Formed earlier this year, DAE developed a system of virtual hangouts of its own, where European documentary professionals met once a week.
"When the pandemic hit and we had to go into lockdown, Brigid came up with the idea of weekly hangouts on Friday afternoon," says Schmidt.
"We started in March and continued through to November with a little break in between. We had up to 50 people joining us every week and we organized them in different groups with different topics. It was very interesting how people volunteer to take on specific topics. For instance we had a topic on online distribution, and another on pitching forums, and one session for filmmakers to get connected and talk about their projects."
The DAE hangouts exploded during Cannes and definitely put the network on the map.
"We ran four hangouts during Cannes where we'd just basically open the room for 90 minutes with two of us moderating, and everyone who wanted could come in and introduce themselves and get connected. It was a huge success. We could not even receive everyone who wanted to join," Schmidt recalls.
"There was this need of seeing each other and being connected, in particular with those who have been in a very strict lockdown. This is something that we are now continuing at IDFA. Everyone's invited to join, and it's about creating a space of knowing who is taking part in this edition of IDFA, who does what and why they are here," O'Shea explains.
There are three DAE Hangouts during IDFA. The sessions on November 23 (from 12:00 to 13:00) and 24 (from 18:00 to 19:00) are designed as rather informal, where people can come to introduce themselves and get to know each other.
"We are still so curious and interested to hear from people what is happening in the world and how filmmakers feel and what is missing from their lives, so we also hope that when people come to our sessions they have information to share with us, to tell us what potential members would like to have from an organization like DAE. They should never expect that we're going to tell them what they should have. It's never going to work that way," O'Shea promises.
The November 25 session (from 12.00 to 13.00), on the other hand, will be more about DAE itself, as a way for current and future members to learn what the association has been doing in 2020 and where it is planning to go in the future.
"We put together a list of all the places where we appeared this year and it's six pages long," says O'Shea. "It's been really motivating to see that festivals, training initiatives, national film bodies and other organizations and events are really interested in creating this strong network. It's been really a pleasure for us to be there and try to hold the pieces together in this very fragile year. Next year we want to get down to business and start fundraising, so that people doing the work can be paid and to increase the output of what we are doing."
At IDFA, DAE is also present through various events that its members are participating in—sometimes even initiating them.
"At IDFA we're also doing a Forum session on youth documentaries, which is organized by a DAE member, Maarten Schmidt. It's been really interesting this year to follow this idea that we can have this decentralized structure where not everything is coming from a singular director of the association, but rather that members who are engaged about topics or who have a field of expertise can apply that within the umbrella of the network to have bigger impact and to start having broader conversations," says O'Shea.
Flexibility and adaptability
The main reason for the decentralized structure, with members coming in with their ideas that stem from their specific expertise and interests, is that "We can get more stuff done, we can be really diversified and pushing all kinds of different corners and hopefully thus creating more opportunities for everybody involved," as Schmidt puts it.
O'Shea expands: "The industry has changed so much and is constantly in such fluctuation that the idea of singular expertise is just so outdated and inefficient. What we need is flexibility and adaptability, and that requires a lot of different people who can do different things. You can have different things happening in parallel at the same time."
DAE's priorities in 2021 include working on relaunching the Events Calendar and Financing Guide that have been a key tool for professionals, but which have disappeared along with the dissolution of EDN.
"We need one resource where people can go and find out submission dates for festivals, markets, and film funds. That's really our first priority that we hope will be finished in the first quarter of 2021," says O'Shea. "And we are really invested in trying to modernize and relaunch the Financing Guide. It will be a longer project and will take all of next year, and we hope that it will be ready for the next edition of IDFA."
"It is also very important for us to bring together the knowledge and expertise of national film bodies across Europe, and ensure that we harvest the knowledge without stepping on each others' toes," Schmidt adds. "For this we are running a two-day symposium on December 16 and 17. It is an assembly of all European documentary guilds and associations that already exist nationally, but also we welcome more informal initiatives and events."
DAE will hold its official general assembly during the Berlinale, with elections for the board and advisory board.