“There is no such thing as being apolitical”
Industry Report: Documentary
Maximilian Haslberger • Producer, Amerikafilm
The German producer, selected for the 2021 Emerging Producers programme, discussed documentary production in the current situation
Why do you produce documentaries? Do you understand documentary film as an instrument of social and political change?
Maximilian Haslberger: As someone who is not much interested in such classification of films, or the question whether things are fictional or not, documentary filmmaking to me is an approach or a practice; maybe a tool. The question whether films influence the life outside of films has been answered in history: A Clockwork Orange, The Thin Blue Line to name just a few examples. Some films have created change, all films are shaping lives – at least for those who work on them. Everything is political and there is no such thing as being apolitical, so ideally films have the impact by “fragilizing our perspectives” (in the words of Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev). Making films to directly address a political administration is a different, and maybe a less interesting, question.
How do you deal with the current pandemic situation as a producer? What are your main concerns (or opportunities)?
My colleague Balthasar Busmann and I are in the lucky situation that we were not in production when the virus hit. Therefore we used the time to develop and finance our upcoming projects.
What do you think is the future of the distribution of documentary films?
I think the question of “what” the future (of distribution, cinema, or film) might be, is a recurrent question that’s wrongly focused, or to rephrase James Schamus: cinema doesn’t have a future and never did. The distribution of film in film history has almost always been a diversified, multi-channeled exploitation. The same applies for the future. The question must be rather placed in the focus of its resources (money) and its interpretation (or maybe its inherent distinction) as a cultural product (culture or product). Two tendencies are evident by now: there will be further battles on release-timings and -media. And the event is replacing the daily routine. While there are films that are best to be experienced in cinema, the competition between cinema and other media is not a perceptive-technical one, but a social one.
If we approach a future where Disney, Warner, Netflix, and other large corporations don’t see too much business in cinema, we need to maybe finally acknowledge that films (or at least the ones that interest me) are cultural, and not primary products of a product economy and therefore need a different understanding in funding. Financial recoupment (or self-sustainability) is maybe not fiction, but definitely a lottery-wrapped Matthew effect – certainly not a “business model”. Lars Henrik Gass suggested institutionalizing cinema similar to the way that theatre and museums have been and therefore reflecting on a change in urban thinking. As a suggestion for a future, that seems about right.
What projects do you have underway (including in the area of fiction film and other projects)?
I’m very excited about all the projects in process. We are keen to premiere Sebastian Mez’ next feature-length film The Great Nothing this year, an amazing film about the absence of human beings on the planet (not a corona film).
We’ve advanced very well in the financing of the feature debut by Laura Laabs Rote Sterne Überm Feld and hope to begin principal photography in 2021.
Monument by Christoph Rainer is currently in financing and in terms of production our most ambitious project so far.
We’re really happy to have partnered up with Adina Pintilie and (fellow Emerging Producer) Bianca Oana (read interview) on Adina’s sophomore feature Death and the Maiden, which is currently in development.
Furthermore we are developing Eva Knopf’s Movie Kintsugi, a beautiful piece of kintsugi with the fragments of a lost Ozu film.
Last but not least we are in development or starting the process with filmmakers we have collaborated with in the past on their new projects, among which are a new Max Linz feature, Mohammad Shawky Hassan’s new films, and the next film of Azin Feizabadi.
Each of these projects have a unique approach and every director comes with a signature. They all share a love for film and cinema. I believe these films will enrich our lives and I’m looking forward to seeing these works put to the screen.
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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