On Boxes and what can be hidden in them
This is a box. I’ve always loved boxes, especially cardboard boxes. As a child I hid away all my treasures, and my secrets. Later on, I did the same with papers, letters, and photos, no doubt in an attempt to put off throwing them away. Over the years, the boxes became bigger – we hoard so many things throughout our lives. Whenever we move house we keep some and throw away others, the positive – or even sometimes not so positive – outcome of our lives ends up in cardboard boxes. Without those boxes, our pasts would be gone with the wind. They help us to make some sort of order of the chaos. Which boxes are my favourites? Treasure boxes and surprise boxes. Because one day we open up our boxes.
“You have carte blanche,” they told me when I suggested a boxed compilation of 30 years of radio documentaries. ‘They’ are my colleagues from the Radio Documentary Project Group and Laurent Marceau from the EBU, my faithful companion on this journey. “It would be easier if one person took care of the whole compilation.” As it is more comfortable to argue only with oneself, I accepted. And also because it was high time we dusted off the archives and presented the best of bygone days along with some from the present. The International Feature Conference was and still is a strong bridge between the pioneers of the genre and the talented producers of today.
This box – like a lightweight, compact bundle that a radio explorer could tuck into his luggage – is not only a drawer full of memories, but it is also a road map with sign posts, milestones, and trails to be explored in the future. But I hope it will also serve as a training tool. I would even say that this box is more intended for the creators of tomorrow than the nostalgic of yesteryear. This is the best homage we can pay to all those who have been the inspiration of creative radio in Europe and beyond.
The IFC, a true network of professionals before its time, was set up by Peter Leonhard Braun, in a bid to gather together those working in creative radio at a time when portable recorders and stereo technology were offering opportunities to explore the world beyond the studio. Leo tells you all about the origins of the IFC in the pages that follow.
In this boxed set you will be able to rediscover the freshness of the first years of the IFC and the programmes presented in it. Of course, formats, styles, approaches – from the most literary to the most prosaic – have changed. But the curiosity for whatever moves, and crawls and bubbles in our societies is basically the same. The secret: radio documentaries do not restrict themselves to the questions asked by current event reports, such as what happened? when? and where? The questions we have in our minds are those that explore the why and the how of events and the behaviour and actions of our fellow man. That’s exactly why we need a certain amount of time to explain ourselves! The best question to ask is often, but how could this happen? That’s the first question we ask when a disturbing event happens in our own family.
So it’s an excellent question.
The notion of something disturbing is like a common theme running through these 50 excerpts. In society, culture, politics, the environment, religion, the family, or simply for the individual. You need only glance through the index on this box to realize this. And these scenes, these dialogues, these portraits, these combats and these defeats take place in Budapest, Chicago, Berlin, London, Antwerp, Seoul, Helsinki or Vienna, or in remote corners of Poland, Croatia, Scotland, or France.
And in the background this anthology offers us historical insight into many of the upheavals to have occurred in previous decades as experienced day by day by the citizens.
To simplify this a little we could compare the structure of society to a game of chess. In feature programmes it is not usually the kings, queens and knights that speak, but the pawns. Not those who want and can get, but rather those who want but can’t get, or those who can get but don’t want. Often it is this human shortcoming, this divide between dream and deed, that is the basis for the best documentaries I have ever heard. They speak of something unfulfilled, incomplete, unfinished. But they are also about the enjoyment and the pleasure of every step in the right direction, or of challenging or flirting with what we call fate. The good documentary balances on the knife-edge of life. The best documentaries let us hear the deep, albeit subdued, basso continuo of melancholy. Not just the nostalgia for what could have been and never was, but also the perception that something could be, but may never happen.
A few colleagues whispered to me: tread carefully; you’re bound to make enemies of all those who don’t make it into the box of treasures! Indeed, that may be true. We are limited for time and space, so we need to make a choice. By what criteria? My own inscrutable ones! Some are my own personal favourites, of course – that’s my prerogative since I was given carte blanche! Champions of the genre, merely because of the many prizes they’ve won? No: the IFC isn’t a contest. But, of course, just because they are very good.
My main aim was to present a varied digest taking into account the characters of the creators, revealing subject matter, formats, styles, new trends, etc. A more detailed introduction on each excerpt will tell you more about how I made my choice.
As for the choice of features, presented to the IFC between early 1975 and 1990, it was
Peter Leonhard Braun, who – on my request – made suggestions, yet he stressed that the ultimate choice was mine. His enlightened proposals were of enormous help to me and he is the one who enabled me – and therefore you too – to discover a few real gems! I would also like to thank Barbro Holmberg from YLE and Zdenek Boucek from Czech Radio for giving me access to their own personal documentation.
And Virginia Madsen for her excellent essay on creative radio and feature radio in particular.
Not forgetting Laurent Marceau of the EBU, my enthusiastic and efficient partner in this venture who did his utmost to bring this collection to fruition. And put it in the box!
VRT – Belgium