Archive Researchers

Archive Researchers, Documentary Productions

Interview with the archive researchers behind “Diego Maradona”, Asif Kapadia latest documentary


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“Diego Maradona” is the latest Asif Kapadia documentary, and it is fully archive-driven – more than 500 hours of never-before-seen archive footage were used. The documentary explores the man behind the icon and it was in the spotlights at Festival de Cannes 2019. The archival production is a result of a joint effort of Archive Producers Fiammetta Luino and Lina Caicedo, and Argentina-based Archive Researchers Laura Tusi and Rita Falcon. Fiammetta and Laura are part of Archive Valley’s community of professional archive researchers and it was a great opportunity to get some insights about one of the most anticipated documentaries of the year.

The project has involved a “small army” of archive researchers. How did you all end up working on this film?

Lina: Before this I had been working as a researcher at a television production company where I had been lucky enough to work with Miriam Walsh, an incredible Archive Producer who not only had a wealth of experience under her belt, but who also taught me to see archive in a different way. Doing archive research with Miriam was never boring, I was always learning something new and through her support and guidance, I started developing my own taste and eye for what I felt worked well visually in a story. Perhaps it was the space and confidence she gave me that allowed me to develop the curiosity and appreciation that I have for archive today.

After working with Miriam, I decided that it was time  to spread my wings and look for something different. I had been a huge fan of Asif’s work and I was particularly inclined to work with him after watching a Film4 interview where he discussed the filmmaking process of “Amy”. In this interview he spoke about the forensic research that had been carried out, the layers to the story and the importance of archive. But what caught my attention the most, was the fact that he didn’t know much about his protagonist at the start of the process and it was only along the way that he started to figure out who she was and what the story was. To me this sounded like the sort of creative process I wanted to be part of. A creativity journey and deep filmmaking of sorts.

I reached out to Asif’s company and didn’t hear back straight away. About 6 months later, I received an email telling me that Asif was developing his third feature doc and whether I wanted to come in for an interview.

Fiammetta : I started working on the project as a translator back in 2016, when they were cutting a teaser to raise the money for the film. Some Italian footage needed to be translated into English, so a friend put my name forward as an Italian speaker who could do the job. At the time I was leaving behind a career in the art world to follow my dream to make documentaries. I knew about Asif’s work, I had watched and loved both Senna and Amy. So I gave all I could on that first assignment and communicated quite strongly my interest in the project! Then came more translations, then a work experience, then some research and in the end… everything that had to do with Italy, from the research of the story, to the relationships with all contributors there and the sourcing and delivery of all the Italian archive.

Rita: I met George Pank, one of the producers at On the Corner, in Buenos Aires, in a bar, back in 2015. We started talking casually, and he told me he was interested in going to Fiorito, the neighbourhood were Maradona was brought up, for a project in development he was working on. A friend of mine helped out with this Fiorito visit, and we stayed in touch over email. George already knew I worked on film archive research and distribution. In 2016 during Berlin Film Festival we reconnected and he asked if I could send my CV because they needed archive researchers on the ground to bring in material from Argentina. I immediately thought of Laura to partner up in this because she is on of the most experienced professionals in the field and I knew it was going to be a very intense journey.

Laura: I have been working as an archive producer and researcher for a decade, Rita and I had worked together before and we trusted each other. In the first interview we had on Skype I felt that the OTC recruiting team saw that we were well prepared to do this. I had seen Senna and Amy, when they hired us I couldn’t believe it, but quickly it felt both right and daring.

Director Asif Kapadia has gained a huge recognition with two others archive-driven stories – Senna (2010) and Amy (2015). What was different, in terms of gathering archive footage, in this film?

Fiammetta:  From an archive perspective, Diego Maradona presented some specific challenges that maybe were not so predominant in Senna and Amy. The language is one: everything is either in Italian or in Spanish, so everything had to be translated. On top of that, Naples is a city with a unique, strong identity and culture. Part of my job as an Italian mother-tongue Archive Producer also became a matter of being able to convey to Asif and Chris King, the editor, the flavour and nuances of the language being spoken in the archive and the cultural context behind the images.

The other challenge we encountered was that hardcore fans in Naples had told us at the beginning that everything concerning Diego had already been seen! So Lina and I had to delve into a vast array of secondary and unconventional sources of archive, in order to find unseen archive material, crucial to the story Asif wanted to tell. This meant that we were often dealing with individuals and institutions not used to license material, a process that has demanded a lot of perseverance, care and creativity !

Lina and Fiammetta in Napoli


Lina: I didn’t work on Senna or Amy – but as Fiammetta said one of the huge differences was language.

Asif didn’t speak Spanish or Italian, so it was very difficult for him to build up a direct personal relationship with Diego and the key contributors. So he had to trust in both Fiammetta and I to create the links, build the relationships, set up the interviews, get access to personal archive and finally negotiate the deals. It was a huge collaboration.

