IDFA ’12: The complete Forum report, part two

Continuing realscreen's comprehensive annual guide to the Central Pitches presented at the 2012 IDFA Forum in Amsterdam, part two of our three-part report looks at projects dealing with justice, politics and disability.
November 26, 2012
Continuing realscreen‘s comprehensive annual guide to the Central Pitches presented at the 2012 IDFA Forum in Amsterdam, part two of our three-part report looks at projects dealing with justice, politics and disability.

(Part one of this report can be found here)


The Eurocalypse – Why Are We Poor Now? 
Director: Ben Lewis
Production budget: €627,000 (ZDF/ARTE, VPRO). Still needed: €462,000.

IDFA logline:Eurocalypse will find, identify and describe both the causes and the culprits of the European economic crisis, in a gripping, wide-ranging investigative thriller of a film.”

Continuing the IDFA Forum’s first-day pitches was The Eurocalypse, a project born from last year’s IDFA Forum at which BBC ‘Storyville’ editor Nick Fraser called on filmmakers to pitch a film documenting the current Euro-zone crisis.

Step forward director Ben Lewis (Poor Us, What Brits Love), who is promising to deliver “a 90-minute documentary that will do for the European economic crisis what Inside Job did for the American Credit Crunch,” in the style of an 18th century satire.

Fraser is scripting the documentary, and although the Beeb is not listed as a funder on the doc so far, he says the UK pubcaster “will be involved.”

First up to comment on the project was NRK commissioning editor Tore Tomter, who told the team that the issue would be a difficult one to condense into a mass-audience film. “My feeling here is that it’s a little bit too complicated,” he said.

Representing Finnish public television, YLE commissioning editor Iikke Vehkalahti added that he too was concerned about the challenge of simplifying the crisis, although he expressed faith in the production team and its supporters. “If it was not the team of Ben Lewis, Nick [Fraser] and Barbara [Truyen] I’d be a lot more critical,” he said.

RTS commissioning editor for documentaries Gaspard Lamunière added that he was keen to see more, while Knowledge’s director of independent production and presentation Murray Battle seemed to summarize the overall commissioner reaction best, saying that the director’s past form should allay fears.

“While I sense some doubt in the room, I think it could work for us,” he offered.

The Hunted
Director: Rebecka Rasmusson
Production budget: €390,000 (SVT, Swedish Film Institute). Still needed: €275,000.

IDFA logline: “Amanda Nyholm Jacobsen is found guilty of a $22 million fraud and forgery. Everybody condemns her but filmmaker Rebecka Rasmusson is fascinated. Who is Amanda and what made her cross the line?”

Boasting an excellent trailer and intimate access, The Hunted tells the story of a former head of an airport catering company who was found guilty of fraud and forgery on a massive scale. It promises to tell Jacobsen’s rise and fall in her own words and, according to the filmmakers, currently has 35% of its funding in place.

RTS’s Lamunière spoke first, telling the team: “I’m fascinated by this story – you really have fantastic access to these characters.” Of the film’s lead character, he added: “My worry is about how trustworthy she is,” to laughs from the crowd.

Also impressed was TVO commissioning editor Naomi Boxer, who said: “It’s fascinating, and the access is amazing,” while VPRO’s Barbara Truyen told the team: “I really like it as well – it has dramatic elements to it, but you’re telling it in quite a Swedish, un-dramatic way,” to more laughter. She added, however, that she would like it to have more emotion, and be more “bold.”

Catherine Olsen, exec producer of documentaries for CBC Newsworld, also had praise, comparing the film to docs such as Unraveled and The Imposter, “some of my favorite films.”

Nevertheless, YLE’s Vehkalahti had a warning for the team, telling them: “The title reflects your own opinion on the case.” He added that The Hunt might make a better, more neutral name for the doc.

Wind on the Moon (formerly known as Like Wind, Yeji and I)
Director: Seung-Jun Yi
Production budget: €245,000 (EBS/KCA, YLE). Still needed – €170,000.

IDFA logline: “A story about a mother trying to communicate in a language beyond language with her daughter, who’s totally deaf-blind and unable to speak either, trapped in a world of total darkness.”

