In the first installment of a three-part series, realscreen presents its annual report of the IDFA Forum’s Central Pitches, which saw 18 hopeful doc projects presented to commissioning editors in Amsterdam last week.
As the Sundance Film Festival unveiled its in-competition selections earlier this week, three films in the line-up served to remind of the importance of the annual IDFA Forum, which takes place in Amsterdam, Holland each fall.
Katy Chevigny and Ross Kauffman’s E-TEAM was pitched at the IDFA Forum in Amsterdam last year, while Sepideh and Happiness were pitched at the event in 2011.
Their successes as Forum alumni sit them alongside docs such as Bobby Fischer Against the World, Cutie and the Boxer, The Interrupters, The Queen of Versailles, ¡Vivan las Antipodas!, Expedition to the End of the World and American Promise.
As such, the IDFA Forum – along with its spring counterpart the Hot Docs Forum – remains a key place to catch the festival hits of tomorrow, a year or two before they reach completion. A positive pitch response can lead to broadcaster or foundation backing, and all-important completion money.
Realscreen was at the IDFA Forum for all three days last week (November 25-27) and here presents full coverage of the 18 Central Pitches, which were presented to a table of international commissioning editors, in three installments.
Impromptu pitch for Peter Wintonick’s Be Here Now
The 2013 Forum kicked off on a somber note, with IDFA Forum head Adriek van Nieuwenhuyzen paying tribute to the recently departed Peter Wintonick, who was a regular at IDFA and at the Forum.
“Peter was a true documentary nomad – he was the best friend a festival could wish for; he shared his knowledge with great generosity,” she said, before crowning him “Peter, king of docs.”
Afterwards, Wintonick’s EyeSteelFilm colleague Bob Moore took to the floor to tell the crowd about the late filmmaker’s last project, an in-progress documentary called Be Here Now, which Wintonick had been planning and working on prior to his death.
Moore said that EyeSteel, Wintonick’s family members, and Canadian filmmaker Ron Mann would be finishing the film, and said that there would be a Doc Ignite campaign for the project shortly.
“We are beginning the crowdfunding, and the NFB and the Shaw Media Hot Docs Funds have both pledged support to make this a reality,” he said.
The IDFA Forum team announced that the traditional Cuban Hat, passed around the auditorium to raise money for a popular project, would this year raise money to help complete Wintonick’s project.
Director: Marcus Vetter
Production budget: €548,060 (Some funding already in place from ARD/SWR).
Still needed: €368,060.
Status: in production
IDFA logline: “The story of Jens Söring and Elisabeth Haysom, who may have brutally murdered her parents.”
After EyeSteel’s pitch, the first pitch proper of the 21st IDFA Forum was a did-they/didn’t-they style courtroom thriller, looking at the case of Jens Söring and Elisabeth Haysom, who were convicted of murdering Haysom’s parents. The film features an exclusive extended interview with Söring (who is in prison) and explores the premise that he might be innocent, having agreed to share the blame for the crime in a bid to spare the woman he loved from a death sentence.
The project looks to be in a similar vein to films such as The Staircase and Murder on a Sunday Morning, and the filmmakers promised that the doc would have exclusive archival access to both of the central characters’ separate courtroom trials.
The team also said the film it would feature new DNA evidence, and said they had raised a third of the budget needed. Director Marcus Vetter’s previous credits include Heart of Jenin.
SVT’s Ingemar Persson was the first to comment on the project, stating that “this could absolutely be one” for the Swedish broadcaster. He said that “innocent victims are something that we’ve seen some films about,” and that they are usually popular.
BBC ‘Storyville’ series editor Nick Fraser also weighed in on the project. “We were pitched this already and have expressed great interest,” he said, but added: “Can [Söring]‘s interview be in English?”
CNN Films’ senior director Courtney Sexton – representing the U.S. player for the first time at the Forum – echoed Fraser’s sentiment that a German language interview could prove difficult for viewers. “An interview in English will make this a much easier sell for us,” she said.
Sexton also talked a bit about CNN Films’ mandate. “Our goal is to program 10-12 films a year,” she offered. “For the most part, we’re looking for films that have a theatrical release.”
The filmmakers seemed to take the feedback onboard, stating that if they can do an interview with him in English, they will.
Elswhere, VPRO’s Barbara Truyen wanted to know “how much of it will be in actuality new and how much is archive,” NRK’s Tore Tomter also expressed interest.
“There’s something here that is really intriguing, but in a way you have to reconstruct the love story here, so that we understand why he acted as he did,” he offered.
Sky Atlantic – another new face at this year’s Forum, represented by Celia Taylor and Chris Wilson – praised the film, with Taylor stating that it “sounds fantastic.” She added though that “unfortunately I do already have a film” that covers similar ground.
A Modern Man
Director: Eva Mulvad
Production budget: €499,900 (ARD/BR, DR TV, VPRO, SVT, NRK).
Still needed: €215,400
Status: development / research
IDFA Logline: “This is a journey into a magical universe where dedicated people give life to our common heritage: classical music. The starting point is a good-looking guy from England.”
A Modern Man focuses on 27-year-old British musician Charlie Siem, as he attempts to balance his career as a violinist (he has been playing since he was three and now plays a €10 million 1735 Guarneri del Gesù violin) with lucrative modeling offers from brands such as Dior and Armani.
