ON THE BLOG: Learning from the masters at CPH:DOX

Day three of CPH:CONFERENCE - the unique five-day industry event funded by Creative Europe's Access to Markets scheme, explores the intersection of film, art, science, technology and social change and provided a rare opportunity to hear from leading practitioners. Here's what we learnt...

Nanfu Wang | Dissent is Patriotic

Nanfu Wang is an Emmy-nominated and Peabody-winning Chinese filmmaker based in New York City. Her latest film One Child Nation had its European premiere at the 2019 edition of CPH:DOX and is an alumni of the 2017 edition of Sheffield Doc/Fest's MeetMarket, also funded by Creative Europe's Access to Markets scheme.  

ON A SUPRISING TRANSITION INTO DOCUMENTARY FILMMAKING (AT THE AGE OF 26)

  • "When I realised you could tell a story with visuals, it became an obsession. I began by documenting my life experiences and my view of the world."
  • "When I first started filming for Hooligan Sparrow, I had no idea it would become a feature length documentary."

ON OVERCOMING OBSTACLES (SUCH AS THE INTIMIDATION OF THE AUTHORITIES) TO FILMING

  • "My outrage was more prominent, and dominant, than my fear. I wanted to do everything I could to get this on camera as evidence for people who wouldn't believe otherwise."

ON THE GENESIS OF ONE CHILD NATION

  • "Being a mother myself, it was the first time I felt close to the experience of the women who had to apply for a birth permit."

ON HER MOTIVATIONS

  • "I wanted the film to be a record of history, so that it could be something that people could discover or revisit years from now and learn about Chinese history and the One Child Policy."

ON BALANCING THE PERSONAL AND THE POLITICAL

  • "It was always a challenge of how to transition from my personal story into the bigger, broader story of the history of the One Child Policy and how to intercut them. It took a lot of trial and error."
  • "It's hard to avoid social and political issues. Everything is political."

ON HER EDITING PROCESS

  • "I like to edit as I film something to see if what I thought I captured is actually what I captured and to constantly adjust where the story is going and see if what's happening on camera and what's happening in my mind matches up. I like to add the footage as I go and keep revising it so that the assembly is almost done once filming is done. I'm building up the story and that informs what I shoot next."

Want more like this? Enjoy Nanfu Wang's TED talk on controlling time through story...

Asif Kapadia | Complicated Lives

Asif Kapadia is an Oscar and BAFTA-winning filmmaker from Hackney, best known for his searing documentaries on cultural and sporting icons. His debut feature film The Warrior was nominated for three BAFTA awards, winning Best British Film and Best Debut Film and was supported by Creative Europe's Automatic Distribution scheme for its release in France, Norway, Portugal and Spain. 

Both his documentaries Senna and Amy broke box-office records and went on to win numerous awards. The latter was also supported by the Automatic Distribution scheme, as has his current project Maradona, about Argentinian football legend Diego Maradona. 

ON SENNA

  • "You have to follow through on your instinct. The initial challenge is figuring out if this is a story worth telling and whether anyone will want to see it."
  • "You can never screen the film enough whilst the project is a work in progress."
  • "People didn't think the idea of a film without talking heads would work, but all I cared about was him [Senna] and his POV."
  • "Having come from a fiction background and art school...part of the process was freeing myself of the notion that it had to be perfect...It doesn't matter what it looks like or what it's shot on, what matter is the emotion."
  • "Just tell the story and put it together...Film is imperfect, it has grain and texture."

ON AMY

  • "Of all the films I've made, this is the only one where there's been no paper - no pitch, no treatment."
  • "I talked to everyone to try and figure out what was important."
  • "I never had a camera...[during the interviews], there'd be a microphone and we'd talk."
  • "We just had to be true to her."

ON MARADONA 

  • "It was a struggle to figure out how to make it work for short form...short being 2 hours."
  • "You need time to research and edit...and ultimately the money gives you the time...We kept the crew tiny. All the money is on the screen."
  • "You've got to listen to what theme you want to come through and return to that question throughout the process."
  • "So much of my time is spent figuring out the character and their world, and then figuring out their psychology and how to get the best out of them."
  • "Keep relooking at your material throughout the process, something that doesn't seem important might suddenly find a purpose."

Want more like this? Enjoy this BAFTA Guru video of Asif Kapadia on directing...

Petra Costa | When Politics Is Personal

Petra Costa is a Brazilian filmmaker whose work encompasses both fiction and nonfiction. Her third film, The Edge of Democracy, which had its European premiere at the 2019 edition of CPH:DOX and is nominated for the DOX award, has participated in several Creative Europe-funded labs and markets, including dok.incubator and Sheffield Doc/Fest's MeetMarket.

ON THE FILMMAKING PROCESS

  • "One of the most helpful things was going to places like dok.incubator and the Sundance lab and being able to see the film outside of Brazil, and allowing it to breathe."
  • "I was in Brazil throughout the entire shoot, but have dialogue outside of the country and not being dependent on local funders and decision makers was important to being able to tell a true story."
  • "The most reassuring thing was the certainty of wanting to film it and wanting to tell this story."

Watch a trailer for Petra Costa's debut film Elena: