IDFA ’12: Making progress at the Forum

IDFA Forum head Adriek van Nieuwenhuyzen (pictured) discusses cuts, crowdfunding and the introduction of work-in-progress screenings for the 20th annual doc pitch-fest, which kicks off on Monday.
November 16, 2012

IDFA Forum head Adriek van Nieuwenhuyzen (pictured) talks to realscreen about cuts, crowdfunding and the introduction of work-in-progress screenings for the 20th annual pitch-fest, which kicks off in Amsterdam next week.

Monday (November 19) will mark something of a landmark for the IDFA Forum, Europe’s pre-eminent documentary pitching forum, as it registers its 20th edition.

The three-day event comes as the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA) itself celebrates its quarter-century anniversary, but arrives at a time when many European broadcasters and arts bodies have been hit by funding cuts.

Cuts in Holland have meant the festival has had to undertake significant belt-tightening for this year’s edition. Earlier this year, for example, IDFA introduced a €30 (US$38) entry fee for festival submissions, of which it last year received some 3,600. It has also had to secure new partners for its funding programs.

The shrinkage follows the Dutch government’s decision to cut the country’s €800 million culture budget by 25%. However, the IDFA Forum has remained relatively ring-fenced, thanks in part to a funding deal with EU body MEDIA.

“I’m maybe very lucky because we have a grant from MEDIA for the next three years,” says Adriek van Nieuwenhuyzen, who – as head of IDFA’s industry office – oversees the IDFA Forum, Docs For Sale and IDFAcademy events. “So I’m not too worried about [budget cuts] for us at the moment.”

That said, she reflects that the landscape for international coproductions is an increasingly difficult one, with many of the European commissioning editors that typically attend facing budget cuts and downsizing in their respective countries.

“It’s harder and harder, and what we’re facing in the Netherlands is another huge budget cut [to arts organizations] announced just two or three weeks ago. And the same is happening everywhere – they can’t produce or coproduce like they used to.”

While the Forum’s future remains secure, included in its MEDIA funding deal is a stipulation that around four fifths of the projects pitched at the Amsterdam event come from Europe, which has made selecting overseas projects – everything submitted from North America, South America and Asia – for the remaining 20% of pitching slots very tough.

“This year we had an amazing number of projects from overseas,” she says. “For them, competition is much tougher now, I must say.”

In the ever-tightening money-raising landscape, one area that has emerged in recent years as a replacement or complement to traditional financing has been crowdfunding.  IDFA has launched a partnership with IndieGogo; however, Van Nieuwenhuyzen warns that crowdfunding is no silver bullet for docs.

“To be very honest, for some documentaries it could work very well, but at the same time, because it has become so popular, I’m not sure it will sustain, or work for every type of documentary that needs to be made,” she offers. “I don’t see it as the solution for the crisis in public funding.”

She adds that crowdfunding has not proven very popular in Holland because Dutch people “have never had to do it, because they’ve had public broadcasters and public funds.” Americans, by contrast, “are a lot more creative about finding money” because they have always had to be, she says.

This year’s IDFA Forum consists of 20 public pitches (which realscreen will cover extensively next week) and a lucky dip ‘Cuban Hat’ pitch; 29 round-table pitches; and four projects tailored for individual meetings.

In addition, new for this year are five work-in-progress screenings. The project screenings will be open to festival attendees who don’t have Forum passes but have access to the Docs for Sale finished programming library.

“It’s something new – we thought that it would be good to give producers an opportunity to present projects that are almost done,” Van Nieuwenhuyzen explains. “It’s a new category and, aside from the film buyers and distributors attending the Forum, we also invite people who are attending on a Docs for Sale badge. It’s something which we’ve felt was lacking in our market.”

And of the more than 50 projects pitching overall, Van Nieuwenhuyzen selects two personal favorites for this year: The Shadow World, from Johan Grimonprez; and Like Wind, Yeji and I (aka Wind on the Moon) from Planet of Snail director and Doc Hot Shot honoree Seung-jun Yi.

The latter film, she says, echoes festival hit Planet of Snail, in that the South Korean director “shows his absolute talent to come so close to people and to observe them so well, and to bring them back to us,” while “you never get the feeling that you’re getting so close that it’s intrusive.”

  • Stay tuned to realscreen for coverage from the 20th IDFA Forum next week
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