IDFA 2011: The complete Forum report, part two: Holland and Back Again

Continuing realscreen's definitive coverage of last week's IDFA Forum, part two of our report focuses on pitches for projects covering a range of subjects, from the war in Afghanistan and an assassination in Guatemala, to a young stargazer in Iran and the history and evolution of the teenager.
November 29, 2011

Continuing realscreen‘s definitive coverage of last week’s IDFA Forum, part two of our report focuses on pitches for projects covering a range of subjects, from the war in Afghanistan and an assassination in Guatemala, to a young stargazer in Iran and the history and evolution of the teenager.

Part one of this report can be found here.


Afghanistan: The Lost War

Director: Alberto Marquardt. Producer: Luc Martin-Gousset

Budget in place: €389,000 (France Television, TSR, CNC). Still needed: €135,000.

The sixth central pitch of the 2011 IDFA Forum looked at the war in Afghanistan, which has now been raging for more than a decade.

Recent years have seen a number of acclaimed Afghan war docs, such as Armadillo, Restrepo and Hell and Back Again, however producer Luc Martin-Gousset said his France Televisions-back project would take a broader look at the conflict, to ask the question: “Is democracy still an exportable concept?”

The trailer for the project featured a number of talking head interviews with figures on both sides of the conflict, including former Afghan warlords.

Catherine Olsen, exec producer of documentaries for Canada’s CBC Newsworld, said it was clearly “a very strong journalistic team that’s tackling this subject,” but expressed reservations about the doc. “I’ll have to take a look at the film and see how this would work for us,” she said, cautiously.

More positive was Ken-ichi Imamura, NHK senior producer for international acquisition and coproduction, who liked the fact that “this doc has a different angle” to it. “I think I can combine this doc with another doc and we can have a one-week special,” he said.

Elsewhere, VPRO’s Nathalie Windhorst was among the commissioners expressing fatigue at the number of Afghan war docs there have been, telling the pitch team: “I’m not sure there’s that much to add to what we already know;” while BBC ‘Storyville’ editor Nick Fraser agreed that there have been “a lot” of docs on the subject.

Fraser also had questions about the objectivity of the project. “The title is a giveaway,” he said. “It’s like a polemic – everything you say is remorselessly one-sided. You say this is an investigation, but the film started with a viewpoint in 2007.”

Andrew Golding, a commissioning editor for SBS Australia, offered final feedback for the team. “We would hope that this film would also look at the future of Afghanistan, rather than just the mistakes of the past, which everybody knows.”


Among Friends

Director: David Bernet. Prodco: Germany’s Indi Film

Budget in place: €438,000 (SWR/Arte, ARD/NDR, various German funds). Still needed: €312,000.

The IDFA Forum’s seventh central pitch looked at the issue of data protection. Among Friends follows five antagonists working on the Brussels political stage, as they strive to build a new EU directive on data protection.

The film aims to reveal the abstract and secretive process behind the creation of what will be one of the key laws of the internet age, affecting every exchange of personal data between banks, government agencies, insurers, phone companies and so forth.

Director David Bernet told the commissioning table the film was about a “political battle in Europe,” as we “shift into a post-privacy era.”

Following the pitch, the BBC’s Fraser was the first to chip in, commenting on the timeliness of the project, given the current EU meltdown. “If you do a film about the EU at the moment it’s like attaching a cement block to your neck,” he warned.

However, while less interested in the EU angle, he did flag up the fact that he is doing a season of films on the dark side of the Internet (first reported by realscreen in April) and offered that the doc may work for that.

Elsewhere at the table, the project was met more positively by YLE’s Jenny Westergard. “I’m really intrigued with filmmakers that deal with something that’s not so cinematic,” she said. “Definitely I’m interested.”

Also positive was SVT’s Ingemar Persson, who said the broadcaster rarely gets strong stories showing the inner workings of the EU. “The subject is well chosen,” he said.

Commissioners from Arte and from ARD/NDR also said they were in, and TSR Switzerland commissioning editor Gaspard Lamunière was also positive, although he had concerns about the way the film would look. “It’s a very important issue,” he said, “but what I’d really want to talk about is the visuals.”



Director: León Siminiani. Producer: Maria Zamora

Budget in place: €240,000 (ICAA). Still needed: €133,000.

León Siminiani’s Map was one of the more avant-garde projects to be presented at this year’s Forum. The project is essentially a hybrid work of docu-fiction in which the filmmaker travels to India in search of the love of his life but instead ends up making a documentary.

