Interview with “Heaven and Earth ” Director, Mackonen Michael

1.     Tell us a little bit about your background and how long you have been in documentaries?

I am an Ethiopian British, documentary film maker and freelance art reporter at the British media network BBC.  I studied Journalism and African studies at SOAS university of London and worked in different media production companies as broadcaster and producer. I am now the CEO of the newly established African Renaissance Television Services in Ethiopia.

I have won prestigious awards including BBC Skillset millennium award for my radio documentary ‘Bridging the Gap’ about the lives of immigrants in the UK and other awards as a Journalist.

2.     Can you give us a brief description about the documentary and how you came to produce it?

Heaven & Earth’ is a documentary film that tells the story of an ancient civilization’s religious tolerance, covering a millennium of Ethiopia monastic culture and ecclesiastical education.

Presenting the development of indigenous Christianity in an African setting, the film provides a corrective to still prevalent stereotypes of Africa as a dark continent in need of enlightenment by outside forces.

The film has been screened and archived at the Library of congress.

3.    What were you trying to achieve with the film, and how much did the documentary affect you personally?

The film is mainly dealing with African, Ethiopian cultures and philosophy. I believe the young generation should look to the roots of African cultures in order to achieve and create authentic stories that tell the beautiful falklares and narratives of Africa. In my many screenings and Q&A sessions I came across with brilliant young film makers and producers from the continent whom totally agree with the concept and debate thoroughly during the show.

4.     How widely is the documentary distributed? Any Awards?

The film has been screened in several countries and institutions, The library of Congress, Washington DC ( patented and archived), The royal Geographic Society London, Haward Sankofa DC, Liverpool, Birmingham, UK Best independent African documentary, nominee, Afro Latino film festival, Costa Rica.

 5.    What challenges did you face in the course of producing the documentary?

Funding, time laps with my permanent job and lack of professional crew.

6.     What would you like to do next?

I am now head of the newly established Television service called ARTS TV. I am also working on other documentary scripts dealing with Music history of Ethiopia. 

Interview with “Future Baby” Director, Maria Arlamovsky

1.     Tell us a little bit about your background and how long you have been in documentaries?

 I live and work in Vienna, Austria. I studied at the University for Music and Performing Arts Vienna (M.A. 2000) and the Donau University in Krems (MA, 2011).

I am married and have 2 grown up children and 1 adopted son and 2 foster children.

My documentary line ups includes ‘Rubber Chicken Born at Home’, a documentary about a woman who decides to give birth at home; ‘Loud and Clear’, a documentary about survivors of sexual abuse; ‘A White Substance’, about rape as a weapon of war; ‘Looking for QI’, about Zhineng Qigong, China and others.

2.     Can you give us a brief description about the documentary and how you came to produce it?

FUTURE BABY is a film about the future of human reproduction as it is happening right before our eyes. FUTURE BABY explores all around the world—patients and researchers, egg donors and surrogate mothers, laboratories and clinics. The hopes and wishes of future parents mesh with research on how to "upgrade" human embryos in the face of an ever-accelerating rate of medical progress. The question is: how far do we want to go?

In this documentary I am focusing on the female body and the hardships that come with it. Reproduction was and is always a burden for women – to be barren can be a very deep trauma for women and naturally also for men. A trauma, a lot of people don’t want to talk about. This is why I wanted to make a film about the topic to provoke a more open and honest discussion about it.

3.     What were you trying to achieve with the film, and how much did the documentary affect you personally?

Children are an important part of my life, a part that despite the effort I would not want to miss. I understand why people want to have and raise children and want to live as a family.

With FUTURE BABY, I wanted to explore where the rapidly developing fields of reproductive medicine, genetics, and birth control are taking us. We can understand that reproductive medicine offers a lot of chances but also comes with a lot of burden. More and more it becomes a slippery slope and I believe we have come to a point where it is imperative that we ask ourselves, “how far do we want to go?”

Since my eldest son was the DOP of the film, we have been discussing a lot about how in future all the new medical technology , especially with gene selection or gene editing will become ‘obligatory’ for young intended parents and if this is an ethical way to embrace new life.

4.     How widely is the documentary distributed? Any Awards?

Festivals the documentary screened includes:

·        Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival Toronto (2016)

·        Diagonale, Festival of Austrian Film, Graz (2016)

·        Docaviv International Film Festival, Tel Aviv (2016)

·        Zurich Film Festival (2016)

·        Reykjavik International Film Festival (2016)

·        Cambridge Film Festival (2016)

·        International Contemporary Science Film Festival 360°, Moskow (2016)

·        DokLeipzig. International Leipzig Festival for Documentary and Animated Film (2016)

·        Marda Loop Justice Film Festival, Calgary (2016)

·        Rocky Mountain Women's Film Festival, Colorado Springs (2016)

·        One World, International Human Rights Festival, Prague (2017)

·        Academia Film Festival Olomuc, (2017)

International Awards includes, Silver Punt AUDIENCE AWARD, CAMBRIDGE Film Festival (2016) and SPECIAL MENTIONING, Zurich Film Festival (2016).

