„Television and web will converge“
INTERVIEW with the programmer of Changing Channels at IFF Rotterdam, Inge de Leeuw – MARTIN KUDLÁČ –
The 42nd edition of Rotterdam’s Film Festival did equally zealously and progressively as features and shorts screened also TV and web series. Festival dramaturgy focused one of its sections exclusively on episodic storytelling. The visitors could delight themselves at series made by filmmakers; moreover they could stumble upon hybrid form so-called webisodes. However, episodic narrative is no stranger to international film festivals, so far none of them dared to dedicate whole section solely to this form.
Besides series made by Jane Campion, Pablo Larrain, Agnieszka Holland or debuting filmmaker Sebastian Hofmann (his first feature Halley competed in the section Hivos Tiger Awards), the silver screen welcomed Sebastián Silva, in our territory overlooked director, and his HBO series The Boring Life of Jacqueline, dealing with, surprisingly, boring life of an aspiring actress. Except the blonde stereotype and naive racism, Silva revisits slightly worn-out slacker poetics in estrogen version. Various setbacks of (anti)heroine Jacqueline are crowned by the comedy of awkwardness culminating mostly into an eloquent commentary of modus vivendi made in 21st century including obsessive spamming of twitter account with the avalanche of banalities. Sebastian Hofmann presented as producer and main protagonist Mexican string-shoe budget fiction version of South Park, Los micro burgueses. The TV grotesque criticizes fears and needs of middle and upper-middle class from irrational ownership to spiritual vacuum. Generational statement bears also critically acclaimed TV series Girls conceived by director/screenwriter Lena Dunham encapsulating also other themes bothering modern twentysomethings. One extraordinary phenom was The Eric Andre Show constantly tight-troping on the edge of pastiche and persiflage mixing the best of tv genres into surreal hybrid of night talk show, Jackass, stand-up comedy, sketch, candid camera and quiz show with rather offbeat humor. And for some paranormal reason, it is extremely funny and at the same time opens a new dimension for upcoming comedians. One of the really charming innovations was the Web Lounge, self-service buffet of Americans webseries where anybody could during the daytime help himself to some webisodes according to his taste.
And we managed to interview the programmer of Changing Channels, Inge de Leeuw.
It´s not yet common to screen so many tv/web series at the film festival though IFFR happened to do it. Was it a hard choice and why now and not sooner or later?
With the recent high quality television and web productions directed by renowned and upcoming film directors is wasn’t a hard choice to present a programme about this trend. Because this development has already started some years ago and nowadays so many productions are finished it was better to do it this year, rather than later.
If we’d have done it sooner, there wouldn’t have been so many interesting productions yet to choose from, since we focused a lot on productions outside of the USA. All the series we’ve shown were recent productions and sometimes even the first original productions by film directors.
Surely, it must have been tough to pick just a few series where there is so many of them in the world. What was the process of programming of Changing Channels like? What was the primeval concept?
The idea was that we’d show television and web series made by film directors. Most of the series were also written and directed by the director. This was especially interesting for us, because this way of working is very uncommon in traditional television, but is rather the mode of production in feature films.
It’s also interesting to see how recurring themes of film directors were apparent in the television series, even though a television series is much more industrial. It’s a good example of the author theory. In Pablo Larrain’s Profugos we see the focus on marginal characters in Chile and in Going Home by Kore-eda Hirokazu we see the focus on family relationships that he explores in his films. In Going Home he had more time to develop different character lines and stories, so that was great to see.
The 42nd edition of IFF Rotterdam managed to present a whole section of TV series unlike precedents film festivals which screened only one or few series. The grounds of IFFR served just fine for pioneering episodic form of storytelling into the world of film festival due to its reputation as progressive. Will the series section be part of the festival from now on or was it just „one night stand“ to draw attention to this narrative form?
In our special Signals programmes we signal trends and developments in film and related arts. This year we chose to focus on episodic storytelling by filmmakers, but there will not be a special programme next year. With the high quality productions in contemporary television, I will not be surprised that we will include a series next year if the timing is right.
Or is it the beginning of new era (at least a few series at future IFFR if not the whole section)?
Yes, I think that there will be series that are interesting for our festival in the upcoming years. In the past we’ve shown television series too, for example the Raul Ruiz series. And the Dominik Graf section we had this year, he’s made very famous television series.
Surely we will be seeing more of series not only on TV but at festival circuit more often as they proved themselves to be more than just strongly limited inventory of well-known stereotypes and routines. However, that’s nothing new seeing that progressive/innovative tv series have a certain tradition. It’s not a coincidence that sudden wide interest in series comes in the times of „death to the cinema“ times. Or is it? Tv series is with us since 30´s, but came into prominence in last decade or so.
