The general feedback was given towards the end of a week-long event just outside Tunis, the final one for the DOCmed 2011 class, during which eight producers and directors from the South Mediterranean each spoke to a commisioning editor for 45 minutes.
Participants included directors Nidal Abudiab (Palestine) and Sandra Madi (Jordan), directors and producers Hazem Alhamwi (Syria), Nagham Osman (Egypt), and Bahia Bencheikh El-Fegoun (Algeria), as well as producers Myriam Sassine (Lebanon), Rachid Boutounès (Morocco), and Abir Hachem (Lebanon). Syrian filmmaker Bahraa Hijazi (Syria), detained by Syrian intelligence at the time but now released, was sadly unable to attend.
“For most of them, it’s the first time that they are meeting commissioning editors from Arte, ITVS, RTBF,” DOCmed project manager Jad Abi Khalil told Euromed Audiovisual’s camera. “It’s a very important part of the training because they are meeting international decision makers who will, in one way or another, influence the professional life, the career of these producers.”
And these decision makers, while very impressed with a wide array of very personal and interesting projects, had some parting advice to give participants.
First, think about your audience.
When pitching to foreign television channels, filmmakers should think more about foreign audiences who lack specialist knowledge about North Africa and the Middle East and give more context to their films, said Martine Saada, head of society and culture programmes at Arte France.
Claire Aguilar from ITVS in the United States added that, for the average American viewer, with very limited knowledge of world affairs, documentaries needed to explain concepts “at a kindergarten level”.
Television audiences, always ready to zap, are also different from cinema audiences.
“The approach needs to be much clearer, much more direct in television, because it’s for an audience that won’t wait 10 minutes for you to tell them what the film is about,” Wilbur Leguebe, responsable for documentary co-productions at the Belgian RTBF, told Docmed participants, stressing that this influences the structure of a film.
Second, write a good proposal.
Funding selection juries and commissioning editors make decisions based on images and written proposals, without a meeting in person, said Zeina Zaherddine, in charge of the Crossroads project at the Arab Fund for Arts and Culture (AFAC), so make sure your written proposals are as good as an oral presentation.
Mohammad Soueid, commissioning editor at Al-Arabiya, stressed this need to improve proposal writing, but also said that he hoped to see more co-productions between large broadcasting channels in the Arab region.
“It’s weird that we can initiate co-production here with BBC, with PBS, and we don’t have this privilege [in the Arab world],” he said. “I don’t think that the [DOCmed] participants who came here are expecting much from the [Arab] broadcasters. They are betting on Arte... And this is very sad.”
Arab documentary film production still has a way to go, but all participants told Euromed Audiovisual that DOCmed had been very useful.
“In the Arab world we are not involved enough in the universal system of production, so filmmakers work very independently,” said Syrian filmmaker Hazem Alhamwi, who is both directing and producing his documentary project Caravan in a Room. DOCmed, he said, had shed more light on the benefits on having a separate producer to take care of a film’s funding, while the director thought about more artistic matters.
Egyptian filmmaker Nagham Osman, who pitched her documentary Little to editors, said that she had learned a lot about the importance of a good proposal and the possibility of seeking funding from a broadcasting channel, as well as distribution and co-production.
Nidal Abudiab, the director of Storm in the Valley Silwan from Jerusalem, said that programmes such as DOCmed were great to develop a generation of Arab producers able to successfully pitch projects to the wider world.
“The world needs to understand more the Arab world, and needs a new language in understanding us,” he said.
In parallel to the DOCmed 2011 pitching session, DOCmed 2012 participants started to develop their documentary projects with trainers, and as part of DOCmed local, a group of young Tunisian directors and producers reviewed their projects with their tutors and a production expert.
DOCmed is funded by the European Union via its Euromed Audiovisual programme.