5.     What challenges did you face in the course of producing the documentary?

Intended parents don’t like to talk about their misfortune, so it took a lot of work to find people willing to talk. The same for egg donors or surrogates, they prefer to hide since their ‘job’ is not accepted by most societies.

Since I was filming a lot of footage the editing process of course was challenging to reduce the material to it´s most important parts and to get the film dramaturgy right.

(But I have to confess, that I was able to edit a second, shorter part out of the left over footage and that film is about grown up children from donor-sperm or eggs.)

6.   What would you like to do next?

The film I have mentioned above - is called: ’Father, Mother, Donor, Child’ – it is about the hardship as a child, not to be told the truth about your own identity. It will come out next month as Video on Demand and the film I start to research now is about futuristic Robot-Human Relationships.

Interview with “Death by A Thousand Cuts ” Producer, Juan Yepes

1.      Tell us a little bit about your background and how long you have been in documentaries?

I am a film producer focusing on documentary film making and short films with social impacts with ample experiences in business management and entrepreneurship.

I have been working in documentaries for over ten years. As a producer and co founder of Human Pictures I have been involved in production and post-production of documentaries, including roles as an executive producer, production coordinator, field producer, and location coordinator.

2.     Can you give us a brief description about the documentary and how you came to produce it?

In ‘DEATH BY A THOUSAND CUTS’, Eligio Eloy Vargas, alias Melaneo, a Dominican Park Ranger in the Sierra de Bahoruco National Park was found brutally murdered by machete. At the time, he was believed to have been on patrol investigating an illegal charcoal production site often run by Haitians coming across the border into protected Dominican forests. This murder becomes the metaphor for the larger story of increasing tension between Haiti and the Dominican Republic over illicit charcoal exploitation and mass deforestation.

Our approach was to reveal the topic from the personal story of Melaneo and his family to eventually bring in the big picture story in the island of Hispaniola and the environmental issues they currently face.

3.     What were you trying to achieve with the film, and how much did the documentary affect you personally?

The main objective of the film is to show how deforestation is affecting the island and how this is an example for the world to take care of natural resources. By comparing the dynamics between Dominican Republic and Haiti, we see how this is a very delicate situation that needs collaboration from both sides. The personal story of the park ranger we used is to show how global issues could affect all of us at a personal level.

The film affected me at a personal level; having spent time at the border between Dominican Republic and Haiti, it made me think how these situations are very delicate, and how we need to make an effort to communication and collaboratively find solutions to environmental problems. As documentary filmmakers we play a key role in investigating and bringing to light problems that we need to resolve together.

4.     How widely is the documentary distributed? Any Awards?

The Documentary premiered at HotDocs in Toronto, Canada and has been featured in festivals in different parts of the world. ‘Death By A Thousand Cuts’ was awarded the Audience Award at Doc NYC and the Grand Jury Prize at The Seattle International Film Festival. The documentary is going to be broadcasted in the US by the TV station Uni vision in 2017

5.     What challenges did you face in the course of producing the documentary?

Producing half of the documentary in Haiti was the main challenge, since Haitian Creole is not our main language. This made building relationships and looking for characters to tell the Haitian side of the story a complicated task. In the end by doing several trips with a focus on Haiti and building those relationships with the help of a local fixer, helped us give a voice to the Haitian community to understand their needs and how any solution will need to take their needs into account. 

6.     What would you like to do next?

As a producer at Human Pictures we are working on new projects and developing new documentaries. At the moment the main topics we are focusing includes the United States criminal justice system and transgender rights in US. We are developing a couple of documentaries that we hope we can start producing later in 2017.

Interview with “Boy 23” Director, Belisario Franca

1.      Tell us a little bit about your background and how long you have been in documentaries?

I am a cinematographer by profession. For over 20 years, I’ve been investigating and revealing stories of the different faces of the Brazilian people. The paths of real life characters have turned into award-winning series and movies both in Brazil and abroad. Some of my work includes, "Overseas", International Documentary Association best TV series, “Xavante Strategy", United Nations Festival best art and media creation, "Eternal Amazon”, presented on 27 festivals around the world, and currently on Netflix’s line-up, and of course, “Boy 23 – The truth behind the bricks”.

