INTERVIEW WITH JOHN SINNO - PRODUCER OF IRAQ IN FRAGMENTS

jackie-chan
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I got a bit of flak from y'all about saying there were too many docs about Iraq. Come on, guys. I KNOW it's important. Perhaps the MOST important political issue out there today. But that doesn't mean we have to suck it up and watch bad filmmaking, does it? Anyway, I just found this interview with John Sinno, founder of Arab Film Distribution, producer of IRAQ IN FRAGMENTS, and previously referenced here.

I felt mildly validated when he said, "The thing is, and documentaries already are at a disadvantage for distribution. A documentary about Iraq is even more at a disadvantage. And couple that with an over-saturation in the market - that basically kept a lot of people away from distributing this film."

Read the full interview here

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Rhythm-XNovember 15, 2006 8:54 AM

It's just bad form to slight the other filmmakers who feel strongly enough about the issue to make films about it simply because you find this particular film to be superior. No offense, but it comes off as sour grapes. "This film about Iraq is SO AWESOME... damn, I wish all those other people making movies about Iraq would knock it off, those movies all suck and those guys are crappy filmmakers anyway." I'm sure those guys would all love to have the best editing and camerawork - but they decided they had something to say, and it was important, and they needed to say it RIGHT NOW.

Again, though - this particular film looks very impressive indeed, and I definitely do not mean to criticize the work of these filmmakers. From the footage I've seen what they've accomplished here is stunning.

I also find it difficult to swallow that documentaries are somehow at a disadvantage for distribution, when we seem to be in the midst of a peak in documentary distribution. I remember not so long ago when the only documentaries to get any sort of major release were either concert films, or films by Michael Moore or to a lesser extent Errol Morris. It was unthinkable not very long ago that any documentary could ever have the sort of success that MARCH OF THE PENGUINS, MAD HOT BALLROOM, or SUPER SIZE ME, or FARHENHEIT 9/11 have had. NBC would never have had the chance to reject ads for SHUT UP AND SING, because there wouldn't have been anyone advertising in prime time for a political documentary in the first place - even one about musicians. That line of reasoning is like complaining about not being able to market a subtitled martial arts movie after CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON turned into a blockbuster hit. It's true that you might not get as wide an opening as Will Ferrell getting kicked in the nuts, but you sure have got a better chance of a decent release than you did in, say, 1996. I can't think of a time there's been a more welcoming market for documentaries.

I really do sympathize, as someone who's worked on a documentary myself (regrettably, one destroyed in very late pre-production by the greed of the producers and various contractual issues), with the makers of this film facing difficulty making their film stand out from a crowded pack... but I can't bring myself to complain about the other members of the pack.

JasperNovember 17, 2006 10:06 PM

"I also find it difficult to swallow that documentaries are somehow at a disadvantage for distribution, when we seem to be in the midst of a peak in documentary distribution."

I grant you the situation for documentary distribution is far better than it has been, but what he says is true. The films you mention are but a fraction of those produced, and a trip to your average local multiplex won't turn up as many examples of the medium as mindless Will Farrell comedies.

So the question remains for most doc makers, where the hell do you get your films shown outside of film festivals.

Also, I saw an interesting piece in Sight and Sound maybe about a year back that suggests that though FAHRENHEIT 9/11 and SUPERSIZE ME did huge business at the UK box office comparable with a typical indie feature film, the craze for theatrical documentaries dropped off pretty rapidly here shortly afterwards. I think rather less docs have been released in the UK in 2006 than in 2004.

What sort of annoyed me about the surge of documentary films in Britain was that they were all US produced. I know that over here we have a very strong documentary tradition on TV, but all the same, why does it take an American filmmaker to point out the no-brainer that eating shit food is bad for your health?

I'm not going to say anything bad about the filmmakers in question, but i really do admire that in America, one man can take a camera, point it at himself and if he's in the right place at the right time doing and saying the right things, his work will get screened all over the world, yet in Britain, you could make the best documentary ever, and if if hasnt been commissioned by one of the major TV channels, you can kiss all chance of it getting shown outside of film festivals. C'est la vie I guess. I love documentaries, but I reckon being a documentary maker must be one of the most frustrating jobs in the world. And yet without documentary makers, we wouldnt have documentary films.
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