In a year that features a masterclass from Errol Morris, a new awards structure with more prize money, and 78 world premieres, the 28-year-old IDFA continues to remind delegates why it’s one of the most essential events in documentary.
The Dutch festival’s industry front is no different. This year, a 33% jump in submissions for the IDFA Forum – now in its 23rd year – reflects the annual pitching event’s status as a stalwart in the fall festival circuit. A total of 59 projects, up from last year’s batch of 50, will be pitched next week, and all judiciously selected from 600 submissions.
“We had more submissions than ever,” Adriek van Nieuwenhuyzen, head of industry programming, tells realscreen, noting her team received only 450 entries in 2014. “We’ve got more cross-media projects and transmedia projects, so we selected more of these projects compared to previous years.”
The IDFA Forum, which runs from November 23 to 25, has helped generate the financial support and resources needed for the completion of such docs as Steve James’ The Interrupters, Talal Derki’s Return to Homs and, most recently, Pietra Brettkelly’s A Flickering Truth and Ido Haar’s Thru You Princess.
The three-day event is seen by many as the fall counterpart to April’s Hot Docs Forum in Toronto. While the latter caters to a North American audience, IDFA has historically drawn the European market, inviting many of the region’s key doc players to sit at its roundtables, which includes the Central Pitch and break-out sessions.
This year, however, a more global-facing Forum will welcome a number of new faces, including a more robust presence from Asian broadcasters and platforms. Among the new decision makers are Zitao Xu from Chinese digital platform Youku Tudou – which was recently acquired by Alibaba – and Yasuharu Yahagi of Japanese media company Dwango Co.
“We have quite a [lot of] programming from Asia. We got more submissions and the quality of the projects is getting better and better,” says Van Nieuwenhuyzen.
Also attending the Forum is Netflix, which will this year be repped by Jason Spingarn-Koff , the former commissioner for The New York Times’ ‘Op-Docs’ division who joined the SVOD service’s original docs team in June. Meanwhile, Vice, which will soon launch its 24-hour channel Viceland through a JV with A+E, is also going to have a predictably larger footprint at the event. Representing Discovery Channel is Ryan Harrington, former VP of artist programs at Tribeca, who was tapped as director of acquisitions for docs and specials for Discovery Channel in August.
Elsewhere, cross-media pitches at the Forum will be attended by Google’s Jessica Brillhart, a filmmaker with the Internet giant’s virtual reality (VR) video capture platform Jump; The New York Times’ Sam Dolnick, an associate editor working on VR for the outlet; and film foundation Cinereach co-founder Michael Raisler, among others.
Thematically, Van Nieuwenhuyzen says she received more arts and culture projects this year, while science submissions have remained characteristically low. The organizer adds that historical films told through contemporary subjects are again making their mark, while projects about the Middle East (Christy Garland’s What Walaa Wants, Raed Andoni’s Ghost Hunting) as well as the refugee crisis (Leonard Retel Helmrich’s The Camp, Lorena Luciano and Philippo Piscopo’s In the Middle) are also showcased.
One of the strongest American projects, she says, is Jeff Unay’s Greywater (working title) on a 40-year-old father revisiting his past as a cage fighter. The film in September won the Best Pitch Prize at the Camden International Film Festival’s Points North Pitch.
But despite the range of industry professionals and projects, one challenge faced by Forum organizers remains striking a gender balance among its pitch participants.
“We don’t have 50% women pitching projects unfortunately,” says Van Nieuwenhuyzen. “It’s always a fine balance, because we definitely want to have more women in the Forum program and we do, of course, but it’s not 50%. It’s also that we’re looking for quality projects, and we’re looking for diversity in countries. It’s a struggle.”
IDFA last year held a three-hour workshop titled “The Female Gaze” that debated the representation of women across the doc medium. This year, though the workshop has not been continued, an invitation-only event for about 100 female filmmakers, producers and subject will be held on November 25.
“We will discuss the issues raised last year, and discussed widely in Europe and in the U.S. as well,” says the industry head. “We do continue to focus on this topic because we think it’s very relevant and it would be strange to drop it.”
Other notable industry programming includes an expanded “Industry Talks” slate featuring such topics as “Sounds Real,” where sound specialists discuss sound in docs; “Children’s Documentaries,” on the emerging genre; “How to be Successful in the American Market,” a talk by Cinetic Media’s John Sloss; and “Evaluating Impact,” on navigating impact metrics in docs.
The festival will also have a number of “One-on-One” consultancies; industry sessions such as American University scholar Patricia Aufderheide’s “Dangerous Docs” talk; a “How to Get Your Documentary to the Oscars” session by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Tom Oyer; and “Film4Climate,” a presentation by Lucia Grenna, the head of World Bank Group’s Connect4Climate Program.
- IDFA runs in Amsterdam from November 18 to 29.
- Watch this space for realscreen’s annual reports from the IDFA Forum