The finish line is fast approaching: we are down to the last few weeks choosing the films for DocPoint – Helsinki Documentary Film Festival. There’s plenty and more to watch. The Vanishing Point series notwithstanding, we curate the entire programme by ourselves. Specially appointed juries compile the New Finnish Documentary Films series and the Finnish Student Films series.
I took on screening this year’s programme long beforehand, already before the 2014 festival. The classic filmmaker to receive a retrospective in the 2015 festival was decided early on. Jacques Cousteau, the ever so lovely pioneer of nature documentary and underwater cinematography, was on the tips of our tongues while putting together last year’s Jean Rouch retrospective with the National Audiovisual Institute. Since Cousteau’s films had not yet been screened at DocPoint, the choice was clear. Inspired by Cousteau, the sea was also to become a potential over-arching theme of 2015. As the case has very so often been with festival programming, films fitting a certain theme – this time the sea and bodies of water – start flooding in. The classics series is again realised in collaboration with the National Audiovisual Institute.
Another series confirmed early is Vanishing Point, a selection of experimental films curated by artists Sami van Ingen and Mika Taanila. The series remains a particular pride of the festival. Exceptional visiting directors have had their work screened for the first time in Finland in in the past two years of Vanishing Point – and I trust 2015 to be no exception. The festival guest will be Peter Gidal, a Swiss artist currently residing in United Kingdom. His films escape narrative structures of all kinds, and hold their own in experimental rigour even by the standards of the Vanishing Point series. Another master experimentalist to feature in the series is Bruce Conner (1933–2008) whose short films are considered the forbearers of music film, among other genres.
The search for international titles began for me in February 2014 in Berlinale, five days after closing up the DocPoint Festival. During the spring I visited several festivals, including Vision du Réel in Switzerland, DOK.fest in Munich and the Kraków International Film Festival. The first films for DocPoint were picked from these festivals, and with them the programme began to take shape. In the spring we also launched for the first time an open submission for international films – and received more than 900 offers. There is no way I could have watched them all by myself: to help me I have had the board of the festival and our small but efficient programming team.
Choosing the films often steers clear from glamour. There’s no time for red carpets at festivals: programmers sit by themselves in cramped viewing booths, ”film markets”, where they watch films on computer screens. Rarely is it possible to finish a film; more often than not you watch just enough to decide whether or not to order a copy of the film back to the office at home.
Fortunately this year, festival viewing for me has mostly meant seeing films on theatre screens with an audience. As film festivals strive to bring films to big screens, screening films on a small computer screen is a regrettable compromise dictated by the harsh realities of the industry.I have watched most of the films as screening copies on a fairly large TV screen. At best, you can watch five or six films a day.
In late November, I will head for IDFA in Amsterdam, the biggest documentary film festival in Europe, if not in the world. I will screen mostly new Dutch cinema, as I am in the jury for the Competition for Dutch Documentary.
In our international series we aim to present films, which wouldn’t otherwise feature in Finland and which are meant to be seen in theatres – not on laptops or on television. The primary criterium is that the film is content-wise suitable for movie theaters and that the quality of the image fits for a big screen. Many of our titles do find their way into TV schedules, but compared to the early years of DocPoint, it has become a more and more rare occurrence. This has come to bear on our search for new films, and we take heed of the wishes of our audiences. We prefer not to screen international films that have been commercially distributed in Finland – either in cinemas, TV or as video on demand – save for our Masterclass, lifetime achievement award and classics series. Sometimes, for one reason or another, we are also unable to get the films our audience have requested. Particularly newly finished films tend to have their European premieres contracted to Berlinale, shortly after DocPoint.
The DocPoint programme can roughly be divided into three: experimental, story-driven and issue-driven documentaries. To complement the experimental series, I have looked for feature-length films that push the boundaries of the documentary form. Story-driven films can also be striking and avant-garde, but their prime focus remains on narrative flow and emotional resonance. This year, we have an abundance of films of political and societal relevance. Events around the world provide documentary filmmakers plenty of subject matter: the aftermath of the Arab Spring can still be felt, and Ukraine, Palestine and especially Russia remain as topical as ever. Environmental issues and, wonderfully, love in all its forms also feature strongly in the programme.
The big surprise of 2014 has been the excellent quality of Belgian cinema. This will show not only in the festival programme but also in our many industry events.
Stay tuned: on this site you will find more information about the coming festival. There will be more updates already later this year. The entire programme will be published in early January.