The other difference was perhaps a cultural one. Although I am Latin-American, I do not live there and so it took me awhile to get used to the fact that the archive sector isn’t as developed as it is in the US and the UK. There isn’t a whole structure of people exclusively dedicated to archive, who can give you clear answers with solid results. Everything is quite elusive and you sort of have to find your own way. Everything is case by case and there are so many grey areas. This was something that was constantly playing against us, which I don’t think was the case on Amy and Senna.

Laura: Although I read about the archive research methods applied in Senna and Amy, I didn’t take part in those films so I’d rather refer to the overall process of covering a celebrity like Diego Maradona: we had a very long career to document, 4 decades of registers in many countries, as a sports man, a family man and a celebrity, so the sources for footage were definitely too many: from long standing TV networks, sport institutions, to his relatives home movies, (to begin with)…  All in several supports, with different levels of access and licensing terms. Chaotic at first glance. Rita and I set up a map of archive footage providers and an access approach plan. When we got the first screeners everything started to fall into place and we started to work with Lina. That process took three years and we faced different challenges along the way. I was amazed with their level of organization, Raquel Alvarez, production manager,  was very helpful. She worked in both Senna and Amy so she knew!

Rita: I didn’t work in the previous films either, so I couldn’t compare. It was very challenging because Maradona’s career was an incredibly rich story to tell and we were driven by the desire to find different footage of Maradona than the images we were used to seeing on TV or on the hundreds of documentaries made before. We started our process by getting our hands on all the biographies written on him, in order to jot down significant events that would have been taped and broadcasted from Argentina, which is were our research took place, or that could be in hands of fans, or collaborators of Diego. We also did many informal interviews with people that had worked with him or covered sports for different media, in order to secure our sources of archive. So we pretty much covered all the angles: press, radio, photos, broadcasters. We became addicts to Maradona’s footage and at the end of the process we felt like we knew him deeply!

One could say that he has a very personal and modern way to create doc portraits out of archives.
How did you collaborate with him in terms of archive ?

Fiammetta: Working with Asif on this film has been an amazing experience. Asif’s documentaries truly emerge from the existing archive and from the interviews he conducts; they are distilled through a long process of watching and listening, of observing and reflecting. For that reason, he likes to watch and work on the footage on his own Avid, while Chris, the editor, cuts the film on a nearby station. So while Asif and Chris were discovering the footage and cutting the film, Lina and I were in the room next door, doing our own parallel review of the footage in function of the evolving cut of the film, looking for new archive footage when new directions in the cut required new images or simply helping Asif and Chris to find the right material among the thousands of hours that we had gathered.

That meant that we were in constant dialogue with Asif throughout the making of the film and that has been an incredible privilege for me, as it has allowed me to peer straight into the creative workings of Asif’s filmmaking.

It also meant that impossible footage requests landed on my desk regularly! But I like challenges. And thanks to Asif’s relentless optimism, we did end up finding things we thought we would never find. So that was a precious lesson in itself and I am grateful to Asif for having taught me that.

Lina: The collaborative process with Asif is an ongoing conversation. Very open, constantly moving, constantly changing and a lot of trial and error. At times it drove us crazy, but the journey was always interesting. Asif is obsessive, so he needs and wants to see absolutely EVERYTHING, hence our research had to be very expansive. Fiammetta and I read many books, spoke to many people and pulled in tons of archive (from my end, with a lot of support from Laura and Rita, who were always on the ground to help). Throughout the process, we would be discussing ideas with Asif at all times: in the edit, over email, through Whatsapp or team meetings. For Asif, it was important that he was to be able to watch any footage that came in on a timeline, He is very curious and finds appreciation in the smallest and most nuanced things, so we always knew that we could throw in anything that we personally found interesting and there would always be a fruitful discussion.

Laura: Asif delves into the psychology of the character in a way that makes you, as a researcher, approach the subject from multiple angles. I’d say every archive production is one of a kind.  However, a movie that is made with only archive footage is a very different thing. Once Asif told us something like “I don’t use cameras, so you are my eyes”. Then our mission was crystal clear, we had to “show” him Diego Maradona.

How did you manage to gather 500 hours of never-before-seen archive footage? Where did you dig? What was your process?

Fiammetta: The production of the film really took off when the producers James Gay-Rees and Paul Martin secured access to the archive of cameramen Juan Laburu and Gino Martucci, who had worked for Diego during his years in Naples. I came onboard when that archive footage had already been secured. It included mostly football, albeit shot from the side of the pitch and with a special eye on Diego. And it also included some really great family videos. It was an incredible starting point, but we knew there were many gaps we needed to bridge and, indeed, some of the most memorable scenes that are now in the film were found later on, via other sources.

I’d say that rule number one was: research, research, research. You’d be surprised by how many crucial archive cues are buried in books, articles or random YouTube posts!

Second rule was: meet the people. We cast our net very wide and we met and talked in person to as many people as we could. You never know what people may have recorded and then forgotten about it.

And the third rule was: don’t accept ‘no’ as an answer. There were so many instances in which, had I stop at the first ‘No, we don’t have that’, ‘No, we can’t licence this’,  then we would have missed some great moments that are now in the film.

