Saturday, October 23, 2010

Story Will Lead to Action

Chicken and Egg Pictures is an unusual funder. For starters, it gives money only to women filmmakers. The money, however, is only one small aspect of what Chicken and Egg does for their projects. There's support of all kinds that comes with the money: Professional development workshops, strategic planning residencies, introductions to potential partners, and the occasional good cooking and wine. And then there there's what they call "mentorship" - a misnomer, really, since the relationship is more collegial than professorial, and the sheer number of hours and creative energy put in by the Chicken and Egg ladies throughout the life of the project makes them more like part of the filmmaking team for each project than like mere occasional advisers. The have seen multiple cuts (including our almost 4-hour assembly, in its entirety - a heroic undertaking for which we will be forever grateful), have given us feedback on rough and fine cuts, have jumped with us in the edit room when we got stuck on the very beginning, and have been helping us figure out strategies for launch, outreach and, well, everything that has to do with the life of our film in the world.

They also do something else that's quite unusual: Instead of picking one project representing each issue, as most funders, programmers, and broadcasters do ("We already have a human rights in Belarus film" or "How many documentaries on fracking does the world need?"), they are not afraid of supporting several projects on the same issue at the same time. They believe that there is strength in numbers. And they believe that change, real impact needs a critical mass or a shift in the zeitgeist that is greater than one movie alone.

This belief that a film like Waiting for Superman should not be the end of the discussion on education (a notion that supporters of public education and charter school skeptics most probably agree with wholeheartedly), but rather the beginning of renewed interest in improving schools and striving for educational equality led them to support several films on education at the same time, including Our School. And since a Chicken and Egg grant does not come unaccompanied, we also got to partake in a host of events meant to support education film projects.

This is how we came to find ourselves in a strategy session organized by Chicken and Egg at the 92nd St Y in Tribeca, in New York City, together with film projects such as Mariachi High, Brooklyn Castle and Speaking in Tongues, as well as several powerful ladies involved in education projects in New York:  Carol Ochs of the 52nd St Project, Angela Jackson, founder of The Global Language Project and Maya Wiley, founder of the Center for Social Inclusion. A full report on the event can be found on the Chicken and Egg blog, but here is our one major takeaway from the event:

Our School can be of great use to US audiences: It can serve as a distant lens to bring problems here in the US into sharper focus; the distant setting can help peel off layers of defensiveness. In the outreach stage, we should start by focusing on communities such as Charlotte, NC, or the rural South as testing-grounds for a pilot audience engagement campaign in the US. Such focus is invaluable to the ensuring success, for testing scalability and for maximizing resources. As independent filmmakers with limited resources, we can't afford to work without identifying a clear focus and engaging in as much advance planning.

And that's another way in which Chicken and Egg is an unusual funder: By giving a full range of support services to its grantees, is actually helps save money.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Our School is Back at the Independent Film Week

This is our second time around at IFP's Independent Film Week in New York City. The first time around, in 2008, we were coming off of working on Our School out of Eastern Europe for nearly three years, in virtual isolation from much of the global documentary film community. Being accepted to the Independent Film Week felt like a major breakthrough. That's because it was one: At the 2008 event we had meetings with all the major funders and broadcasters in the US, and many of those relationships bore fruit over the next two years. We also made friends with other filmmakers, and learned that there is power - or at least strength - in solidarity, pooled resources, shared advice, and the wide availability of shoulders to occasionally cry on. And we had our first mention in IndieWire - always fun to see that. 

This year we're taking fewer meetings than the first time around, because we already have relationships with almost everyone in the field, and have been meeting them outside the framework of the Independent Film Week. The novelty has been replaced by pressure - to make a good film, to finish it, to set it up for a good launch. Luckily, we're here with the IFP Lab, which is seeing us through another round of boot camp preparations - this time in terms of marketing, festival strategy, and distribution. So, at the end of the day, we're just as overwhelmed. Which is a good thing, although it may not sound that way.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Kids Grow Up

We went for our last shoot in Targu Lapus earlier this month. We found the children grown, different, more aware. Take a look at Alin in 2006, age 8:

Alin Moldovan in 2006, age 8. Photo credit: Ovidiu Marginean (c) Sat Mic Film, LLC
And here is Alin in 2010, age 12:

Alin Moldovan in 2006, age 12. Photo credit: Mona Nicoara (c) Sat Mic Film, LLC

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Throughts from the 2010 IFP Lab

A couple of days into the IFP Documentary Lab, we began admitting to each other with increasing frequency that our heads are spinning. This, it turns out, is not so much a complaint as a battle cry.

Part nurturing cocoon for the creative process and part scared straight film camp, this crash course in finishing compresses in one week a preview of what all of us are inevitably going to go through in the last year of finishing and releasing our work. The result is curiously energizing. Bracing, one might say.

We started off gently, sharing clips and stories about our projects and taking in feedback on our cuts from an amazing group of editing advisers. In the process, we learned as much from hearing the discussion on other projects as we learned from the feedback sessions devoted to our own projects. (And we got to see some spectacularly successful pairings of experienced advisers and first-time filmmakers who practically started talking to each other in code within seconds of meeting each other.)

Then, as we moved into the finishing boot camp, we started to feel a bit like first-year med students doing dissection: excited to get some real-life knowledge, but not so thrilled yet about the prospect of dealing with all the guts and entrails.

The result is much like learning to ski: the slopes ahead of us after this week feel no less steep, but at least now we’ll know how to make it to the bottom in one piece.

Here is some of the wisdom we’ll carry with us as we brace ourselves for the trip:
  • The whole process of filmmaking is about intention, a shimmering concept that encompasses choice-making, planning, social change goals, and - hopefully - meaning. Everything else follows from intention. This fact so obvious that we very frequently lose sight of it.
  • The temptation to prematurely make things perfect is ultimately counter-productive. Imperfection is close friends with creativity, and bad ideas are often adjacent to the best ideas.
  • Everyone is struggling. Hopefully. If you’re not struggling, you’re not digging deep enough to make the best movie you can - as our editing adviser, the wonderfully empowering Mary Lampson (Harlan County, Trouble the Water) said to us: “You have what's going on. But what matters is what is really going on.”
  • You have to devote one hundred and twenty per cent of your time to making the best film you can. The other one hundred and twenty per cent of your time must go into raising the money to finish the film and getting it out into the world.

[This post initially appeared on the IFP blog on April 16, 2010. Our School was selected by the Independent Filmmaker Project to participate in the 2010 Documentary Lab, a year-long fellowship for projects in post-production, in the 2008 and 2010 Independent Film Week Spotlight on Documentaries meet market, and in the fiscal sponsorship program - all organized by the IFP. We are extraordinarily grateful of IFP's longstanding support thoughout the life of this project, and particularly to the wonderfully visionary and tireless Milton Tabbot and Rose Vincelli.]

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

We're very happy to be selected to be part of the Docs in Thessaloniki pitching forum organized by the European Documentary Forum this year. At the end of several days of training, we'll get to pitch to European broadcasters and sales agents once more - this is only our second formal pitching forum in Europe, following the 2006 East European Forum in Jihlava, Czech Republic. Since then We've had a chance to present the project in the US - at the 2008 Independent Film Week and the 2009 Sundance Creative Producting Summit - but this is the first time in a long while that we get to present Our School in a European context. Keep your fingers crossed!