Turning Heads at the EDN

Leena Pasanen is no stranger to politics. She began her career as a journalist for Finnish news agency stt and soon advanced to become a political commentator. The post proved only a stepping stone, and eventually led her to join yle as the host of a current affairs magazine
August 1, 2005

Leena Pasanen is no stranger to politics. She began her career as a journalist for Finnish news agency STT and soon advanced to become a political commentator. The post proved only a stepping stone, and eventually led her to join YLE as the host of a current affairs magazine program. This marked the beginning of a long career at the Finnish public broadcaster, including a number of years as head of in-house documentaries at YLE TV1.

This exposure to the halls of diplomacy should prove invaluable for her next move. After 12 years in pubcasting, Pasanen will soon relocate to Copenhagen to take up her new position as director of the European Documentary Network (EDN). Pasanen, currently head of programs at digital channel YLE Teema, is taking the helm from current director Tue Steen Müller, who has held the post since the EDN was established in 1996.

Although her new position will be a change from her life as a CE, Pasanen draws parallels between the two in terms of development. ‘[The doc industry] is the world I love, and I can continue to work in it and support it,’ she says. ‘I have always wanted to support filmmakers.’ As a YLE CE, Pasanen has been actively involved in the edn, particularly as a tutor at workshops.

Pasanen was selected from a shortlist of four candidates who were culled from 10 applicants who responded to an advertisement placed in edn’s magazine, dox. Ike Bertels, EDN chairman, says she and her colleagues were impressed with the quality of candidates the position attracted. ‘You always wonder how people perceive your group from the outside,’ says Bertels. ‘So we were extremely pleased such high-quality people were interested in the position.’ Each member of the shortlist attended a lengthy interview at EDN headquarters.

Given the nature of the organization, Bertels and the selection committee (comprised of EDN network manager Anita Reher and board member Heino Deckert, a producer/director) had initially hoped for someone with hands-on experience as a producer and director. However, they felt confident enough about Pasanen’s overall suitability to overlook her lack of production experience. ‘She understands our business very well,’ says Bertels.

‘The EDN needs both producers and commissioning editors,’ says Pasanen. ‘We are not against each other, we are working together. We all need to be aware of what is changing in terms of broadcasting and financing.’

The EDN was initially forged under the auspices of the documentary section of the first EU media program (1991 – 1995), which funded an edn office in Copenhagen as part of its remit to develop the European av industry. When media changed its mandate and restructured in 1996 to become MEDIA II, direct funding for the doc office dried up. But Steen Müller, who was working for the Danish Film Institute at the time, had begun to form what he calls ‘a documentary family’ across Europe, so the group struck out on its own with Steen Müller as director and some start-up money from the Danish Ministry of Culture. The organization’s first initiatives focused on developing the doc communities in Southern Europe – Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece.

Today, the EDN’s footprint is much larger. The group has 750 members from 50 countries, primarily within Europe. Members are typically producers from small- to medium-sized prodcos interested in knowing more about opportunities across the European market, though the group also counts distribs, broadcasters and educators as members, as well as representatives from film festivals, film associations, boards and institutions. Interestingly, says Steen Müller, over 100 members are from Germany, even though ‘… Germans are not traditionally the most active producers internationally.’

Currently, the EDN receives support from the Danish Film Institute. Its activities are also supported by media and a host of other national funding mechanisms. Most of the group’s revenues come from annual fees [an individual membership costs €110 (US$133)], advertising sold in the EDN TV-Guide (a reference guide about European doc broadcasters), and fees for its various events and workshops.

The main goal of the EDN is to provide information on financing, development, coproduction and collaboration opportunities. In addition to distributing information via dox and the TV-Guide, the group organizes a host of workshops, seminars and conferences. As an example, a September event in Lithuania – the Baltic Sea Forum – will see producers from Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and the surrounding border countries participate in a workshop run by producers and filmmakers from Western Europe. Participating producers will receive advice on developing their projects and will have the opportunity to pitch for a panel of commissioning editors and consultants.

Alongside these regional initiatives, the EDN also organizes the annual Forum for International Co-financing of Documentaries in Amsterdam, the high-profile and well-attended pitching event held during the International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam (idfa).

Having a skilled diplomat at the helm of the EDN is crucial for the organization to succeed in its loftier tasks. Beyond playing the role of advisor and matchmaker, the edn sees itself as a group that lobbies for the interest of its membership. ‘We have traditionally been a nice policeman in terms of the rules and guidelines for the media program,’ says Steen Müller. ‘We have always been asked, officially or unofficially, about the guidelines and how they can be made as effective as possible.’

The organization also keeps abreast of broadcast changes and advises its members accordingly. ‘Currently there are strong issues around the dismantling of nps in Holland, for example, which is completely crazy and a political choice,’ says Steen Müller. ‘We can try and help our Dutch colleagues to protest.’

With the departure of Steen Müller, Bertels says the board was provided with an opportunity to re-examine the organization and set new priorities for the incoming director. In addition to a desire for the group to have a higher profile internationally, Bertels says Pasanen will be in charge of investigating new methods of funding.

‘Our activities receive a lot of support from MEDIA, for which we are very grateful,’ says Bertels. ‘But recent ‘no’ votes in France and the Netherlands on the EU constitution have made us think very hard about how we are dependent on EU funding. We realize we may be vulnerable if there are changes to the media program.’

Pasanen has no plans for any dramatic changes, preferring to focus initially on continuing the work already underway. ‘The EDN has found its niche,’ she says. ‘The work that it does is very important and its goals are clear. My goal is to make the organization stronger.’ She wants to see the EDN continue to build its profile outside of Europe, specifically citing a workshop held in Calcutta last year. ‘There are so many proposals out there and so many filmmakers who want to get their films made and broadcast. The edn is essential is terms of working with these filmmakers and supporting them.’

Pasanen begins her position in November, and Steen Müller will leave the organization by the end of the year. The primary reason behind his departure is his desire to spend less time on the road. In addition to teaching at the ZeLIG film school in Bolzano, Italy, he plans to freelance as a consultant and continue working with a number of international festivals.

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