Docs

Building bridges at the IDFA

Documentary enthusiasts and a throng of commissioning editors assembled together in Amsterdam from November 22 to 30, 2000 to take in the International Documentary Film Festival (IDFA) and its business-minded offspring, the Forum for International Co-financing.
January 1, 2001

Documentary enthusiasts and a throng of commissioning editors assembled together in Amsterdam from November 22 to 30, 2000 to take in the International Documentary Film Festival (IDFA) and its business-minded offspring, the Forum for International Co-financing. Although only 200 of the 1,600 films received could be shown, the festival provided a globally balanced program, and showcased seven documentaries that had sought financing at the Forum in the past. Among these films were American director Barbara Kopple’s My Generation (which was pitched at the Forum in 1996) and South African director Ingrid Gavshon’s Facing Death"Facing Life (a Forum pitch in 1999).

On the festival’s final day, the VPRO Joris Ivens Award was given to Gert de Graaff of The Netherlands for The Sea that Thinks – a 100-minute doc whose central character, a scenario writer, decides to blend reality and fantasy in an effort to find the answer to the eternal question: what’s life all about? The special jury award went to David Shapiro and Laurie Gwen Shapiro of the U.S. for their film Keep the River on Your Right: A Modern Cannibal Tale. The film’s charismatic subject, 78-year-old artist, author and anthropologist Tobias Schneebaum, revisits the native tribes of Peru and New Guinea that he dwelt among (and ate with") as a young explorer in the 1950s. Schneebaum appeared at the doc’s public screening for a Q&A with the audience and received a standing ovation. When asked if he liked the film, Schneebaum responded, "Well, I’m here aren’t I?" (For other IDFA award winners visit http://www.idfa.nl)

For the fourth year, Docs for Sale ran in conjunction with the festival and Forum. Docs produced after September 1, 1999, were eligible to partake in the market, where festival and TV programmers as well as distributors could saddle up to one of 25 video booths to preview films. Feedback from market participants was positive. Mark Johnston from Toronto’s Nomad Films entered his film In the Shadow of a Saint, and was surprised yet pleased that editors were finding the time to visit the market and provide feedback. Says Johnston, "We got a lot of interest from potential buyers and distributors, and we’re talking to several at the moment. It was very useful."

The laws of physics governing cause and effect were also hard at work in Amsterdam. At the end of the Forum’s second day, Rudy Buttignol from Canadian provincial pubcaster TVO, observed that the success of reality programs such as Survivor and Big Brother has sparked a return to a more conservative approach to factual. Another comment heard around the Forum table was that the proposed projects were trying to cover too much in a one-hour time frame. During one pitch, Peter Dale, head of docs at the U.K.’s C4, attributed this trend to the commercial pressure filmmakers face to turn what is rightfully a series into a single. This sentiment was echoed by festival director Ally Derks, who noted in her IDFA editorial that programs are being stretched or squished into TV-friendly hours: "Have you ever heard that a novel can only have 25 pages, or that a painting should measure 30 by 30 centimeters? " This could be the death warrant for documentary art."

About The Author
Meagan Kashty is an associate editor of realscreen, an international print and online magazine that covers the non-fiction film and television industries. Meagan is an award-winning business journalist. Prior to joining the realscreen team, Meagan was online editor of Canadian Grocer, named Magazine of the Year at the 2015 Canadian Business Media Awards. She can be reached at mkashty@brunico.com, and you can follow her on Twitter @MegKashty

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