The final pitch of the Forum’s first day was, as is often the case, one of strongest of the event. It helped that many commissioners around the table had either seen or acquired director Seung-Jun Yi’s previous doc, Planet of Snail, which triumphed at IDFA in competition last year.

Judging by the emotional trailer, Wind on the Moon promises to be stylistically very similar to Snail, with a soft observational format and a subject who is disabled. The director told commissioners the film aimed to take the subjects and “capture the subtle and gentle moments of their lives.”

Attendees were even more impressed to learn that the trailer had been compiled of footage shot over just three days, with a year-long shoot planned.

First to offer his take on the pitch was the Tribeca Film Institute’s Ryan Harrington, who told the filmmakers Snail “was one of my favorite films” from last year.

“I’m very interested in you and your emotion as a filmmaker,” he added. Patricia Finneran, producer for creative partnerships at the Sundance Institute’s Documentary Film Program, was also full of praise, stating: “We loved Planet of Snail and were early supporters of it.”

Other support came in the form of kind words from execs at ITVS, ARTE and NRK, while the BBC’s Fraser said of the trailer: “I thought that was very haunting, very beautiful.”

He had philosophical questions for the team, however. “Is the film, in the end, about something to do with language, rather than disability?” His question was echoed by NHK’s Tomoko, who also wanted to know “a bit more about the other people who are in the main disabled girl’s life.”

Overall, however, this was a very strong and well received pitch. Simon Kilmurry, executive director of ‘POV,’ spoke for most when he concluded: “This is something I’d like to take a look at.”

Cooper’s Challenge
Director: Karen Stokkendal Poulsen
Production budget: €500,000 (DRTV, VPRO, Danish Film Institute, MEDIA). Still needed: €331,000.

IDFA logline: “Serbia and Kosovo’s border dispute is Europe’s last territorial conflict and must be solved. It’s chief negotiator Robert Cooper’s challenge and the stakes are high.”

A strong end to the Forum’s first day was, happily, followed by an equally strong start to the pitch-fest’s second, which on the whole seemed to offer a better-received slate of projects.

Cooper’s Challenge follows Britiish EU facilitator Robert Cooper as he and his team of negotiators struggle to mediate talks between representatives from Serbia and Kosovo who are attempting to deal with a territory dispute.

While the film could, on the surface, be quite dry, given the political subject matter, the trailer reveals Cooper to be a tremendously entertaining, if eccentric, character. He offers plenty of amusing asides, such as complaining that the two parties, amid heated discussions, have “abandoned the biscuits I best like.”

First in to praise the film was ARTE France commissioning editor for specialist factual Nathalie Verdier, who told the team: “The feeling that you have as a viewer, that you are seeing something that you’re not really allowed to see… makes it such a strong and promising film.”

RTS’s Lamunière added: “I love the trailer, really you do a fantastic job. My worries are really about the context, because it’s a very complex subject, as you know.”

From Canada, CBC’s Olsen said the treatment she’d read had initially been unconvincing. “This is an example where the trailer can really have high impact,” she said. “I really related to it as a character study. I want to see more.”

Also positive was the BBC’s Fraser. “I loved the trailer,” he said. “Who could resist a film by Danish people about a Brit with bad ties?”

The pitch also saw Jason Springarn-Koff, a commissioner for The New York Times’ online doc shorts program Op-Docs, weighing in for the first time. After giving an overview of what he and his team do for Op-Docs, Springarn-Koff admitted that this particular project “may be challenging, to be honest” for his purview.

“I don’t know how much our audience will connect,” he said, “I don’t think it’s an immediate fit.”

NRK’s Tomter, meanwhile, said the trailer was almost too good to be real. “It’s seducing us, in a way, with the editing,” he offered.

Finally, ‘POV”s Kilmurry suggested there may be a place for the doc on U.S. TV. “I like the contrast between the high stakes and the banal stuff, like biscuits,” he said.

Strong Island
Director: Yance Ford
Production budget: €458,000 (‘POV,’ Cinereach, Sundance Institute, Chicken & Egg Pictures). Still needed: €205,000.

IDFA logline: “Haunted by the murder of her brother, Strong Island is the director’s meditation on guilt, the impact of grief over time and the elusive meaning of ‘justice.’”

With a dark, mournful and moving trailer, director Ford promised with Strong Island to deliver a reflection on “memory” and “grief over time,” with a personal documentary looking at the death of her brother, and the impact it has had on her family.

