On March 6, the seventh Australian International Documentary Conference (AIDC) kicks off in Perth. The agenda includes screenings, seminars and debates, but the real crowd pleaser is bound to be DocuMart. At this high-paced pitch session, 13 production companies present their fledgling projects to an international panel of commissioning editors and a room packed with curious delegates.
AIDC conference director Richard Sowada says,’DocuMart is proving to be one of the biggest drawing cards of the conference. It has an element of circus maximus to it, an element of the talent contest.’
It’s this kind of ‘big break’ promise that has producers clamoring to be included. Among them are the team from California’s Wandering Eye Productions,Tom Borden and Paul Aldridge, who will be pitching their 60-minute, US$350,000 doc about Gideon bibles, Over One Billion Served. They’ll bring a short promotional trailer – and the lessons learned from pitching at the RealScreen Summit in McLean,Virginia.
Says Borden, ‘We got an overwhelmingly positive response from the audience, but the commissioning editors were lukewarm. They didn’t see how the meat of the story was going to be filled out. We have to be clearer about narrative structure and the real story that’s going to drive this.’
To ease the pressure of pitching to an influential panel and a large audience, the AIDC gives entrants a one-day workshop to hone their presentation skills. The actual pitch lasts only five minutes. Despite the stress, it seems the results are worth it. Six of last year’s 10 finalists received funding to complete their projects.
John Hughes, a commissioning editor for SBS Independent in Australia, says that despite the revival tent atmosphere of the DocuMart, he’ll be looking beyond the show for a strong story and passionate producers. ‘What works is the sincerity of commitment to the material that the person explaining it brings – whether they’re making a business proposal or they have something invested in it.’
Susan Dando, senior producer in charge of independent documentaries for CBC Television in Canada, says she isn’t going into DocuMart with a particular project or presentation strategy in mind. Dando hopes to use the session to make connections for future projects. ‘Even if we don’t find something there, these producers will know what we’re looking for another time. Of course, though, I hope, I hope, I’ll find something wonderful.’