Lina: As Fiammetta said, when we started on the project, On The Corner had just got access to the archive footage of two cameramen who had closely followed Diego’s football career between 1981 and 1991. So when we began, there was already a good foundation for us to get a taste of Diego’s time in Napoli. The archive footage had tons of great football and some fun home family footage, but it was also quite disorganised. There were duplicates, things cut in half or different versions of the same thing. So, we had to go back to basics – that is, create a very tight timeline and as Fiammetta said research, research, research”.

The research allowed us to get a better understanding of the footage that we were logging, but also helped us decipher what was missing or what we thought could be interesting and didn’t have yet.  Once we knew what were looking for, we would reach out to various sources in order to try and trace it. A good example of this would be a clip we released last month, which Asif calls “The Gladiator Walk” of Diego’s arrival to the Napoli stadium in July 1984. This sequence alone, came from three different archive sources. We had read about this conference over and over again and nobody seemed to have it. But we kept on digging and finally were able to piece it together through various sources.

To conclude, the footage was a mixture of broadcast, personal footage (which included Diego’s camera men, family and friends) and private collectors. Every single person that we spoke to or interviewed, we would ask them archive related questions. It was like piecing  together a huge puzzle.

Laura: I mostly worked with Argentinean audiovisual and graphic archives, where we eventually found some archive footage coming from news agencies or international services as well. As mentioned before, Maradona’s life in media is 40 years long and we had plenty of time to work, which made the whole difference. In general as a Latin America based archive researcher / producer, I am given an average of 4 months to cover an entire project, be it  film or series. Working with On The Corner was awesome in that sense: they know how to make good archive productions and they allocate the means for that to happen. We had enough time to work on a highly complex licensing process, which was vital.

What were the biggest challenges you had to face…

Laura: Easy: keeping it confidential. Diego Maradona and his entourage are very active in all kinds of media in Argentina. We were constantly careful of not leaking any sort of information because it could damage the production. Fortunately we managed to get along with everyone involved and it all went on in a respectful way.

Fiammetta: The biggest challenge I had to face was… not having worked in Italy for a long while ! I forgot how convoluted systems can be there, how longwinded and improvised some processes are, how hard it can be to have your emails answered. You really need to be on the ball and be ready to persevere to be able to work there.

But I was also very quickly reminded of how genuinely friendly people there can be. I had the chance to find a few incredibly kind and helpful people and that made up for all the rest of the struggle!

Archive research process in Italy
Italian archive footage from RAI

Lina: There were many challenges, but I would have to go back to what I was saying earlier about archive processes in Latin-America. Although Argentina has a long history of great filmmaking, the archive sector is totally underfunded and under developed, making the archive research and clearing process extremely slow and very bureaucratic. There is no clarity on copyright either, so sometimes it felt like you were jumping through a black hole. There was actually a very frightening moment in post production when we had 2 weeks to pull in all the final masters for the film and at last minute, one of the Argentine broadcasters told us that we couldn’t receive the masters because the archivists had gone on strike and  the issues were not likely to be resolved until the following year. I think I didn’t sleep for two days, trying to find all possible solutions.

… and  your eureka moments ?

Laura: My personal eureka moment was at America TV archive, where Rita and I saw the footage of Diego about to die being carried in an ambulance, Claudia Villafañe, his then ex wife, is with him and asks the journalists to stay out. It was so shocking, I could feel Diego’s pain and that helped me connect with the character. This happened during the first weeks of work, June 2016!

archive research in Argentina
Archive Footage library in Argentia

Fiammetta:  I think the best feeling of this job is when you have spent months of research and tricky conversations to get to some archive and then you watch it for the first time and something jolts in you and you just know it:  that image will be in the film.

It happened a few times to me on this film and every time those specific images come up on the big screen I’m reminded of the very first time I encountered them.

Lina : Ummm. After so much research, there is archive that you come across at the beginning of the process and perhaps don’t think is relevant. But later on (maybe two years later) it becomes relevant and it suddenly it’s like “aha! I know where that is”. And it’s heartwarming, because it makes you realise how important the process is.

How was this experience unique / different from working with other directors?

Fiammetta: One of Asif’s greatest qualities  is that he is incredibly curious and an extremely active listener. While many directors may only be interested in telling you what they think, Asif’s approach is diametrically opposed: he comes to you with a thousand questions, to start with. That creates a very collaborative atmosphere in the team. He is also a die-hard optimist. If an obstacle arises, he will keep pushing – and expect you to keep pushing – till it has been overcome. I found that incredibly motivating and energising. Finally, he has an incredibly fine instinct when it comes to suss personal character and the hidden workings of a story, like the one of Maradona. It has been amazing to be able to watch him find his way into this story and make sense of it. 

Rita: Participating in the recording of interviews in Argentina was definitely a lesson in documentary filmmaking for me. Asif’s way of phrasing the questions, some of which were very delicate; how he managed to make the interviewee feel comfortable to speak from the heart; his obsession in understanding this buildungsroman story of Maradona; his attentiveness to the small anecdotes which at the end were what created this sense of intimacy that is so powerful.