The film also promises a look at life from the point of view of a suburban, black, middle class family – “a view rarely seen in cinema,” the filmmaker added.

CBC’s Olsen was among the commissioners reacting to the pitch, telling the team that “the story and the emotion that you just respond to… it’s quite remarkable. It’s a compelling story that you want to know more about.”

However, ZDF/ARTE commissioner Sabine Bubeck-Paaz was less convinced, expressing concern that the film was being made as a form of therapy more than anything else.

“I’m really ambivalent,” she said. “I understand this situation of mourning, [however] I felt claustrophobic. She [the filmmaker] says it’s not about psychotherapy, but I felt like it was more about psychotherapy than anything else.”

The filmmakers replied that they have a much longer trailer which they can show which should reassure about the tone and direction of the film.

The BBC’s Fraser was impressed with the story, which he said had remarkable similarities to the UK murder case of Stephen Lawrence, a black teenager killed by a group of white men. He said the parallels between the two stories were so strong that the film could play on UK flagship terrestrial BBC1, but suggested, however, that the film was too artsy to do so in its current form.

“When you’ve got your 80-minute version, you need to re-cut it for a mass audience,” he said. “Focus on the case – I think it’s a great and important project.”

His suggestion was met with criticism from YLE’s Jenny Westergård, who told the filmmakers they should stick with the direction they’re going in. “I don’t agree with doing a big audience, mass movie,” she said.

A clear discord saw Fraser reply that “it depends if you want it to sell or not,” to which Westergård retorted, “Make it into a festival winner and it will sell as a festival winner.”

The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka
Director: Callum Macrae
Production budget: €239,000 (Channel 4, Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting). Still needed: €151,000.

IDFA logline: “A chilling account of the bloody end of the Sri Lankan civil war, the war crimes committed and the death of up to 40,000 people.”

The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka, a feature-length follow-up to two docs commissioned and aired by UK broadcaster Channel 4 (one of which, Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields, has won many awards) gave Forum attendees one of the most violent and visceral trailers in recent memory.

While the footage, much of which was shot on mobile phones, is undoubtedly extraordinary, the content – which includes introducing us to one character who ends up being raped, blindfolded and shot in the head – was very challenging.

Pitching the doc alongside director Macrae, Channel 4′s Dorothy Byrne told fellow commissioners that the journalism in the film was “some of the most important that C4 has ever undertaken.”

Britdoc foundation director Sandra Whipham added that her organization was putting “its full weight behind this film,” but added that what the project really needs is “the addition of international broadcasters” to give it “the international recognition that it deserves.”

IKON commissioning editor Margje de Koning was among the buyers to be a little shell-shocked by the pitch. “What can you say – it’s extremely powerful but a disturbing trailer,” she said. “The images are so disturbingly strong.”

Her comments were echoed by NRK’s Tomter, whose network aired the original Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields in Norway. “It was almost too risky for NRK, but I’m glad we did it,” he said. “It was the worst pictures we’ve ever shown.

“It’s one of the most important stories and war crimes there have been in the last 10 or 15 years,” he added, but asked, “What’s new in this film compared to the old one?”

Elsewhere, TVO’s Boxer was impressed by the film. “I’d love to talk to you about this – what makes it work for us are the personal testimonies and the character-driven stories,” she said, while commissioners from CBC, SVT and ZDF/ARTE also expressed interest in the film.

Claire Aguilar, VP of programming for ITVS, agreed that the Sri Lankan story was an important one. “I don’t think this has been covered on American TV,” she said, before adding: “I also have concern about this assault of images.”

Her sentiment was echoed by ‘POV”s Kilmurry, who added that the film “might be more of a ‘Frontline’ piece, rather than for ‘POV.’

About The Author
Managing editor with realscreen publication, an international print and online magazine that covers the non-fiction film and television industries. Darah is an award-winning journalist who has spent over two decades covering a wide range of issues from real estate and urban development to immigration, politics and human rights, primarily with The Vancouver Sun. Prior to joining realscreen, she was editor of Stream Daily, realscreen's sister publication covering the dynamic global digital video industry. She also served a stint as a war reporter in Afghanistan for television and print, and was a national business blogger with Yahoo Canada.