All about Bridging the Gap

  • Director's Gap - Why should we care if women are making films?

    Calls for Scottish Documentary Institute's annual Bridging the Gap initiative are now open with a deadline of October 4th. As this year we are inviting filmmakers to respond to the theme of 'women', Noe Mendelle founder and director of SDI reflects on her own experiences as a female filmmaker.

    I moved to Edinburgh in 2000 with such great expectations. After all I was stepping on the land of Grierson, “the father of documentary.”


    Image: Noe Mendelle filming in Edinburgh, 2014

    Having spent several years as a filmmaker in Sheffield during the heyday of Channel 4’s workshop movement, I expected the same creative buzz in Scotland. Instead I found everyone busy chasing TV commissions and few really engaging with collaborations or better co-productions with the European documentary scene. So many great things were going on around the world; C4 going international, ARTE on the scene, Scandinavian broadcasters, but Scotland, buried under the UK flag, was somehow missing out. Borne out of this frustration, I felt the need to set up the Scottish Documentary Institute to develop a platform to promote creative documentary in and out of Scotland.

    Read more
  • NAE PASARAN - Kickstarter Campaign

    We’re just over half way through our very first Kickstarter campaign for feature-length documentary Nae Pasaran. The film began life as a Bridging the Gap in 2013, directed by Felipe Bustos Sierra and screened to great acclaim in festivals worldwide. Ultimately, it opened the doors to a much bigger story, one that takes us from Scotland to Chile and back again. 

    It comes with some surprise that we haven't run our own crowd-funding campaign in the past. We've written extensively about it on our blog, we've supported several and we recognise that for some projects, it's become an essential way for filmmakers to not only raise funding, but perhaps more importantly, to engage with their audiences early on. Here's how it came about for us: 

    Nae_Pasaran_-_The_Palace.jpgShorts being turned into features is less frequent than you might think but this story has an endless capacity to keep giving. The tale of the Scottish workers defying Pinochet is courageous and playfully told, and the relevance of their action couldn't be more poignant today. It quickly became clear that this story is a piece of the bigger picture that makes up Chile's recent history, a history that sent out ripples internationally and is still fresh in people's mind.

    Read more
  • Venice shouldn't be travelled to alone

    Duncan currently works with us at Scottish Documentary Institute having graduated from the Edinburgh College of Art. His graduate film Radio Silence  has travelled round a number of festivals and was nominated for a BAFTA Scotland New Talent award. His earlier film The Lady with the Lamp about his Mother was also shown at festivals before going on to receive over 300,000 views overnight when premiering online. He wrote about this for us in a previous post. 

    All of this put him in a great position to apply for Bridging the Gap, so how did he go about doing it?

    After graduating from the Edinburgh College of Art, I was faced with going through what I’ve taken to calling the ‘post-graduation dip’. About 50% of my friends, if not more, left Edinburgh, and the world suddenly became a dramatically quieter place. I moved back home, became more single than I’d ever been in my life, and got through a lot of Netflix…

    There’s a number of opportunities/paths available for a reasonably young aspiring filmmaker in Scotland, I targeted the only documentary specific one - Bridging the Gap. Think up an idea, write a proposal, get it submitted. That became my aim.

    What film proposal justifies 8k funding? I thought to myself. 

    Read more
  • Counting Sheep

    It's that time of the year again, we're getting ready for Bridging The Gap 2014; our call for applications will open very soon. In the coming weeks we will publish new blog posts from previously participating filmmakers, who will share their personal experiences in the process, and give you tips on how to apply this year.

    First up, Rosie Reed Hillman, who not only managed to make Cailleach, a beautiful short film, but who also had her first baby during the process. Rosie, we salute you.

    Rosie_Headshot.jpgMy passion for filmmaking is born out of my interest in people, their lives and the stories they have to tell. I had completed an MA in Visual Anthropology just as I was applying for Bridging the Gap. Prior to doing my MA, my background was in social care, predominantly in homelessness and supporting survivors of domestic abuse, which gave me the opportunity to work with and support people with compelling and humbling life stories.

    For me documentary film is all about the relationship you make with people, respecting their stories and engaging them in the film making process. Applying for Bridging the Gap seemed like a great way to move on with my filmmaking practice, bringing all my experiences together and getting the opportunity to make a cinematic piece, after receiving lots of amazing training and mentoring.

    Also, with a real budget - how could I not apply!?

    Read more
  • "Show, don't tell"

    To support the opening of our new Bridging The Gap call we are publishing blog posts from the four filmmakers selected in the previous call. They will give you tips for a good application.

    Valerie Mellon is a documentary filmmaker based in Glasgow with a special interest in bringing science to new audiences. After studying biomedical engineering at London and Cambridge, she has spent ten years in radio and television production, primarily at the BBC, making programs such as Dragons' Den, The One Show, Men of Rock, Addicted to Pleasure and the Grierson Award and Scottish BAFTA winning After Life: The Strange Science of Decay. Inorganica is her first film-festival short.

