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Warsaw Film Festival Jury Interview

The 26th Warsaw Film Festival runs from Friday, October 8 till Sunday, October 17, 2010.

Robert Bodrog our Warsaw correspondant interviews Antonia Bird (award-winning British film director and BAFTA member), Francois da Silva (producer)and Mike Downey (producer and EFA board member), members of the jury for the 2010 Warsaw Film Festival's international competition, about the state of eastern European cinema, story telling and how filmmakers can reach a global audience.

Antonia Bird,
RB: Ms. Bird, how did you come to be the chairperson of the jury this year? Do you have a connection to Warsaw?

Tell Your Own Stories...

Antonia Bird: I can only guess. I was at the Sundance Filmmaker labs in Utah. You know, Robert Redford's Sundance Institute, they have filmmaker labs there, and I was an advisor on many occasions. I met a Polish gentleman there who had been chair of the [Warsaw Film Festival] jury. He later emailed me and asked me if I'd be interested to be on the jury. Also, my first film, my first international feature film [Priest, 1994] ran here in Warsaw in an underground cinema for over three years. So I suspect it might just be that people know my name here because of that.

RB: The idea of being on a film festival jury is something many people would find very exciting, but it's also a lot of work. How does the jury function, what does the selection process involve? Do you watch all the films together as a group or individually? How does it all work?

AB: As a group, we go to every film on the short list [for the international competition]. We watch it with the paying public, we're in the audience. Ideally, they don't know who we are and they don't know we're there. And we experience the film as the public does. This year we're looking at 16 films.... We'll be thinking very hard, talking about the films, but in a private session. And then at the end of the whole process, after we've seen all 16 films, we have a big meeting that goes on as long as it needs to go on, until we have our agreement. And we have three awards to give in the international competition. There's best film, best director and a special jury prize which can go a director, or an actor, or a cinematographer, or a writer. So there's a lot to think about, actually.

RB: How do you think the Warsaw Film Festival distinguishes itself from other film festivals, and why do you think it has grown so much in recent years when there are so many other film festivals around the world?

AB: I don't know, but this is my guess. Because Stefan [Laudyn, WFF Director] has run this festival since it started. And it shows the success that can come if one person or one team continues through the process. So he's personally building this festival. I think that's what it is. I think it must be the continuity of the person whose vision the festival is. And I think also the wide choice of films is very exciting. There's a lot of films you wouldn't see necessarily, for example in the UK, where I come from.
Mike Downey: There are an enormous number of festivals. And it's very competitive out there. I think there are a number of reasons. One, I think that the selection across the board is of a very high artistic standard, and I think that audiences always vote with their feet when they see quality films. Quality films draw quality audiences, and possibly, on a year round basis, that isn't the same anywhere in the cinemas. So a festival, when it comes to town, usually brings a plethora of smart, intelligent, different films that maybe one might not be able to see throughout the rest of the year. So they've raised the bar very high in terms of the quality, and I think that has given rise to the enormous popularity of the festival itself.

RB: Central and eastern Europe has produced a lot of internationally renowned film makers over the years, but now, as many of these countries are part of the EU and arguably becoming more westernized, do you think that their films, and the stories they tell are changing?

François da Silva: No, I don't think so. You know, we all know in this business, that for a film to be international, it has to be first local. To have an international success, you have to tell a local story... You have to tell something very particular. You have to tell something really different from your place to the world. Otherwise, it means your copying something or someone... Tell your real true stories. This year the Palme d'Or at Cannes went to Uncle Boonmee [directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul]. The film is really telling a local story. This film could only be shot there [in Thailand].

MD: There is a cliche, and like most cliches, it's actually true, that very often out of great hardship and restraint, one is obliged to force one's creativity to go a bit further. That was one of the sad positive things of making films under socialism. You had to do more with less. You had to be more creative in order to negotiate a lot of different obstacles. That having been said, society has changed, and filmmakers will always reflect the ideas and state of society as it is today. And there are a number of Polish filmmakers who are doing that at the moment especially. And there are a number of eastern European filmmakers who are doing that. It's an enormous talent pool. There are still excellent [film] schools here. There are still excellent subjects to make films about.

