In the first installment of a three-part series, realscreen presents its annual report of the IDFA Forum’s Central Pitches (pictured), which this year sees 17 projects pitched over two days in Amsterdam, Holland.
International commissioning editors took their places around the table at Amsterdam’s Compagnietheater on Monday (November 24) to kick off the three-day IDFA Forum, which has become one of the most prestigious components of the annual Dutch festival.
The event sees teams of producers, directors and their broadcaster backers present seven-minute pitches for their projects in the hopes of securing the coproduction financing necessary to realize their visions. Within the industry, it’s become something of a norm to see this work turn up – and garner acclaim – at key festivals down the line.
Among the Forum’s recent success stories are Liz Garbus’s Bobby Fischer Against the World, Lixin Fan’s Last Train Home and Lucy Walker’s The Crash Reel, while former Forum projects that have made their way to this year’s feature-length doc competition include Camilla Nielsson’s Democrats, Hanna Polak’s Something Better to Come and Laurent Bécue-Renard’s Of Men and War.
Trumpeting the continued success of the IDFA Forum on Monday (November 24) was event head Adriek van Nieuwenhuyzen, who told the gathered commissioners and audience of observers – a selected group of individuals looking for insight into the doc market – that, between 2008 and 2012, 80% of Forum projects were ultimately completed.
Realscreen is covering all three days of the IDFA Forum and here presents the first part of its coverage of the event’s Central Pitches. Please note that coverage of two pitches have been withheld due to concerns by producers over the sensitive nature of the projects, which are still in development.
THE TRIAL OF RATKO MLADIC
Director: Henry Singer
IDFA logline: The man accused of the worst atrocity in Europe since WWII; the biggest trial since Nuremberg; a prosecution and defense fighting for justice and a region still bitterly divided.
Forum organizers and producers have placed a publication ban on all other details pertaining to this project due to the sensitive nature of its content.
Director: Ido Haar
Production budget: €434,750 (US$541,000; some funding already in place from The New Fund for Cinema & TV)
Still needed: €304,200
Status: in production
IDFA logline: “They are all extremely talented but overlooked. Now they discover they are part of the next musical web project Through You Too by Kutiman.”
Though Ido Haar’s introduction to a project on his friend Ophir Kutiel – a musician known as Kutiman (pictured, left) who lives and works on an Israeli kibbutz – was initially confusing, a well-cut trailer illuminated the scope of a doc that is difficult to understand without visuals, but which resonated with most commissioners.
Kutiman is known for his “audiovisual symphonies,” which are composed entirely out of musical clips posted by others online. For example, the artist will take a YouTube video of someone playing the violin, another person on the drums and someone else singing – three individuals completely unknown to one another – and merge the sounds to create a new melody and song.
It was while working on one such project that the artist came across Samantha, an aspiring New Orleans singer who posts videos of her work online but has yet to make it big. Through the project, Kutiman forms a unique bond with the singer, who takes on a significant role in the musician’s project and personal life.
“For me, this film is about talent and persistence, which are not necessarily connected to success or recognition,” said Haar, seated alongside Guy Lavie of Israeli doc channel YesDocu, who commissioned the film. “Both Samantha and Kutiman are very lonely people that don’t really want… to play according to the rules of the world or the game, and still they find a very unique way to win their work and make people listen.”
POV executive director Simon Kilmurry was first to comment on the project, which he said he’s been tracking for some time and will now recommend to PBS.
“I think your bond with Samantha is incredibly intimate and powerful and that comes through clearly, and I think this relationship she has with Kutiman is a fascinating area to explore and there are a lot of digital activities we could develop around this film,” he said.
Meanwhile, Catherine Olsen - executive producer of documentaries for Canada’s CBC News – said she was ready to commit to Through You Princess, calling the film “a story about passion,” while TVO commissioning editor Jane Jankovic added: “It’s so easy for films about technology to be cynical and dark and horrible, and this film is really a celebration about how we connect and how technology is facilitating that connection.”
Others who were interested in further discussions included Al Jazeera America senior producer Cynthia Kane and DR TV docs head Mette Hoffmann Meyer, as well as ZDF/ARTE’s Martin Pieper who said the project had “huge potential.”
