My ‘Bosch Stiftung Film Prize Nominee Forum’ Experience

I just came back from Berlin where I attended a film forum organized by the Robert Bosch Foundation. Organized for nominated projects competing for their 2013 Arab-German co-production film grants. 

I first found out about the Bosch Foundation and their generous funding opportunities this past summer in Amman where I attended a short-film project market hosted by the Royal Film Commission of Jordan meant to help Arab writer/directors partner up with German producers. After some pitch training and meetings, I decided to join forces with an ambitious producer, Jessica Landt from Beleza Film, and apply to the co-production grant together with our short fiction project The Stork.

We were shortlisted and invited to the Nominee Forum with nine other teams, each working on either short fiction or documentary projects, also made up of Arab and German filmmakers. It was an intense few days of training rounded out with good food and conversations. I think we all left more prepared to officially pitch our projects in February to the jury during the 2013 Berlinale.

Since I found it so useful, I thought I’d summarize my highlights:

Pitch training with Cathy de Haan: I first met Cathy in the Amman project market, where she introduced us to the art of pitching, but here she had more time to expand on her advice. She reminded us of the essentials: to keep things clear, consistent and concise – reflected in everything from how we use our voices, our bodies and the design of our visual material. We’ve got to relax, to enjoy the process, because we’ll never have this opportunity again to speak to this particular audience about this specific film. We tend to get so wound up with our presentations and ourselves that we forget about our audience; who we’re actually pitching to and who has ultimate power. What do they know about the project already?, what do they want to hear and how/why will they be moved by your project? Even if they’re critical of the pitch in the end, we should be appreciative and answer their concerns seriously, as their questions and feedback is proof they actually took the time to hear our pitch.

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Neo Middle-Eastern Cinema –

Here’s another short paper I recently wrote for my Cinema Studies class. It’s my attempt to find a filmmaking aesthetic and production model  that is appropriate for the Middle East at this time – especially for new filmmakers like myself.

It still needs a little work, especially towards the end where I need to suggest concrete steps we can take as filmmakers – tell me what you think and give me any advice on how I can make it stronger:

Neo Middle-Eastern Cinema:
Filmmaking Trends and Possibilities

There’s a new crop of emerging Arab filmmakers who have taken it upon themselves to produce films in opposition to the Middle-Eastern stereotypes Hollywood has produced in the last several decades. While this is a worthy cause, the region and its people are in need of films for their own consumption. We need a cinema that acts as a mirror for the audience, a place of reflection and discussion of one’s culture, history and people. Yet is there a current model for a type of filmmaking that would satisfy these needs? As mentioned in a recent New York Times article [1], there has been a recent revival of neo-realistic films, especially in the US, that derive their strength from their intimate portraits of characters living on the periphery of society. This new generation of filmmakers remind us that the ‘small’ can be large, and the ugliness in the world can be divine.

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Vinterberg’s “The Celebration” – more on the ‘power of relics’

Tonight in Cinema Studies we saw Thomas Vinterberg’s The Celebration, the first film that adhered to the Dogma 95 ‘vow of chastity’. Here’s the plot taken directly from Wikipedia (spoiler alert):

Respected family patriarch and businessman Helge (Henning Moritzen) is celebrating his 60th birthday at their family-run hotel. Gathered together are his loyal wife Elsa, his daughter Helene, his sons Michael (Thomas Bo Larsen) and Christian (Ulrich Thomsen), and other guests. Christian’s twin sister, Linda, had recently killed herself at the hotel.

Before the celebration dinner, Helene finds Linda’s suicide note, but hides it. Later, during dinner, Christian makes a speech to the family in which he accuses Helge of sexually abusing him and his late sister, Linda. Helge’s family and friends initially dismiss the accusations as absurd, a joke, or a figment of Christian’s imagination. During a toast, Elsa makes a series of back-handed compliments towards her children, accusing Christian of having an overactive imagination as a child, and asking him to apologize. Christian responds by accusing her of interrupting Helge during a rape. Michael ejects Christian from the hotel.

At the end of the film, Christian’s accusations are confirmed when the younger sister, Helene, reads Linda’s suicide note. Linda’s note states that she had begun to have dreams in which her father was molesting her again, which led to her suicide. Helge admits to the abuse, saying that it was all Christian was good for.

The next morning, Helge admits the abuse of his children and the destruction of his family. Michael nevertheless sends him away from the table, pointing out that he has to go so that they can have breakfast.

Right when Helene takes out the suicide note I was reminded of my post on La Notte when Lidia pulls out an old love letter from Giovanni. The power of the written word, of something physical, is so powerful it becomes a form of testimony. Despite Christian’s status as the favorite son and most dependable, his claims are questioned all throughout the film until they’re verified by his dead sister’s letter. While the short letter doesn’t delineate in graphic detail the abuse that occurred for years, unlike the videotape in Primal Fear, our imaginations are able to fill in the gaps. The letter is so potent that even the abusive father stops trying to derail the truth from getting out. We don’t dare question the voice of the dead, maybe it’s a form of tribute to them.

And yet we’re somehow aware of the gap between the relic and ‘the truth’. The monuments that ancient civilizations have left for us are not only the means by which we understand them but also how they wanted to be remembered. The details that were left out, that lie in the shadow of the past, our imaginations can only illuminate.