    Valerie_Mellon2.jpgScience and filmmaking have always been important to me. Inorganica is about a Glasgow-based scientist who is trying to create life in the lab from scratch. If he succeeds he will have discovered how life on earth could have started. It has implications for design and engineering and throws up all sorts of religious arguments and questions. It's a topic that affects all of us and I felt it was an important story to cover as it happened.

    So that's my first tip for choosing a story – make sure that you will definitely see something change during the two months you plan to film. Find a story that fascinates you. Then in your pitch document, make sure you explain why this film absolutely has to be made, and why it has to be made now.

    When I applied for Bridging The Gap I wasn't sure that I'd get to make the film, but I was hoping to be chosen to attend the workshops. They were fascinating and extremely useful because you get to work with all the other participants. There were filmmakers from lots of different backgrounds, with different skills, coming at life and filmmaking from different angles. All the shortlisted ideas were developed and refined with the help of very experienced directors and producers. Scottish Documentary Institute will surround you with the best people available. And my next tip is simply; let them help you. Film is a collaboration of lots of ideas and different people's passions.

    The final pitching day is very intense – by then you've been thinking about the film non-stop for some months and you only have very short time to let it all out and explain it all in a coherent way. You’ll also have to convince the panel you can do it. Try and remember the thing that made you want to make the film in the first place. What first excited you about the subject? What are you really trying to say with your film? And what does it say about you and your personality?

    Read more
  • It sure ain’t for the pension plan

    Running up to the opening of our new Bridging The Gap call on 2 September we are publishing blog posts from four filmmakers selected in the previous call. They will give you tips for a good application.

    Maurice O’Brien is a journalist-turned-filmmaker who has been making factual programmes since 2005. As an assistant producer he was a joint winner of the Grierson for Best Historical Documentary for 1983 - The Brink Of Apocalypse in 2008. Most recently he has been directing short films about culture and current affairs for the BBC’s Newsnight, One Show and Culture Show programmes. 


    I was actually a failure at Bridging The Gap the first time I applied. Though I made it through to the last eight, attended various workshops and even made a trailer for the proposed film, ultimately I didn’t get the funding to make it a reality. Pretty disappointing: but I got so much out of the experience I decided to apply again last year with a different project. 

    Being realistic definitely helps… The first project I had pitched was about a beaten-up old passenger ferry that sails around Lake Malawi, which was always going to be a bit of a stretch in terms of both budget and also convincing the commissioning panel of my personal connection to the story.

    Buffalo Dreams premiered at Edinburgh International Film Festival, and is now hopefully going to start travelling around the world. It deals with the many obstacles faced by a family who aim to become Scotland’s first commercial bison farmers. My reasons for making it were partly inspired by my farming roots back home in Ireland.  But for me, the film is also about how far we can afford to go to make our dreams a reality – something I think all filmmakers ask themselves at times.

    I’ve always been worried that filmmaking would become ‘just a job’, a career path rather than a passion, which is surely the reason we all get into this crazy business in the first place (hell, it sure ain’t for the pension plan).

    The beauty of Bridging the Gap is the creative freedom it provides, the encouragement to think 'widescreen'. To imagine your film playing in a cinema is to approach it in an entirely new way. 

    Yes, it probably helps if your proposal has key words like ‘journey’, ‘jeopardy’, ‘conflict’ and so on… but think about the potential for magic as well. What imagery are you going to put up there, what feelings do you want to evoke in that captive audience? As I realized during some of the workshops, it’s about inciting curiosity and emotion rather than offering up simplified answers. 

    Filmmaking is all about posing questions, you just have to ask the right ones...

    Read more
  • Remember feeding the penguins?

    Running up to the opening of our new Bridging The Gap call on 2 September we are publishing blog posts from four filmmakers selected in the previous call. They will give you tips for a good application.

    Felipe Bustos Sierra is a self-taught filmmaker with Belgium-Chilean roots. He is born to a journalist who was an exile of Pinochet’s military coup. This spurred him into making his Bridging The Gap film Nae Pasaran.

    Felipe.jpg Remember that instant on your first day of work – when someone asked you to froth some milk, check the gate or feed the penguins – and you realised: 'I don’t know the first step to any of this!' That thought never seems to go away when making a film.

    Collaboration is key, especially with more experienced filmmakers. Bridging The Gap offers a depth of experience, a wide network of collaborators within the Scottish Documentary Institute and beyond at each stage of the story, and allows you and each participant to become mirrors for each other’s projects.

    After three short films done on little to no budget, it was comforting (I use 'comforting' lightly, as comforting as filmmaking gets) to be part of an established team backed with a respectable budget. Nae Pasaran required access to many eyewitnesses, the use of specific archival footage and music, hibernating classified documents, and three minutes of 3D animation. The support from the Scottish Documentary Institute unlocked doors to new techniques, earned the trust of contributors almost instantly, and secured the help of dedicated researchers.

    It’s far from over as the film is now being submitted to festivals by SDI. More doors, new doors, and a more confident boot to open them.

    I am now researching a larger film on the solidarity movements for Chile in the UK and their relevance today and looking forward to seeing how Nae Pasaran is received outside of Scotland. It is going to be seen throughout the UK in September as part of the commemorations for the 40th anniversary of the coup in Chile, and that alone is worth everything.

