Principles of festival work. DOK Leipzig

Leena Pasanen, the program director of the festival:

DOK Leipzig is one of the biggest documentary and animated film festivals in Europe that each year selects russian authors for the program. If in 2018 the focus of the festival was on pictures of maitres, in 2019 the committee decided to support young directors. The next works were brought before the public: “Not far away” by Alex Evstigneev, “Uzy” by Dina Velikovskaya, “Puberty” by Elena Kondratieva. The last picture got “The golden dove” — the main prize in the short-film section. 

Positive disturbance as the art focus of DOK Leipzig

The phrase “Positive disturbance” reflects the mission of our festival. Personally, it inspires me. It is clear that films can’t change our world in a global sense but they can transform thoughts and attitudes of the audience. Excellent pictures always give serious food for thoughts. We live in a time when people want and demand changes for the better. So the precise motto of 2018 festival was taken from the famous Che Guevara’s quotation: be realistic, demand the impossible!

Balance between art-projects and the TV format

Our festival includes two areas: a festival program and an industrious one. The priority of the first is high quality narrative films with a distinct and original concept of the author.  Our pitches also support these films. But such pictures  are usually out of the TV focus. Though you can find logos of big broadcasters in the end titles. It means that today authors make two versions of their projects at one time, including a TV format. Our market is a platform for directors, producers, sales managers, editors who strive for finding something new. Of course, we want to offer something relevant and premiere for professionals. 

It’s important to note that non-competitive sections are aligned according to the viewer's preferences. Each year we have a big audience up till 50000 people. We are the biggest documentary festival in Germany, the second in Europe after IDFA and we are in the top-10 list of the world. Our ticket sales are way up, cinema halls are full. Directors love having premieres here and the audience appreciates that. After screening we always have Q&A, which is a long time even in late movies. 

Statistic of russian participance

In 2018 we got 3150 from 135 countries. We had 73 projects from Russia alongside the Netherlands, Brazil, Austria, Poland. It’s quite a good rate. The festival program accounts for 150-160 films. For each country several slots are provided. In 2018 we selected for screenings films of Victor Kossakovsky, Vitaly Mansky, Alexei Vakhrushev, Sergei Loznitsa. In official selection there was also Nastia Korkia’s “Dramatic and wild” and Svetlana Phillipova’s “Mitya’s love”.

Expectation from russian documentaries

I’m a huge fan of Russian cinema and I bought many films for the Finnish television some years ago. Your documentary traditions are stronger and I would like to see young directors redefining them in a good way. Here I mean your skill to tell unique stories like no one can. I also love Russian animation — your school is one of the best.

Structure of the organisational committee and principles of the program design

There are seven people in the selection committee, I’m the eighth. Though the number of specialists can vary from year to year. Great help comes from coordinators who assume communication with film authors. Films are picked via two channels.  Besides official meetings, we attend big pitches. We are not interested in festivals and in watching ready made films and prefer presentations of rough cuts. As soon as I find something attractive I give contacts to our program department and my colleagues take control of the post-production process.

In 2018, for example, the program listed a film that I had seen at the pitch 8 years before. It’s a normal thing, some documentaries are being shot very long. In the “Next masters” section there was a film that I appreciated when it appeared just as an idea at the pitch ZagrebDox. Doc Lab Poland makes good pitches as well.

In May we already figure out the skeleton of the program and make it final in August. Debates around pictures are often very hot. When things get heated I intervene to make it clear. In these situations it’s important to go away from personal motives and control the general balance of the program, the ratio of different countries, topics, genders and formats. Of course, I have my right to the final decision but I fully trust my team. Once we had a situation when I wanted to exclude one annoying project from the program but my colleagues had so convincing arguments that I didn’t use my right. After all, we pursue the goal to evoke opposite impressions among the audience, it’s an ideal ground for discussions. 

Some recommendations on visiting pitches

If you are a director or a producer, there is no point in visiting pitches as a viewer. It’s good to take part and to master the toolkit from the beginning. I don’t advise to start from big pitches, better to choose something more chamber. The best option to begin with is ZagrebDox. It would be helpful to study at some long sessions and workshops such as EAVE, EURODOC or Documentary Campus. At some of them you can work out your project and presentation during a year. It’s not likely for a person without experience in the film industry to get to the big pitches like  IDFA, DOK Leipzig, Visions du Réel, Hot Docs and others. 

Common mistakes

They happen to our coordinators. As a rule good festivals have got all instructions at their sites but people don’t read them careful and shower us with stupid questions. It’s annoying. When you apply for a pitch, it’s important to follow instructions and not just to send a 10-page synopsis of the film instead of 3 pages. Another bad idea is to write that your trailer is not ready and you’ll have it right for the pitch. Such applications are disqualified. It’s obvious that for the majority of the authors and committee members English is a foreign language but it doesn’t mean that you can give up on high quality subtitle translation. Invest your money in professional film translators. It defines how the audience understands your films.
Olga Bazhenova