The FORUM for international co-financing of documentaries, one of the main attractions at IDFA was the hub of European media activity this week. Over three days, from November 24-26, buzz was generated as more than 45 projects were pitched by producers and directors to a distinguished body of commissioning editors representing stations from NHK to ARTE ZDF to TVO to the Sundance Channel. Well over 9 million Euros were sought for projects ranging from a multi-media film and website depicting lives across the border in the Gaza strip (Gaza/Sderot) to a profile of the bizarre chess champ Bobby Fischer (Madman Genius) to a study of the evolving relationship between a former Colombian radical and his erstwhile hostage (My Kidnapper and Me.)
‘We’re a nomadic tribe who like to travel in packs from event to event,’ commented Rudy Buttignol, CEO of Vancouver’s Knowledge Network and one of the FORUM’s moderators. Two key conferences on Buttignol’s schedule are the trade forums at IDFA and Hot Docs and that’s also true for veteran moderator Karolina Lidin, an independent consultant who works most prominently for the Nordic TV and Film Fund. It’s hard to imagine a forum without them or other tribal leaders, the financiers or commissioning editors Hans-Robert Eisenhauer of ARTE ZDF, Mette Hoffman Meyer of the DR TV (Denmark), Claire Aguilar of ITVS (US), Nick Fraser of the BBC and Cara Mertes of the Sundance Institute.
The FORUM is set up quite theatrically. Filmmakers, accompanied by their main financier, pitch projects for eight minutes to a group of commissioning editors who are given seven minutes to respond. Some projects receive hundreds of thousands of Euros while others get nothing. Caution seemed to be the prevailing attitude among the broadcasters, which is understandable given the uncertain global economic climate. A further damper was placed on the proceedings when the French public broadcasting teams – France 2, 3 and 5 – withdrew from the FORUM on Wednesday after alerting their colleagues of concerns regarding a proposed merger of the stations by President Sarkozy.
While the optimistic bidding wars of past FORUMs didn’t occur, some projects were hits. Editors responded favorably to Another Side of David Bailey, a LuFilms (France) profile on the famous fashion and rock’n’roll photographer, who is now making more personal work. Director Jerome de Missolz has excellent access to Bailey, an important element in any doc. But no one can claim better access to a subject than veteran director Mark Henderson who was one of the hostages grabbed by Marxist guerrillas in Colombia five years ago. In My Kidnapper and Me, Henderson and two of his fellow captives will return to Colombia to meet their now reformed hostage takers. The Canadian-Chinese pitch Last Train Home about migrant workers returning home for New Years also received strong support.