    I would suggest these things...

    Read more
  • Tips for Bridging The Gap applicants

    We are getting ready for a new year of Bridging The Gap. Running up to the opening of our call on 2 September we will publish blog posts from four filmmakers selected in the previous call. They will share what it means to be Bridging the Gap alumni – and give you tips for a good application.

    The first post comes from Genevieve Bicknell, an artist and filmmaker based in Edinburgh who came to film by way of social anthropology and then painting. Her work explores themes of family, memory and of how we relate to others and to ourselves. 

    Genevieve_sm.jpgIt's hard to express just how great an experience Bridging The Gap was. We got in-depth feedback on our projects from top international filmmakers, the expertise of the Scottish Documentary Institute whenever we needed it, both creatively and business-wise, and we were able to pay people to work on our films (I even had enough left over to pay myself). This mixture doesn’t happen often, so to my mind it's pretty special.

    It is a lot of work, especially if you are trying to balance it with another job. During the editing stage of Swallow I felt like I was working on it every minute of the day and I regularly hated the film. But that's a normal process for me and even in the depths of despair I never regretted applying.

    Thinking back, it was the sharing of ideas with the other participants and later my crew, that really made the experience so worthwhile. There was such commitment and energy and support, it was a very exciting process to be involved in. I discovered that many had applied to Bridging The Gap before and so perseverance definitely pays off, it's probably a matter of finding the right project.

    I applied just after finishing my Masters and still felt very uncertain about my abilities, but now I’m beginning, on occasion, to call myself a ‘filmmaker’. My next project is with SDI again, making a 15-minute film about the Commonwealth. I’m also starting an experimental collaboration with friend and filmmaker Matt Robinson. 

    Here are my tips... 

    Read more
  • Bridging the Gap alums today (4): Tali Yankelevich

    Tali.jpgTali Yankelevich's Bridging the Gap short The Perfect Fit is currenty on the Oscars shortlist for documentary shorts and nominated for tonight's Creative Scotland Awards. She is also just finishing a film for Why Poverty?SDI's Agata Jagodzinska speaks to her as part of our mini series following up with former participants of SDI's flagship shorts programme.

    Congratulations on the shortlising of The Perfect Fit for an Oscar nomination. Where did the idea for the film came from?

    It came from an internet article I found while I was researching an idea for a ballet documentary. For a long time, I had been wanting to make a film on the topic, but I never found an approach I felt was original enough, since so many films have been made about classical ballet. Also, a couple of years back, I researched an idea about instrument makers, specifically on the craft of violin making which I found fascinating. Later it occurred to me to look into the story behind the making of ballet shoes.
    When I started reading about it, it really moved me on a personal level. Even though I was trained in classical ballet when I was growing up, it never occurred to me that the shoes could have been hand-made. And it is a contradiction, as the shoes are so beautiful but at the same time cause so much pain for a dancer, and you cannot dance without them. And knowing that there is someone on the other side of that story, making those shoes with their hands, and damaging their own hands to try to make them more comfortable, is really intriguing. 
    After reading the article about the shoe factory, I immediately wanted to make the film. As documentary makers I think this is what we look for, as we investigate the world around us: a story which is universal and also unique, and that is hidden in places we often do not pay any attention to, where there is drama, beauty, mystery and humanity.

    Read more
  • Bridging the Gap alums today (3): Jane McAllister

    Jane_McAllister_320px.jpgIn our mini series following up with former participants of SDI's Bridging the Gap programme, SDI's Agata Jagodzinska speaks to Jane McAllister who is currently working on a 30-minute documentary for Bridging the Gap PLUS, commissioned by BBC Scotland and Creative Scotland.

    Jane, how did you get into filmmaking, and what did you do beforehand?

    For a long time I have been making tassels for sporrans. The job has given me many things over the years; most importantly, time to think. When your hands are busy your mind is free. I listen to a lot of audio books and the radio. It is piecework so I sew from home and that can be anywhere; I have lived in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee, and Inverness. I have also tasselled a while in Uist, Perth, and on trains back and forth to Aberdeen when I did a passenger survey job. I have found a lot of films over the years, and have a long list.

    It took me a while to realise that documentaries would be the best way for me to do justice to my ideas. I tried writing a philosophical work in my mid twenties, 'The Philosophy of a Young Mind'; but soon embarrassed myself enough to stop. I made conceptual jewellery and obviously wrote poetry.

    "First lesson: record it now, do not wait"

    The first time I picked up a film camera was when I lived in Dundee. The way I had explored the city was via its churches. There are around 75 in various stages of use. I would walk to each one and plot it on the map. My favourite had a flock of starlings living in its rafters in the winter. I had never seen starlings flock before and I couldn't believe how beautiful. I was determined to film them. There was a media access centre in Glenrothes at the time that rented out equipment at very cheap rates.  All winter I was going to rent a camera. But I missed my chance, the weather got warmer and the starlings left. Next year, I thought. The next time I went to look at the church it had construction signs all over it. So angry with myself, I rented a camera and filmed the church’s demolition. First lesson in documentary film making learned: record it now, do not wait.

    Read more