INTERVIEW WITH… EROLL BILIBANI AND VETON NURKOLLARI OF DOKUFEST
On the festival circuit you’ll find niches, you’ll find pockets that cater for genres and mediums, but what people forget is that there is a thriving circuit for documentary worldwide. After being invited to Jihlava Documentary Film Festival to take part in their Festival Identity Forum, we got speaking to some of the attending programmers and directors about what makes their festival stand out. Today we bring you the thoughts of Eroll Bilibani and Veton Nurkollari, the Executive Director and Artistic Director of DokuFest, whose earlybird submission deadline is February 15th 2015 (on Reelport, Festhome or FilmFreeway).
Tell us a bit about your job, and what you do...
DokuFest is more than just a film festival, therefore the job of the Executive Director has to do a lot with coordination and development of strategies, including fundraising, developing new regional and international networks and maintaining the existing ones, whereas the Artistic Director is in charge of the programming and the artistic segment of the festival and projects.
Eroll: Since we have three main departments (what I like to call pillars), the main focus of my work is focused on synchronization of activities. The festival, similarly to annual projects, has a strong educational component, and one part of my job is to scout and identify similar initiatives taking place at other international festivals. This is can be both very entertaining and incredibly challenging – yet amazingly fulfilling.
Veton: I am Artistic Director of DokuFest and part of my job consists in searching, tracking and watching a good number of films, mostly documentaries, throughout the year in order to compile festival programme. I also help coordinate different educational programmes of our organization.
What makes programming documentary film different from other films?
Veton: Programming documentary films at film festival isn’t very different from programming other types or genres of films, in my opinion. Every programmer must take into account similar aspects, like audience need and profile, quality and actuality of films, geographical coverage etc. With documentaries the aspect of urgency is also very important and here it can differ from fiction films, for important.
Eroll: I am less involved in programming – however I often extend a hand of support to Veton and for me watching so many documentary films during the selection process always feels like a serendipitous journey – where real lives and events unfold in front of your eyes – a journey that I love to take our audience on.
The festival will hold its 14th edition in 2015, how has the festival grown over the years?
In last couple of years the growth was exponential. When Veton with a group of friends started the festival the main idea than, was reclaiming the cinema back. In the heart of the city lies one of the most beautiful venues for screenings, comprised of an indoor and outdoor cinema.But, as years went by, this was not enough to accommodate all those amazing films that we wanted to screen. So, we simply decided to use what city had to offer: The river running through the city, the castle overlooking the town, city squares, grand hammam, places for concerts and camping sites, were all there, waiting to be used.
So we did.
We built a temporary festival cinema literally in the riverbed, the medieval castle overlooking the town turned also to a cinema during the festival days. The walls of the buildings turned to cinema screen, while the old Hamam hosted many exhibitions, workshops and panel discussions. Now we have around 13,000 people attending the screenings as well as some 15,000 attending the popular DokuNight concerts. And all side events add to the charm of the Festival: Photo exhibitions at DokuPhoto, Kids Festival with DokuKids, Technology conference DokuTech, Panels, Debates, Master Classes and Workshops just attract more and more people each year.
Can you sum up your festival in one sentence for us?
I want to use one really amazing description of DokuFest that our friend Sean Farnel to used in his blog for IndieWire: The Off-the-Beaten-Path Festival Where Magic Happens
Tell us about your festival’s selection process.
Veton: We have open call for entries and a small selection committeethat watches and recommends films to me and to short film programmer. A short list is created and most of the films are re-watched again in order to come up with final list of the films that will be included into the programme. We also travel to other festivals where we pick up certain titles.
What’s your advice to someone who gets a rejection from a festival?
Veton: To not be discouraged and to continue send the film. There isalways a festival or programmer out there who will like what you do.
What do you wish filmmakers did more?
Veton: As I watch many documentary films I often wish filmmakers did more research before embarking on shooting the film.
Tell us the best and worst part of your job.
Eroll: The best part of the job is the day when I meet all the Festival staff and volunteers – somehow this moment I draw the enormous energy from around 200 young and striving people that push me to another level. The worst part of my job in particular is dealing often more than I would need to with bureaucracy and paper work. That drains me out.
Veton: Best part of my job is working with fantastic team and seeing the festival coming to realization. Luckily I don’t have part/s of my job that I could call bad or worst, except maybe when I need to reject a film I like very much.
Share with us one of your favourite films and tell us why you like it…
Veton has way too many favourite films to share! So he goes with three:
Leviathan by Verena Paravel and Lucien Castaing-Taylor for its highly original aesthetic values, unusual camera angles and amazing sound design!
The Act of Killing by Joshua Oppenheimer for showing us that criminals in Indonesia still walk freely and can even play themselves in a film about them.
Shoah by Claude Lanzmman because I believe everybody needs to see it in order for evil not to be repeated.
Not to make the list long, Eroll agrees with Veton on his selection but wants to add a first film that he watched from a professional angle when he joined DokuFest. “Hoop Dreams” by Steve James – as it took me to a remarkable journey – and there were moments I did not know if I’m in a fiction thriller or documentary. Through this masterpiece I fell in love with documentaries all over again.
Thanks to Eroll and Veton for taking the time to speak to us, and do check out their submission call out.