Funders filled with noble intentions and filmmakers eager to pitch socially responsible projects gathered on Thursday at the first North American Good Pitch session at Hot Docs’ Toronto Documentary Forum.
A joint project of the Channel 4 BRITDOC Foundation and the Sundance Institute, the undeniably grand idea is to fund the development of feature docs that can ‘help to change the world.’
Such rhetoric would have seemed risible if the players involved weren’t highly regarded industry pros. Jess Search, the chief executive of BRITDOC funded three films playing at this year’s Hot Docs including the Sundance double award-winner Afghan Star and the Berlin Audience recipient The Yes Men Change the World. The films she wants to fund, she told the audience, ‘will be transformative, not advocacy pieces.’
Joining Search was Cara Mertes, director of the Sundance Institute and the former executive producer of PBS’ POV.
The duo assembled a wide range of human rights groups and foundations never previously seen at TDF including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the NAACP, the McArthur Foundation, the Fledgling Fund and the American Civil Liberties Union. Neither broadcasters nor distributors, these formed a ‘third sector’ of funders and outreach organizations that could enable a ‘transformative’ doc to be made.
Pitching filmmakers were restricted to seven minutes, the response could go on for 13 – or, it soon turned out, more. Most significantly, the slightly smaller table of funders had been picked because of their belief in the projects.
This approach, while practical, drained the session of any sense of drama. The TDF and other pitch forums have been criticized for their ‘gladiators versus the ruling elite’ approach but there’s no denying that the format is inherently dynamic. An observer can watch a project be financed or go down in flames, all in 15 minutes. With the Good Pitch, you know that everyone around the table is there to help.
Once the audience grasped the format, the room quietly began to trickle down from nearly full capacity to half of that. Analysis was kept to a minimum with most conversations centering on how to actualize the projects. The human rights organizations were encouraged to explain their mandates and histories, which slowed down proceedings considerably.
The five projects pitched were all high quality, with Angelina Jolie’s Resilient having the most glamorous profile. Directors Sean and Andrea Fine (War/Dance) are attached to the project, which features Marianne Pearl – wife of slain journalist Daniel Pearl and the subject of the Jolie-starrer A Mighty Heart. The doc recounts true stories of women who have refused to give up their dignity and spirit even in times of high stress and trauma.
Other projects included Burma Soldier about a crippled ex-fighter who is now a peace advocate; Our School, which exposes segregation and prejudice against Roma in middle Europe; The Promise of Freedom, which deals with the terrorizing situation of Iraqis who supported Americans in their country; and The Untitled Immigration Project, tough CSI-style forensic detective tales of the victims who died in the American southwest desert after illegally entering the United States.