One thing we don’t read about enough in the documentary community is the extent to which accidents influence our process. Luck and serendipity are part of the very roots of filmmaking – and affect how we meet our subjects to capturing that perfect shot in the field to finding that perfect piece of music in post production.
It can even apply to the film festival process! Our latest documentary Red Lines will be premiering at the Hot Docs Film Festival on April 29th. That almost didn’t happen. Months ago, we submitted to the festival with a very rough cut. Literally, the day we sent the submission in, we made the decision to hold off submissions to any more festivals for the time being. We knew we were on to something good with this film, but we felt we needed more time to work it out. It would be ready in the summer, maybe early Fall. We considered retracting our Hot Docs submission, but decided not to. We probably wouldn’t get in, but it didn’t hurt to try. We promptly forgot about it and dug in on post-production.
Fast forward to a few months later when, lo and behold, we received a fateful email from Hot Docs with the incredibly exciting news that we had been invited to the Festival. This was a hugely prestigious honor, and we have to admit we were surprised. And bless Hot Docs – despite the film being such a rough cut, they also saw something special in Red Lines. They saw the potential for what it could be, and we are forever grateful for that. But we had to be done with the film… like, almost immediately. With a narrative arc still developing, temp graphics, low res footage, and a whole lot of temp score… would we be able to truncate a five month post production schedule into two?
What a happy accident! As it turns out, this new deadline was the best thing that could have happened. We all know that necessity is the mother of invention. The Spark machine spun into overdrive. And suddenly the cards started to fall into place. A short call for some creative input led to a new distribution partnership with FilmBuff. We were also serendipitously connected to a number of marvelous Syrian musicians and graphic artists who wanted to contribute to the film and its important message of finding a solution to this terrible humanitarian crisis. A new website and Saul Bass-inspired poster design went up in the matter of days…somehow. It all happened in a whirlwind, and in the exciting tornado of creativity only possible when your back is up against the wall and there is nowhere to go except forward.
Red Lines is now pretty much done. The finishing touches are being added and the film will be sent to Hot Docs this week. Maybe I am biased since I work here, but I can honestly say this is one of Spark’s most powerful films – with a message that truly resonates. It’s not easy to watch. It will hurt in a lot of places. But it is really good. And hopefully it will inspire all of us to get off our butts, put away our frivolous pursuits, and think about ways we can make the world a bit better. Maybe the film would have been just as good if we had been more time…but maybe not. The creativity that comes from these tight situations is hard to replicate in a more, er, balanced timeline.
And that is my message to other filmmakers out there. Embrace the happy accidents. Make them work for you. Make your own luck. Red Lines is going to have a prestigious premiere at Hot Docs. If not for that happy accident of sending in that submission before the film was “ready,” this event would not be happening.
Who knows where we would be?
Red Lines premieres at HotDocs on April 29, with additional screenings on April 30 and May 2. Buy your tickets here!