David Reviews

 It's the work, stupid.

ITN PRODUCTIONS'
DEEP ROSTER.
3 May 2018

ITN Productions' roster is built around their obvious strengths as story-tellers, and by recruiting someone as knowledgeable and experienced as Flavia Blajfeder to explain the proposition to potential clients, they've made a statement of serious intent.

With 'authenticity' such a priority for brands these days, ITN's ambition is well-timed and their presence certainly broadens the available possibilities for agencies and clients alike.

Nonetheless, when DAVID first heard that ITN - the highly-respected television news outfit - had set up a division for providing content for the advertising industry, we were a little taken aback. Journalism and advertising are - on the surface - uneasy bedfellows. But once Flavia Blajfeder explained how it was a smart way of using spare capacity at ITN while offering access to directors with a different perspective, we started to recognise that it could work and it is - in any case - a proven proposition.


ITN's infrastructure played a vital role in an ambitious live commercial for Virgin directed by HLA's Simon Ratigan, and this underlines an area of real strength for a company which produces thousands of hours of live television every year.

ITN also made one of 2017's Christmas commercials which was a beautifully observed study of seasonal chaos for Matalan.


In addition to these relative fripperies, there is obviously a deeper aspect to ITN's offer and we explored this when we spoke to the remarkable documentary filmmaker Marcel Mettelsiefen - one of the directors on ITN's roster.

He began working as a photojournalist in the Middle East when he was only 19 years old. Half-German and half-Ecuadorean, he has always found it easy to slip between identities. And - without wanting to be overly stereotypical about his mixed heritage - he feels that his instinct towards an analytical Teutonic approach is offset by the easy-going empathy of his South American side, and that this is the perfect combination for the people-led journalism he favours.



His career developed from an uncanny knack of being in the wrong place at the wrong time and then staying there, often at great personal risk. After a few years working exclusively with a stills camera, he decided it was "too fast and too superficial" to tell the full story and he adopted moving images.

He never studied journalism but had clearly become a journalist when it occurred to him that the only other profession which inclined people to tell you their stories was medicine. And as you can't become a doctor without qualifications, he enrolled as a medical student at Berlin University.


I was still a medical student at Berlin University, so it was as medical student Jorge Mettelsiefen that I applied for a student visa in order to learn Arabic.

 ”

A trip to Afghanistan which was supposed to last two weeks turned into a year long sabbatical from his studies. By now his work was appearing in some of the most prestigious publications in the world including Stern and National Geographic, and when the unrest which became known as the Arab Spring started in December 2010, he knew he had to be in the region.

It was clear that Syria was going to be the next big story but it was almost impossible for Western journalists to get in. Luckily, Mettelsiefen had an ace in the hole: "I was still a medical student at Berlin University, so it was as medical student Jorge Mettelsiefen that I applied for a student visa in order to learn Arabic.

"They believed me and I got a year-long multiple-entry visa to go to Syria... making me one of the only journalists who was able to go in and out."



He used this access to give a voice to those caught in the crossfire of the terrible conflict which has now raged in Syria for seven years.

Mettelsiefen's decision to focus on personal stories grew - in part - from a concern about the difficulty of being truly objective: "There are so many different parts of what's true. I think what I then realised, if I want to stay clean, I better not try to tell a political story and that's why I decided to tell the emotional story of people who normally are not in the news."

The personal risk was brought home when Mettelsiefen's friend James Foley - an American journalist - was cruelly executed by Islamic State in August 2014: "When this happened, we decided we are not able to go back in any more."



His background as a photographer often lends his documentaries a beautiful aesthetic and this helped him secure an Academy Award nomination in 2017 for his short film 'Watani: My Homeland'. It's also helped to secure the widest possible distribution for his work with Channel 4 News becoming a particularly important platform for his films.


His career developed from an uncanny knack of being in the wrong place at the wrong time and then staying there, often at great personal risk.

 ”

It may seem extraordinary that - after everything he's been through - Marcel Mettelsiefen is interested in making TV commercials. But he's really fascinated by the challenge of bringing his knack for authenticity into a different environment. He cites the Guinness 'Sapeurs' ad as an example of the kind of project he'd love to make: "TV advertising has gone down similar route of realising that telling the story of real people is something which works... and I can do that."

To learn more about ITN Productions' unique offer, contact Flavia on 020 7430 4019 or via email at flavia.blajfeder@itnproductions.com.

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David Reviews - Lovely Lenzie Ltd, Woodbourne House, Seven Sisters, Lenzie, G66 3AW. Telephone: +44 141 776 7766. Editor: Jason Stone.