A Letter from My Younger Self

By January 8, 2011 May 14th, 2013 Filmmaking, My Film Projects, The Illusionists

This past Wednesday, after a long afternoon of editing I rushed to the Forum des Images – a Mecca for any cinephile in the Chatelet area of Paris. The Forum hosts daily screenings, master classes with prominent actors and directors, as well as debates and film classes. British actor Michael Caine was scheduled to hold the first masterclass of 2011 later that evening. As soon as I arrived, I was informed that the event was sold out, so I wandered off to the nearby Bibliothèque du cinéma François Truffaut: a small, glitzy film library that with its spare bookcases, pink neon lamps, and diffused light feels more like a bar lounge than an educational establishment.

At first I looked for books on French director Jean-Pierre Melville. Ever since discovering that his mythical film studios were situated in my neighborhood, I have been eager to find out more about his life and work. Unfortunately, all material related to him was out. Since I was in the “M” section of the library, I took a couple of books by Chris Marker (director of cult films La Jetée, and Sans Soleil) and wandered through the room, looking for film magazines. That’s when a terribly serendipitous thing occurred.

On a small shelf, tucked off in a dark corner of the library, I spotted DOX magazine – which describes itself as “the leading European magazine on documentary filmmaking.” It’s released four times a year, by subscription only, and it largely serves members of the EDN – European Documentary Network – who receive it for free. I had been approached by a journalist from EDN in July 2009: she had found my project The Illusionists through Twitter and said she wanted to interview me for an article about how European filmmakers use social media to find funding as well as audiences. The article was inspired by Scott Kirsner’s brilliant book Fans, Friends And Followers: Building An Audience And A Creative Career In The Digital Age. The interview was conducted via email and sent off by her deadline of September 2009 – the piece was supposed to be published in the Winter 2009 issue of DOX.

I had provided DOX my mailing address but despite a couple of shipments, I never received the magazine. At the IDFA film festival later that November I was told by a couple of friends that they’d read my interview in DOX. I even met the journalist who profile me: ultra friendly and bright Willemien Sanders. Yet I never managed to get hold of that particular issue of DOX. Until this Wednesday, that is. I looked through the back issues of the magazine at the Truffaut Library, and there it was:

Reading the piece, a year and a half after the interview took place, was a real wake up call. For months, I had been going through a crisis of faith and confidence in my film The Illusionists. I had decided to go down the traditional French route – waiting to start filming and getting funding through TV networks. The well established, prestigious production company helping me out would get the film in the door, only to then hear lukewarm responses or flat out refusals from TV networks. “It’s not personal enough.” Or: “We love the script, but we’re not sure where to put the film in our programming.” Or, my personal favorite: “The film is too Anglo-Saxon for us.” At the end of last year, I have been left with no significant advancements, extremely high stress, and an encyclopedic knowledge of essential oils (used to curb the aforementioned stress).

The words I wrote in July 2009 were an important, serendipitous wake-up call, a letter from my younger self confirming what I had been thinking more and more: forget TV networks, take the DIY road.

If the type in the image above is too small, here’s once again what I wrote:

In the film, I denounce mass media and advertising for saturating our lives with images of idealized beauty and censoring images of real women’s bodies. I challenge the status quo and the very essence of mass media. In France, where I live, film production companies get their funding for documentaries from TV stations, which are heavily dependent on advertising. I wouldn’t want a big cosmetics company to pressure a TV network to drop my project or to severely edit it, under the threat of pulling advertising. Well, there is very little such companies can do to an independently funded film. Also, women’s voices often go unheard, as our cultural institutions and mass media are male-dominated. But when it comes to the Internet, all bets are off: women have as many chances as men to publish their writings and videos. The web is the most egalitarian medium that has ever existed.

Amen!