In conversation with Festival & Artistic Director David Rokach
In the lead up to the 5th Antenna Documentary FIlm Festival, Screen NSW talks to Festival and Artistic Director, David Rokach about the festival, his approach to programming and trends in documentary film making.
This is the 5th Antenna festival. You’ve built a reputation for screening challenging films that don’t shy away from controversial topics. With that in mind what were your programming priorities this year?
Antenna set up to promote creative cinematic documentaries to the wide Australian audiences, so when programming the festival, we have to consider many things. First, as you said, we like films that are giving new perspectives on their subject matters that are thought provoking and that at the same time are creative in their approach, and most importantly cinematic-documentaries that were made for the big screen. But when programming we are not only looking at the films as individuals, we also look at the program as a whole. So although the selection of the films in the program is a reflection of what is happening in the documentary cinema today, I believe that a good program of any art or film festival should not operate solely in it’s own bubble but also provide audiences a platform to reflect on the world we live. So our programming job is an on-going attempt to achieve this, so in this sense our priorities haven't changed. What’s constantly changing are the films and the world!
Do you have a favourite technique for documentary making and what do you really like about the form personally?
I don’t have a favourite technique or style for documentary making. I think that in a good film the style serves the story, or in other words - the style is also part of the story - so any style can be excellent in the same way that any subject matter can be interesting - it all depends on the vision of the filmmaker. Personally, I think that fiction and documentary are both powerful mediums that can allow great work to be made but I do think that complexities are more powerfully conveyed through documentaries.
How do you select films for the festival? And how many films do you program based on submissions, compared to films you've found at other festivals?
We source films through three different methods: the call for submissions process, our relationship with different sales agents and distributors from around the world and by attending or watching films from international festivals and markets. As for international films, from over 800 considered films we select only 25 films, so it is extremely competitive. So although we receive hundreds of submissions, it is true that most of the films that make it to the program have been sourced through sales agents or other international festivals. However with local films it’s a completely different story as many of the selected local films are films that we received through the submissions process. So for festivals like Antenna, the submission process is a great way to discover new local talents.
Who watches the film submissions for the festival? Do you use volunteer screeners and when in the process do programmers get involved?
We have two committees, the pre-selection committee and the selection committee. Each film is watched by at least two people from the pre selection committee and if at least one of them recommended us to watch it, then it move to the next level which is the selection committee. In the selection committee we all watch the same films and meet to discuss each and every one of them. Sometimes it is clear to everybody if a film should be selected but most of the time we can discuss films for weeks until we make a final decision. Although this process is very helpful and the discussion it creates is essential to shape and create a good program - the final decisions are made by me.
When it comes to programming the festival how do you make a distinction between your personal taste and programming requirements?
First, as I mentioned, I work with a group of people I trust. Also when watching a film I constantly ask myself two questions: what is the ‘additional value’ of the film, as a film, and how does it serve the overall program? This year I can name at least three films that I loved but didn’t end up being selected.
When it comes to trending subjects, what do you do when there’s more than one worthy film on a certain topic?
We can select more than one film on certain topic, but only if the films are radically different in their approach. That’s the reason we sometimes have to make hard decisions and reject excellent films.
Do you see any areas where there could be improvements in the industry – are there things you aren’t seeing that you would like to see?
I think that it is no longer a secret that our public broadcasters are no longer interested in commissioning or acquiring feature length documentaries. So I believe that as an industry, we will have to start thinking outside of the broadcasters' framework, in order to build an environment and infrastructure that will allow those films to be made and be shown.
Check out this year's festival: www.antennafestival.org