We will be happy to pay for an experience

Docalliancefilms presents an interview with Vratislav Šlajer, producer of the new Czech documentary film Bear Islands.

How did your cooperation with Martin Ryšavý on his new Siberia film start?

In our production company Bionaut Films, we have a long-term interest in documentaries and keep searching for new projects. I found Martin’s subject interesting and since I consider him as one of the most interesting authors and directors in the Czech Republic, the cooperation was only logical and natural.

The film will have a distribution premiere on the internet; in the first stage it will even be available for free. What expectations do you have?

Primarily, we want the film to get to as large an audience as possible. Presentations in cinemas, on DVD and on the internet will be simultaneous and will complement each other. Today the audiences are divided – some people go to the cinema, some people prefer downloading. Some of them overlap; however, I think that the classical “holdbacks” (i.e. films released on DVD some six months after the cinema premiere) do not make sense any more. Moreover, projects like Bear Islands flourish thanks to “rumours”. That is why we decided to start on the internet a month before the cinema premiere; moreover, the first thousand viewers can watch the film for free. If they like it, they can recommend it to others, so that it might pay off in the end.

Nevertheless, Bear Islands will also be screened in cinemas.

I believe that people go to the cinema to have an experience. Therefore cinema screenings will be accompanied by discussions and authorial readings; moreover, one film copy will be left without a soundtrack and will be accompanied live by the band DVA. I believe that even a viewer who had watched it in the comfort of his home on DVD or online will come to the cinema as well to hear a discussion with the filmmaker, or to enjoy a film concert. In my opinion, Bear Islands have two dimensions as a film. On one hand, it is worth it to watch it on the screen, to enjoy the images, the landscape, to be carried away by its emotions. On the other hand, one can concentrate on the narration of the characters in the rather intimate home atmosphere on a smaller screen. Thanks to this distribution strategy, we offer our viewers various ways of watching and enjoying the film. Why have you chosen the Doc Alliance online portal to present your film on the internet? Docalliancefilms.com has been functioning well for several years now, having accumulated visitors and an interesting film selection. In my point of view, it is unrivalled in Central Europe. Moreover, the film was premiered at the Jihlava IDFF, which is interconnected with Doc Alliance, so that the presenting on the portal is but a natural continuation.

What do you think about the future of film distribution? Will the internet take up an increasing role?

I think that’s a fact. The question is only in what technological ways will the film get to the viewers – whether by means of cable television, internet connection, or the satellite. What is crucial is the transition to video “on demand”. The viewers will have an access to an archive of films and will be able to watch them whenever and however they want. This will change the success rate of various films and television programmes. I believe that smaller projects, which need more time in order to be successful, will get more chances; i.e. that there will be a way for them to get to a larger audience and thus have a greater economic impact. On the other hand, I do not expect any essential transition towards the “democratization” of distribution. There will still be institutions and companies that will offer their programmes to the viewers and thus decide what and when will they watch. One will not only pay for watching the films but also for an advice as to what is worth watching. I also hope that there will be more films that the viewers will discover for themselves despite expectations – “hits from below”.

Are you going to distribute your other projects in this way as well?

Definitely. The trouble is that in the Czech Republic and Europe, online distribution possibilities are very limited. The divided market and primarily the hesitant policies of big distributors obstruct the process. If piracy lowers profits, it is because it doesn’t have serious and legal competition. Look at iTunes and music. As soon as people were offered a comfortable and legal way of downloading, they had no problem with paying for the music and the market started changing. Three things are crucial: comfort, speed, experience. We will always be happy to pay for these.


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Doc Alliance is a creative partnership of 7 key European documentary film festivals. Our aim is to advance the documentary genre, support its diversity and promote quality creative documentary films.