Britdoc turns to music and comedy

Hopes are high among Britdoc organizers that this year's festival will return to its regular climate after enduring a heat wave in the first edition and flooding during the second.
June 1, 2008

Hopes are high among Britdoc organizers that this year’s festival will return to its regular climate after enduring a heat wave in the first edition and flooding during the second.

The festival’s theme, comedy and music, should keep delegates entertained, regardless of the weather conditions. Laughs should ensue when key speaker Larry Charles gives a sneak peek of his new doc, Religulous. Britdoc’s festival director, Beadie Finzi, is anticipating Charles’ talk, which will explore the reasoning behind the comedy genius’ foray into documentary. On the music side, Keble College at Oxford will be abuzz with the 50 musicians and composers who hope to collaborate with filmmakers.

Britdoc is an event from the not-for-profit independent Channel 4 British Documentary Film Foundation. The foundation keeps busy year-round by lobbying for new pots of money, but come July 23 to 25, the focus shifts to bringing international projects and people together at Britdoc.

‘The idea was to create a place that is a kind of Mecca for easy, effortless networking and socializing. Hopefully in the three days you’re led through a very deliberate course of events and ideas,’ says Finzi.

Britdoc will have stand-up comedians and live performances at night to juxtapose the more serious panels during the day, including one that will explore soundtracks. ‘Often it’s a woefully neglected asset of documentary, largely for fiscal reasons. You get to the end of the budget and there’s nothing left for music,’ says Finzi. ‘You end up using some shlocky library music and that’s not good enough. We should be enabling filmmakers to be confident about communicating with composers, and forging new creative relationships with music elements.’

The comedy theme will also play into discussions on filmmaking, such as what’s appropriate, and if it helps to tackle important or painful subjects with a lighter hand. ‘You can take a big issue like food or religious rights and use comedy to help break down the more current affairs style that is associated with those kinds of subjects. I think whatever your film, you probably question yourself many times while shooting. ‘Am I crossing the line with the way I’m capturing this character? Will people be laughing at them or with them?’ I think all filmmakers wrestle with that with every film they make,’ says Finzi.

Also of interest is a panel chaired by newscaster Jon Snow on conducting a great interview with techniques from psychoanalysts, a military interrogator and a lawyer.

To complement the already established ‘Big Pitch’ session, a pitching forum with international broadcasters, Britdoc is launching the ‘Good Pitch,’ a venue for social action filmmakers to meet with ngos and foundations to gain both funding and support.

While Finzi says the festival has aims of giving delegates the best experience possible, festival chief executive Jess Search adds there is also a greater purpose for Britdoc. ‘Through the festival we can gather the entire British documentary sector together and really put our heads together about the future of documentary. It’s not obvious how the market will continue to support that stuff, so we need to pull together to create those new ways of funding to distribute those films,’ says Search.

Funding is an important aspect to the Channel 4 foundation’s mission. ‘Channel 4 is our title sponsor. Basically they give us a million pounds a year in funding and then we are able to give out grants to filmmakers on their behalf and pursue a whole load of other activities which are all aimed at growing a vibrant and ambitious documentary sector,’ says Search.

The grants given out are an opportunity for British-born or -based filmmakers to gain funding at any stage of development. Having funded 40-some documentaries since its inception, the foundation has mostly supported shorts or features, with the occasional television-length one-offs. A requirement, however, is that projects approach broadcasters first, since the foundation does not want to be competing with television.

‘We have a saying that we love the ideas that TV leaves behind,’ says Search. ‘The starting point for us is when people have tried to get their project going in a more mainstream way and they’re completely committed by any means necessary.’

So far the team has been happy with the success of the films they’ve supported. ‘Black Gold was the first feature documentary out the door, so to speak, and obviously its success kind of speaks for itself,’ says Search. ‘The first short that we finished, Talk to Me, won the Grierson Award and more recently we had We Are Together. It’s opening theatrically in the US in June. HBO came onboard with it and it basically has won more awards than you can shake a stick at.’

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.