RB: With the emergence of the internet and many new venues for film makers to showcase their work, such as YouTube and others, do you think it's easier now for film makers to reach new audiences, or is the volume of work an impediment because there is just so much product out there?

MD: I think the short answer to that is, I don't know. All I know is audiences are about the same or growing, they're spending a bit more. I am skeptical a little bit about the creation of content for content's sake. And I think there is an element of possibilities within the whole new multi-platform thing and stuff like that where there are all sorts of different ways of showing shorts. But I think ultimately we still live in the world where, you know, making things of quality, rather than quantity is the thing. And making things which are true unto themselves, and not specifically to fit a certain hole in a certain kind of platform.

AB: I think it's the best time it's ever been for young filmmakers. I think it's such an exciting time. And I genuinely believe in the ability for just about anybody who can afford a camera, or manage to borrow a camera to go out and make a film. That will have an effect on people going to see films as well. So it will benefit the whole industry.

FdS: One thing that's totally different is that you can make a film for a very low budget. This is the big difference. But it's still difficult. Making a film is one thing, but putting your film in front of an audience is a different thing. For this you still need your film to be distributed, you need your film to be in cinemas, and until now, “cinema” is still in cinemas. Not on the internet, not on TV. You can express your feelings, you can film your girlfriend, your parents, or whatever, and your film can find a way through YouTube or other medias, but it will not be a feature film... So yes, it's easier to make a low budget film now than before. Everybody can do that.

RB: Do you think the cinema still holds a certain magic for people, even though people don't have to leave their home to watch a film? What makes the viewing experience different when you're in a cinema?

FdS: You know, in every country in the world, the cinema revenues are growing. There are so many ways and possibilities to stay stuck at home, the internet and other things, and still cinema is a very affordable possibility to spend a night, to meet your friends. Even to fall in love, you know. And you have the experience together.

RB: You mean like a ritual element?

FdS: Yeah.

RB: And the escapist element?

FdS: Of course. And when you go to the cinema, it costs you say, 10 dollars, or 10 euros in Europe, so it's a possibility for you for two hours to escape your life. Everybody has ten euros. If you have ten euros for a hamburger, or two hamburgers, you have ten euros for the cinema. The thing is, we as professionals, have to offer a wide range of possibilities and genres for people to attract the audience.

RB: As directors and producers, what draws you to a story? What do you look for in general?

AB: I look for three things. I certainly look for entertainment value. I want my audience to enjoy the experience in some way. I definitely look for enlightenment and education. But not in a kind of “teachy” way. So I think enlightenment is a better word. I love the idea that people are learning something new from seeing that film. And thirdly, I look for something that can perhaps be innovative. So that you can offer up a film that has a really fresh approach to film. So those are my three words: entertainment, innovation and enlightenment. And enlightenment being the most important to me. But for my producers or my financiers, obviously entertainment is the most important.

MD: It's deeply subjective. It's whether I fancy something or not. Because something I say this month might not apply next month.

RB: Poland, in terms of the number of films produced annually, is small in terms of global output. What advice would you have for aspiring Polish film makers and how they can reach a wider global audience?

FdS: Be local. Don't try to replicate the formulas.

MD: I think the answer is the same as it's always been. That the more local your story, the more truth there is in it. And so the greater authenticity there is, and its possibility to reach people over continents is much greater. And then from a production point of view, I'd say cultivate regional co-production. Your neighbors understand you much more than people a long long way from you.

AB: The only advice that I ever give myself is that you have to have a really strong story. And then you have to have an even stronger script. And if your story and your script are strong and brilliant, then you do have a chance of getting your film made.

RB: Thank you for your time. Enjoy the festival.

Robert Bodrog - Festival Reporter for and


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