By: Judy Ehrlich
INPUT’s weeklong showcase of content from international media-makers ran this past week in Seoul, Korea. Among the many filmmakers in attendance was Judy Ehrlich, whose documentary Most Dangerous Man in America screened at the event. She offered BTB this on-the-ground account from the festival.
Four jam packed days, dozens of films, discussions, debates, brutal honesty, humor mixed with painfully serious subject matter, and a delirious evening of Korea’s top musical acts in an eclectic concert in our honor and broadcast live.
For those who have never had the pleasure of attending INPUT, it isn’t just another film festival. INPUT is a yearly conference exploring TV making with peers from around the world. It is a chance for public television staff, leaders, and independent producers to share their programs and debate ideas about the future of the medium.
It is a big tent for the best practices, the most innovative, controversial, sometimes the most annoying, and outside the box programming for broadcast and online from around the world.
I learned something new about my own film by watching The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers through the eyes of Koreans who have been subject to much more censorship. I was viscerally reminded that although we face many serious challenges to free speech, it is a privilege limited to greater and lesser degrees throughout the world.
INPUT is a chance to compare notes on such issues as well as questions of ethics and truth telling in documentary film. It is also a chance to make friends among colleagues from around the world over some Korean barbecue and beer.
My favorite moments from post-film discussions: INPUT is all about culture clash and aesthetic variance. What works in Denmark may be completely inappropriate in Indonesia. The Islamic young woman sitting next to me literally covered her eyes during the opening event, which included a rather explicit sexual how-to sequence.
A comment following a screening: “Some people may enjoy your film. I don’t happen to be one of them.” And another harsh response, “Can you tell me why you made us sit through two hours of your film?” It wasn’t all negative by any means, one viewer commented, “You made me cry and laugh and wish I had made that film.”
Some personal favorite films: Village Without Women, a delightful film by Bosnian filmmaker Srdjan Sarenac, about a Serbian village made up of eight bachelor farmers and one brother’s desperate search for a wife in Albania — their former enemy.
Independent Lens’ The Parking Lot Movie was a surprise hit. Director Meghan Eckman’s intimate look at a bunch of over-educated misfits working in a parking lot in Virginia was fun, but it reminded me that sometimes it is the most ordinary that elucidates the realities of modern life.
There were excellent examples of films exploring the big sweep of history, like the haunting images of the Warsaw ghetto in the documentary A Film Unfinished (also from Independent Lens) or the plight of Palestinian refugees living in Brazil in Home Key.
As a teacher and student of documentary, I was looking for new ideas and I found plenty. Traditional filmmaking, like the Australian immigration story had dazzling art direction for their interviews, the sheer beauty of Joan Frosch’s biographic dance film Nora made me want more of this on public TV.
Some programs pushed moral limits, like the French offering The Game of Death. The conversation was heated: “Was it an ethical experiment?” “Why didn’t the participants react in rage to being manipulated into believing they may have killed a game show contestant?”
Several programs explored the online experience. I left wondering if we can present online programming in a linear projection setting and properly experience it’s intent?
And I also left with much food for thought: new visuals approaches to consider in storytelling; new thoughts about how to reach an international audience for our work; new ways to present interview material; and to use silence and innovative animation to draw in the audience.
Above all, I came away feeling privileged to have been invited by the hard working shop stewards and CPB to participate in this orgy of Public TV ideas and innovation.
Better get busy in Sydney — it’s going to be hard to beat the Korean hospitality for this year’s INPUT when you host the event next year. Luckily you’ve got great beaches but you may have to bring out plenty of Bondi Beach lifeguards and a few koalas to hug just to compete.
This year’s INPUT had real Seoul.