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“Documentary filmmakers are dreamers”

Industry Report: Documentary

Ieva Ūbele • Producer, Baltic Balkan Productions

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We discuss working in the documentary world, the current situation and upcoming projects with the Latvian producer

Ieva Ūbele  • Producer, Baltic Balkan Productions

We discuss working in the documentary world, the current situation and upcoming projects with Latvian producer Ieva Ūbele of Baltic Balkan Productions, selected for the 2021 Emerging Producers.

Why do you produce documentaries? Do you understand documentary film as an instrument of social and political change?
Ieva Ūbele
: I think documentary filmmakers are dreamers, at least this is my response to why I make documentaries. Despite having probably seen more harsh reality than other people, documentary filmmakers still believe that they can change something in the world.  And there is a certain magic in being able to tell the stories of unusual and brave people, far-away and unknown lands and distinctive cultures. Stories that would probably never surface if you have not found them.

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How do you deal with the current pandemic situation as a producer? What are your main concerns (or opportunities)?
All the projects I am working on now are international co-productions or films where I need to organise filming in other countries, which is challenging. The biggest challenge is that I cannot meet my creative partners, and unfortunately brainstorming or story development does not really work in the Zoom format. Creative sparks do not really fly because online communication cannot replace people sitting at the same table or in the same editing suite. Of course, we all are doing our best to keep up the spirits, to go through the online training courses and networking events, and attend online festivals but filmmaking is a face-to-face business. Technically I can “attend” more industry events now without leaving my office but all in all, and given that the pandemic will not miraculously disappear on one sunny day, I cannot wait for the easing of travel restrictions. It will be complicated for some time because of epidemiological restrictions and requirements, however, the possibility to meet colleagues means a lot in our industry.

What do you think is the future of the distribution of documentary films?
Nothing compares to the experience of watching a film on the big screen at the movie theatre together with other people holding their breath and living the lives of our heroes on the screen. True documentary film lovers will yearn for festivals and time when movie theatres will open again. Yet during this year there were so many occasions where we would just pull out the screen and have our own movie night in a small company of friends. The question then was – where do we find the film online, on which platform? How do we buy it? And it was not always easy to find films, and sometimes it was only possible thanks to personally knowing the film’s producer or sales agent. So there is unused potential of people wanting to see documentaries, which are not easily accessible.  I think that more and more documentary filmmakers will use VOD platforms to bring their films to the audience, and more and more viewers will use them to have their own private or small group screenings. What will hopefully change is that we will also start putting more effort and money into marketing the documentaries so that our audience would know where and how to find them.

What projects do you have underway (including in the area of fiction film and other projects)?
I am currently producing documentary film project Dniester – The Irreversible Flow of Life, a debut film of young Moldovan director Iurie Tocmas, a metaphorical story of the relationship of humans and a river that will be presented at the East Doc Forum in March. I am also co-producing documentary Blind Pit by Italian filmmakers Federico Schiavi and Giorgio Bianchi, a story of a blind miner's way to regaining his sight and reinventing new life on the backdrop of war-torn Donbas. The project recently won the Italian-Baltic development award at When East Meets West. The third project I am working on is a co-production of feature documentary Ironman by young Macedonian filmmakers Kiril Karakash and Svestislav Podleshanov, a story of a retired policeman who has for the last 15 years been trying to invent a perpetuum mobile machine to save the world from global warming.

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EMERGING PRODUCERS is a leading promotional and educational project, which brings together talented European documentary film producers. The programme is organised and curated by the Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival.

Deadline for applications to the EMERGING PRODUCERS 2022 edition is 31 March 2021.

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