Festival, interrupted

Festival, interrupted
October 1, 2007

The Britdoc festival made a noisy debut on the international doc calendar last year, hosting three packed days of sessions and films, and a full delegate list of leading doc players. This year’s Britdoc proved a quieter affair, with fewer star-studded panels and noticeably less attendees – a situation not helped by record flooding in Oxford. The future now looks uncertain for this fledgling event. Realscreen talked to Britdoc festival director Beadie Finzie about this year’s installment, and the possibilities for the future.

What was the biggest challenge in putting on the second year of the fest?
Second album syndrome. I kind of thought it would be really easy. I mean last year was just ludicrously successful, and positive, and everyone loved it. And I think we just thought it was going to be a breeze. And of course it’s not. It’s really tough raising money. It’s really tough getting people to come, because they are busy and it costs them money. So we really had to sell it very hard all over again.

Were fees an issue with producers?
Well, we barely break even. It’s literally what it costs to do this. I know how tight money can be. But I would argue very passionately that paying £150 (us$305) to come here for the day, the sessions that you get and the access to people that you get, I don’t think you could put a price tag on that.

Nokia was unable to return as a partnering sponsor this year – why?
They were so keen to come in and they were in and signed up for year two, but then tragically had some unforeseen cuts. Very late in the day actually. We were very sad because they were terrific partners and I’m sure we will do business again. It’s tough – unfortunately the marketplace is a tough place and they get shocks too.

Will we see a third Britdoc festival?
We’re considering our options. It’s tough for us to finance it. Technically, our core funding from Channel 4 runs out the middle to end of next year. I don’t know if we’re going to be able to do it next year. I’m going to fight very, very hard to be able to keep offering these opportunities in whatever way we can.

If you don’t go ahead with the festival next year, where will those extra energies go?
At the end of the day, our mission is about empowering British documentary, whatever is right at that moment. A key area is pitching and teaching producers how to operate on the international copro market. After just two years of Britdoc, I think they’re beginning to get the story. But it is a huge other step to actually start participating. I think we need to help shove people over the edge and get them to jump.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the UK doc world at the moment?
It is hard not to be dispirited in the television climate. There’re fewer slots and they’re marginalized to the ends of the schedules, and therefore there is less money attached to them. The only regular business you can get is in factual entertainment, formatted shows. It is quite tough to keep your chin up. So, I guess that is hopefully where we can step in, to say, ‘Well, look actually, look up and out: there are other kinds of films to be made and other kinds of slots to be filled.’

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