Every day through the end of the Sundance Film Festival, including weekends, indieWIRE will be publishing two interviews with Sundance ’06 competition filmmakers. Sixty filmmakers were given the opportunity to participate in an email interview and each was sent the same questions.
British filmmakers Marc Francis and Nick Francis directed “Black Gold,” screening in the World Cinema Competition: Documentary section at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival. Their film examines the multi-billion dollar global coffee industry through the experience of Ethiopian Tadesse Meskela, who works to bring a fair-trade market to the tens of thougsands of struggling farmers whom he represents. This is the first time both have attended Sundance. Nick Francis gave responses to the following questions.
Where are you both from?
Marc Francis was born in London, and currently live in Brighton by the coast. [I was born] and [currently] live in London. [We both work] as filmmakers.
What were the circumstances that lead you to become a filmmaker?
Growing up, our father always had a video and stills camera around, so for as long as I remember I’ve always been making home videos and Marc’s always been a keen photographer. I’m sure this had something to do with it.
Did you go to film school? Or how did you learn about filmmaking?
Neither of us went to film school. We came to filmmaking through very different routes. Marc, studied Chinese language and culture for five years, and he did a specialist course in Chinese cinema, which he found totally inspiring. I trained as a broadcast journalist during which time I spent a lot of time running a community radio show, and writing for university newspapers. We learnt about filmmaking through making our own low/no budget films and having them screened and getting feedback. One of the first films we co-directed was a low budget documentary for Channel 4 Television (UK) about people who are trying to disarm Britain’s stockpile of nuclear weapons.
How did you finance your own film?
Our production company, Speak-it, put up the initial investment for research and development. After our first shoot in Ethiopia and Mexico, the project became a co-production with Fulcrum Productions, another London-based production company. The joint managing director of Fulcrum, Christopher Hird (our executive producer) believed in the project from the start and offered us invaluable support. Then we continued to raise finance from a host of trusts, foundations and international organisations including the Sundance Institute. However, the whole production still relied on people working voluntarily, for low wages or deferred payment.
Where did the initial idea for your film come from?
Towards the end of 2002, we had just come back from filming in South Africa, when it was announced that Ethiopia was facing another famine.
We wanted to make a thought provoking film which forced us, as Western consumers, to question some of our basic assumptions about our consumer lifestyle and its interaction with the rest of the world. In so doing, we hoped we could demystify some of the complexities of the global economy. But more than anything else we wanted to make a film which was enjoyable to watch, and which could exist in the mainstream.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in either developing the project or making the movie?
One of the biggest challenges in this project was raising the finance. At times, it was a real struggle. For the film itself, it was always going to be a challenge to tell an engaging story about our interaction with the rest of the world in an accessible way.
What are your biggest creative influences?
Too many different and diverse influences to mention here.
Please describe the moment you found out that you were accepted into Sundance.
Marc was packing his bags for his honeymoon and I was on the phone organising the completion of the edit. An email came into my inbox “Congratulations from Sundance”. I was in disbelief; I had to call Sundance to double check!
What do you hope to get out of the festival, what are your own goals for the experience?
We’ve never been to the festival so everything is going to be a new experience. For us it will be a moment to share the completion of this project with the people who have been so instrumental in helping us get the film to this stage. We look forward to engaging with the audiences at Sundance as well as to meet other filmmakers and see their films. Obviously, it would be great to find a distributor who can bring the film to an international audience.
What is your definition of “independent film”?
It could be defined by both the process and the finished film. It depends on whether the vision of the filmmaker is comprised during the process by commercial and/or other considerations and how close the finished film is to what the filmmaker intended.
What are a few other films you’re hoping to see at Sundance?
We’re hoping to see “In The Pit,” (dir. Juan Carlos Rulfo — World Cinema Competition — Documentary) because we were with the filmmaker at the Sundance Labs back in August. After seeing his work in progress, we’re really interested to see how it all worked out.
Who are a few people that you would you most like to meet at Sundance?
If Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are there, I’d like them to come to our screening. They have a special interest in Ethiopia (where much of our film is set) and are actively engaged in talking about the issues raised by our film.
If you were given $10 million to be used for moviemaking, how would you spend it?
We’d make a series of feature-length documentaries over ten years, to continue what we’ve started with “Black Gold.” So if anyone is reading this with a spare $10 million please email us at email@example.com.