In conversation with Francesco Bizzari, the founder and director of the International Documentary Festival Visioni dal Mondo, which was held online in September 2020
Founded by Francesco Bizzari in 2015, the International Documentary Festival Visioni dal Mondo has grown to become a highlight on the worldwide industry’s radar. Featuring a total of thirty Italian and international films, the festival was ongoing from September 17 until September 21, 2020. Hosted last year in Milan’s Museo Nazionale Scienza e Tecnologia Leonardo da Vinci and the Teatro Litta, for this year — the entirety of the festival was screened online via the Italian platform MYmovies, allowing each documentary a quota of 500 viewers who are able to watch it on-demand within a twenty-four-hour window.
The film industry — at least when it comes to screening — is much more prepared for the digital than trade shows such as art fairs, whose physicality is compromised when on screen. Still, in moving towards digital, the International Documentary Festival managed to maintain the awards sections and the buyer-and-networking features that are at its core. Maintaining these features meant that the festival needed a platform tailored to their needs — including booking journeys as well as a balance of live and on-demand. Agility in dealing with the online has heralded success for the edition, and all the data collected on users via MYmovies may be the silver lining in the entire digitization ordeal, potentially offering insight into the development of the 2021 edition.
Amongst the documentaries that were screened is Monica Lăzurean-Gorgan, Ebba Sinzinger, and Michaela Kirst’s environmental thriller WOOD, which exposes the illegal logging industry. The film eventually won the festival’s International Contest “Storytellers of Our Time, a Mirror into the Future”. Another highlight of the program was the Italian production Cinquanta passi , directed by Niccolò Aiazzi focuses on glaciers at risk of extinction. The selection of both documentaries indicates that sustainability and climate change are in fact a sub-category of the festival’s overarching theme of courage.
We spoke to Bizzarri on the founding of the festival in Milan, and the process of moving online.
The conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Bana Bissat: We could start off by talking why and how you first launched the festival.
Francesco Bizzarri: I launched the festival six years ago because I thought there was a wide space for the documentary genre that was not so taken care of in Italy. In Italy, we had an old tradition of famous directors doing documentaries and it has been lost in the most recent years, and I wanted to relaunch it. At the same time, we had the possibility to do it in Milan — because we are based in Milan. In the past ten years, Milan has been booming — so I thought it was a good idea to relaunch in a city that was in a growth phase.
But then of course, I love documentaries — and that is the main reason. Producers and directors need to have an event where they show themselves, where they get in touch with broadcasters, and with those in the industry. Since the beginning, the festival has been open to the public, but there have always been industry sessions, dedicated to business.
BB: Judging from past reception, do you think that Milan as a location was a good choice?
FB: It was. The proof is that we are the leading event of Milan Movie Week, which is already in its third year this year. The Mayor of Milan and the Milan Culture Office were very happy that we started this festival here. So it was certainly successful. Also, Milan has a certain image in Italy. And as you know, the film industry has always been in Rome. So, we want to make Milano the capital of the documentary — and people are starting to like this idea, somehow. So yes, it was a successful decision.
BB: Obviously I want to bring up Covid-19, because it’s changed our year significantly. Did you encounter challenges in moving the festival online for this edition?
FB: It looks easy — you know, you go to the computer, or the iPad, or wherever, you click, you connect, and you watch. But it’s actually very difficult. Especially when it’s the first time, you know it takes time, attention, and stress. The other thing is that it is live. When you organize the festival in theatre or cinema, you can always do some last corrections and modifications to the program. For instance, you start the festival, the opening, you can also be five, ten minutes late because everyone is sitting in a theatre waiting, they talk… whereas online, you have to be ready before the festival starts. And everything should be prepared in advance, and even for the live events, that we will do connecting from our studio in Milan, but we will connect with the outside world with Zoom, And we need a sharp starting time and we need especially all the participants that follow and respect the appointment. You cannot start five minutes late. You cannot wait for more than a few minutes for somebody. People will go away. So, this is the main difficulty. I think it’s much more difficult. It’s easier organizing in theatre than online.
