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MIA Keynote Speech 2015

“Stronger than Fiction. Eyewitnesses of Life”

Following an invitation by Doc/it, EDN Director Paul Pauwels held a keynote speech on 17 October 2015 during the International Audiovisual Market MIA (Mercato Internazionale Audiovisivo) in Rome/Italy. The transcript of the keynote can be found below.


Dear colleagues and friends,


As has been said in the kind introduction, I am the director of the European Documentary Network. We are an organisation that has been created not only to defend the rights of the international documentary community but also to inspire and encourage our members when times are tough and today, as we all know, the times are tough indeed.

But I’m not going to abuse the kind invitation of our hosts to offer you a political talk about how bad the situation is and why and how we have to take action. There are times and occasions that are more suited for that.

This might be a kind of surprise for the organisers, but I’m going to change the title of today’s talk. Instead of telling you to “get inspired” i’m urging you to “become inspirators”. As a start for my talk, I’d like to introduce you to one of my mentors:




Trailer: courtesy of Sylvain Biegeleisen © 2014 Zenpro


I hope that this brief clip of that wonderful documentary has touched you as much as it has me.

What I do want to share with you today - and I hope that this will be an inspiration for you - is my strong belief in the power of documentary and how the genre never ceases to be a source of inspiration, hope and consolation for me, and I’m sure it is the same for many of you and for the audience out there.

What a noble cause that is.

How privileged we filmmakers are to have an occupation that is so much more than just a job: we have a mission. But a mission that comes with responsibilities.

Media is a weapon and it can be used for the greater good but also alas for the bad.

Being members of the entertainment and information industry we have to be very careful about what we do and in my opinion some of our colleagues don’t pay enough attention to that.

All too often, contemporary media makers aim for the easy success by producing crowdpleasers that are based on sensationalism, violence and empty-headed erotism.

The mix of those elements leads to the representation on the screen of a world that is not only unrealistic but, worse, that is scary and frightening.

Audiences are subjected to an avalanche of false depictions of reality: a reality in which one is not leading a full life if one is not rich, beautiful and does not entertain the kind of sex-life that would exhaust any normal man or woman within a week.

That same false image of reality also makes us look upon the other as dangerous and threatening, certainly when that other looks different, is coloured and comes from a country that we don’t know much about.

If in today’s European society once treasured values like compassion, solidarity and tolerance are being replaced by hate, racism, egoism… then this has partly to do with the fact that many a media professional, all too often has sucumbed to the false satisfaction of superficial notoriety and instant success.

And that is why I love documentary, for a large majority of documentary filmmakers do care more about what their films do for their audience than about the money they make.

But life is hard on them: their budgets are going down, their stories need to fit into the strict format of a slot or a strand that offers the viewer exactly what he or she expects, so please: don’t bother us with innovative proposals that could drag the viewer out of his/her comfort zone and worse… send them to a competing screen.

So, while audiences are sitting in the comfort of their own carefully protected beliefs and consume the mindless entertainment that can be found on numerous channels, they are oblivious of what is happening on their doorstep. It will be a rude awakening when they find out soon that they have been living in a dream.

This, my dear documentary makers, this situation should inspire you to not accept the current situation and to continue your fight with the media moguls and claim your right to make and to show documentaries that show the world in all its different aspects. Show us how life can be kind and cruel, show us that there are many who might not look like us and who live their life in a different way than we do… but with whom we all share the same human feelings.

Was it not Shakespeare who made one of his characters, the jew Shylock, ask: “if you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh?"

Therefore, show your audience that real happiness and life fulfilment is not to be found in wealth and superficial beauty and make sure you continue to use your talent and craftsmanship to direct and to produce things of beauty.

Make documentaries that make people happy, angry, confused, curious, enraged even, help them to understand that there is real value and satisfaction to be found in arts and culture.

Isn’t this a wonderful mission? You might never walk the red carpet in Cannes or drive that superb Ferrari (unless you steal one) but, although your name might never be on the billboards on the grand boulevards – in a way you will forever stay in the hearts and minds of the people to whom you’ve offered an hour or so of consolation, elation and a feeling of a bit better understanding the world they live in.

And in the end, isn’t that what we want to do: rendering a service to that one world that we all share and in which we all play our role to the best of our abilities.

Dear friends, let’s stop moaning and complaining. Pick up that camera and aim that microphone and set out for that great adventure that making a documentary actually is.

Let the result of your work be the source of inspiration for the people in front of the screen. They’re out there, waiting for you, take my word for it.

Thank you IDS and Doc/it for giving me the opportunity to share my feelings with you and thank you all for your attention.



Paul Pauwels,

Director EDN