One of our recent joys has been digging into the relatively new and frequently awesome blog of Hot Docs programmer Sean Farnel, particularly last month as he was sending nearly daily dispatches from a non-stop tour of European documentary festivals. The whole blog is great, filled with fascinating insights into the festivals themselves, as well as the way that programmers view and decide to book films for their festivals - so consider this a suggestion that you grab a coffee or a cocktail and spend the next hour digging through the blog to date.
But, to whet your whistle, I thought I'd run a few excerpts from his European tour.
"Jihlava has also been presenting the works of several photographers, and in the evening I attended a presentation by Adam Broomberg, featuring his work with collaborator Olivier Chanarin. I found Broomberg’s slideshow talk completely engaging and compelling, and it sparked many thoughts about the relationship of still photography to moving image documentary. Broomberg and Chanarin have a stated mistrust of their form, an anxiety or doubt about images (see Errol Morris). They particularly grappled with ways of representing conflict, including that between Israel and Palestine. During the section of the presentation where Broomberg discussed photographs from their “Chicago” project, documenting an artificial Arab town built by the Israeli Defense Force, a man in the audience shouted: “Why don’t you stop this propaganda, this is a film festival!” Another shouted back at the man to let Broomberg speak, and Broomberg himself asked the heckler to stay and that he be pleased to answer questions during the Q&A. “Fuck off!” the man yelled, storming out."
"The Jihlava and Leipzig festivals collaborated to charter a bus, lugging about twenty-five documentary vagabonds from one event to the other. So, here we are, reality addicts on a German tour bus. Weary from long days of screening and pitching, and long nights of everything else. Jan Rofekamp, snugly attired with his black addidas jumper, pecks away on his laptop, preparing his IDFA brochure; a Ukranian producer screens a colleague’s trailer; we all gossip a little and the business melts into pleasure, personal stories. A pit stop brings some Czech beer on board, and snacks, sweet and salty, to fuel the camaraderie for the remainder of the five hour journey."
And offers insight to the programmer's methodology:
"I’ll screen in the market for four hours today, and as always will jot notes on 4×6 inch index cards. I have ten years of these cards in my home office. I capture quick initial impressions, content reminders, and subjective remarks. Most of the time I use one card, front and back, for each film. In the case of (Heddy Honigmann's) OBLIVION card above, the back has most of my subjective thoughts (”deeply human,” “sublime” “an engaging people’s history” are some of musings on this particular card). I try to clear my head with each blank card as I press play. I ask Hot Docs programmers to be open and generous to each film, and follow my own advice. Yet I admit some (many?) of the cards have thoughts which aren’t so generous. The volume of work we see is overwhelming, and most often comes in very concentrated spurts, at the festivals we visit, and then during the intensive ten week process which ultimately yields the Festival programme..."