Lina: This is the first director I have ever worked with so closely and so intensely. But from previous short stints and observation, I would say that Asif is one of the most open directors I have ever come across. He is up for and not afraid of a challenge and there is always good dialogue with him. He is compassionate and a good listener. More importantly, he gave both Fiammetta and I a voice and trusted us intimately and I thank him for that, because that’s ultimately what helps you grow

Laura: All things mentioned above and… The unique opportunity of being  Asif’s translator! Rita and I participated of many interviews as simultaneous translators, so that made me see  AK’s storytelling method. He interviews with a narrative arc in mind, because he knows the characters so well that he can anticipate to what they are going to say, and then he manages to make people to open up a little and say something new. I really appreciate the opportunity of being there, I learnt a lot.

Part of the Archive researchers' team in Argentina
Lina, Laura and Rita in Buenos Aires

Do you think Diego Maradona still has secrets from you? Did you develop any special emotional connection with the person behind the icon?

Rita: I can definitely say that I now have more empathy towards Maradona. Before getting involved in the film I was far more judgemental about everything he said or did. After so many months of digging into his fascinating life story, I have developed a sort of fondness that won’t go away easily.

Laura: Definitely, he’s unpredictable. However, I don’t feel the need to know more about him, working in this movie made me understand him as a highly mediatized person, sort of a prisoner of himself, both positively and negatively. I did enjoy getting to know the people who love him, his family, Fernando Signorini, Daniel Arcucci, they were key for me to empathise with both Diego and Maradona.

Fiammetta: I personally never met Diego Maradona. I only got to know him by watching and listening to the archive and by talking to the people who met him and knew him in Italy. And, in a way, I prefer it this way. I feel the world has demanded him to be a specific person before he could figure out for himself who he truly was. So, to have gathered an impression of him through stolen moments that survive in the archive, little slips in the footage and the inconsistencies he expressed here and there, seems like an appropriate way to have ‘met’ him.

Lina : I’m sure there are millions of secrets. But if you want to know the truth, don’t ask him. Haha.

I met him a couple of times with Asif, but I wouldn’t say that I built a special emotional connection with him. Perhaps more one of curiosity.  I think he was often baffled by this Colombian-Anglo girl and Indian-Anglo man. But there was always respect. In a funny way, I think he found Asif quite charming.

Archive Researchers, Documentary Productions

Oscars 2019 Documentary Feature Shortlist: The Producers & Funds Behind Their Success


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The 2019 Oscars documentary shortlist was announced last month and the competition will probably see one of the most successful box-office selections of all times. Four of the shortlisted productions (“RGB”, “Free Solo”, “Three Identical Strangers” and “Won’t you be my neighbor”) have already been grossing at more than $10m. No matter who makes it to the nominations, we decided that it’s important to look at some of the production details of each of the 15 films in the shortlist. Producers, funds and decision makers played a key role in their journey to becoming some of the most notable achievements in the genre for 2018. Here are some interesting insights of how they are funded, their co-production partners, their festival rounds and distribution deals – celebrating all the people who made these projects possible and believed in their success.

Shirkers

First feature documentary by Sandi Tan. World premiere at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, won the Directing award. Winner at Cinema Eye Honors Awards, US, Florida Film Critics Circle Awards, Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards, Philadelphia Film Festival . Produced by Maya Rudolph and Jessica Levin. Acquired by Netflix Originals and released on October 26, 2018 , becoming available in 195 countries and 25 languages. Post-production funding was provided by Doc Society Genesis Grant and Cinereach in addition to a development grant from Sundance.

Minding the Gap

(nominated)

Directed by the first-time filmmaker Bing Liu. World premiere at Sundance, followed by an international one at CPH:DOX. The most awarded film in the selection – 46 wins including awards at Sundance, Hot Docs, Sheffield, CPH:DOX. The film is a co-production of KARTEMQUIN FILMS (Diane Quon), POV (Justine Nagan) and ITVS. Additional funding was provided by Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program with support from Open Society Foundations, JustFilms | Ford Foundation, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. It’s currently streaming on Hulu.

Three Identical Strangers

Directed by Tim Wardle. Premiered at Sundance and won the Grand Jury Award for Storytelling. Produced by RAW TV (Becky Read), CNN FILMS (Amy Entelis, Courtney Sexton) and Channel 4 (Sara Ramsden). Currently grossing $12,320,845, it is the 26th most successful project in the all-time documentary box office. The archival production was lead by Beatrice Read and Jack Penman both of whom we are happy to have in Archive Valley’s community of professional archive researchers. The distribution rights were acquired by NEON/ DOGWOOF and CNN is planning a broadcast premiere in 2019.

Dark Money

Directed by Kimberly Reed (“Prodigal Sons”). A production of Big Sky Film Productions, Inc. Co-produced by Big Mouth Productions (Katy Chevigny) and Meerket Media Collective. Premiered at Sundance where it won the Sundance Institute/Amazon Studios Producers Award. The production was supported by Doc Society / The Threshold Foundation, Topic Studios, JustFilms / Ford Foundation, IFP and Sundance. PBS acquired the North American distribution rights. You can watch it on POV SEASON 31, Jan 10th.