YLE’s Jenny Westergǻrd was the first to express support for the project, announcing that – while not listed in the catalog – YLE would be onboard. TVO’s Naomi Boxer, meanwhile, said the film could be of interest to the Canadian network. “It’s a fascinating project because it’s coming at a time of change” for Siem, she said. She wondered, however, how much the subject of the film would be prepared to make himself vulnerable on camera.
Representing Japan’s NHK, Tomoko Okutsu echoed the point. “I share what Naomi said about how much he might expose himself.” She added, though: “I do think there should be a possibility of him being very well received in Japan.”
Much more enthusiastic was Guy Lavie, from Israel’s YesDocu: “I do love the combination of classical music and some handsome young guy,” he said, to laughter from the room. He questioned whether the filmmakers were going to look at Siem’s past and his family.
The BBC’s Fraser and the Tribeca Film Institute’s Ryan Harrington also expressed support, but both suggested that the film looked a little soft at present. “I’m missing a bit of an edge,” said Harrington.
CBC’s Catherine Olsen, meanwhile, said the project reminded her of Jamie Johnson’s Emmy-nominated HBO documentary Born Rich. “It’s really important for me that you’re able to integrate the family, so we can get some insight into his life and his family,” she said.
The Betrayal of Our Fathers
Director: Laurent Bécue-Renard
Production budget: €2.2 million (TSR Switzerland).
Still needed: €1.43 million
Status: in production
IDFA logline: “Home from Mesopotamia, twelve irascible soldiers wrestle with wars within, lashing out at wives and bewildered children. Will a Homeric shrink redeem these modern Ulysses on their paths to Ithaca?”
Laurent Bécue-Renard’s The Betrayal of Our Fathers looks at a group of soldiers, home from Afghanistan and Iraq, who are dealing with PTSD. It promises both intimate access to the soldiers’ therapy sessions, and to follow them fly-on-the-wall style at home with their families.
The project is being readied as a feature film for the spring, and as a 6 x 45-minutes series, for 2015.
Claire Aguilar from ITVS was supportive of the pitch, stating: “I’m glad to see the footage that incorporates the outside world – I love the balance. I thought that the footage was very wonderful.”
France 3′s Anna Glogowski was also warm. “I can’t take this for France 3, as we’re mainly doing history, but I really would like to say that this is a great film,” she offered.
Cynthia Kane from Al Jazeera America – appearing at the Forum for the first time on behalf of the new U.S. network – said that “the inside access is extraordinary. I’d like to talk a bit about the possibility of the series.”
She also laid out her stall for the network’s Sunday night doc strand, which is currently seeking pitches. “Unlike Al Jazeera English and Al Jazeera Arabic, we are a regional channel just seen in the U.S.,” she explained.
The BBC’s Fraser talked of the First World War programming the UK pubcaster was queuing up for last year, and noted the parallels between the shell-shocked soldiers returning from the Great War – whose PTSD went undiagnosed – and modern day veterans.
“To what degree is the therapy at the heart of the whole thing?,” he said.
Meanwhile, DR TV’s Mette Hoffmann Meyer was supportive, stating that “I love the footage,” but offered that access to PTSD therapy sessions was not as rare as the filmmakers were making out. Despite their claims that this would be a first-of-its-kind doc, she said she had seen several similar films.
TVO’s Boxer said she “thought that it was really wonderful material,” but added that she was “a bit ambivalent to getting access to their therapy.” And Simon Kilmurry, from PBS’s ‘POV,’ was also cool on the pitch.
“I have a lot of questions,” he said.
Director: Jamie Meltzer
Production budget: €424,700 (ITVS International)
Still needed: €128,800
Status: in production
IDFA logline: “There’s a new detective agency in Dallas, Texas, started by three exonerated men. They call themselves the Freedom Fighters, and they are looking to free innocent people still behind bars.”
The first big hit of the Forum’s first day was Freedom Fighters, from Informant director Jamie Meltzer.
Boasting a very impressive trailer that offered hints of redemptive hits such as The Interrupters and Gideon’s Army, the project follows exonerated men in Texas who are fighting to free others – mostly African American males – who may have been wrongly convicted of crimes.
“They’re not lawyers or professionals but they do have a skill set,” offered Meltzer.
Responses to the pitch were enthusiastic. “I’m just really enthralled by the approach to this project,” said the Sundance Institute’s Rahdi Taylor.
Also positive was Daniel Pynnönen, from the Swedish Educational Broadcasting Company. “For us, this could be a great way of showing the failures of the criminal justice system,” he said. “I’m a big fan of Informant, by the way.”
YLE’s Westergǻrd, meanwhile, wanted to know how big a track record the men had with successfully freeing convicted convicts, while Kai Henkel, from ARD/SWR, stated: “These are really beautiful protagonists – very strong people – but I’m of the opinion that you need to show at least one person [getting] out of prison [in the film].”
Not everyone agreed with this viewpoint, however. Meltzer pointed out that the remarkable thing was that they were trying and that, after all their years unjustly locked away in a cell, they were prepared to try and help others.
The CBC’s Olsen echoed this, adding that she did not feel a successful onscreen exoneration would be necessary for the film’s success. “I would agree with Jamie 100%,” she said, adding, “Most people who go through the criminal justice system are extremely damaged [by it].”