Those more wary of the project, however, included Ryan Harrington – director of doc programming for the Tribeca Film Institute – who said he was missing the love story and needed to know more about the film, and Sundance Documentary Film Program head Tabitha Jackson, who inquired about the rights to the works by artists featured in the project.
“It does raise a question about all the other artists,” said Jackson. “It’s their work, the integrity of their work, and he’s taking it.”
Director: Maite Alberdi
Production budget: €237,700 (some funding already in place from the Tribeca Film Institute, Sundance Institute, Fondo audiovisual and CNTV)
Still needed: €48,000
Status: in production
IDFA logline: “A group of friends with Down syndrome have attended the same school for 40 years. They’re aging and they have not been allowed to live adulthood on their own.”
The latest project (pictured, right) from Tea Time director Maite Alberdi once again tackles a group of friends who have grown old together, except in this film, the four friends have Down syndrome and are looking to lead independent lives away from their school of over 40 years. The vérité-style doc profiles each of the students and their respective situations, delving into desires to marry, have a family of their own, find work outside school and ultimately move out.
“I want to make a film that goes beyond the syndrome,” Alberdi told the Forum audience. “My artistic talent is to make you forget that the characters have Down, and explore with them the frustration of aging without having lived.”
Producer Clara Taricco said that 60% of the film had been shot and that the team is looking for broadcasters and a European copro partner in order to finish post-production in Europe. A comprehensive outreach and engagement campaign is also in the works.
Tribeca’s Ryan Harrington said that the organization previously supported Tea Time and also gave some development funding to this film, which he called one of the “most honest, touching, patient, relatable and humorous” explorations of adults living with Down syndrome.
The BBC’s Nick Fraser quickly opened comments on the film, saying: “It was a beautiful clip and I hope I can get the BBC to show it because we do very well with films like this. And it’s moving and poignant and empathetic, and thank you.”
Claire Aguilar, executive content advisor for ITVS, added: “I’m just so moved… I have a tear in my eye because you’re able to capture these incredible moments with these characters and you just forget about their disabilities and move on to their humanness.”
Meanwhile, Kilmurry of POV – which will broadcast Tea Time next year – also pointed out the film’s humanistic approach to its characters: “There are enormous issues within this film but they’re not foregrounded which I really appreciate. It’s just a human story and those issues will be illuminated through their experience.”
Along with Kilmurry, who said he wanted to pursue further talks, Swedish commissioning editors also showed considerable interest in the project, with SVT’s Ingemar Persson and Swedish Educational Broadcasting’s Daniel Pynnönen both agreeing that The Grown-Ups had huge potential in Sweden.
“There’s been a lot of discussion in Sweden lately that these people are living longer and longer,” said Pynnönen. “I’d love to talk more about this.”
Soon after, DR TV’s Hoffmann Meyer said the film would pair well with another of her projects on an individual with developmental disabilities and that the broadcaster would support it.
Finally, rounding out the comments was Sundance’s Jackson, who pointed out that “the risk of being inadvertently condescending to your subjects is huge on subjects like this so what you need to rely on is the eye and the heart of the director, and you can see from the visual material, Maite’s eye is extraordinary.”
OUT OF MIND
Forum organizers and producers have placed a publication ban on details pertaining to this project due to the sensitive nature of its content.
MRS. B, A NORTH KOREAN WOMAN
Director: Jero Yun
Production budget: €224,800 (some funding already in place by CNC/French Institute World Cinema Support Fund, CNC, BCPF, Jeonju Film Festival Audience Award)
Still needed: €75,000
Status: in production
IDFA logline: “North Korean Mrs. B is a smuggler in China. She goes to South Korea to be reunited with her sons. She is suspected of being a spy by Intelligence Service.”
South Korean director Jero Yun began his pitch with a moving description of his relationship with the film’s subject, known only as Mrs. B, whom he met as a student and became like a mother to him. The director – who said he is part of a generation that “doesn’t care” about the divisions between the country’s north and south – pursued a documentary in order to learn more about her life.