HALE COUNTY THIS MORNING, THIS EVENING

(nominated)

First feature documentary by RaMell Ross and probably the most visually unique film in the shortlist. Produced by Danny Glover’s Louverture films and co-produced by Field Of Vision (Laura Poitras & Charlotte Cook) and Bertha Foundation. The production also received additional funding by Cinereach, JustFilms / Ford Foundation, Doc Society / The Threshold FoundationIFP, Tribeca All Access and Sundance. PBS’s ‘Independent Lens’ will broadcast it on Feb 11.

Crime + Punishment

Directed by Stephen Maing (“High Tech, Low Life”). Production companies: Mud Horse Pictures, Field of Vision (Laura Poitras, Charlotte Cook), Sundance Documentary Institute. Received additional funding by Ford Foundation, Gucci Tribeca Documentary Fund, IDA Enterprise Documentary Fund, IFP. The archival producer behind the project was Wyatt Stone who’s also a member of Archive Valley’s community. The film is available on Hulu.

On Her Shoulders

A second documentary feature by Alexandria Bombach after her debut in 2015 with “Frame by Frame”. The project was entirely funded by RYOT Films (Hayley Pappas &.Brock Williams) Premiered and won the documentary directing award at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Oscilloscope Laboratories has acquired North American rights for distribution.

Of Fathers and Sons

(nominated)

Directed by Talal Derki. Premiered at Sundance where it was awarded Grand Jury Prize in the World Cinema – Documentary. Produced by BASIS BERLIN Filmproduktion (Tobias Siebert, Eva Kemme, Ansgar Frerich). In co-production with Ventana Film(Hans Robert Eisenhauer ), Impact Partners (Dan Cogan, Jenny Raskin, Geralyn White Dreyfous),  Cinema Group Production, and Südwestrundfunk, Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg in collaboration with ARTE. It received additional funding from Chicago Media Project, Doha Film Institute, IDFA BERTHA Fund, Screen Institute Beirut. Kino Lorber obtained the distribution rights for North America.

The Silence of Others

Directed by Robert Bahar, and Almudena Carracedo, with executive producer Pedro Amoldovar. The project is a co-production of Semilla Verde Productions, American Documentary | POV, Independent Television Service (ITVS) and Latino Public Broadcasting (LPB). Additional funding provided by Corporation For Public Broadcasting (CPB), support from Bertha Foundation, Catapult Film Fund, Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program. Multiple awards including Grand Jury Award – Best Documentary at Sheffield Doc Fest, IDA Pare Lorentz Award, Berlinale Peace Film Award. Distributed by Cinephil.

Charm City

Director: Marilyn Ness, two-time Emmy, Peabody, and DuPont Award-winning producer. Premiered at Tribeca 2018. Produced by Big Mouth Productions (Katy Chevigny) and co-produced by Motto Pictures (Christopher Clements). Funding support from IDA Enterprise Documentary Fund, Catapult Film Fund, Bertha Foundation, The Fledgling Fund, Hartley Film Foundation, and Sundance.

The Distant Barking of Dogs

Directed by Simon Lereng Wilmont, co-production between the Danish documentary powerhouse Final Cut For Real (Monica Hellstrøm, Heidi Elise Christensen), Mouka Filmi, STORY & Bayerischer Rundfunk, and Arte. The film was pitched at GÖTEBORG FILM FESTIVAL, NORDISK PANORAMA & IDFA FORUM. It received funding from Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program, Open Society Foundations, Ford Foundation – Just Films and The Creative Europe Programme of the European Union.

Free Solo

(nominated)

A second documentary feature by Jimmy Chinn after his debut in 2015 with “Meru”. A National Geographic Documentary Films release and presentation of a Little Monster Films, Itinerant Media, Parkes+MacDonald/Image Nation production. Executive producers: Walter Parkes, Laurie MacDonald, Tim Pastore, Matt Renner. Premiered at Telluride Festival, won the People’s Choice Award at TIFF. Currently grossing at $11m it is the fourth most successful documentary release of 2018.

 

RBG

(nominated)

Directed and produced by Betsy West and Julie Cohen of Storyville Films, in co-production with CNN FILMS (Amy Entelis & Courtney Sexton). The rights were sold to Magnolia Pictures and Participant Media. Renée Silverman was in charge of the archival production. So far it has generated more than $14m, the second biggest documentary box-office for 2018.


Communion

Directed by first-time filmmaker Anna Zamecka. Premiered at the 69th Locarno Film Festival where it won the Grand Prix of Semaine de la Critique. A co-production between Wajda Studio, HBO Europe (Hanka Kastelicová), Otter Films (Anna Wydra).

Won’t you be my neighbour?

Directed by Morgan Neville and produced by Tremolo Productions ( Caryn Capotosto, Nicolas Ma) with support from Impact Partners (Dan Cogan, Jenny Raskin, Geralyn White Dreyfous). Premiered at Sundance and since then it has gathered 30 festival awards. The archival production was lead by Susan Ricketts and Samantha Casey. It’s currently grossing at $22m and it has become the 12th biggest documentary box-office release of all times.

