From Bulgaria to Birmingham and Back Again

Bogomil Kalinov is one of the co-founders of KaBoAl Pictures, an audiovisual production company, and in the few years since it was created the company has already worked on 4 feature films, all of them international co-productions.  Bo graduated from Film Directing at the New Bulgarian University (Sofia, Bulgaria) with honours in 2013 and was enrolled on the MA in Film and Television at the University of Birmingham from 2013 to 2014.  Here, he shares his reasons behind applying for the MA and how it has impacted on his subsequent activities.

Bo blogI applied to the MA Film and Television: Research and Production for a couple of reasons. The first one was I needed the knowledge about how to make a sustainable visual product. Even though I had a background in Film Directing, at the time of my BA I was very concentrated in shooting dramas and I missed out on some valuable lessons.  Even though shooting drama is exciting, it is also very expensive. It involves a lot of people, a lot of time and a lot of effort. Plus financing, that is more often than not difficult to obtain. I had invested some years in film making and already had my mind set on what I wanted to do, however it turned out that I didn’t realize I had to do more of it. Feature film-making is great but if you want to sustain a business and remain a valuable asset in the industry you need to have a broader set of skills that involve factual TV, documentaries and similar genres. Making movies is fun, paying the bills is mandatory, so in this line of thought I believe that the opportunities and experience that the MA FTV provides are essential to anyone who chooses the path of filmmaking as a career.

The Appeal of Documentary Filmmaking

The second reason behind my decision to apply was the documentary aspect of the programme. As mentioned, I was very constrained by my narrow-minded thinking about the business. I realized my mistake once I attended a student documentary workshop that lasted about a week. During that time I knew I missed out, but I didn’t really have the time to learn how to fix this mistake. The length of the workshop was not enough to provide the needed information and I was already in my last year of BA studies.

This being said, studying under the guidance of Dr Richard Langley on the MA FTV was just priceless for learning the insights of documentary filmmaking. The screenings were great, the chosen films were well picked (of course, some I liked better than others) but they accurately represented the rich pallet of documentary subgenres. What I liked most about his method of teaching were the discussions that followed the screenings, where Richard explained the documentary mode and why and how it was made this way.  I learned not just why documentaries are made but how to make them. His passion for the subject really had a great impact, not just on me, but I think on the whole class. I could tell by the way we started discussing documentaries a bit later in the year that was equal to the way we discussed feature films in the beginning of the year. To put it in a different perspective: before I attended the MA I avoided watching documentaries and the closest I got to the genre was the work of popular TV channels that I no longer even consider ‘documentary’ in the full meaning of the word. Since then, for the past two and a half years, I have enjoyed 66 documentary films, some of which were mini-series, and I am currently preparing a documentary debut myself. So this goes to show the tremendous impact that the MA had on me both as a person and as an author.

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Annual Showcase & One Minute Movie Results

Last Tuesday evening we held our annual showcase as part of the University’s Arts & Science Festival. This incorporated the results of the Department of Film & Creative Writing’s second One Minute Movie Competition.

It was great to see so many familiar faces in the audience, including FTV students past and present, members of Guild TV, and industry partners. In addition to a range of 5-minute Guided Editing Projects, we screened two documentaries from last year’s cohort: My First Time, which followed Luke Smith’s preparations for his first stand-up gig in Edinburgh, and Junior Doctor Diaries, a pertinent film from Katharine Walker examining the challenges faced by junior doctors in the UK as they enter the workplace.

IMG_6362In the second half of the event we showed all 14 One Minute Movie entries, which responded to the festival theme of Memory and Forgetting. The range and quality of submissions to the competition this year was fantastic, necessitating an expansion in the judging panel! The overall winner was MA Film & Television student Bhulla Beghal, with his animation One Day. Asked where he drew his inspiration from, Bhulla mentioned Ari Folman’s documentary Waltz With Bashir, which features on the MA’s Documentary Filmmaking module syllabus.

The four runners up, in no particular order, were:

  • Elena Tang            Some Memories Don’t Fade
  • Paul Turrell            Missing Time
  • Rosie Kelby            Tip of the Tongue
  • Sarah Thölin-Chittenden            Skögen

Congratulations and a big thank you to everyone who entered! Watch Bhulla’s winning film here:

Actuality Media Outreach to Kisumu, Kenya

Before completing his MA last September, Sam Robbins spent several weeks in Kenya producing a documentary film with Actuality Media. From the email that began his journey, to an award nomination for the finished project, here’s his account of the outreach programme.Sam R blog

In August 2014, I travelled to Kenya as part of the Actuality Media team. I’d been forwarded a link to their website by the MA staff, took a quick look at their page and pretty much decided right away that I wanted to do it. I’d been stuck at home for a while; before enrolling on FTV the bulk of my time was spent earning money for its tuition, then once I was there staying at home saved me that bit more from accommodation fees. I’d already lived it up in my undergraduate days, so it seemed the sensible option with no student loan available.