 2. Can you give us a brief description about the documentary and how you came to produce it?

The documentary recounts, starting with the discovery of bricks stamped with Nazi swastikas in a farm in the State of São Paulo, the research of historian Sidney Aguilar and the discovery of a scary fact. During the 1930s, 50 black kids were taken from an orphanage in Rio de Janeiro down to the farm where the bricks were found. There, they were identified by numbers and were subjected to slavery by a family which was part of the country’s political and economic elite, and that did not in any way hide their sympathy for the Nazi ideology. Two survivors of this Brazilian tragedy, Aloizio Silva (the “Boy #23") and Argemiro Santos, as well as the family of José Alves de Almeida (the "Two"), reveal their stories for the first time.

Here at the production company, we have a project for the History Channel called ‘History Detectives’. Searching for good subject matters for the series, one of our researchers and writers, Juliana Oliveira, showed up with an article about the bricks stamped with swastikas that appeared on a farm in the countryside of São Paulo. When I read the material, I knew it was potent and complex, and it would not fit in a series episode. I suggested that we look for Professor Sidney Aguilar Filho. We managed to bring Sidney to Rio and had a long conversation. He told us about the research pathway from the moment he had first contacted the brick, and through all his discoveries. Following our discussion I suggested for a movie on the subject and he agreed. He just asked that we waited for him to move on with his thesis, and we respected it. My only immediate concern was filming Mr. Aloizio, the sole known survivor at the time. When we had that first meeting, Mr. Aloizio was already over 80 years old. Sidney agreed with this first interview, but then, we waited for him and his thesis in order to proceed with the movie.

3.     What were you trying to achieve with the film, and how much did the documentary affect you personally?

The story reveals a forgotten period in the History of Brazil, bringing up facts related to the most racist time in the country’s History, where the practice of eugenics was part of a national project in the Brazilian 1934 Constitution. It aims to promote the salvage of a historical memory. Leave it exposed. The big hassle in all this for me is to find out that this bad inheritance is still reproduced, even though thinly veiled. We have evolved very little as a society in terms of ensuring rights for minorities, especially in relation to racial equality.

4.      How widely is the documentary distributed? Any Awards?

The distribution plan for ‘Boy 23’ was devised in a different way. Our main goal was to establish an emotional connection with the people and make them commit to causes raised by the film, the negation of structural racism in Brazil and the exploitation of unassisted children. To ensure that the film could be a tool for citizenship, that it could be thought-provoking, as well as generate debates, we put together an impacting campaign for ‘Boy 23’. It is a communication strategy with social commitment, where we use the digital channels (website, Facebook. and Twitter), as well as movie sessions followed by debates with strategic groups as a tool for building a network and fostering discussion.

The impact strategy has focused on dissemination and access to the film for several layers of society (NGOS, communities, activists, opinion formers, social movements, universities, among others), and in building relationships with this public before, during, and after the film’s commercial release.

Our idea with the impact campaign was to increase its reach beyond commercial movie theaters, increasing its exposure period and diversifying the movie’s display windows.

We have already carried out more than 80 screenings followed by discussion sessions throughout Brazil, and selected cities of United States of America, and European countries. With this specific action, we have reached more than 12,000 people, in addition to the involvement of users of the film’s digital channels, where we have a continuing dialogue with the audience.

‘Boy 23’ has been awarded best screenplay and editing at the 26th Iberoamerican Festival Cine CE and best screenplay and image editing on the 2nd Cartaz - International File Film Festival in 2016.

‘Boy 23’ was also selected for the 2017 Academy Award list for best documentary.

5.     What challenges did you face in the course of producing the documentary?

The process took us three and a half years. The challenges are vast, from finding Mr. Aloizio and his family members in Monte Alegre, Campina, to identifying those people, to feel the unsaid which was still present there... We were groping for a way to tell this story. It has always been a concern not to stick only to interviews, to "talking heads". At the same time, the historical context is very rich. Sidney’s thesis is 75% historical context and 25% the boys’ story. The film is the opposite. From what we'd been discovering, we made a few storytelling decisions.

It was a sewing process. We did regressive exercises and continuous shooting before final editing in order to recreate an impressionist memory. For each material we were able to shoot, we'd build something, to understand how it was working. When the first money came in, we did some more shooting. And we finally had the last shooting and got to the final result.

6.      What would you like to do next?

I am now working on another feature-length documentary movie that addresses the theme of women in the Brazilian prison system. It further strengthens my position to produce audiovisual contents that is relevant to society, leading to the debate of important causes.