Having previously noted myself to be a film geek, film enthusiast and film promoter there is no sector of film I love to root for more than documentary film. This has not always been the case. I used to vocalise my boredom accompanied by verbal sighs at watching a mid week documentary about monkeys in South America on National Geographic. Little did I know that not all documentaries are fundamentally based on animals in far off continents. I blame David Attenborough. Once able to see the many sides of the documentary coin, I began to inform myself with topical docs.
The recent news of a London cinema solely dedicated to screening documentaries seven days a week was music to my ears. The Curzon Bloomsbury formerly known as The Renoir Cinema will be the home of Bertha DocHouse - a new centre for documentary film as of March 27th. Fully equipped with a 150-seat screen, lounge area and bar it will show the crème de la crème of documentaries from the UK and across the world. So long National Geographic, hello Bertha DocHouse.
I plugged to have a meet-up with the founder and Director of DocHouse, Elizabeth Wood, to pick her mind and congratulate her on the birth of a cultural hub in the centre of London. I must add that Bertha DocHouse is the first of its kind in the UK and on assumption the first in Europe. Since speaking with Elizabeth, I have felt compelled to bring you more on the beginning of an amazing journey for documentaries. All thanks to the Bertha Foundation, Elizabeth's tireless efforts to promote docs has been rewarded by their upcoming permanent home.
For a period of time Elizabeth was actively seeking cinema venues to show documentary work. It was difficult for cinemas to accept docs opposed to mainstream films so she battled in making connections across London to forward the documentary stance.
"It wasn't the done thing to show documentary films. Spellbound in 2002 was the first documentary that received an audience. Picture house wanted to offer a 10 am slot on Saturday which wouldn't draw many then 4 pm on a Sunday became designated. Picture house was a promoter of docs until closing. Riverside Studios then became the champion of documentaries moving forward. Riverside was too far West for many to attend all screenings so after seeking an East London venue, Rich Mix gave docs an East and West base. To allow me to programme documentaries across London Riverside Studios gave me an office. From there I could pay one volunteer expenses to assist. The birth of DocHouse proceeded from there."
A common bias regarding documentary storytelling is the journalistic form it may approach. On asking Elizabeth about the way a project or projector may claim to hold a journalistic vision she stood firm on her opinion of the above.
"There are many entities to documentaries. It's a dangerous leap to confuse journalism and documentary film-making. Are you portraying personal or factual elements through the body of work? You also have to consider if a film-maker is using propaganda to persuade your view on a given subject which to me defeats the purpose of documentaries. I commend the choices made by the head of Sundance, Tabatha Jackson, as she displays a broad vision. Not one version of docs."
Documentaries are globally produced but of late I was wondering if there have been a higher volume of submissions from any specific country.
"Each country remains true to what they are good at showcasing. The French are great at essay films. New wave Directors such as Chris Maker makes documentaries more of a personal vision. Third cinema in South America has really grown while in China we see visual festivals which demonstrates the rise in medium. Russian early expressionist films are my personal favourite; the whole art movement during the revolution."
With the aid of the Bertha Foundation, Elizabeth was able to take DocHouse to dizzying heights. Bertha's mantra of changing the world through documentary fit perfectly with the future Elizabeth envisioned for DocHouse. The two coupled and from there Elizabeth built her brand, held Q&A's with Director and invested in the creation of Bertha DocHouse which has been 4 years in the making.
Elizabeth's objectives to housing daily documentaries at Bertha DocHouse is to draw a full house to the 3 films screening every day, encourage and inspire film-makers and for the public to view docs in a cinema as the viewing of documentaries is a communal experience. Elizabeth believes docs evoke discussion and Bertha DocHouse is precisely setting out to intrigue. Spreading the word about documentaries is how audiences return for more. Had I not been set off track from my monkey documentary watching evenings, I would not have became intrigued by the work of Elizabeth or Berth DocHouse. My new awareness has led me to rally troops to spread the great word.
Elizabeth decides on the selection of docs screening at Bertha DocHouse and currently has April to mid May's programming set. However, the beauty of having an entire dedicated documentary screen is a popular film can be screened for longer, and in turn, if a new film arises it can take president in the schedule allowing film goers to stay in tune with documentaries that are produced with a current message.
"My biggest research tool is watching a vast amount of documentaries. Matching back to back screenings means deciding upon what films fit together. There can't be too many docs of one specific niche. It is my intent to continue the language and through docs teach different styles of visions. I am interested in works that push the form; edging, observational and personal essays. Television feeds so much of what people want to see whereas documentaries are the way we find out about the world in depth. Leaving us with the ultimate question of; where do we sit in the world?"
The important work of Elizabeth Wood at DocHouse has moved a generation to take interest in documentary films. With the launch of Bertha DocHouse encompassing a city as creative as London, I hope it brings forth an intelligent and educational discussion about the importance of docs.
For further information or film scheduling check www.dochouse.org