I have been sitting on some bad news for a few days now. I rarely write about the financial process, as I consider it less interesting, but it’s only fair to be as complete as possible in the process of making this film.
I must start by saying that I love living in Spain… Let’s be clear about that. I know it’s an obvious disclaimer, but for documentary makers there are some major drawbacks here not known in other European countries, which I have now been able to experience first hand and a lo grande.
It all starts with my assertion that Spain has no real documentary culture. There is no tradition of truly critical filmmaking of long and profound observational stories. Television culture is dominated by drama series, football and gossip programs. What’s called documentary here, is often just a cheaply made sensationalist reportage about some perverse subject: prostitution, murders, drugs, gangs, life-and-death in migration, etc. Has its place, but should not be confused with documentaries. Even Spain’s prime weekly slot (Documentos-TV) varies a lot in quality – the good ones being bought from the BBC and the like while the lesser ones are always internally produced. There are a handful very good documentary makers, who struggle like I do, but they are the exception.
If a country lacks a true documentary history, it also lacks the variety of funding sources it needs. This is logical because broadcasters buy very few documentaries which are in turn seen by few people. It’s kind of circular. For a bigger project such as mine, with a one year shooting period and intended one-hour version for television and a 90-minute one for the big screen, there are only two national funding sources: a pre-sale to Televisión Española (TVE) and a grant from the Ministry of Culture (ICAA). Both were sent very carefully crafted proposals in the spring of this year. And although I have known TVE’s negative decision for a while now, this past week I finally found out that the ICAA is not contributing either. Much to my surprise given the progress and prospects of the project. Together they could have provided around half the production budget, which is exactly what I still need.
Let’s look at the reality of this because I was so stupid to count on at least one of the two. Why? I consider this project to be a leap forward in my career. If I’ve ever had an attractive film to get involved in, it’s this one. The subject matter is unique (2nd generation street kids – had you heard of that?) and I have sufficient material to prove that my main character is a perfect lead. She really drives the story forward and I am confident that the final product will reach a quality level I have not reached before in my work. What’s more, I am no beginner anymore. Some of my films have been distributed internationally, I was nominated for a Spanish Academy Award, I have had several films on national television (including TVE), etc etc. My resumé is really not bad right now.
At the beginning of this year, when considering to apply for support from the ministry and sell the project to TVE, I really thought I had a very good chance simply because this feels like my “moment”. If it’s not now and with this project, I don’t know what I have to do to get support from the country where I’ve spent the last 13+ years of my life.
But of course I was naive. Grants are not handed out on a quality basis. And TVE doesn’t buy “honestly”. Everyone knows that, everyone talks about it, but I chose to ignore it, blinded by my arrogance about the quality of my film. It’s a well known secret that these government grants are handed out to friends of the committee members. And that people pay to get financial support. I have experienced this first hand a few years back, and I don’t know why I didn’t remember this little fact (I was directly asked to pay someone in order to be able to get a grant from ICAA – in the end I got the grant but didn’t pay – maybe a big mistake which marked me for life?)
So, it’s not the end of the world, but I am starting to realize that there are very little opportunities left for me in Spain if I want to continue making documentary films here. In fact, despite this being a serious setback, it doesn’t pose a danger to the livelihood of the film at all. It’s more an existential issue in my own life right now.
The good news is that more and more donors and sponsors are joining the effort! Besides the gratification of supporting an important human rights story, they also receive special perks (like a DVD, invites, donor updates…). Have a look at the donate page if you’re interested.
Ok, that’s all for now. On Sunday I will call Sujeylin by phone so on Monday I should have news on how she is doing. And Karla obviously. I am very curious, considering where things were when I last saw her two weeks ago. So keep coming back!