In a hopeful sign for the long-term survival of theatrical feature docs, the National Film Board of Canada has partnered with the British Broadcasting Corp. and the U.K. Film Council to create the World Documentary Fund. Announced at the end of May, the new £1.5 million (US$2.4 million) fund will fully finance three or four feature-length films, made for theatrical release, over a two-year period.
Each partner will contribute an equal amount of money to the fund and will have a representative responsible for helping pick the projects. The individuals involved are: Tom Perlmutter, director-general of the NFB’s English program; Nick Fraser, commissioning editor for the BBC’s ‘Storyville’ strand; and Paul Trijbits, head of the U.K. Film Council’s New Cinema Fund.
There will be no formalized application process, Perlmutter notes. Instead, the partners will assess what comes their way, and perhaps approach filmmakers with whom they’re interested in working.
Though the World Doc Fund debuted only last month, it already has one project under its belt – Game Over: Kasparov and the Machine, directed by Vikram Jayanti and produced by Alliance Atlantis’s Café Productions in London, U.K. Perlmutter explains that the partners had agreed to work together on the film before the formal launch of the World Doc Fund, and so used it as a template. ‘It allowed us to test out in concrete ways how to make the partnership work,’ he says.
Andre Singer, CEO of Café Productions, was pleased to be part of the fund’s genesis. ‘For producers like us, it’s a fantastic opportunity,’ he says. ‘Here’s the NFB, the Film Council and the BBC putting up their money and saying, ‘We’re going to invest in [feature docs] and see if we can make it work internationally as a world documentary fund, rather than just doing local, national product.’ So, from our point of view it’s a great chance, and long may it last.’
The NFB has agreed to handle world distribution rights for the films (except in the U.K. and Ireland) and Canadian non-theatrical rights. It has already arranged for the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. to be the lead broadcasting partner in Canada. The BBC will handle broadcast and non-theatrical rights in the U.K. and Ireland. For Game Over, the NFB has sublicensed Toronto, Canada-based Alliance Atlantis for worldwide distribution (excluding New Zealand and Australia).
Amy Hardie, the U.K.-based author of the DocSpace report (which contends there is an underserved theater-going audience for docs), sees the initiative as promising for feature docs. ‘It’s going to help docs break out of the television box,’ she says. ‘It’s a production fund that will let documentaries explore a slightly different audience with a slightly different attention span.’