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EDN Director’s Blog #4: Keep pushing forward with good intentions

EDN Director Paul Pauwels

Dear EDN friends, 

Apologies for the somewhat longer silence but the autumn has been a bit busier than expected and I kept pushing forward my good intentions to write to you. Also, don’t think that I’m complaining: most of the time was dedicated to new initiatives that needed to be explored and to develop promising new opportunities that presented themselves. EDN is more vibrant than ever and we’ll catch up on our beauty sleep later.

I had listed some items to mention in this document, but all of them have become less important, in view of the sad news that landed on our desk this week: the passing of our good friend and colleague Peter Wintonick. The news about his demise came as a shock and I think that until today many of us don’t grasp the full effect it will have on us. It will only become obvious when in the next weeks and months we’ll all meet during markets, forums and festivals …and suddenly we’ll feel that void that was so (amply) filled by the warm presence of Peter. A lot has been said and written about how we will miss him, and although in this cynical world very often this kind of words don’t mean a lot, in relation to Peter’s farewell I could feel that people were very sincere and honest in expressing their sorrow and pain. Time for cliché #1: whether you’re a believer in life after death or not, one thing is for sure: a person is alive as long as he lives in our hearts and minds, and with Peter that will be the case for ever.

But of course, the world didn’t stop turning and the starts didn’t fade. Life goes on.

Well, for many in Northern Africa and the Middle East, it actually didn’t. The events in Syria, Egypt, Tunisia keep occupying our television screens and like many of you I often wonder what the outcome of the Arab revolution will be. It must be incredibly hard for documentary filmmakers in these regions to survive and to use their talents. Over the past months I had the occasion to meet many filmmakers from these troubled regions and every time I felt humbled by their zeal, their stamina and their courage. Would I have the courage and the faith to take to the streets and document the cruel events that day by day haunt them, and in spite of all the violence still continue to believe in a better future? I doubt it. In the name of the European documentary community I want to applaud what they’re doing and EDN will certainly do whatever is in its power to support them in their courageous actions.

Although we can in no way compare the situation in North Africa and the Middle East with our own, we cannot sit still, complacent and happy that over here at least life is a bit easier. We complain a lot about decreasing budgets and the diminishing number of slots for creative documentary – and rightly so – but the real danger is less visible. Censorship and (worse!) self-censorship seem to creep in silently in our world and that could be the beginning of a rotting process that we have to stop before it even gets a chance to develop. We don’t have many hard facts yet, and some of the information we received is hearsay, so we must be careful not to cry wolf, but several incidents were reported to us.

The obvious one came from Russia where – allegedly – a producer removed all elements that had to do with Tsjaikovsky’s homosexual feelings from a documentary, in return for a nice state subsidy. I don’t want to cast the first stone, but this is a worrying development. Another incident that was reported to us had to do with a much applauded quality documentary that was awarded a prize by a renowned and respected organisation, but then could not get if because the event during which the prize would be given took place in a country that was not really a friend of his own. EDN took action and a good solution was found (thanks for that to all concerned and kudos to the organisers who admitted their mistake and set it right) but we have to keep our eyes open for this kind of venomous events. A third and alas not last information that reached us came from a very respected festival where an independent jury got some kind and (not so subtle) indications that documentaries that dealt with certain – touchy - subjects should not be given an award for it might displease the festival’s sponsors. It does give a very special meaning to the word “independent” doesn’t it? Luckily, for the moment these are only isolated incidents, but to us they are a warning-sign. Let’s keep our eyes and ears open and report any incident that might threaten the independency of documentary filmmakers.

What has kept us rather busy was the news that the new Creative Europe Guidelines would be very disadvantageous for the documentary community. Once again EDN did not hesitate to act and found a listening ear at the other side of the table. Representatives of EACEA and the Media Unit met with EDN and during a very open-minded and positive meeting in Brussels, the different issues that had been reported to us were discussed. At the moment that I write these lines, the final document has not bee published yet, but we did receive inside information that confirms that our remarks have quite well been taken into account. The most important element however is that we got the assurance that 2014 will be a test year for the Creative Europe plan and that modifications can and will be made if proven necessary. EDN has taken it upon itself to become the preferential partner in this process and we will gladly take your remarks and suggestions to the Media Unit and make sure that they are seriously taken into consideration.

Which brings me to the next point. EDN has now an office in Brussels and is situated very close to the powers-that-be. I wish to express my gratitude to CEO Pierre Drouot of the Flemish Audiovisual Fund (VAF) for offering us office space and meeting facilities in the House of the Flemish film. I do hope that this new location will make it easier for all of you to physically get in touch with us: you now all have a home in Brussels. Let’s use it in the best possible way.

I now notice that I have to abandon the idea that I expressed in my earlier blog, to talk about the idea of EDN as a “family”. More than ever I believe in this concept but I’ll come back to that in a direct mail message that I will send soon.

And one final thought before I leave you to your duties: don’t forget to have a look at DOX MAGAZINE and be sure to keep it; it might become a collectors item for it’s # 100 and the team did a great job. Many thanks also to the contributors who accepted the challenge to discuss documentary matters in a dialogue with an adversary who was not necessarily a usual suspect.  Lots of food for thought there.

And before I forget, does anybody have the zip code for heaven? I mustn’t forget to send Peter’s copy to him. 

Thank you very much for your attention, and all I can say is… don’t be a stranger now!

Paul Pauwels

Director EDN