I think it has a couple of different reasons. Technological reasons: TV’s are much better and bigger, creating a home cinema experience. PayTV channels like HBO have paved the way for more interesting television productions and are not afraid to be progressive in its storytelling and in its budgets. Of course the last couple of year there haven’t been much interesting storytelling coming from Hollywood, which makes the USA look at television for interesting developments in storytelling.
Successes of previous series have interested filmmakers in making television. With people like Martin Scorsese working on Boardwalk Empire, television is no longer seen as a step back. It’s like a circle, television networks want to profile themselves with prominent directors and directors nowadays have more artistic freedom in the creation of television. In the past film directors who worked in television could only direct some episodes that were finished already by the writer.
Thanks to constantly changing media environment, more forms of episodic storytelling are emerging. One them is also webseries, also heavily featured at 42nd IFFR. Despite the fact that this kind of form is reflecting the shifting of medium paradigms as well as provides great opportunities for independent production/distribution, what else is there?
With webseries filmmakers are able to experiment because of the low budgets and short and simple productions. I think it’s a hybrid medium and still in constant flux and development. Webseries can be seen as pilots for television shows, as we see with Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl whose maker got an ABC deal for the development of a new series. Or webseries can be the beginning of a feature film, as with the Slope.
I think it’s interesting to watch new talent emerging from webseries. In recent years, with more and more companies developing original content for the web, I think this sector will professionalize as there is not really so much money in it now.
Interesting example is H+ that was made exclusively for the web and was produced by Warner and YouTube. This shows the way it can go with web series.
Moreover, the tv series format was used also by experienced directors (Pablo Larrain, Agnieszka Holland, David Lynch, Takashi Miike, Raul Ruíz, Todd Haynes…) so the storytelling possibilities are much more vast. Why are we not seeing more of them on festivals (as they potential is quite big)?
I think because of the length, it’s quite difficult to program something that is 8 hours in length. I do think the audience really like to watch series marathons. Most of the marathons in Rotterdam were very full with audiences.
I do think that this year with Jane Campion’s Top of the Lake that showed in Sundance and Berlin, and last year Girls that showed at SXSW, Mildred Pierce in Venice and Penance by Kurosawa Kiyoshi that showed Venice/ Toronto/Pusan that it’s an upcoming trend and I do think we will see a lot more television series at international festivals soon, because more and more independent filmmakers are now experimenting with episodic storytelling as well.
American series are worldwide known thanks to US tv industry (thus meaning series conceived to draw mass audience attention as well as high quality dramas), however Changing Channels had fair balance of international titles from every corner of the world. Which country has most interesting/progressive titles?
Japan is interesting, also as a film country, because they make a lot for their own market and audience. Renowned filmmakers like Kore-eda and Kurosawa had all the artistic freedom to create an original television series.
Latin America is also interesting. HBO Latin America is producing interesting series, and a lot of series and pilots are made independently as well for example in Brazil.
How can you distinguish different national productions by some of their general features from your experience of programming Changing Channels?
In my research I didn’t research the production of a whole country. As the starting point was television series directed by film directors, I rather compared it to their feature films. Which of course also have general national characteristics. As I mentioned before Kore-eda, Larrain, Kurosawa. For example Kurosawa is very Japanese, but also very Kurosawa and not really comparable to the normal family relationship Japanese dramas. It was interesting for me to see that they had been given all the artistic freedom they needed to develop their television series.
Episodic narrative form is tightly incorporated with its natural habitat, TV. Which is not odd, as the fact that it is hard to find theory or rather its individual poetics/aesthetics outside the borders of TV (expect one Eco’s article in Limits of Interpretation and similar papers in academic papers or anthology, but no book/study solely about episodic storytelling). Tv series has evolved quite a lot so the attention from academic public should be bigger than only on massculture/ midculture/ popculture and cult TV level. Or shouldn´t it?
I agree, interesting might be that there is a new master that is starting this year, completely dedicated to episodic storytelling. It’s based in Germany. I forgot the name of the university.
We have seen episodic high concept dramas, big budget tv series, cult series, webseries, interactive series, the episodic format was also adapted by gaming industry…so what is going to be next, what will be the next evolutional stage? Are there still some unexplored regions?
I think film/ tv and the web will converge. People can watch content everywhere and anywhere, so the content will change and modes of distribution will change.
I think this trend of filmmakers making television will become more popular in the upcoming years, I think that many filmmakers are now also working on independent television projects. The web will become more interesting with series.
Online broadcasters like Netflix will be serious competition for traditional television networks and their latest series House of Cards used an interesting distribution plan (all episodes released at once), this is an interesting approach to release a series, like a very long feature film.
So yes, I think the media will be looking more alike.
42nd edition of the International Film Festival Rotterdam, 23rd January – 3rd February 2013