“We are surrounded by thousands of potentially fascinating films”
Industry Report: Documentary
Irene M. Borrego • Producer, 59 en Conserva
Interview with Irene M. Borrego, producer for Spanish company 59 en Conserva and selected for the 2020 Emerging Producers programme
Why do you produce documentaries? Do you understand documentary film as an instrument of social and political change?
Irene M. Borrego: I deeply believe that cinema is a true form of art. This may sound rather obvious, but I like to take it to its last consequence. Fiction cinema tends to be more limited by the rules of storytelling and film grammar. Thus, the space for taking artistic risks is often smaller in 100% of fiction films. For instance, not many of them are forced to search for their specific form; but when it comes to documentaries this is often a mandatory step: What is the right form for this subject? Which are the most accurate cinematic dispositifs for what I am shooting – and editing? At the end, documentary cinema poses the same big question of most of the arts: how to merge form and content in order to create a coherent artwork. While hunting for an expressive piece of work, we still have at our disposal all the tools and techniques of fiction filmmaking. It is through them we can make reality even more expressive, turning the final film into the result of the encounter between a certain reality and the filmmaker’s gaze. This allows making formally bold films that are also innovative in cinematic terms.
But – and answering the second question – beyond being bold, I am only interested if they question the world we live in and/or explore our human condition. I don’t think a film can change the world, but it can broaden our awareness of it and what it means to be alive. I think we’re surrounded by thousands of potential films, many of them are fascinating: those films are there, just waiting to be sculpted from the stone of life.
What qualities should a documentary producer have these days?
Passion, faith, teamwork, resilience, curiosity, a clear vision and purpose, a true love for art and culture – without forgetting a mandatory pinch of craziness. Having a sharp eye to spot emerging talent and projects with the potential of becoming interesting is a plus. To release their potential, they not only require financial support, but to be especially accompanied from a creative viewpoint during the whole process. Other skills are helpful, but easier to acquire along ‘the producing path’: languages, an understanding of the technical processes that may impact the final aesthetics of a film, flexibility to mediate among all the different agents involved in the making and distribution of a film. Also, I think that the more you broaden your own life experience, the better you’ll do your work.
What do you think is the future of distribution of documentary films?
The distribution question is a tough one and something we’re deeply reflecting about at 59 en Conserva. It looks like it’s polarized: on one hand, you can find film festivals, often oriented at a very cinephile audience; on the other hand, you have internet platforms, many of which focus on broader audiences but often define ‘documentary’ as an informative tool, not as a filmmaking approach. I think both are important and make useful contributions. But I usually wonder: if many documentary films are an invitation to look twice, to shape our gaze and to pay attention to characters, places and topics that we usually overlook in our daily, busy lives… are festivals and VODs enough? Festivals very rarely offer more than four screenings per film, while VOD is happening on the internet, which is also a big contemporary distraction and just the opposite of an invitation to focus your attention.
What projects do you have under way (including in the area of fiction film and other projects)?
We have developed a fruitful collaboration with the Portuguese production company Cedro Plátano, with whom we are currently working on two films. They are both grounded in the realm of documentary cinema but with a very free approach to it. As cinema is an art form that we love to explore in depth, we have also two ‘expanded cinema’ projects in early development. Finally, I am currently reviewing different proposals until I’ll find the one that makes me jump from my seat and think: ‘Yes, that's it! This is a film I really want to produce’. I can’t tell you exactly how this happens: I guess it’s a mix of intuition, right timing and finding a project – or rather, such project finds you – that deeply resonates with what deeply moves you, both as a filmmaker and as a person.
Emerging Producers is a 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 2021 edition is 15 March, 2020.
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