There is no doubt about it - documentaries hold the championship belt for being the most flabbergasting genre in storytelling on screen. This niche mode of interviewing has been addressing social topics with bravery since the 1920’s. Mandy Chang is the Commissioning Editor for BBC 'Storyville' who has been turning the wheel to get these world-class global stories to our screens. Mandy spoke on a web seminar with WFTV in lockdown about what stands out in the pitching process from the movies in this tremendously influential art form.
Storyville is a BBC documentary strand that comprises contemporary and challenging documentaries from different filmmakers gathered from across the globe. It’s been home to over 700 films from some 70 countries and its known for producing award-winning, critically acclaimed titles. When asked what makes these particular stories stand out at the start of the seminar, Mandy commented, “I look at political stories and unfolding narratives. The thing that hooks a narrative is a storytelling character...I love quirky films. ” Mandy has commissioned incredibly hard-hitting documentaries over the last few years such as BlackFish, Last Men in Aleppo, and Olympic Massacre: One Day in September.
But telling the world these hidden tales and secrets comes with a level of courage as Chang comments, “People are more risked to commission documentaries.” As camera technology has adapted throughout the ages, and film makers are able to get deeper into their visions, it seems these smaller stories are the ones we are so eager to see. Mandy supports this by saying, “I want people to be diverse and tell the smaller stories that are just as important as the big ones.” It seems she has always felt proud to be a part of pushing the filmmakers dreams as she says, “We take a leap of faith, because we can.”
This year Storyville has commissioned the touching and outspoken film ‘Welcome to Chechnya’ which Mandy discusses as the trailer plays on screen, “The film will be out on the 15th of June. It’s about LGBTQ in Chechnya in Russia about the people in danger of losing their lives because of their sexuality.” This isn’t the only absorbing new movie coming to Storyville. ‘Scandalous’ is another fearlessness tale from filmmaker Mark Landsman looking at the shocking stories of the National Enquirer in America. Mandy goes on to say they are exploring films about the locked-in syndrome, the burning of Notre Dame - from the same filmmakers of the 9/11 documentary - teenage survivors turned activists in America’s gun culture, and a troubled Peruvian surfer's tale. She comments, “All the films revolve about the state of the world and who we are at that particular moment in time.” When asked what doesn't work or what filmmakers are missing in their pitches she says, "Humour is hard to get across in documentaries. We also haven’t had pitches about China. It’s a powerful country."
With over 100 submissions emailed to her per week, it seems there are an array of stories out there to be told. Mandy comments on pushing women filmmakers stories to the front line, “Many women need to get their second and third film under their belt. Men tend to inhabit ambitious storytelling. I would love for that to happen with women well. There is a handful who make big feature doc in the UK, there needs to be more.”
Mandy ends the chat by talking about documentaries and their topics, “It’s always something that resonates in the now.” With 2020 being one of the most challenging times for our world, there is sure to be some in-depth documentaries appearing to our screens soon in our current monumental time.
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