Hot Docs ’14: Hoffmann Meyer on distribution, ‘World Docs’

Hot Docs' Doc Mogul Award recipient Mette Hoffmann Meyer (pictured), of Denmark's DR TV, tells realscreen about her new global doc initiative 'World Docs,' her wariness of digital distribution platforms, and her lack of retirement plans.
April 29, 2014

Ahead of receiving the Hot Docs’ Doc Mogul Award today (April 29), Mette Hoffmann Meyer (pictured) of Danish broadcaster DR TV tells realscreen about her upcoming global doc initiative ‘World Docs,’ her increasing wariness of digital distribution platforms, and why she is far too busy to entertain retirement plans. 

Though she is receiving Hot Docs’ Doc Mogul Award for her vast contributions to the documentary industry, if you ask Mette Hoffmann Meyer, commissioning editor of documentaries for Danish broadcaster DR TV, about her work, she will modestly insist it is “very little, but very constant.”

Bestowed during a luncheon in Hoffmann Meyer’s honor at the Toronto festival later today, the award recognizes individuals making an impact in their native doc industries and abroad – criteria Hoffmann Meyer more than fulfills. Though Denmark is a small territory, it has a thriving platform for documentaries: DR TV broadcasts about 2,000 docs a year, and is coproducing around 30 foreign films at any given time.

But Hoffmann Meyer’s support of the medium extends well beyond Danish borders. The commissioning editor has supported films such as the Oscar-winning Taxi to the Dark Side (U.S.), The Gatekeepers (Israel) and Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer (UK, Russia). During this  interview, she expressed high hopes for Marshall Curry’s Point and Shoot (U.S.), a film she invested in that won best documentary at the Tribeca Film Festival last week and is also playing at Hot Docs.

What are your thoughts on receiving the Doc Mogul Award?

It comes as a big surprise because if you come from a little country like Denmark, I’m not going in with US$500,000 in one film, like in America. Or $200,000 to a film in China. So my contribution is very little, but it’s also very constant. When they explained it to me, I could see it’s because I’ve supported many new, young filmmakers, and am often the only one in the world supporting them.

What drives you to invest so heavily in docs?

I choose films based on whether I like the idea, if it’s something interesting, if it’s something new we haven’t heard before, or if it has special access. When people pitch to me, I know very quickly if it’s a story we could be interested in. And of course there’s an overall political environment you want to cover in the world. I am driven by curiosity.

Is there a particular criteria you follow when you’re choosing projects for investment?

I tend to invest more in films that try to describe difficult situations in society, and I like films that tell what’s really going on – the truth about people’s lives. And they can be big political stories, or they can be small stories. I like when you have a simple narrative, but you try to include a multi-layered story so you can understand the surroundings of the bigger story. You put it into perspective, whether it’s political or human, and you try to understand why people act the way they do.

What do you think about alternative methods of fundraising and digital distribution platforms?

I understand that in America and in many countries, it’s necessary and I think it’s a really good idea because it’s a very democratic process, and people can go and get money. In terms of distribution, I’m not really sure. If you go online, you see fantastic films, but very few see them. I use Netflix myself, but I don’t think many people in Denmark have seen films like The Square on Netflix.

I hope that a lot of people will watch these films but I think it would be miniscule and the impact would be tiny. Had DR TV shown The Square, for example, we’d probably have had 200,000 to 300,000 people watching, which would be 6% of the population or something. And that would have created debate and had an impact.

If it’s too fragmented, you cannot have any impact. You would have five people seeing it here and three people seeing it there. And people say, ‘Well it’s five million in the world who are then seeing the film.’ Yes, but it’s not the people you see at work the next day saying, ‘Oh did you see this? We really have to think about that and we have to talk to politicians and write articles about it.’ Because if there is nowhere that it can actually have an impact when you show the film, in a way you are nowhere.

I feel the danger of our future is that with all these new social media distribution methods, in the long-run it will endanger the debate in the small society.

What is the present climate for documentary makers in Denmark?

Denmark is a fairy-tale country in terms of making documentaries, and also showing documentaries. I call it a fairy-tale country because when I compare Denmark to, more or less, any other country in the world, our filmmakers are supported in extraordinary ways. We have a big public support for our documentaries, and we have also broadcasters who are supporting documentaries. So it’s a country that is really fortunate.

What do you have coming up? And are you thinking at all about retirement at all? 

I have a lot of energy and I can see that the films we make are really moving people to understand some things, so I don’t have any retirement plans just yet. I’m working on a huge project called ‘World Docs’ with [BBC 'Storyville' series editor] Nick Fraser. We have all these amazing documentaries but they’re not shown in big areas of the world and we’re trying to facilitate that through the organization.

We want to take 20 films a year, clear them globally, distribute them and version them into countries that don’t normally show docs. Already, I’ve had contact with Bhutan, Bangladesh, Mongolia, Tanzania, Kenya and most of South America, and for all these countries we’ll try and get funding so we can version the films into local languages and basically give the films to these countries.

And I have a bigger project in the future about housing. It’ll be like Why Poverty? where it takes three to four years to get up and running.

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