BB: It’s a scary new world and a lot has been online, everyone has had to come up quickly with a platform that needs to handle a heavy load. Is this a format that you’d consider for the next few years? As in — instead of the usual locations of Teatro Litta and the Museo Nazionale Scienza e Tecnologia Leonardo da Vinci?
FB: Everything that has to do with planning is a mess. Let’s hope that everything will be over. If that happens, we will probably do a hybrid next year, meaning that of course all directors, products, business people would be present physically, to talk, to meet the people, at the bars, the restaurants, theatres — talking, sipping on coffee. At the same time, what we’re doing this year will give us a feeling of how we are received from all over Italy, because of course, people wouldn’t come from Palermo or Rome or Naples or Bologna or Venice just for a preview — unless they’re in the industry. The general public would not come. We don’t have an experience of how it could be on a wider scale in Italy. We will test this year because everybody from Italy — and only from Italy — will be able to get on our website and register to view. So from what they’re watching, and how they’re watching — we’ll have all of this information that is very important for us for the future.
BB: A lot of the online festivals have been saving on rent of locations. This may be a positive aspect of the online — rent is often the biggest cost. Do you think it can be a cost that is cut out in the future?
FB: Rent is not a big cost, especially because cultural activities are invited by places that are either by local authorities or by cultural foundations that are happy to invite these events at their premises. What is actually a major cost is when you invite people. Especially if you do a business section like we do. When you invite directors, producers, broadcasters, platform buyers, distributors, from Italy and the world — it means you have to cover their stay. This is the major cost. This cost, with online, disappears. But, but — what I discovered is that you have, on the other hand, costs that you don’t have with the physical version. If you have to rent platforms to work with correctly. So yes, while there are savings in the hospitality area, at the tame time, you have the technical-digital costs.
BB: This year’s Artistic Director is Maurizio Nichetti and it’s the first time you collaborate together. How has the collaboration gone so far?
FB: Great, because he’s a very nice person, very funny — and people who know him know it. We are both oldtimers; we’re no longer thirty years old, but Maurizio has a very young approach and mentality and he’s very open. He has been a very successful director. With his movies, he really started something new, in the format, in the language… they were extremely original at the time. He was one of the most creative directors of the time. Then he stopped, and afterwards he was involved in different juries and festivals. He is now director of the Centro Sperimentale di Scenografia in Milan. The funny thing is that in January, he was on vacation in the Maldives, and I called him thinking that he was in Italy, and it was like 1am. But he answered, and said, yes I will join, without even asking [for more information]. I must say he accepted it immediately, and I was very happy. We go on very well, fortunately, because it’s important to get along — otherwise it’s a headache.
BB: I wanted to ask you about trends in documentaries that you find particularly exciting.
FB: I would say there are a couple of major trends. One is always very authoritative, artistic — documentaries on life, love, death, pain and joy — so very individual and sensitive stories of families, people. Then there is, and you find masterpieces in all historical period. There is a second trend that I like very much that is the investigative documentary. Documentaries that denounce, investigate, deepen, counter information. In fact, reality is happening in the world and is not told correctly by the regular media. They’re influenced by multinational, by the money basically, by big editorial groups, by governments. So independent production that is very active that is very active in documentaries — independent producers that don’t have much to lose, unfortunately, but they are very courageous and denounce everything that has to do with sustainability, with civil rights, with the climate change, with the protection of the rights of the weaker of the people. I’m not talking about politics; we try to stay away from politics because it’s easy to be manipulated, and it’s very difficult to know when you get a documentary. You should always learn to multiple views. But when you talk about universal values, those I mentioned earlier, there isn’t that risk for mistake something that you have to talk, show. This festival offers the possibility to see and listen to a different truth.
BB: Courage is the theme that connects all the sub-themes of the festival.
FB: Absolutely. And if you think that different documentaries are narrated by directors that risk their life, and on some occasions, some of them have been killed. It’s something that we have to admire. And these are the real heroes today, and not soccer players, actors. We receive many documentaries from Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, and they’re really touching and they’re like a punch. They are all narrated and told by people who have lived the experience, and not by people who just witnessed it on their TV screen. But this is one trend we always try to look at the artistic side because at the end, it’s a form of art, not just news.IMAGE GALLERY