Ahead of the start of the 19th edition of the IDFA Forum on Monday (November 21), realscreen catches up with the pitch-fest’s organizer Adriek van Nieuwenhuyzen (pictured) to discuss the state of documentary funding and her hot picks for this year’s event.
With the film festival element of the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA) now in full swing, following Wednesday’s world premiere of opening film The Ambassador, the main business section of the event will kick off in earnest on Monday (November 21),when the 19th edition of the IDFA Forum gets underway.
The Forum of today sits in a markedly different financial landscape than it did when it first launched nearly two decades ago, with coproductions and mixed financing now far more common-place than they’ve ever been.
“When we started 19 years ago we were the first ones doing something like this,” explains Adriek van Nieuwenhuyzen (pictured above), who – as head of IDFA’s industry office – oversees the IDFA Forum, Docs For Sale and IDFAcademy events.
“There are now numerous more or less similar events all over Europe and in Canada, so in that sense the IDFA Forum is not exclusive anymore. But that means also that the whole model has developed.
“Producers know where to go, or at least the more experienced ones do, and they know very well what they can find here at IDFA Forum, or in Toronto or Sheffield – there are many more opportunities.”
The IDFA Forum sees filmmakers pitching to a host of international commissioning editors and funders in a variety of settings, including main hall pitches, round-table pitches and one-on-one meetings. Among its most notable past success stories, Michael Collins’s Give Up Tomorrow was pitched at the event in 2009; Bobby Fischer Against the World from Liz Garbus and The Interrupters from Steve James were pitched at the Forum in 2008; and Victor Kossakovsky’s ¡Vivan las Antipodas! was pitched in 2007.
The Dutch event accepts roughly 10% of the applications it receives. This year, says Van Nieuwenhuyzen, it received about 500 applications to pitch projects, of which 57 have been selected.
“I’m very keen on having a mixture of real TV-style documentaries – which is fine, because it’s TV people who are coming and investing – and documentaries which also have theatrical potential, like The Interrupters,” she says.
“It’s very hard to finance documentaries in Europe without TV money, so people who want to do theatrical distribution need TV money as well as money from funds or other financiers. So I’m really keen on offering a platform where people can find both here in Amsterdam.”
Most of this year’s projects are from Europe, although Chile, Egypt, South Korea, the U.S. and Canada are also represented. The projects taking part in the central pitches include the latest works by Joonas Berghäll (Steam of Life, 2009), Jos de Putter (Solo, the Law of the Favela, 1994) and Alexander Nanau (The World According to Ion B., 2010).
Flemish director Eva Küpper, who won last year’s IDFA Award for Student Documentary for What’s in a Name, will be presenting her new project; as will the winner of the IDFA Award for Best Green Screen Documentary 2010, Michael Madsen (Into Eternity, 2010).
Among the highlights picked out by Van Nieuwenhuyzen as being particularly noteworthy is a new project from Armadillo director Janus Metz, entitled The Expedition to the End of the World, which looks at a major expedition to the Antarctic.
“I’m very excited about the project because it’s being made with a very experienced producer, and it’s with Janus Metz. His Armadillo was also pitched at a round-table in Amsterdam a couple of years ago, so I’m very excited, even though it’s very much in the beginning stage,” she says.
“The material is great, the story is great, but they’re really in a place now where they have to put together the whole story. It’s really a high potential project, and I hope it’s going to turn out as we think it’s going to turn out.”
Other projects of interest include the tentatively titled Obama 2008-2012, a French documentary from noted director William Karel that looks at the U.S. president’s first term in office, which Van Nieuwenhuyzen says “has had a lot of interest” from commissioners.
“The Scandinavians are also strong again this year,” she adds. “Bravehearts has a lot of attention from commissioners, and so has Mercy Mercy, a Danish project.
“But the best you can hope for at the Forum is for surprises,” she adds. “When you read them on paper you think it could be something, but you never know. But then you see the team, you see the trailers and the style, and you hear the team speak with passion about their project.”
Van Nieuwenhuyzen also highlights one other project which, while not likely to be the next Interrupters or Better This World, has still captured her imagination. “I love Tea Time, which is a tiny production from Chile,” she says. “Their trailer is absolutely fantastic. It’s a small production, but it’s one of the projects I love very much.”
The full list of IDFA Forum projects, along with synopses, can be found here. Stay tuned to realscreen for full coverage from this year’s event.