Exclusive EAVE Interview with Bernard Michaux
“We have won already”
Just a few days before the Oscar award ceremony, EAVE interviewed Samsa producer, EAVE graduate and Luxembourgish National Coordinator Bernard Michaux and asked him about the Oscar campaign for Alexander Nanau’s COLLECTIVE and co-producing in Luxembourg.
We are talking while you are at Los Angeles, a few days before the Oscar presentations. You are there in quarantine. Are you also there to campaign for the film to improve the chances to get an Oscar?
Yes, of course. For a few months we have had calls with at least 50 people every Wednesday to work on our Oscar campaign for Collective by Alexander Nanau, which is nominated at the 93rd Academy Awards for the Best Documentary Feature and Best International Feature Film. Among them are our American distributors Magnolia Pictures and Participant who are heading the the campaign. We have publicists, Germany, the UK and in the U.S., who are promoting our film to the Academy Members all over the world in order to vote for us. We are now in the voting period between April 15 and 20. Today is 19th of April, so we have one more day to convince people, which mean a lot of zoom calls, also with press. From tomorrow on it will be more relaxed because the decision has been made, and we will just have to wait. Nevertheless, we still have a few online cocktails that we need to attend.
We are also nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the Independent Spirit Awards. There will be a ceremony on Thursday on zoom. So, we are mainly active online. In a normal year we or at least the director would have to be in LA from the middle of February when Oscars shortlists were announced. This year everything is done online, which is the reason why we came to LA quite late.
Receiving two Oscar nominations for your documentary is already an enormous success. Did you expect the film to be so successful?
Well, it’s difficult to say. From the beginning on I had a feeling that we are on to something that it could be big. We tried to get the best partners on board, and we tried to go as far as possible, which in our case was partnering with Philippa Kowarsky from Cinephil, the sales agent. They have experience with Oscar campaigns and had the right contacts with good American distributors. It premiered at the Venice Film Festival, and was screened at TIFF. Afterwards it was shown at many other festivals, winning awards, but we were not sure if the film is just touring the festivals or if it can go further.
What were the next steps?
In Toronto we got our American partners on board, Magnolia Pictures and Participant. We knew we had the right partners, but we still didn’t know how far it could go. A year later, we had the American release in November 2020, and the film resonated well with the Americans. We won awards that were important for the road to the Oscars, such as Best Documentary at the European Film Awards or awards by Critics Associations all over US. We were also on Barack Obama’s list, and all of this helped us to have the buzz around the film. But in the end, you never know. But in this case, everything worked out perfectly and we are now in LA.
When did you first hear about the project? When did you step in?
I stepped in quite at the beginning. I knew the director Alexander Nanau before, and we discussed that it would be great to do something together one day. A few months after the fire outbreak in the colectiv club in Bucharest, Alexander was still searching what would possibly be his story. He pitched me the project and I directly wanted to step in. So, we were on board before we applied to our film fund and before we knew if we could finance the film in Luxembourg.
The film consists of several parts: the fire at the Colectiv, the treatment of the injured at the hospital, the reaction of their families and the acts of the politicians. You said that the director didn’t know what would happen with his story while he was shooting.
No, he didn’t. I think this was also the reason why the characters that you see in the film were not the only ones that we followed. We had 400 hours of footage and it was during the editing that we had to “write” the film.
The director is getting very close to some of the protagonists. Sometimes it seems that there are scenes in the film, which were not intended for a public audience in the first place. How did he manage to get such scenes?
I think it’s his approach. He needed time to gain the trust of these people. When he first asked the journalists if he could be in the pressroom with them, they refused it. They didn’t want to have anyone in their room, because they wanted to protect their sources and whistle-blowers. It was only after a few weeks that they called him back and told him that maybe he could join them. It was a matter of time and a matter of gaining their trust.
With the politician it was very difficult to approach him at first, but we managed through personal links. It turned out that he was open for our idea. So, it was a matter of time to gain trust of these people. These people knew the director’s work what definitely helped opening there doors for us.
Luxembourg is quite small country, but it seems that Luxembourgish film industry is quite lively. There are many countries interested in co-producing with Luxembourg, why is that so?
In Luxembourg, I think that we are producing films that are getting better and better. This year we have 3 nominations at the Oscar and a co-production won the Golden Bear. There have been two Luxembourgish films in Berlin this year and let’s wait for the outcome in Cannes. The industry knows that we have good team members and that it’s easy to work with Luxembourg. The Film Fund Luxembourg is very supportive. There is a good relationship between the Film Fund and the producers, and we always try to adapt to a changing market. Right now, the rules are quite easy in Luxembourg. The Luxembourg Film Fund can fund a project with 100% of the local spend, which makes it an interesting fund for international co-productions.
You also have a big network with EAVE, which is based in Luxembourg.
Yes, sure. I think EAVE’s network is great. In Luxembourg, 90% of our productions are co-productions, so we need this international network. Last year was so strange because we couldn’t see each other at festivals. We are not only co-producers, but are developing our own slate. We love to co-produce. And EAVE is a great network for finding the right co-producers for our projects.
Let’s get back to the film: Was it difficult to get the support of the Film Fund Luxembourg without knowing too much about the film?
The presentation of documentaries to film funds is always a challenge. Without knowing the outcome of a documentary you need a Fund that understands this problem and is willing to trust your director. In our case the selection committee of the Film Fund Luxembourg saw the potential in the film. I understand that it can be hard for a film fund to evaluate documentaries but it’s also hard for us, so both sides have to accept this challenge; it’s like a bet, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. In our case it worked perfectly out.
I suppose you are very excited to see what will happen on Sunday, when the 93rd Oscars will be held.
Yes, sure. We are doing all the work that we can, but we have probably less than half of the budget for our campaign compared to some other competitors who have Amazon and Netflix behind them. Here in L.A., you can see the billboards of the other documentary films, which is something that we couldn’t afford. But we have a good film, and we just hope that the people have seen it because our main strategy was to get the people to see the film. Whatever is going to happen on Sunday, we feel that we have won already. The film got 2 nominations and made it’s important impact.
Page published 29 April 2021.
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