The trailer showed a series of rapidly changing images accompanying an internal first person narrative, and in the notes accompanying the pitch, Siminiani promised that “when finished, Map will still be a film in construction; a film that will build itself in front of the audience.

“Many of the things that are normally left aside in a film will be here in the forefront… in all senses, Map will be a film about process.” The team told commissioners they had 70% of the funding in place.

RAI’s Lorenzo Hendel was among the first to chip in, and appeared somewhat baffled by the project. “It’s very difficult to make remarks because it’s a personal story,” he said.

More positive, however, was Knowledge Network’s Murray Battle, who told the team: “I’m a sucker for personal journeys – I’d like to see a rough cut;” and even more supportive was POV exec director Simon Kilmurry.

“We’ve done a lot of personal journey films over the years and they’ve always been popular,” said Kilmurry. “I’d love to see a rough cut.”

Elsewhere, the BBC’s Fraser had questions about the budget. “Why haven’t you finished the film given the money you have?” he asked, to which producer Zamora replied: “We need to do a lot of postproduction with sound and image to have it on the big screen.”

On the whole, most commissioners were keen to see more, in order to get a better idea of what the film is about.

One commissioning editor who had seen the rough cut of the doc was Arte France’s Christilla Huillard-Kann. “It’s really funny,” she said. “I like this kind of film diary, although I’m not sure about the [85-minute] duration of the film.”



Director: Kaveh Bakhtiari. Producer: Heinz Dill

Budget in place: €600,000 (TSR, CNC, Swiss Federal Office of Culture). Still needed: €124,000.

The next project was presented by TSR’s Lamunière and billed as a “tragicomedy.” Transit looks at an Iranian refugee who illegally left his home country in a bid to make it to Switzerland.

Instead, he finds himself tricked by his smuggler and stranded in Athens, where he is taken under the care of another Iranian, who left his homeland four years ago and ended up in the same situation. The doc promises a unique insight into migrant stories, and around 70% of the budget is in place, according to Lamunière.

Bruni Burres, producer and senior consultant with the Sundance Institute, was the first up with questions following the pitch, telling the team: “I’d really like to have more of a sense of how long you have been filming the subjects for the documentary.” Also seeking answers was Tribeca Film Institute director of documentary programming Ryan Harrington, who said he had questions over the arc of the story and how the characters would play out. He did add, however, that he found the trailer “compelling.”

Further questions followed, with the CBC’s Olsen wanting to know how many of the characters being filmed would continue to be filmed once they left Greece. Director Bakhtiari clarified that he would not be following any of them – the film would use the hostel in Athens as a staging post, with characters coming and going.

In all commissioners seemed to respond positively to the project, although there were so many questions that further clarity and exposition will be needed. TVO commissioning editor Jane Jankovic was among the encouraging respondents, telling the director: “It’s the kind of story I really enjoy – I enjoy watching and I enjoy working with them.

“I’m wondering though, with nine people in the hostel, I didn’t get a sense of who your focus was in the clip – I’d like to get a better sense of that.”


I Will Be Murdered

Director: Justin Webster. Producer: Sumpta Ayuso

Budget in place: €145,000 (BBC, TV3 Television de Catalunya). Still needed: €237,000.

The final central pitch from the first day of the 2011 IDFA Forum came from director Justin Webster (Convict the Judge, Last White Man Standing), and was one of the most impressive over the event’s two days.

The ‘Storyville’-backed film looks at a wealthy and respected corporate attorney in Guatemala, who was assassinated while cycling outside his office in 2009. Just before he was killed, he recorded a video message accusing the president of being behind his death and the death of his lover.

Following the assassination, the video goes viral online and the attorney becomes a national hero. The president is forced to bring in UN investigator to handle the murder investigation, the result of which is stunning.

The pitch team has asked me not to reveal the big twist in the investigation, though it was shown to the commissioners at the Forum, but suffice to say it is one on a par with the revelations in crime docs such as Dear Zachary or The Staircase. Audible gasps were heard. “It’s a murder story, it’s a love story and it’s a thriller,” Webster told commissioners.

Claire Aguilar, VP of programming for ITVS, chimed in first, telling the team it was a “fascinating story, really compellingly told – I’m sure it’s going to be really good.” She was joined by the CBC’s Olsen, who described the film as “an extraordinary real-life thriller,” adding: “There’s no question it’s an amazing story.”