There will be only one winner at the Oscars award ceremony on 25th of Feb but there are already plenty of remarkable achievements : 12 of the selected productions in the Oscars 2019 documentary shortlist are their creators’ first or second project. 13 premiered at Sundance and 8 of those receiving support from Sundance Institute. Ford Foundation supported 5 projects, Doc Society & IFP – 3 , Cinereach, Impact Partners, ITVS and Catapult Film Fund – 2. Big Mouth Productions, CNN FILMS, and Field of Vision each co-produced 3 films. Congratulation to everyone involved in those projects for making 2018 truly exceptional year for the documentary film industry.

Archive Researchers, Documentary Festivals, Documentary Productions

Interview With Rhodri Lowis On His Work For Werner Herzog & Andre Singer’s Meeting Gorbachev


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Meeting Gorbachev was undeniably one of the standout archival productions on Archive Valley during 2018. As the head of the archive research, Rhodri Lowis found archives that eventually helped to build a very different portrait of Gorbachev, following the unique artistic vision of Werner Herzog and Andre Singer. We had the chance to catch up with Rhodri and learn about his experience working with these two amazing filmmakers and how Archive Valley became an important part of this archival production.

How did you get involved in this ambitious project?

I was doing some research for André Singer’s company Spring Films and he was going into production with the project, having finalised the funding. He took me on in a preliminary research role and I stubbornly stuck around!

When you started the project how specific were the directions gave by the two directors?

There was naturally some specific direction, but I was given some freedom to explore interesting areas. A lot was rather implicit, given that what is most important about Gorbachev’s life were the 6 years during which he was the leader of the USSR. As an international project (we were supported by A&E in the USA and MDR/Arte in Germany) there was a degree of focus on Gorbachev’s international dealings – with the USA, Germany, UK etc. – and how this resonates in present-day geopolitics.

As one might expect, there were some very precise demands from Werner Herzog – for example, a specific aerial shot of the “Baltic Chain”, where two million people across the region linked arms to demonstrate for independence. He also remembered reading of some footage of Gorbachev’s predecessor, the dying Chernenko, voting from his hospital room made to look like an official polling station. To him, these and a few other clips were essential to the narrative, and that was clear quite early on. My instructions from André were more broad, ranging from Gorbachev’s early life under Nazi occupation, following his rise through the ranks of the Soviet system, to the aftermath of the fall of the USSR. We amassed as much footage as possible and periodically would go through images, filtering out generic material to be best prepared for the edit.

Our producer Svetlana Palmer grew up under Gorbachev and worked on CNN’s Cold War series, and so had both first-hand memories and strong archive knowledge of major events in the Eastern Bloc. This really enriched the scope of the archive we could look for and her input was invaluable. Beyond that, as I also worked across the general research and preparation for interviews, that put me in a good position to think of areas to explore for archive footage.

You made quite a few requests through Archive Valley’s platform. What were your goals – trying to bring as much context as possible or finding the unexpected?

Well, both really. We had done some extensive background research and so had a good idea of the footage we wanted for some sections of the film – protests in precise locations leading to the breakup of the USSR, landmark events such as Chernobyl and the Reykjavik Summit, and particular press conferences. But I also put out a few requests hoping for some unexpected material. For example, we came across some little-seen footage of the Belavezha Accords, an agreement to effectively dissolve the USSR between the leaders of the Soviet republics. This was a huge moment that sealed the fate of the Union and decided the future of the now former-Soviet countries, and it was great to find it on camera. The Archive Valley platform was really useful to get these requests out to a broad spectrum of companies and independent researchers
with whom I could then discuss directly and in more detail the nature of our requests so as to ensure the best possible footage could be sent to us.

Is there a specific footage that you personally think stands out?

There’s some wonderful rarely-seen footage from the Russian State Archives in Krasnogorsk, which we used throughout the film but especially in a sequence depicting the funerals of Gorbachev’s three predecessors in very quick succession: mass parades, elaborate hearses and the frail remaining members of the gerontocracy that Gorbachev inherited. Werner also remembered a rather understated coverage of the initial opening of East-West relations. This was confirmed when we dug around local news archives. A clip from Austrian TV news in 1989 offered some gardening advice: to use a mug of beer to entice your booze-loving slug infestation and kill them off… The report is then followed by a somewhat underwhelming announcement that the Hungarian Prime Minister Miklós Németh had ordered the dismantling of the barbed wire fence between Hungary and Austria – the first hole in the Iron Curtain! Werner was astonished that somebody had decided this was less important news than beer and slugs, and it formed an amusing and memorable sequence in the film.

What was your experience dealing with Russian archive sources?

Our project was split about 50-50 between Russian and non-Russian archive sources. Everything in Russia and the former Soviet Union was expertly sourced and managed by our excellent Archive Producer Masha Oleneva, whose encyclopedic archival knowledge found us the best material there was. She is immensely experienced and ensured that negotiating with Russian archives was a relatively painless process.

The documentary is composed of three big interviews with Gorbachev by Werner Herzog. Did the archival research start before the interviews? What was their impact on your research process?

