TIFF ’15: Marrying documentary with philanthropy

The Documentary Organization of Canada revealed its research findings on the role the philanthropic sector can play in documentary making during the TIFF Doc Conference on September 16. (Pictured: IDA's Simon Kilmurry).
September 18, 2015

The Documentary Organization of Canada (DOC) revealed new research findings on the role philanthropy can have in the documentary community during Wednesday’s TIFF Doc Conference (September 16) in a discussion presented by Marilyn Burgess of Communications MDR with Simon Kilmurry (pictured), executive director of the International Documentary Association (IDA).

The report examined various models from the U.S., UK and Australia leveraging a charitable status to attract philanthropic funding to documentary productions and marketing. These findings would then be used to determine what the Canadian documentary community could glean by utilizing the philanthropic sector as an untapped resource to support a project’s production and distribution.

Commissioned by DOC and conducted by Communications MDR, the research study focused on initiatives put forth by various organizations including BRITDOC, the Documentary Australia Foundation, the Fledgling Fund, JustFilms, the Chicago Media Project, IDA’s Fiscal Sponsorship program, and Impact Partners.

The findings noted that charitable foundations have not only begun to measure the impact of their philanthropic efforts, but that they will “likely become more proactive in their grant making” in the future.

“Interestingly, about 60% of the foundations were giving some kind of support to the arts,” Burgess noted during the 30-minute presentation held at CBC’s Glenn Gould Studio. “We concluded that this is a potential opportunity for Canada that is untapped.”

In the U.S., for example, foundations will typically be restricted to providing grants to registered charities, but certain organizations such as the IDA will serve as a charitable conduit for filmmakers. The end result offers tax benefits for individual and foundation alike, while saving the filmmaker from having to register as a charity.

“Just looking through the first six months of this year, about $4.5 million [in U.S. dollars] flowed through IDA directly to filmmakers and we’re looking at between $8 and $9 million flowing through us to filmmakers every year,” Killmurry says. “You multiply that by seven, eight or nine organizations and suddenly that becomes an incredible amount of money.”

Meanwhile, more than $4.2 million in philanthropic funding was committed to six Australian documentaries, including  I Am Eleven director Genevieve Bailey, during Wednesday’s (September 16) Good Pitch2 Australia. The sessions allowed filmmakers the opportunity to forge more than 60 new strategic partnerships across both the non-profit and business sectors to support production, build audiences and ensure a long-term impact.

While documentaries that aim to achieve social impact will naturally attract support from the philanthropic sector, Kilmurry cautions against the growing notion of entrepreneurial social investors seeking a return on their investment through hands-on involvement in a funded project.

“As you have new funders coming in who have very active social agendas, they’re also looking for a level of engagement with the content which can be dangerous because it can lead filmmakers into making significant compromises in the editorial vision of that work to satisfy the needs of a particular funder,” he explained, adding that further debate is needed in order to shield editorial integrity as the industry moves towards a philanthropic model.

Burgess explained that the research found Canada to be drifting behind the U.S., UK and Australia when it comes to leveraging funding from the philanthropic sector. According to the study, private and public foundations in Canada invested CDN$55 billion to charitable organizations with more than $4.5 billion granted annually in 2013.

However, the DOC report offers that an “initiative unique to Canada could be implemented to support documentaries that aim to effect social change” by employing an industry-wide strategy to develop tools capable of measuring impact campaigns and building awareness in the philanthropic sector to the benefits of supporting doc-makers.

“The overall strategy is one that is certainly worth pursuing, but this shouldn’t be seen as a replacement for a healthy public sector funding policy,” Kilmurry said. “This should be in addition to that, and I think one note of caution that I would throw in there is to try and position this in a way that’s added value, that shows the public sector there is a need, a desire and a value to this work.

“I think it’s a real balance and you have to be really careful how you portray those arguments to bolster both the philanthropic sector and the public sector fans.”

About The Author
Daniele Alcinii is a news reporter at realscreen, the leading international publisher of non-fiction film and television industry news and content. He joins the rs team with journalism experience following a stint out west with Sun Media in Edmonton's Capital Region, and communications work in Melbourne, Australia and Toronto. You can follow him on Twitter at @danielealcinii.