When Channel 4 shut its acclaimed Independent Film and Video department at the end of last year, doc-makers, especially those in the u.k., took it as a blow. The unit was widely thought to embody the innovative spirit that initially established C4 in the TV market, and was responsible for much of the channel’s most creative and authored docs. C4′s latest initiative, however, should help bring the factual community’s mourning to an end. Set to launch by the end of June, C4 has formed a new grant-making foundation to fund docs that – wait for it – can’t find a home on television.
The Channel 4 British Documentary Film Foundation will be headed by ex-C4 commissioning editor Jess Search. Search hatched the idea together with C4′s Peter Dale after passing up countless creative docs which, while intriguing, didn’t promise to deliver either a big impact or a big audience. ‘The idea came from my feeling that television and certain kinds of documentary filmmaking are diverging,’ says Dale. ‘I felt it was important for Channel 4 to acknowledge these changes, and to find ways to ensure that emerging or established documentary filmmakers could continue to explore ideas that might work outside the confines of broadcasting.’
In other words, the new foundation will encourage doc-makers to pursue films that don’t conform to tv parameters. ‘It’s all about weaning ourselves off this total dependence on television, and funding individual filmmakers to do passion projects,’ says Search. ‘The idea is to provide a space for those things which tv won’t support.’
C4 has allotted £860,000 (US$1.6 million) a year to the fund which, after overheads, will provide approximately £500,000 ($946,000) to film projects. Those eligible include directors who are either British or Irish, or living in Britain or the Republic of Ireland. And while the foundation will consider any type of doc proposal, it will also encourage certain themes. In its launch year, Search says priority will be given to films made by artists to bring home the point that filmmakers are artists, too. As head of IFV, Search commissioned a number of docs by artists for the Alt-TV strand, such as Clowns in the Hood by photographer David LaChapelle. A feature-length version of that film, titled Rize, screened at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and will be released in the u.s. in June by Lions Gate Films.
For a relatively modest investment and without having to commit to a full commission, Dale and Search now hope to discover the next LaChapelle or Spurlock. C4 will maintain the rights to the TV transmission for projects funded through the new scheme, with Search and her team flagging strong finished films to Dale, who could choose to transmit them on either C4 or More4. ‘It’s R&D, if you like, but through a very substantial and long-term program,’ says Dale. ‘By investing money in filmmaking that isn’t initially intended for television, we hope to discover talent and films that we otherwise wouldn’t have found.’
The Channel 4 British Documentary Film Foundation
www.britdoc.org (soon to launch)
Launch date: June, 2005
Mandate: To support creative documentary films that might struggle to find funding within the TV sector
In the piggy bank: About £500,000 (US$946,000) per year
Eligibility: British or Irish directors, or doc-makers based in either the U.K. or Ireland
Some strings attached: Since C4 is financing the fund, the channel retains U.K. TV rights for projects supported by the foundation, with the option to broadcast on either C4 or More4