What he discovers is a woman who left her North Korean village for China 10 years ago intending to return, but ended up sold by traffickers to a Chinese peasant. Years later, she attempts to reunite with her sons in South Korea, but is suspected of being a spy and is detained.
The trailer – though shot beautifully – did little to elucidate the intricate storyline and served to befuddle many commissioners. “I’m sorry to say but it’s a bit confusing even for me, and I’m Japanese,” said NHK’s Akira Yoshizawa.
Katja Wildermuth of Germany’s ARD/MDR also confessed she didn’t understand all the details, but added she’d like to speak further in order to see if Mrs. B would be a good combination with another North Korean project in the works with Russian documentarian Vitaly Mansky.
Elsewhere, the BBC’s Fraser intoned, “well you’ve confused Japan and you’ve confused Germany and you’ve also confused the UK. I think this is a good story; I just don’t see where it goes at the moment.”
The CBC’s Olsen, however, said she believed Yun had a good character on his hands and was willing to see past the trailer. “I share some of the confusion watching the trailer but I also feel there’s a really strong character I want to know more intimately… there’s the guts of a really good film. You just need to tell us a little bit more about who she is and what’s going on, and it could have the potential to be very powerful.”
Also showing interest was ARTE France’s Mark Edwards who said the broadcaster is very interested in “the questions around reconciliation and people crossing the border,” and wanted to see more.
In addition, Yun found a staunch defender in Sundance’s Jackson, who said the material spoke to her. “There’s a sensibility that I liked and I’d like to know more about this story and the bigger story you’re trying to tell. And also, you know, sometimes great pitches don’t make great films, and vice versa.”
Director: Patrick Farrelly
Production budget: €398,300 (The Guardian)
Still needed: €288,300
Status: in production
IDFA logline: “As a baby, Jaha was genitally mutilated. At 15 she was taken to New York to be forcibly married. Now she’s coming back to Africa to confront her society.”
As previously reported, Guardian Docs – the documentary division of UK media outlet The Guardian - revealed a commission for a feature-length documentary (pictured, left) addressing female genital mutilation (FGM). The publication’s multimedia investigations editor Maggie O’Kane and the doc’s director Patrick Farrelly were on hand at the Forum to present the project for the first time, and were received positively by commissioners.
The film – which marks a stronger push into feature-length and short-form documentaries for the outlet – follows activist and FGM survivor Jaha Dukureh, who was subjected to the cultural practice as a baby and underwent a painful surgical process to reverse the procedure when she got married at 15. Now, she is raising awareness about the issue in the U.S. – which is home to a number of immigrants from her native Gambia – as well as in the African country, where she is hoping to end the practice.
“The Guardian is known for [Rupert] Murdoch, for [Edward] Snowden, but we actually think that this FGM story is as hugely important internationally for our platform,” O’Kane told audiences. “We want to make it an issue for the generation. And so we want to back-up any documentary with social media and make sure it gets out there.”
DR TV’s Hoffmann Meyer raised concerns about a man directing a doc about the sensitive issue, but added her support to the project, while SVT’s Ingemar Persson also showed interest in the film.
Meanwhile, Cara Mertes – director of the Ford Foundation’s JustFilms initiative – pointed out that the organization had a unit that specialized in films about sexual and reproductive health, and that she wanted to talk further with the team.
Director: Åsa Ekman
Production budget: €380,000 (some funding already in place from Filminvest Midtnorge ASFilminvest Mid Norway, Culture Foundation // Erica Foundation, Ersta Deaconess Association)
Still needed: €183,500
Status: in production
IDFA logline: “Isbaell’s mother was battered by her boyfriend. Isabell confronts her past, and realizes she must say things to her mother about a neglected childhood she has never said before.”
Ekman’s doc (pictured, right) is the second part of a domestic abuse diptych that began with this year’s in-competition documentary My Life My Lesson.
In this project, the director focuses on the tenuous relationship between 18-year-old Isabell and her mother Ingela. After her father died and her mother got a new boyfriend, Isabell endured years of witnessing domestic abuse. The film is about her attempts to reconcile the present with her past, forgive her mother and move forward.
A deeply personal story, Say Something - which is still shooting and eyeing a late 2015 release – appealed to a number of commissioners who focused on the doc’s potential outreach campaigns around domestic violence.