Elsewhere, TSR’s Lamunière paid praise to Webster’s ability to convey the disparate strands of the story succinctly. “I know that this film seems very complicated but I know that Justin knows how to make it very clear,” he said.

Commissioners from VPRO and POV were also receptive, with Tribeca’s Harrington representing the enthusiasm around the table best: “It’s just a damn good story,” he said. “I can see Tribeca getting behind this easily.”



Director: Matt Wolf. Producer: Christian Beetz

Budget in place: €280,000 (WDR/Arte, SVT, Cinereach). Still needed: €371,000.

With the first day of the Forum having drawn to a close on such a strong note, it was encouraging to see the second day kick off with another strong project.

Matt Wolf’s Teenage, which is based on British author Jon Savage’s acclaimed book of the same name, had been a project that several producers and commissioners had expressed interest in to realscreen prior to the Forum’s start – and the pitch did not disappoint.

The film looks at the history of youth culture, drawing a line from the party-crazed Flappers and hipster Swing Kids of the early 20th Century, through to the Nazi Youth and the later development of the modern day teenager.

The project features splendid archive footage, and looks at how adults have tried to both stymie and use young people for political purposes throughout the century. American actor Jena Malone is onboard to narrate.

Tribeca’s Harrington was the first to enthuse about the film, telling the table: “We love this project – we came onboard last year with a grant and I can’t talk highly enough of it. Matt is one of the most artistic and creative directors working today.

Meanwhile, VPRO’s Barbara Truyen bought happy news to the team, telling them: “I don’t do history projects at all, but my present for today is that I’m coming in – my one condition is that we have to do it with [distributor] Submarine [Entertainment], but I’m finally in.”

For POV, Kilmurry was supportive, telling the team he “loved the tone” of the project, but adding: “I’m just curious to see how that tone sustains over the course of the 90 minutes.” Meanwhile, ITVS’s Aguilar wanted to know “how you make the leap from the historical to the contemporary dramatizations?”

Minor enquiries aside, the project was very well received. DRTV’s Mette Hoffmann Meyer said she was very interested in it, and Guy Lavie, channel manager for Israeli net Yes Docu, said:  “The project is wonderful – the vision is very promising.”


Break of Dawn

Director: Berit Madsen. Producers: Stefan Frost, Henrik Underbjerg

Budget in place: €154,000 (WDR/Arte, SVT, Cinereach). Still needed: €276,000.

The strong pitches continued into the second day of the IDFA Forum, with an intriguing project from Denmark looking at a young Iranian girl who dreams of becoming an astronaut.


Shot with great access to 16-year-old Sepideh and her family, the doc shows the struggles the young girl faces in pursuing her love for astronomy. With her father dead and her uncle having become head of the family, the two clash as he warns her to stop pursuing silly dreams and instead focus on getting married.

The project had a warm and intimate feel to it, and offered a compelling insight into Iranian life. Director Madsen said the subject would have to choose between “the immediate security that marriage can offer here and a leap into the unknown,” adding that 40% of the budget was in place.

DRTV’s Hoffmann Meyer was the first to offer positive feedback, declaring it an “amazing story.” She added that there was only a technical reason as to why she was not onboard with the project at this stage: “I’ve spent all my DFI [Danish Film Institute] money for the year.”

Also encouraging was Flora Gregory, head of documentaries and features for Al Jazeera English, who described the project as “striking.”

Questions were raised, however, by RAI’s Lorenzo Hendel, who offered that some of the trailer’s footage was “maybe too incredible,” insinuating that perhaps there had been some recreations used for certain scenes. Sundance’s Burres said she too would be “very interested in finding out more about the access.”

However, the suggestions were rebuffed by the pitch team, who assured that they had simply been in the right place at the right time and had become comfortable with the family, allowing them excellent access to film some quite dramatic moments.

NHK’s Imamura expressed interest in the film, telling the team – to chuckles from the audience – that it has “a very attractive protagonist and bad guys,” while the BBC’s Fraser said: “It was lovely – I love the footage.”

TVO’s Jankovic was also supportive, saying “I love that it’s multi-layered,” although she added: “I’m a bit concerned about her [the central character] welfare – she seems to be at risk by going for her dreams.”


About The Author
Jonathan Paul is a Toronto-based writer into creativity, content, advertising, tech, comics, video games, film, TV, time and space travel.