2009 Producer on the Move – The Netherlands
by Boyd van Hoeij
Dutch producer of Spanish origin Carmen Cobos has carved a niche for herself on the international documentary scene with Cobos Films, which has produced a small but ambitious slate of films since 2001, including the recent films of Heddy Honigmann.
Cineuropa: Oblivion is the second film of Heddy Honigmann that you produced. How did the collaboration start?
Carmen Cobos: Heddy and I met in Siena. I invited her to direct a scene for The Last Victory when we had a five-camera session during its famous yearly horse race. From the moment we met it clicked between us. Heddy told me about her idea of making a film about the Parisian cemetery Père-Lachaise, which had been lying dormant for five years, with her former producer Pieter van Huystee. That became our first film together in 2006: Forever.
Which problems did you encounter while making Oblivion?
Like with any production we encountered many problems. Firstly, trying to find investment for a film shot in Peru about a theme that was not fashionable. It was difficult to convince financiers that telling the story of Peruvian oblivion through minor characters like waiters, shoeshine boys and shopkeepers was going to produce a good and entertaining film for international audiences. It took us a year to finance it. And during the shoot we encountered the problems one normally expects.
Cobos Films is specialised in documentaries. Have you got plans to move into fiction?
We made a deliberate choice to keep the company small and concentrate mainly on feature-length cinema documentaries. Fortunately, our films have always attracted international interest from both critics and audiences. Honigmann’s Forever and Oblivion were named the Best Dutch films of 2006 and 2008 respectively. So the step to move into fiction feature films was organic and natural; the next big challenge for our company. Presently we are developing three scripts: Una Lágrima by Heddy Honigmann, Hens and Kimo by Danniel Danniel and the animation feature Dropje by Ruth Meyer. All three are slated for 2010.
What is your experience with European production partners?
We have extensively co-produced with the UK (BBC, Al-Jazeera), Germany (ZDF/Arte), Spain (TVE), Finland (YLE), Sweden (SVT), Belgium (Lichtpunt, VRT) and even with new member states like Estonia. Normally, we succeed in finding more than 25% of the budget abroad, and the experience has always been fantastic. It is very exciting to work with experienced commissioning editors with different cultural backgrounds. If you get foreign money you work in a different way – you open your horizons a little more. Co-production can improve the film and enable you to reach wider international audiences. It is therefore very rewarding that two of our docs were nominated for the European Film Award. And we have great hopes for Oblivion, which recently opened to rave reviews in the US.
What would you say are your expectations and fears of the current state of the European film industry?
I believe very strongly in Europe, its diversion in culture and its own narrative. Of course, it’s sad to see that of the 900 European films produced yearly with roughly €2bn in subsidies, so few cross the borders. In our opinion the production side in Europe is well developed, but European attention should now focus a bit more on distribution and marketing. An event like Producers on the Move is a good start.
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