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When Are Films Political? When They’re GreenHouse Films

When Are Films Political? When They're GreenHouse Films

Greenhouse is a prestigious development program for documentary filmmakers from Europe, the Balkans and the Mediterranean, with a record of 10 completed films since its inception in 2006 at the Berlinale. Their films are powerful films with impressive awards in international film festivals such as Berlinale, Sundance, Hotdocs and IDFA. You may heard of some of them like A Film Unfinished which premiered at the Sundance 2010.

They have managed to create a true professional environment for filmmakers from our very problematic region, with participation of filmmakers from Gaza, the West Bank, Israel, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia Jordan and Turkey. It’s a huge achievement to create strong personal relationships among documentary filmmakers from those countries.

Greenhouse is a true EU-Mediterranean joint venture, the most prominent venture of its kind in the documentary film world.

I attended its first public meeting during the Berlinale – maybe it was 3 years ago. The eternal argument broke out over Palestine and Israel. I was so aggravated that I stood up and asked the Greek and the Turkish panelists whether their political issues interfered with their working with Greenhouse and they said no and I said it was time for filmmakers to make films not to argue politics but to cooperate so they can get on with their business of making films. That was the end of the argument for the moment.

Can films change the world? This initiative may add to our conviction that indeed, they can!

Initiated by The New Fund for Cinema and Television (Israel), the Ankara Cinema Association (Turkey), VOF Appel & Honigmann (The Netherlands), and Zebra Productions (Spain), Greenhouse has won three separate grants from the EU. For the third, the current grant, ESAV Marrakech – the Marrakech School of Visual Arts (Morocco) has joined as a fifth partner.

Greenhouse came into being in response to the partners’ conviction that the region contained a large number of young documentary film talents. These filmmakers were unable to turn their cinematic visions of the social and political issues in the societies they live in into finished films, because they lacked both essential know-how and exposure to the global documentary film market.

What has Greenhouse accomplished?

In the ensuing five years of activity Greenhouse has achieved exceptional success. Of approximately 80 film concepts subjected to the Greenhouse process, 50% are in varying stages of production with 10 either produced or nearly produced, an unusually high number. Greenhouse has become a leading organization for documentary filmmaking with most of its completed films competing and premiering at prestigious documentary film festivals all over the world. It has gained international professional support from film fund directors, producers, distributors, TV stations, and film festivals, most of them international leaders in their fields.

Greenhouse Resources

To date, Greenhouse has received significant international financial support. The European Union has awarded it approximately €3 million. Additional support has been received from Canal France International, the Cyprus Ministry of Culture, and International Documentary Film, an organization located in Limasol Cyprus.

How does the Greenhouse process work?

Think of Leonard Bernstein, Sir George Solti, and several other prestigious conductors putting on a series of master classes as well as offering private tutorials for promising future maestros. Transfer that image to documentary film making and you have Greenhouse.
Each year Mediterranean world cinema school graduates and emerging filmmakers submit their documentary film concepts to Greenhouse, which selects 12-15 for development through participation in a structured program of seminars as well as a tailored personal program. The structured program is designed to provide the young filmmakers with the knowledge and experience they lack for developing their basic concept into a compelling documentary film as well as understanding the importance of dialogue with themselves and with their peers as a means of exploring innovative non-fiction storytelling techniques. Intrinsic to the success of the Greenhouse process are several, equally important elements: imaginative partners; a committed group of advisors including the famed Sundance Institute; skilled and talented professional staff; and experienced mentors, experts, and “pitching forum” members, who engage in hands-on interactions with the young filmmakers.

How does Greenhouse relate to the current world situation?

While none of us can be certain what the currents of history will bring next, of one thing we can all be sure: any measure, however small, that increases understanding of the story told by the other is a good thing. In that regard the role of documentary cinema cannot be emphasized enough.

Territorium Nostrum by Samy Elhaj/ Tunisia

At the heart of Greenhouse is the belief that, in the complicated Mediterranean region, dialogue—especially dialogue between Arab and Israeli filmmakers—is essential in bringing peaceful change and hope. The Greenhouse partners are proud at the extent over the past five years that they have managed to create a multi-cultural dialogue between filmmakers from different countries as well as the exposure they have gained for their work throughout the world.

A small Greenhouse story illustrates the potential of such dialogue. In 2008 one of the filmmakers selected was a young woman from Gaza, Awatif Al-Jediely ♀. When she was unable to leave Gaza to participate, she asked her brother, the film’s producer, who lived in the West Bank, to participate in her stead. He did so, communicating with her constantly by phone. Long story short, Awatif’s film, “Waiting for Heaven,” was ranked the pick of that year’s crop by the Greenhouse experts. Subsequently, Greenhouse staff helped her obtain production funding from a Dutch foundation. Now living in London where she is editing the film, she has told Greenhouse staff that without the opportunity offered through the program, there would have been no possibility of realizing her dream.

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