The Berlin film festival has had its fair share of twists and turns over the years, but UFA (Unterfest) has always stood out for its boldness and cutting-edge approach to film-making. In its early days, UFA was headed by a director who had worked with the likes of Steven Spielberg and Quentin Tarantino – both men have since passed on. Then there was Christoph Waltz, nominated for an Academy Award for his work on the film version of Moby Dick. Now the festival is headed by a man with credits to his name that even Spielberg and Tarantino would be envious of: Wim Wenders.
Ahead of the UFA fest, translated by The Moscow Times, Wenders discusses his experience working in Russia, and the challenges that he sees facing the future of independent cinema. In a piece that carries plenty of historical weight, Wenders describes the differences between working in a state-owned production house and one that is more democratic in its approach. Ultimately, it’s the transition back to independent filmmaking that poses the greatest challenge for artists and audiences in Russia and the Ukraine.
After watching a number of videos from Russian independent films, one wonders if one could label a particular film an independent film at all. Films such as Yuk Golomand (A Woman in the Red Carpet), unsereligable (The Night), serous (Caught in the Act), k lichi (The Road), egotovka (Bitter Tears) and sashes (Ivan’s Ark) are among the finest films to come out of Russia and the Ukraine. But then again, just what makes them stand out? For starters, none of these films were produced by the country’s state-run film industry. Instead, they were directed by people with a distinct sense of personal artistic vision.
In talking about these films, Wenders emphasizes the importance of finding talented film directors and producers who have not only a love of film but also one with the intelligence to understand how to present it in a meaningful way. Independent film-makers need to be properly guided by experts in advertising and promotion. “If you are a filmmaker and you don’t have contacts, it is very difficult to get film financing,” he said. “A very simple thing that you can do to find investors is to set up a company called Cinis Limited. We provide film funding, and we are in talks with several well-known Russian investors right now.”
Cinis Limited is actually an investment company that works in partnership with a number of film investors. In addition to capital funds, it also provides general legal and advertising support, according to Wenders. He believes that this is one of the most effective ways of bypassing certain complications associated with securing Russian and international film financing. “They [investors] want something concrete, and not just an investment in creative capital or a hobby. Cinis can give you a steady source of money to keep making movies,” Wenders continued. “Cinis has a very good reputation for making independent films that are both interesting and serious, with a sense of artistic integrity.
As a rule, independent films wind up spending more time on the cutting room floor than they do in the hands of cinema investors. “It is very difficult to attract the type of financers that are interested in seeing films in a traditional format, like a feature film,” Wenders said. “But when you are able to cut your film into a short, easy to release the film, it makes it possible for you to present it to potential investors. People who would normally have passed on a film can now see it, and it may change their mind.”
With advances in digital video and the Internet, it is relatively easy for filmmakers to distribute their films. “You can put them online on sites like YouTube or Vimeo, and you can send DVDs to an international audience through Post Films,” Wenders said. ” indie filmmakers are making lots of money from their videos, and they’re doing it without spending a lot of money on distribution. These are the indie filmmaker’s best chance to get their film made.”
As indie filmmakers continue to look for ways to make their independent film known, there are other options. For example, film festivals are becoming increasingly popular for presenting small independent films. “We are seeing more of these films at Sundance and other events nationwide,” said Debbie Byrne, associate professor of communications and media at Penn State University. “I think audiences are becoming more open to this type of entertainment, and we’re also seeing a real boom in the independent film production industry.”