DOX:LAB is a creative lab focusing on artistic exploration and on developing the film genres. The idea is to bring together filmmakers from different cultures and storytelling traditions, film histories and production methods to create a space for innovative and visually original films.
"We deliberately picked directors from widely different production cultures and with widely different artistic methods to expand the space in which films emerge." Festival Director Tine Fischer
Concretely, DOX:LAB combines a talent workshop with subsequent film production. During the CPH:DOX festival, the selected filmmakers participate in a workshop with seminars, master classes and input from Nordic film commissioners.
Taking off from the workshop, participants are partnered up to develop specific film projects. The cultural meeting of filmmakers is an important aspect. In 2009, 12 directors from the Nordic nations were partnered up with 12 directors from Asia, Africa and the Middle East. The outcome was 12 films that in various ways investigated the boundaries of the documentary genre.
"At the heart of the project is the artistic challenge and the aesthetic meeting with someone who thinks differently about art," CPH:DOX festival director Tine Fischer says. "The idea of asking two directors of different backgrounds to make a film together challenges the production process and genre definitions and encourages the making of different and innovative films. We deliberately picked directors from widely different production cultures and with widely different artistic methods to expand the space in which films emerge and develop."
Producing their films, the participants have to deal with five obstructions: 1. CPH:DOX picks a co-director for each participant. 2. Participants have eight months in which to finish the film together. 3. Participants must execute the entire production themselves, including editing and sound. 4. Participants will receive limited funding. 5. Participants must shoot in the non-Nordic participant's country.
In terms of the style and genre of the finished films, CPH:DOX has elected to give the participants an essentially free hand.
"The invitation is very open in terms of how the finished film will look. There are no requirements on running time, content or form," Fischer says. "As it turns out, that openness has been the attraction of the project. If we had dictated that the film had to run 10 minutes, that it had to be shown on a specific media platform or stick to certain genre conventions, etc., a lot of the participating directors would probably have bowed out. I think the combination of something that's very open and something that's very defined – an arranged marriage, if you will – makes the project interesting to the participating filmmakers."
Productive Culture Clash
One of the 12 teams from 2009 consists of Michael Noer of Denmark and Khavn de la Cruz of the Philippines. Their collaboration, "Son of God", is about a Philippine midget worshipped as the Son of God. As a documentary, it inhabits the borderland between fiction and reality.
Noer and de la Cruz' collaboration was not without friction and it resulted in two versions of "Son of God", a short and a feature.
"Why not two versions? There could be three or four or even five versions, because film is like music – it's highly malleable," de la Cruz says. "I've always seen the film as a feature, and Michael saw it as a short. Given this difference in perspective, why choose? It's a free world, so we made two cuts, or versions. Aside from the length, the major difference is that the short has a voiceover, while the feature has none."
Ending up with two versions of "Son of God" also reflects culturally different ways of viewing a film as a work, Noer says.
"Khavn has a tradition of making several versions of his films, and we intend to make even more versions of this film, too. It's the kind of thing that's not done in this country. Here we are more prideful of the film, of the work. I think it's fine to look at your film in a different way and I find it enormously refreshing to do several versions of one film," he says.
Michael Noer and Khavn de la Cruz
Explore New Strategies
Collaborating so closely with another director made an impression on de la Cruz in several ways.
The collaboration was not without its challenges. We're two filmmakers with different perspectives. We both had to adjust to accommodate the other's creative worldview, processes and quirks – and I must say we were able to do so without spilling too much blood. I'm kidding! We had a lot of fun, Michael and I. Admittedly, collaborating is not something that I'm used to. I've always been alone at the helm. Working with Michael made me feel like one of the twin heads on a monster. It's different. It's interesting. The more I came to know the otherness of the other filmmaker, the more I understood my own creative self, my aesthetics," he says.
"As for the rewards, I got to know another filmmaker quite intimately. We made new friends, we learned new things. Of course, the biggest reward of all is ultimately coming up with a film that we are both very proud of."
De la Cruz sees a lot of potential in DOX:LAB, now and in the future. "It's a good platform for collaboration. I recommend that all filmmakers, young and old, collaborate on one project at least once in their lives. It opens your eyes to new things and helps you grow as a creative mind and as a human being. I also see DOX:LAB as a place where new strategies in filmmaking can be explored in depth, where we can hopefully come up with new cinemas unthought of and unheard of before. It's a lot like crossbreeding. DOX:LAB is where we can crossbreed and create cinemutants."
In selecting the participants for this year, CPH:DOX drew on its experiences from DOX:LAB 2009.
"We learned a lot from last year, of course," Fischer says. "A crucial factor to the success of the project has no doubt been the matchmaking process. We took pains to ensure that everyone in the new group has a similar level of experience. The team consists mainly of filmmakers and visual artists who all have established, international careers. Most are familiar with the international market and have advanced so far in their artistic development that methods and projects are second nature. They know what they're doing and what interests them, which makes them open to dialogue.
"We also took pains to ensure that the combination of filmmakers brings something to the collective understanding of what ‘the documentary project' is. A lot of these filmmakers aren't exclusively documentary filmmakers but hybrid filmmakers working in both fiction and nonfiction. We included a number of visual artists this time, so I expect the aesthetic discussion of the documentary framework to expand, which includes challenging the classic narrative form, since so many of these filmmakers work in conceptual practices," Fischer says.