I am sitting in a Ministry of Culture seminar about film making and it has all the hallmarks of a rotten event: a huge queue at the registry desk (but nobody saying hello), nowhere for coats, coffee servers arguing among themselves, an electrical fault that the secretary of state loudly complains about, doors that squeak horribly every time someone comes in (and there was a constant flow of latecomers), a loud buzzing noise from the speakers and technical problems with the presentations.
Another feature of these events is that they always start late and the key speakers disappear. The Secretary of State who gave an opening speech left as soon as his dull chatter was over. This tells me that he really isn’t interested in what’s going on here and he’s keen to get away for more important things. I must say that I feel the same way and I can’t wait to get away from here.
When will Romanian institutions learn that seminars and conferences need very careful planning, they have to be rehearsed properly, avoid using technology unless it is tested and completely under control? In my view events like these need to be “produced” with the same rigid discipline and attention to detail that happens in the theater.
But if you can get through the confusion, annoyance and time wasting there are usually some important things to be learned, as well as a chance to meet people. Now I am listening to something interesting: “the European Commission’s MEDIA programme is worth 755 million Euro a year and is open to independent film companies in all EU Member States….The keyword is ‘competition’. Romanian film proposals must compete with those from all over Europe.”
A couple of years ago I got a call from a major British donor which was working in Russia. They said “we are leaving Russia after working here for 15 years and we want you to organise a final conference.” I told them that I don’t organise events as I consider them, in general, an incredible waste of money (I’ve been involved in 4 ministerial conferences in Romania, each of which consumed over 100,000 Euro but none of which produced anything of note). But I am aware that the public sector, in Romania at least, seems to think that spending hundreds of thousands of Euro in talking to a few hundred people is worth it (in case you’re wondering where all that money goes the answer is plane tickets, hotels and meals for the foreign speakers and delegates).
My donor friend in Moscow then said “what would you do?” and without a moments delay I said: “Easy. I would make a short documentary film about your work, organise a party and show the film at the party.” I didn’t think he would be interested in this idea but, to my surprise, he said, “that sounds good. Do you want to do it? Can you get on a plane to Moscow?”
Three days later we were in Moscow and a soon after that we had made the film and organised the party. It was a great success, everyone was happy and it confirmed my belief that parties can fulfill most of the functions that conferences and seminars aim for. People at parties tend to discuss their work in great detail, and with real passion, especially if they have consumed plenty of alcohol. And there are hundreds of people explaining their work, their ideas and experiences, exchanging contact details — surely this is more efficient than having one person do all the talking. What’s more, parties are fun and generally cheaper than conferences. Even after paying for our film, a good caterer, loads of alcohol, a live band, the coolest DJ in Moscow, the final bill was half what a boring conference would have cost.
I remember the publishing parties my mother would organise in Scotland in the 1970s. She would get a free location, based on the assumption that as long as there was good company and plenty of drink the location was irrelevant. The crowds of literary types, hangers on like me and journalists would gather; the publisher and author would stand on a chair and give very short speeches, usually peppered with jokes and interrupted by good natured jibes, and there would be an unseemly rush (led by the journalists) to the drink. This crowd would then spend the next 4 to 5 hours together, amidst noise and smoke, where the fate of that particular book would be decided.
Now I am sitting in the hall of this Ministry of Culture event, having managed to extricate myself during the break (which went on for 30 minutes beyond its scheduled time). I will finish this article and, like the Secretary of State, rush off and do something more important. One good thing that can be said for conferences and seminars, they are good places to find the time to write stories like these.