Industrial Evolution

    IDFA Industry chief Adriek van Nieuwenhuijzen charts the steady growth of the festival’s professional events.

    Many of the 3,000 guests touching down in Amsterdam for IDFA’s 30th anniversary edition this year will be drawn as much by its industry events as by the festival line-up. But this was not always the case, recalls the festival’s long-time industry chief Adriek van Nieuwenhuijzen, who was part of the founding team in 1988.

    “We had no idea what IDFA would become,” she recalls. “We had big ambitions, and these were focused on improving the climate for documentary and getting more documentaries onto the big screen. At that time, you could only really watch them on TV. They had disappeared from cinemas in the Netherlands. In those early years, the main challenge was getting the films and their makers to Amsterdam and connecting them with audiences.”

    “From the early days, we ran a few workshops, but these were very Dutch-focused in terms of the participants, although we were already reaching out internationally to connect the Dutch to acclaimed filmmakers such as Ken Loach, who attended one year as a tutor. The idea of setting up something like the Forum never crossed our minds … that came later when the festival’s international standing began to grow,” she adds, referring to IDFA’s benchmark co-financing market.

    The launch of the Forum in 1993 – in association with pan-European body Documentary (the predecessor of EDN) – was a watershed moment. Docs for Sale (DfS) was created three years later, followed by the IDFAcademy (aimed at emerging filmmakers) and the IDFA Bertha Fund, set up to support productions out of the developing world. Along the way, a raft of networking events and talks and seminars has also grown-up.

    Amid the expansion, the Industry Office has remained true to IDFA’s founding ethos of improving the climate for documentary and supporting filmmakers. “Helping filmmakers and producers to tell their stories has always been central to what we do,” says Van Nieuwenhuijzen. “For us, it’s also key that there is diversity in terms of where the stories come from. Through programmes like the IDFA Bertha Fund, we support local industries in the Global South and help filmmakers tell their stories and reach out to audiences.”

    “We love presenting those bigger films, which are easily accessible to the audience; but we’re also looking for directors outside the mainstream as well as the experimental, the young filmmakers, and asking ourselves how we can help them grow. We want to work with a broad spectrum. We’re super proud when a big deal is done at either Docs for Sale or the Forum, but we are also very proud if a young filmmaker meets a great mentor at the IDFAcademy.”

    Over the years, Van Nieuwenhuijzen and her team have fine-tuned the industry talks to encompass the varying degrees of professional experience at the festival. “We started running more intimate industry sessions, in which professionals share their knowledge, after we realised there were a lot of people attending IDFA with films who are not really aware of the latest developments in the industry. There was a gap between the IDFAcademy and events like the Forum. They’re extremely popular.”

    Topics on the table this year include how to source and clear rights to archive material; a panorama on the US market by sales veteran Diana Holtzberg; virtual reality in non-fiction story-telling; and an update on the digital rights market by VOD guru Wendy Bernfeld.

    There will also be two sessions on short docs linked to the re-introduction of the IDFA Competition for Short Documentary. Salma Abdalla, CEO of Vienna-based sales company Autlook Film, will look at the market for short films while Tom Oyer, membership and awards manager at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, will explain the process for submitting a work for consideration in the short documentary category. "The re-introduction of the shorts competition means IDFA is set to become a qualifying festival for the Oscars in the shorts category," Van Nieuwenhuijzen notes.

    Speakers at the broader industry talks, taking place in Flemish Arts Centre De Brakke Grond, include Emmy Award-winning editor Joe Bini, DOP Lars Skree and documentary producer John Battsek.

    There will also be a Bertha Foundation-organised talk on creative resistance revolving around the documentary Strike A Rock, about a group of women who stood up for miners’ rights, as well as one on building bridges between the Arab documentary scene and the rest of the world, as part of the Shifting Perspectives sidebar on Arab documentary.

    Looking to the future, Van Nieuwenhuijzen has clear ideas on how IDFA can stay relevant for another 30 years in the fast-changing documentary industry. “The key is to focus on the talent of the filmmakers, to nurture that talent and help it to blossom … It all starts with filmmakers with good stories. There will always be a need for good stories. Our role is to connect these filmmakers and their ideas with each other, and with the decision-makers.”