DOK Leipzig investigates DIY alternatives for doc-makers

The industry component of last week's DOK Leipzig conference promoted documentary DIY strategies to an eager European market.
October 25, 2010

If one theme came out on top during seven days of industry programming at the 53rd International Leipzig Festival for Documentary and Animation (Oct 18 – 24), it was that of creative distribution. Alongside an extensive film program that included competitions and special programs, DOK Leipzig, under the banner ‘The Art of Documentary,’ presented an inspiring industry component that embraced marketing, distribution, cross media discussions and coproduction meetings, aimed towards hashing out DIY alternatives for European documentary filmmakers amidst an ever-evolving market.

Festival organizers across the board agreed that DOK Industry upped its ante this year by presenting more panels that took the form of DOK Summits and DOK Podiums, where international experts discussed current trends, such VoD and crowdfunding, on insightful panels that provoked controversy.

The objective, says DOK Market Coordinator Susanne Guggenberger, is to encourage European doc-makers to think about their distribution strategies and alternative forms of financing and marketing.

‘We brought in Americans this year with a different point of view and an awareness of their audience,’ she says. Online platforms, for example, are still approached with hesitancy in Germany, partly due to precarious funding through MEDIA, the support program for the European audiovisual industry. ‘The Americans know that online platforms are more about marketing than money. It’s a tool to find your audience, which is the most important part. And when you find your audience you can make revenues.’

Thursday’s DOK Podium explored the anarchist undertones of DIY Crowdfunding with Jamie King (Steal This Film series, CEO,, Matthias Lavaux (publishing manager, Touscoprod) and moderator Peter Wintonick (Necessary Illusions). The spirited panelists shared their experiences to knowledge-thirsty indie filmmakers about ‘financing content creations in a post-capitalistic world.’ Essentially, crowdfunding operates on reciprocity, where filmmakers ask for donations from viewers with the promise of payback through small rewards. It’s a tactic that also works towards film promotion. ‘You create a sponsor of a film by getting someone else to download it,’ says King.

DOK Summit, ‘My Market, My Film – Distribution and Marketing Today’, explored opportunities for filmmakers to take charge of their business strategies and not be fearful of less conventional methods. Panelist Hans Spielthenner (CEO, ohm:tv) feels that these days, exclusivity doesn’t work. Similarly, Scilla Andreen (CEO, and panelist of the DOK Podium, ‘Diving into Distribution’, emphasized the notion of ‘sharing instead of owning.’ Of course, opinions did differ. Simon Kilmurry (P.O.V. executive director, PBS) warned of the myths about DIY that lead filmmakers to spend more time on marketing their films themselves than actually producing content.

During the two days of DOK Leipzig’s coproduction meetings, 38 documentary projects were invited for one-on-one development meetings with producers and commissioning editors, along with a selection of panels that provided possibilities in coproductions and financing.

One of the most important aims of the coproduction meetings, says head of the fest’s industry department, Christine Hille, is to assure filmmakers that money is still available from national funds, which makes projects more attractive to broadcasters. Nevertheless, even without secured funding, Hille says, ‘you will still find a network within Leipzig to promote your film.’

‘It’s good that we can make films with a certain amount of freedom,’ adds Guggenberger. ‘But on the other hand, television budgets are being cut and commissioning editors are handcuffed. So what we can do as a festival is give inspiration.’

But there’s also encouragement to be proactive. ‘ Stop waiting to get a fund, stop waiting for someone to watch your film, to buy your film,’ continues Guttenberger. ‘When [your project] doesn’t work with television stations, think about what else you can do.’

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