Yes, there was an initial scout to see what was out there, and as the interviews progressed, we had a better idea of what we could search for and use to furnish these conversations that form the film’s backbone. We didn’t have a very orthodox schedule, owing to Gorbachev’s health and availability; this demanded that interviews be carried out sometimes at very short notice or delayed at the last minute. This definitely dictated the direction of the film’s archive research; while we waited for an interview, we collected and refined material, but as soon as an interview was completed, it would throw up many more areas of interest for research and so it was really on a week-by-week basis in terms of direction.

How did you perceive the work dynamics and creative process between these two filmmakers?

This was my first time working with Werner and André, and both had very distinct methods that melded together well during the film’s progression. I was based at Spring Films in London with André and we worked much more closely.

André is a leading anthropologist, and as expected the research was directed with academic rigor. Over 9 months I saw his very methodical approach: we combed through reams of transcripts of dialogue between Gorbachev and other leaders and in parallel looked for interesting corresponding footage. Early on, he had a pretty clear idea of the film’s structure, and that certainly informed the visual material we researched.

Werner’s approach was rather different… He had the ideas in his head and in a small notebook that he took to the interviews with Gorbachev, but it was hard to predict which areas he would explore in the conversations. The same could be said for the edit: we had a pretty good idea of the film’s narrative, but Werner arrived and highlighted many other areas that we hadn’t, and this carved out a different direction.

I learnt quickly to predict nothing with Werner, and to only expect to be surprised!

What was the most challenging part of the archival production?

Our schedule was unforeseeably accelerated during the edit, so this gave us less time to negotiate and finalise deals with archive houses. I’d say the most challenging part, however, was keeping on top of all the material we had coming in – so many spreadsheets! I had to stay on top of where a piece comes from and how to access it, how much we were using from each archive house, all in the middle of an accelerated and naturally constantly changing edit period. It was certainly challenging, but to wish for more time would have been a luxury. This constrained time frame, in fact, helped us to focus more and be a bit more ruthless in negotiation! If something was going to cost too much, we dropped it, and our 6-month old catalog we had assembled often gave us cheaper and better alternatives.

How different is this film from a regular political biopic?

As the film’s title suggests, it is more the “meeting” of Gorbachev and Werner Herzog and the far-reaching conversations they had, rather than a day-by-day of Gorbachev’s life. Having said that, it was important to guide the viewer chronologically given that it was such a short time period (6 years) in which he changed the world. It was also essential to lay out these key moments explicitly for the younger generation – to which I belong – who have little if any memory of his impact on the 21st Century. I think we managed to avoid a regular portrait by highlighting the personal side behind Gorbachev’s political image – his family life, especially his profoundly moving relationship with his wife Raisa, which brings out the human side to a global leader. To add to this, we focused on the lesser-known and arguably pivotal moments of the era – the Hungary-Austria border fence for example. I think André’s all-bases-covered approach to research combined with Werner’s unconventional tendency to pick up on these unexpected areas strongly contributed to “Meeting Gorbachev” being more than a straightforward biopic.

Archive Researchers, Licensing, The Right Footage

Archive Valley Masterclass Series: Jessica Berman Bogdan & Cathy Carapella on Archive Research and Licensing in Music Documentaries


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In recent years, audiences have been captivated by new exciting documentary films about the lives and music of famous musicians and performers from The Beatles, The Grateful Dead and Nina Simone to Amy Winehouse and Nirvana. Jessica Berman Bogdan is a veteran archive producer and the CEO of Global Image Works, where she works together with Cathy Carapella, as music rights and clearances professional. As a team, they have worked on some amazing archival music documentaries, finding and clearing the images and music that made the films possible. 

In this episode of our series, Jessica and Cathy discuss the ins and outs of sourcing and clearing material related to the music industry for documentary film and television productions. From budgeting to understanding the multiple kinds of rights associated with music and live performance footage, they shared some key advice for producers and archive researchers looking to create lasting works about the music, it’s creators and the performers that bring it to life.

More episodes from the masterclass series to come soon! If you want to be the first to know when the next one will become available, simply sign up on the platform and get exclusive early access to all our weekly updates, interviews and videos dedicated to the world of archive research.

Archive Researchers

Featuring: Aleksandra Sajdak


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Why and when did you start being interested by archives, History and Heritage in general?

I was interested in the history from my very early ages. Growing up in Warsaw you are surrounded by the recent tragic events, but also you are becoming more and more interested in the layers of the city. The more you learn, the more you discover. Thanks to my parents, my grandparents, history was always present in my home.

You are an active member of the Jewish Historical Institute of Warsaw, Poland. Could you tell us a bit more about the history, the building of the collection and your work with this institution?

