As a crucial part of IDFA’s year-round activities, a new umbrella department has been created to support filmmakers. Overseen by new deputy director of IDFA Isabel Arrate Fernandez, the Filmmaker Support Department brings together the IDFA Bertha Fund and IDFA’s talent development department, allowing the launch of various filmmaker support schemes in 2020 and in the future. Placing the filmmaker front and center of the department, Arrate Fernandez explains: “The Filmmaker Support Department aspires to safeguard a space for the creative process of documentary filmmaking.”
Documentary has been gaining momentum recently. We have seen documentary films being screened at other film festivals, featured on streaming platforms; in short, documentary film is being taken more seriously. While IDFA has developed into an important marketplace, a yearly event not to be missed for the international industry, it is proving just as important to endorse and empower filmmakers from all over the world and support them in their creative work. The Filmmaker Support Department aims to create a space where filmmakers can develop their projects according to their creative vision, and not only according to the demands of the market, and by doing so, create room for different documentary narratives and styles.
The department began with us uniting two long-standing departments within IDFA that share common ground—the talent development department and the IDFA Bertha Fund. The IDFA Bertha Fund focuses on grants and tailor-made support to filmmakers, and follows the grantees throughout the entire process of developing or producing their film; we are a door filmmakers can always knock on. The talent development department within IDFA offers a range of activities focusing on talent development and project development to a selection of participants during a specific time period. By bringing these two departments together and creating a new umbrella department, the Filmmaker Support Department allows us to explore how we can offer more intensive and on-going tailor-made support.
This goal relates to a question that tends to be forgotten: How do you define the success of a documentary film? Do we base success on market values, such as profits and audience numbers? Or can we also determine success based on the level of risk-taking, the exploration of film language, the playing with genre? The creative ambitions and their achievements—that is also a form of success. Creating the Filmmaker Support Department is about wanting to safeguard a space for the creative process of documentary filmmaking, and acknowledging that this is just as important as providing a platform for business and market mechanisms that shape the industry.
The first focus of the Filmmaker Support Department is what we call “talent”, or new filmmakers, who are working on first or second films. The IDFA Bertha Fund has always been working with filmmakers from the least represented regions—in Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe—because that’s our mandate. It is in the DNA of the department to find our target group within underrepresented voices. When you talk about safeguarding this space for artistic expression, this itself implies that underrepresented voices are those most needed—to offer new perspectives and to challenge the mainstream.
Beyond funding for filmmakers, our talent development activities are open to applicants from all over the world. It goes without saying that IDFA’s gender commitment for IDFA 2021 applies to the whole organization, which includes our department. Gender parity has come naturally to the selection of films and filmmakers supported by the IDFA Bertha Fund in recent years, with a majority of female directors, and we intend to keep it that way.
At the end of the day, it is the filmmakers that keep the genre alive. Every couple of years, there is a film that pushes the boundaries and brings something new to the realm of documentary film. Ideally, what we would be able to create is the space where filmmakers can explore the potential of what documentary cinema can be—a space to explore form, experiment with film language, play with genre, to be ambitious, to take risks with regard to what you think audiences can handle. The creativity and risks of independent productions can then spillover into the realm of commercial films. Our ambition and vision for the department comes down to this idea: to create a place for experiment, to help filmmakers keep the genre of documentary cinema alive.