before we go back to talk about our problems as an industry.”