I can talk about Jewish Historical Institute for hours. It’s my second home. It’s a very, very unique place in Warsaw’s history, in the Polish-Jewish history, and I think it’s also has a very important place in a Jewish history in general. 85% of the left side of the Vistula river was destroyed during the war, we don’t have many original buildings, but the building of the JHI survived and serves the Jewish community till today. Before the war, the building was the headquarters of the Main Judaic Library and of the Institute for Judaic Studies. The latter opened on February 9th, 1928, became the first Jewish research and educational center in Europe which, alongside theological studies, also took into account secular studies. The building of the Main Judaic Library was built adjacent to the Great Synagogue at T?omackie Street.It was opened in 1936. During the war, our building was one of the centers of Jewish social life in the Warsaw ghetto. From November 16th, 1940 until March 1942, the Library building was within the ghetto borders. Here the literary evenings, theater performances, meetings for children and symphony concerts took place. Also, there took place conspiratorial meetings of the Oneg Shabbat (Hebrew: Joy of Sabbath) which, under the direction of the historian Emanuel Ringelblum was gathering comprehensive documentation of the life and the extermination of the Jews in occupied by the Nazi German Poland during World War II. On May 16th, 1943, as a sign of the suppression of any resistance in the Warsaw ghetto, the SS-Brigadeführer und Generalmajor der Polizei Jürgen Stroop ordered the dynamiting of the Great Synagogue and torching of the Library building. By doing this, he symbolically achieved “the final solution of the Warsaw Jewry.”Traces of the fire are visible on the floor of the main hall of the Institute until this day, but building survived. During the war 90% of Polish Jewry was killed, the one who managed to survived established Center Committee of Polish Jews, with a headquarter on T?omackie Street. In 1947 Jewish Historical Institute was opened, as a first Holocaust research center and for me, this place is a symbol of the continuity of Jewish life in Poland

Are Polish people becoming more interested and open to learn about the Jewish heritage of their country?

It’s a very interesting phenomenon, but I think people feel the gap. 75 years ago Poland was multiethnic country, now 90% of the country are “ethnic” Poles (whatever that means). And I think this is amazing, that so many non-Jews are helping with the old cemeteries,  old synagogues, Jewish heritage in general. People are interested in a Jewish culture, books, music, religion, but also many of them realized that there is no Polish culture without Jews, and there is no Ashkenazi culture without Poles. When I see a huge crowd during festivals devoted to the Jewish culture my heart is happy, and I am talking about not only big festivals, like Kraków, Wroc?aw or Warsaw but also in smaller cities. There are so many local historians, crazy people ( in a good way) who wants to know more about the Jewish past of their cities, towns, villages. There is a lot of good initiatives and amazing people, but there is still a lot of work ahead of us. People have to remember or acknowledge more than 3 million Poles, non-Jews victims of the German occupation, but some Poles need to acknowledge the hard truth about the war and time of Shoah, not every Pole helped his/her Jewish neighbor in need… Unfortunately. But only honest dialogue will help us.

The polish documentary film « The Prince of the Dybbuk » received the Venice Classics Award for the Best Documentary won. Are Polish people becoming more interested and open to learn about the Jewishheritage of their country? 

As I said above, there is no Polish culture without Jews and Jewish culture. Many of the Polish directors, books, music were influenced by the Jewish tradition, made by Jewish Poles, so I think Poles are generally aware that their favorite poet has Jewish roots, and the Jewish subject is very present on every level in Poland. In the culture, heritage, politics, all the time. Though every generation has different tools to talk about the heritage, past, shared experience, memory and I think this generation wants to have a deeper conversation about it. Not only the “romantic” image of the Jew as a Fiddler on the Roof but the conversation about Polish Jews. About the identity, thoughts, religion, what does it mean to be a Polish Jew? What does it mean to me?

Do you think there has been a recent surge in archival driven documentary? What is your general view on the current state of the Polish doc industry. 

Unfortunately, I don’t have any statistics in this field but seeing what is going on around me I think there is a huge interest in the documentary work, but when you think about it, there always was. Even during the communist era, when people didn’t have access to the outside iron curtain world, people were curious and very creative, and the work of the documentalists from that period is really impressive.

What resources do you mostly use for your research? 

Archives, newspapers, business directories, immigration/emigration documents, testimonies, it depends.

Could you tell us a bit more about the profession of Archive Researcher in Poland? 

The world of researchers are divided into the one who is doing it professionally in the archives, libraries, public institutions and they are not very well paid. And then there is a second group – private researchers who make a lot of money for doing research and among this group you have another subgroup very devoted and passionate about their work, and the second one who is mainly focused on the financial aspect. Today overall it’s much better, but sometimes you can still see the remnants of the “homo sovieticus”/communist in the behavior in the archives but it’s getting better 🙂

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What is the archive discovery you are the most proud of? 

I know maybe it’s stupid, but I am collecting pictures of T?omackie Street and Great Synagogue in Warsaw, and recently I found an extremely rare picture of T?omackie street. But every day at my work as a genealogist I see small miracles. Sometimes are bigger like founding two sisters separated 70 years ago, but sometimes the location of the house of the family, or occupation or university file with handwriting is something really special for me.

Can you give us a sneak peek into a project you are currently working on? 

There is a chanukia (candelabra for Chanuka)  in a Diaspora Museum in TLV and they claimed is from the Great Synagogue in Warsaw. In my humble opinion, it’s not from our synagogue and I am trying to prove it. Though it will be a long process we will what will happen. I have few very interesting genealogical cases but can’t talk about it without the permission of our guests. So more to come, stay tuned!