#PrixItalia2016 Winners: The Story Of A Vanishing Man

Still from "Paolo Ventura: The Vanishing Man"
Dutch director Erik Van Empel's documentary about the Italian photographer, Paolo Ventura, won this year's award for best TV performing arts programme. According to the jury, “this film is an unexpected journey into a timeless world”, where “the script, directing, photography and editing is in complete harmony with the Artist's universe”. 

The film is an NPO production.
Van Empel told us about his fascination with the artist portrayed in 'Paolo Ventura: The Vanishing Man'.
Where did the idea stem from? 
Every year I go to Paris Photo and six years ago, I saw images of Paolo hanging there and I was very confused by what I was seeing. I looked better and I saw that he made images and sceneries with puppets. Then three years ago, I was buying one of his photos in Amsterdam and the gallery manager knew him and gave me the contact. Two days after I got a letter from Paolo Ventura in my mailbox. He was living in Italy and I went there and spoke with him and his wife. He had already had an offer for another movie, but then I showed him the trailer of another film I had made and he chose to work with me.
How did the production of the film go?
When I first met Paolo, we got on really well, but I only had an idea and no funding. So I said to Paolo: I either write the script and wait until we get funding, or I can just start filming, as I am a camera operator by profession. Paolo said that was fine by him.
After that I went back with a friend of mine, we stayed at Paolo’s house for three days and we did the interview in English, as we did not have money for a translator.
Afterwards, I did some editing and put together a trailer that I showed to a TV. They had never heard about Paolo and they did not gave us enough money to fund the whole film. Therefore, the production was made with a very low budget. 
The whole film took me one and a half years, including five trips to Italy and one to the US to film some scenes there.
What was the most challenging part?
The most challenging part was the editing, because in our budget we had money to pay an editor only for 20 days. I had pre-edited all the scenes by myself, but within 18 days of work with the editor we had a version that in our opinion was too boring. Then my partner thought that the editor could go back and play around with ideas while I edited a bit more on my own.
In total, I made 14 versions of the film, along with the co-producer. To put it all together was very hard and editing is the most important part of making a documentary.
What was your reaction to your win in the TV Performing Arts category?
I did not expect it. The award for me is still somewhat unreal. It was really a recognition of the fact that the film came to a good end.  I am also very proud because I did it on a low budget; I wrote, took care of photography, filmed, edited, co-produced, and in the category I had to compete with some huge productions.
Do you think there is still space for this kind of performing arts on television?
It is getting harder, but films like this should be made and showed on television. The problem is making publicity for it. In Holland, no one had heard of Paolo, but if they had known they would have watched it. Social media can play a big role in this. If you know which audience to reach, you can get people to know.