Wednesday morning marked the kick off of the 10th edition of the Toronto Documentary Forum (TDF) and the first edition with Elizabeth Radshaw at the helm. Among the pitches and the critiques, the morning also included mimed pitching rules and hugs for all the commissioning editors.
Rudy Buttignol, president and CEO of the Knowledge Network Corporation and one of three moderators at TDF, created good karma on the first day of this year’s TDF by hugging all of the commissioning editors, or so he said. In normal TDF tradition he invited the crowd of spectators to shake hands with the person next to them, but if they wanted to ‘kick it up a notch’ he suggested they give each other hugs too.
Thus the 10th edition of TDF started with a little levity, as co-moderator Karolina Lidin read the rules to the pitchers while Buttignol acted them out, much like a flight attendant showing his passengers their escape route.
Getting down to business, Elizabeth Radshaw, the new director of TDF, thanked Michaelle McLean, former TDF director, for all of her hard work and for keeping TDF alive and vibrant all these years before her. Radshaw also cited the poor economy in her opening speech, but noted that producers are no strangers to tight budgets and that the lasting appetite for factual and documentary programming will get the industry through. She then introduced a trailer that cut together clips from many of the documentaries that have come through TDF over the years, including RiP: A Remix Manifesto and Waltz with Bashir.
Of the 25 projects publicly pitched at this year’s TDF, eight of them were launched Wednesday morning, including The Guantanamo Trap – The War Crimes Case Against the Bush Administration, Sled Dog Soldiers, Last Days of the Arctic and Sixteen.
The commissioning editors found Guantanamo Trap compelling, however some felt they have seen enough on Guantanamo. Others, such as CBC Newsworld’s Catherine Olsen, questioned why director Thomas Wallner had decided to focus the HD feature doc on ex-detainee Murat Kurnaz from Germany, who is now a key witness in the war crimes case against the Bush administration, when there are other, perhaps more compelling stories, such as that of Omar Khadr. However, the Knowledge Network’s Murray Battle’s take on the Canadian-German copro was kinder: ‘Everything they don’t like, I like.’
Sled Dog Soldiers, the story of how 450 Arctic sled dogs saved France during the First World War from Bonne Pioche Productions, had some commissioning editors with animal-friendly audiences interested, while others were turned off because they don’t have room for WWI stories or material that skews too male. Last Days of the Arctic, an Icelandic production from Sagafilm about an adventurer/photographer who photographs intense nature happenings and the hunters in Greenland and Iceland, was well liked by channels with arts strands. Some green-focused networks, such as Planet Green, showed interest although wondering if their audiences could deal with a subtitled film.
Sixteen, from Northern Lights Productions and DocLab Srl, is the story of a 16th century book of sexual positions that enraged the Catholic Church and has continued to be censored every century since. Commissioners were torn by the project; many felt the story of the lurid book was compelling, but a sizable number felt that the main character, composer Michael Nyman, who will be leading the search for the lost pornographic work, was not compelling enough to lead the story.
Thursday will see nine more pitches as well as the Mountie Hat draw (which is where spectators who would like to pitch put their business cards in a Mountie hat for a draw) and The Good Pitch, a doc pitching forum brought to festivals around the world by Channel 4 BRITDOC Foundation and the Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program.