Linn Aronsen of Norway’s VGTV – a television channel launched by media outlet VG in November – was participating in the Forum for the first time and took an immediate interest in the film.
“This project has the potential to reach a young audience, and we really aim to reach the under-40 segment,” she said. “It’s also a really important issue, but told through a personal story.”
Meanwhile, Rebecca Lichtenfield of funding body Bertha UK also showed interest. “I think it’s a really powerful trailer and it would really be able to get across many countries and many people.”
The CBC’s Olsen was also complimentary of the project, saying, “I have to really commend you on the intimacy you have with this mother and daughter. I’m still emotionally responding to the trailer. I had a similar love/hate relationship with my mother and I can only say it’s a really huge issue, this impact of being a witness to domestic violence.”
Olsen said that though language might be a problem as the documentary is subtitled, she believed the project should be taken seriously and supported.
ITVS’s Catherine Aguilar noted, however, that she would need to see Ekman’s first film before committing to Say Something.
“I think you have something here although I couldn’t quite connect to the story so I would like to see your past film and how you translate that raw emotion into the story.”
Finally, DR TV’s Hoffmann Meyer said she “couldn’t really see a beginning, middle and an end” but as soon as the storyline is clarified, there could be a place for the documentary at the broadcaster.
Director: Andreas Johnsen
Production budget: €280,500 (some financing in place from VPRO, SVT, Danish Film Institute and Autlook Filmsales)
Still needed: €214,000
IDFA logline: “Ben and Josh, two chefs from René Redzepi’s experimental Nordic Food Lab, go on a journey to six continents of the world, to investigate the eats and tastes of insects.”
Rounding out the first day of Central Pitches was Ai Weiwei: The Fake Case director Andreas Johnsen, whose lively pitch for his culinary themed-documentary Bugs (pictured, left) effectively put the kibosh on everyone’s appetites ahead of lunch.
The doc follows Ben Reade and Josh Evans, two young graduates of NOMA’s Nordic Food Lab,which is run by the formidable chef René Redzepi (who also happens to be the subject of another Central Pitch project). Bugs is their journey to various parts of the world in search of insects that are suitable to eat by humans. The thrust of the film is that a food shortage in the future may require an alternative food source, so why not consider protein-packed insects?
Kai Henkel of Germany’s ARD/MDR said: “I just wanted to know whether there is one picture in this film where I would think, ‘Yes I would like to eat that.’ Because at the moment we have this eating TV – it’s been eating everywhere and on every program – but it’s because people like eating and I was thinking I’d be a vegetarian after I saw this.”
In response to Henkel, Johnsen assured: “Ben and Josh are great chefs and they cook to make things delicious. And if it’s not delicious they won’t eat it.”
Sabine Bubeck-Paaz of Germany’s ZDF/ARTE echoed Henkel’s sentiment. “I had the same reaction because I had more of a tendency to become vegan instead of go in this direction,” she said, adding that it was important the filmmaker focused on the bigger story of a food shortage and the real role of the insects.
“That will be very, very important. Otherwise, it’s just a joke,” she said.
Elsewhere, the BBC’s Fraser was quick to commend Bugs, joking that “it’s a terrific project and you should definitely eat insects: they taste great. We’ll put it on BBC4 and we’ll probably call it Eat Your Bugs.”
NRK’s Tore Tomter, however, was less sure. “There’s something here with the film that I’m not quite confident. I like the subject, I like the characters, I’m really seduced by the trailer, but… How will this communicate with an audience? I just want to see something that’s more representative of the actual film.”
Ultimately, it was CNN Films’ Vinnie Malhotra who was most assured about the project.
“We have a series in the U.S. with the travel and food essayist Anthony Bourdain and one of the episodes was in Copenhagen and he focused on the Nordic Food Lab and there was a really great engagement in the U.S. and I really admire taking the film and addressing some of the more broad issues on sustainability,” said Malhotra.
“I think there’s clearly some great shock value with the idea of eating your bugs and I think that’s a great hook in bringing people into this larger discussion.”
- Stay tuned for part two of this report, publishing soon