Distribs deliberate

Film Transits' Jan Rofekamp speculates on the distrib's place in the evolving doc market, and offers his strategy for survival. Explore's Sam Witters sees huge opportunities for non-fiction.
December 20, 2000

Jan Rofekamp, president, Films Transit International in Montreal

Predictions: I think there will be continuing growth in low budget documentaries for specialty channels. The trouble is that those in production will make money, but those who sell the films will have a harder time. What’s going to be the big problem is that the high end documentary slots are not really increasing, and the license fees are also not going up; therefore, it will be harder and harder to produce the high quality documentaries and to make money off of them. The other thing that I’m starting to detect is that more and more commissioning is happening within a country, towards domestic filmmakers.

In the future, I will generally look for two types of documentaries. First are epic feature docs, with a stronger focus on cultural (rather than social-political) subjects. These are films on large, international subject matters, films with strong auteur signatures. They can be historical or contemporary, but must reflect high quality filmmaking. Secondly, I will be looking for what I call ‘urgent’ docs – hour-long TV films on very strong and provocative, contemporary subject matters that I feel people must see because of their political or social relevance. I will remain interested in all kinds of documentaries about cinema and smart films about sex.

Wish list: To make at least five six-figure sales each year for the next five years, or to have someone really nice buy me out for a lot of money. I can only work with people I really like. This Christmas, though, I just want the DVD of Gladiator.

Samantha Witters, director of marketing and communications, London-based distrib Explore International

Predictions: Huge opportunites for non- fiction, but a new approach is required. What we all need to consider is how to best maximise the series/documentary through marketing, merchandising, promotion, on-line interactivity, etcetera. We also need to consider better ways to tell animal stories.

Wish list: That I’m never this busy again!

About The Author
Barry Walsh is editor and content director for realscreen, and has served as editor of the publication since 2009. With a career in entertainment media that spans two decades, prior to realscreen, he held the associate editor post for now defunct sister publication Boards, which focused on the advertising and commercial production industries. Before Boards, he served as editor of Canadian Music Network, a weekly music industry trade, and as music editor for As content director, he also oversees the development of content for the brand's market-leading events, the Realscreen Summit and Realscreen West, as well as new content initiatives.