American Film Showcase, Nicosia: Days 5 & 6
On Friday, the DOCYouth students spent most of their morning in the editing room, under the tutelage of David Hands and Alex Rotaru, who met with the filmmaking teams individually to discuss the emerging stories that they had captured over the past few days. In the afternoon, the editing took a break so that the students could watch the Peabody Award-winning documentary, Rebirth, directed by AFS participating filmmaking and USC alumnus Jim Whitaker. Following the screening, Michael Renov and the students engaged Whitaker in a conversation about the production of the film via Skype video-chat from Los Angeles. Whitaker discussed his casting process, emphasizing that the production actually followed ten protagonists, which were pared down to five in order to unite the stories with a common resonance built around their responses to grief and the losses that they had endured. Whitaker also discussed the original intention of the project, which was to record the strength of the human spirit coping with disaster and the ongoing redevelopment of the World Trade Center site. These stories, as well as those that didn’t make the final cut of the feature film, will be exhibited in the 9/11 Memorial & Museum installed at Ground Zero in New York City as part of Whitaker’s larger initiative, Project Rebirth. The mission of Project Rebirth is to chronicle living history and honor 9/11 victims and first responders, and to advance educational initiatives committed to pre-trauma resiliency building for first responders.
On Saturday, Yianna Americanou discussed festivals and distribution for Cypriot films and DIY film production, mentioning that “a film is truly born the day that it first gets submitted to festivals”. She warned that short films have a short shelf life – one to two years on the festival circuit at the most, so to be productive with applications. She highlighted the importance of where a film premieres, given how most top festivals make the premiere status an application requirement, including Cannes, Berlin, Venice, Toronto, Rotterdam, Sundance, Hamburg, Clermont-Ferrand and others. Many festivals also have markets that showcase the films that have been submitted, so they can be valuable resources even if your film doesn’t get selected for official competition. She also gave students a selection of festivals in Cyprus that they could apply to, including:
Cyprus International Short Film Festival: http://isffc.com.cy
Lemesos International Documentary Festival: www.filmfestival.com.cy
Cyprus Film Days: www.Cyprusfilmdays.com
International Children’s Film Festival of Cyprus: www.icffcy.org
Nicosia International Documentary Festival: www.cyprusdocfest.org
1st International Motion Festival: www.motionfestivalcyprus.com
She emphasized that 35,000 – 50,000 new features are made every year, although less than 1,000 get into the international festival circuit and only 200 get into Sundance. Since all rights distribution deals don’t exist anymore except for the lucky few, she offered some alternative resources for distribution including Online Distribution and Daazo, a Hungarian-based online distribution network for European short films. The Sundance Institute started a department called Artist Services to help films that had been in the Sundance Film Festival but had yet to acquire distribution. Alex Rotaru added that Withoutabox is a key resource for submitting to festivals and also to seek out Trigger Street Labs, founded by Kevin Spacey and Dana Brunetti, a company that is very active in getting young international filmmakers involved with their creative laboratories online.
Some practical advice included getting funding upfront before production, such as from a television station, since documentaries don’t generally sell for a lot of money. She also recommended hiring a lawyer before selling your film rights to a distributor. Filmmaking, as she sees it, has two parts – making your film and connecting with an audience. The audience already exists for your film: the real challenge is finding it. Many filmmakers also have to be skilled salespeople and most successful directors are “good in a room”.
Her parting advice was to start early, plan for it, engage and embrace the new world – don’t become a filmmaker who gives up because of the financial burdens.
That evening, the DOCYouth workshop came to a conclusion with a public gathering in the back lot of an evocative nearby building in the buffer zone. The compound was a perfect representation of Nicosia’s past and present in Nicosia – barbed wire and bullet holes served as a reminder of the conflict still unresolved, while painted murals offered hope and creativity, encouraging visitors to ‘get in the zone’. A large outdoor screen was set up with rear-projection and a DJ entertained arriving guests. In addition to the student filmmakers, AFS, DOCYouth and U.S. Embassy staff, about 50 invited guests took their seats for the premiere of the short documentaries and screening of Shakespeare High. Bérangère Blondeau and Alana Kakoyiannis welcomed everyone and invited Keith Peterson to give remarks on behalf of the U.S. Embassy. Following the introductions, Michael Renov and Alex Rotaru offered parting gifts and congratulations to the DOCYouth students, who lined up in front of the audience in recognition of their accomplishments.
Just after dusk, the seven short documentaries were screened to great enthusiasm, followed by Shakepeare High. At the end of the feature, Rotaru took to the microphone to discuss his experiences making the film. The discussion examined his decisions as to whose stories to follow, when to edit out compelling material that distracted from the story and how the financing came together with the help of Brad Koepenick, Kevin Spacey and other prestigious alumni from Chatsworth High School. He talked in depth about collaboration, in particular the necessary tug-of-war between his directorial impulses and the advice of his longtime producers, collectively shaping the footage into a film that would connect with audiences.
On Sunday, after a week in Nicosia, Ago and Rotaru decided to explore the island by venturing out along the Aphrodite Cultural Route that included a stop in Pafos for an unforgettable fish ‘meze’ lunch, a tour of the Pafos Mosaics, designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and a swim around Petra tou Romiou (Aphrodite’s Rock), the legendary site where Aphrodite is said to have first risen from the white sea-foam.
Written by AFS staff member, Alex Ago.