No surprise, living at home made me pretty restless though. I was more and more determined to get out and do something new and exciting, something ambitious and out of my comfort zone. I’d never even heard of The Study Abroad Programme that Actuality Media were offering, it came from nowhere, just some random email that I happened to pursue. I saw the words, ‘outreaches in Kenya, Ecuador and Cambodia’ and I was sold. The worst thing I could be was all talk about wanting to do this and that, it just took a little spontaneity and I was committed.

So roll-on August! That was my mentality for the next few months. I was accepted onto the Kenya outreach to be Producer for a short documentary on Palos Farm, a permaculture farm based in the sugarcane region of Kisumu. My team consisted of myself – the Producer – and three others: a Director, Cinematographer and Editor. So with twelve of us on the programme, that made three groups each working on separate documentaries within Kisumu, all of us relatively new to the work. To overlook and guide us on these projects, as it was so new to us, there were also two Production Supervisors offering their expertise in helping us create a polished piece.

Pre-Production

Things kicked off with research. The first two weeks were dedicated to making a plan of attack. Whilst the leg work had already been done, liaising with the organisations we were going to document, we still had to discover a unique story to chronicle. Part of the outreach scheme was that each organisation we worked alongside was promoting social change in the community. Palos Farm was introducing a new, sustainable means of farming that could improve the livelihood of workers in the region. Meanwhile, the other two groups were working with the local charities SWAP (Safe Water and Aids Project) and the YCCM (Young County Change Makers). As Actuality Media were keen to find a strong protagonist to tell each organisation’s story, this meant uncovering an individual that had been positively affected by their NGO’s work. These protagonists were to take centre stage, a character with a compelling life that could promote all the work that each program had done for them.

Blog - Palos Farm Nursery (2)For my group, a large amount of research was spent immersing ourselves in Palos Farm. We learnt the structure and goals of the farm, what they were growing and why, and we also met and talked to a lot of the farmhands. It took some delving and at times work with a translator, but we soon met our protagonist in one of these farmhands, a supervisor named Joseph.

Once this was decided we had to structure our documentary. This meant creating an arc for Joseph’s story, specifically pointing to how Palos Farm had helped him and his family. We had to know beforehand how we were going to edit the film together and visually capture moments that backed-up what was being said. We needed to create a shot list, determine interviewees and decide on locations and the necessary questions to ask. In all, it meant putting together a production schedule that would take us neatly into week three; shooting week. Continue reading

Arts & Science Festival 18-24 March

Arts&ScienceFestivalThe University of Birmingham is holding its first ever Arts & Science Festival from 18-24 March and I’m proud to say that FTV is running a Documentary Screenings event as part of the programme!

This will be a showcase of work by recent alumni of the course, including six guided editing projects and two documentary features. We are on page 7 of the UoB Arts Science Festival (18-24 March) Programme and there are dozens of other fantastic events taking place across campus throughout the week.

Admission for the documentary screenings is free, but booking is advised. We will have a few drinks and nibbles so please drop me an email j.j.saunders@bham.ac.uk if you’d like to come along, so we can ensure there’s enough for everyone!

Ones to Watch – Documentaries

What better excuse to immerse yourself in films and television than to be studying an MA with Film and Television in the title? The more you watch, the more you should get an idea of where your own production interests lie. In particular, we’d recommend watching as many documentaries as possible, as not only is there a module on Documentary Film-making, but you’ll also have the chance to produce your own factual piece over the year.

Sky have compiled an excellent list of the Top 100 Documentaries, two of which (The Thin Blue Line and Roger and Me) are often screened as part of the MA teaching. I’d recommend watching anything from this list – my own favourite is Man on Wire (2008) – and if you can get hold of films from a range of decades this should give you a good sense of how documentary style and subject matter has evolved. There’s some crossover between Sky’s list and Total Film‘s 50 Weirdest Documentaries, but between these two there should be something to pique everyone’s interest!

There are loads of excellent made-for-television documentaries as well, both series and one-offs. Check out 4oD for plenty of intriguing content and on the BBC Panorama is probably the best-known (and longest-running!) of all current affairs documentary programmes. From nature, to history, to music and beyond, BBC Four is also great for new factual output.

So, that should be enough to keep you entertained and informed over the next few months! It’s by no means an exhaustive list, however, and we’re always keen to hear of further recommendations in the FTV office, so if there are any docs out there that you feel we really need to see and haven’t mentioned, let us know!