All about Filmmaking

  • The Look of Silence

    Noé Mendelle, director of Scottish Documentary Institute recently attended CPH:DOX for the first time. Here she writes about 'The Look of Silence,' the much anticipated follow up to Joshua Oppenheimer's Oscar-nominated feature, 'The Act of Killing.' This time, with an equally compelling and devastating narrative, we hear from the victims instead of the victors of Indonesia's communist massacres in the 1960s.

    the_look_of_silence_1.pngLast night, in the glamorous Hotel D'Angleterre, the award ceremony for CPH:DOX was held - all glitz and good humour. My colleagues in Copenhagen are such good nature and company.

    I was all the more pleased to be there because Edinburgh was amongst the many cities around Europe to take part in the Europe-wide release of 1989 for the opening of the festival. SDI is always eager to join hands with our beloved international documentary community.

    Many awards were given out. The least surprising and yet the most deserved went to The Look of Silence by Joshua Oppenheimer. Joshua, despite his Oscar nomination in 2014 and huge international acclaim for The Act of Killing, received his award with great emotion and humbleness, making sure to share the spotlight with his most admired producer Signe Byrge Sorensen.

    The Look of Silence, is the story of a young optician, going round his community and openly confronting the men who tortured and killed his brother during the '65-'66 Indonesian genocide. Murderers, who are still in power...

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  • 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.

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  • Finding Normality in Chaos: Libyan Stories

    In 2012, just three months after the death of Gaddafi, the British Council invited Scottish Documentary Institute to Libya to run workshops with young local filmmakers. 

    At the time Tripoli was ravaged by the revolution but the mood was high and positive. 

    In 2013 we planned to return to the region and run the same workshop in Benghazi. Two days before our arrival, however, the American Ambassador was shot and Benghazi was declared closed to non-Libyans. Rather than cancelling it, the British Council relocated the workshop in Tripoli. The filmmakers, eager to attend, ended up travelling back and forth from Benghazi to Tripoli despite great potential danger to themselves.


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  • 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.

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  • Libyan Stories: What’s up at the border today?

    Throughout 2014 we’ve been working with sixteen graduates from the Tripoli Art Academy to produce 4 x 3’ and 4 x 10’ films for our latest set of short stories, this time from Tripoli, Libya. The core idea of the workshop was to introduce young filmmakers to a new form of storytelling that is less news based, encouraging them to develop a love for creative documentary. The majority of them already had knowledge of the industry and brought with them their technical skills and experience of working for local Libyan broadcasters. The training would enable them to explore the chaos of their country through creative documentary and to connect their artistic voices to the rest of the world.

    Libyan Stories

    The delivery of the workshop was due to take place over a period of seventeen weeks, from February to June. However, we faced many delays due to the unsettled political situation in Tripoli and only just reached the finish line in December. It has been a real challenge for the participants to keep going through moments of complete isolation, without any contact to us, and often to each other. With so much violence and chaos around them, it is sometimes hard to find the motivation to keep going, especially when creating short films.

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  • Tea Time at IDFA

    This week IDFA announced that Maite Alberdi received The Alliance of Women Film Journalists' EDA Award for Best Female-Directed Documentary for Tea Time (Chile). Noe Mendelle, director of Scottish Documentary Institute, has just arrived back from Amsterdam and writes about the film and why it deserves every bit of praise it receives.

    Maite and her producer Clara, might be young looking and petite in size, but they're already giants in the world of documentary. Their first film The Lifeguard also premiered at IDFA (2011) and won many awards. As a director Maite has developed a highly particular style that creates an intimate portrayal of the characters she works with, through everyday stories in small-scale worlds with big close ups and a very gentle pace.


    I was delighted to be involved in the development stage of their latest film Tea Time, when they took part in my documentary workshops at DocMontevideo forum three years ago.

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  • 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. 

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  • Diaries from an intrepid filmmaker (16)

    No matter how experienced you are in documentary filmmaking and all things African – no shoot is like any other. And in particular, this shoot is like no other. Trapped in what has been described a 'closed society' – the Bijagós archipelago – Noé Mendelle struggles to find some sense of balance between traditional and modern influences. When a blog becomes your only place to vent, irony is inevitable. Raw, unfiltered and dispatched on the same day, here is the latest post in her series.

    This is our last day in the Bijagós

    Today was a day of ceremonies. The main one was to get Iran to enter into the sculpture the making of which we had been following for the last few weeks.

    • Eggs smashed: 4
    • Palm wine: 20 litres
    • Clothes: 3
    • Chicken sacrificed: 1
    • Goat sacrificed: 1
    • Future president met: 1

    Sculpture not yet possessed by Iran

    How do you know if a spirit has entered into a sculpture?

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  • Diaries from an intrepid filmmaker (15)

    The island of Uracane

    This is our last trip to another island. Time is running out. I m not looking forward to another camping trip. Despite constant attention, the spots on my legs are looking like craters and are all getting infected. My toe is still home to a worm farm and starting to look beyond repair. God knows what my Edinburgh doctor is going to make of it... I'm struggling with my right foot and Luis with his left knee. What a pair of wobbling directors!

    On our arrival I changed my mind. It was such a pretty beach were we landed at, and such a lovely village! Too bad that villages are always a few kilometres into the forest. I would have loved to do a dive. Ancumbo was different from other villages we had seen so far. All the houses had big terracotta pots to keep the rice. They gave a majestic look to the place.

    Village with pots for grain

    Our arrival always creates a buzz, but here you could see that not many people had seen a white person before, let alone two women and a man! Some kids run away crying, but adults and braver children would come and stroke our skin and hair in disbelief. I can't wait to bring a ginger Scot along!

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  • Diaries from an intrepid filmmaker (14)

    Abu in Formosa

    Today we got back into our canoe in order to move to another island: Formosa. We were welcomed at the beach by some strong lads to carry our luggage, and then we set up our tents inside their local disco. A lovely round house, with beautiful paintings. Our host, Aliu, had build it in order to make sure the young in the village of Abu would have some form of modern entertainment at weekends and would not feel the need to leave the island.

    Abu is the first village on this trip where I felt genuine love and use of the Bijagó tradition beyond the motions of rituals. There is a genuine attempt to combine it with modern life. Children are encouraged to go to school all year round. We saw them playing until bell time, and then a couple of older children took them through the drill of physical exercise while singing, and then they all scattered in their classes, eager to learn.

    For the first time children were not excessively on the top of us and no begging went on. At last we could have conversations without feeling that a fare meter was clicking.

    We met one of the old chiefs who is in charge of one of the Iran (spirits embodied in a sculpture) living in the village. Apparently this spirit is a mischievous one who is not accepted by the other Irans and lives alone in the hut built for him. He put a spell on two large stones and anyone trying to move them gets hit by disaster.

    A chief, an Iran, and the two stones.

    But it seems that this old man managed to tame his Iran and somehow developed a peaceful relationship. I think the chief was even proud of having a difficult Iran! His cheeky giggle when he spoke about him said it all. He may have many funny stories to tell but he won't share them. Not because we are foreigners but because our fixer is of a younger age. The entire Bijagó society is organised around the six different phases of a human life. The elders only reveal their knowledge bit by bit.

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