Interview: José Abrantes on Filmmaking Amid the Corona Crisis
We spoke with EDN member José Abrantes from Portugal about the implications of Covid-19 for documentary filmmaking and how it inspired him to launch a new initiative touching on the impacts of the pandemic. The project aims to capture the ups and downs of what it means to live and work under lock-down restrictions, not just as a filmmaker, but as ordinary citizens from all across the globe.
The project "Covideos – A documentary Made By You" (also see Facebook Page ) invites citizens from around the world to contribute with their own Corona video story and become part of a global project dedicated to the Covid-19 crisis. In this interview, Portuguese filmmaker and EDN member José Abrantes, who initiated the project, reveals details about "Covideos" and talks about documentary filmmaking in times of the Corona pandemic.
EDN: First off, it's great that you found the time for this interview. Maybe you could start by telling us a bit about your background and your road into documentary filmmaking?
J.A.: After having studied communication design and photography, I worked for several multinational advertising agencies over the years, mostly as creative director. I then started directing commercials and became quite experienced in this area. But even before this time, there has always been a desire to direct feature films and documentaries. Today, this previous experience in another branch of the industry helps in having a different approach to documentary filmmaking. Some time ago, I had the opportunity to co-direct a feature film and also started working on projects in the documentary field which are now in different stages of production.
EDN: You just recently launched a new project called which is directly related to the Corona pandemic. It would seem that many filmmakers are currently trying to tap into the potential of this topic in some way. What is your initiative about and how is it different from other projects focusing on the ongoing pandemic?
J.A.: It's going to be a unique initiative and the idea is to collaborate with one director per country in order to portray the different impacts of the pandemic depending on how and where we live. That being said, this is a fairly ambitious project which intends to gather many directors from all over the world. Each director would share this initiative in their own country, with the goal to create an incentive for people to send short videos from their homes or workplace, answering a series of questions that were developed by a group of psychologists. Each director is welcome to use their own aesthetics, as long as the central idea and concept is being reflected. This way, each director/country will be able to have its own documentary, and another piece not longer than 10 minutes, which in the end will be a part of a global and larger doc about people’s perception of these times throughout the world. My goal is that all of us can together create one documentary and a series of smaller documentaries which will portray the present times, even if we can’t reach everyone (being that the necessary means and technology are unfortunately different for many).
EDN: The Covideos project will show a cross-section of people from around the world and how they deal with the pandemic and related restrictions. How do you plan to weave a story around this kind of content?
J.A.: What I envision as the final project is almost like a photo album that we can go through, which gathers the small videos from all over the world, interwoven through a narrator who connects all these realities in a compelling story.
EDN: In the project description, it is mentioned that anyone can take part and send in their videos — what is it that you would expect people to show or talk about?
J.A.: We were forced to stop, to think and, in a completely different and unexpected way, to have more contact with the people that are closest to us. I would wish that people share with us what really changed in their way of thinking, and if the concepts of family and interpersonal relationships were affected. If they won or lost anything whilst this crisis is going on and if they feel more pessimistic or optimistic towards the future. All of these are concepts that we took for granted and that were now all of a sudden disrupted.
EDN: Did you already receive contributions for the project despite the fact that your initiative has only been launched a few days ago?
J.A.: Although Covideos still hasn't had the visibility we are hoping to have at some point, we’re happy to already have some directors on board and some very surprising testimonies. I hope this interview helps taking this project to more people and making them interested in sending in their testimonies (all points of view are of interest), whilst piquing the curiosity of directors who would like to be part of this initiative.
EDN: Are you aiming for a specific platform - like TV or SVOD - for the final product once it's ready for distribution? Or is it going to be a project solely intended for distribution via social media?
J.A.: The social networks are good enough to help make this project visible and to reach as many people as possible in order to have a greater scope of realities and representation. My goal is to have both the local and the global documentaries featured on TV or SVOD.
EDN: And lastly, we met you in Lisbon last year when you were pitching the project "The Space Island" with the production company ‘West Coast Films’. How did things go for the project since then and how does the current situation with Covid-19 impact the development of the project?
J.A.: We were forced to postpone the start of the shooting because of the confinement, but the production is still active within what is possible.
EDN: Thank you very much for your time and the detailed responses. We keep our fingers crossed and hope you'll receive lots of submissions for your initiative.
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