Maite Alberdi, Victor Kossakovsky and Brett Gaylor are among the directors presenting upcoming documentary projects at IDFA’s Forum, which kicks off on Monday.
The 25th edition of IDFA's benchmark co-financing event starts on Monday, showcasing 58 projects from 23 countries, spanning feature-length creative documentary projects to digital and virtual reality works. Looking back over its 25-year history, IDFA Industry chief Adriek van Nieuwenhuijzen highlights how much documentary financing has changed since the first edition in 1993.
"When the event was first launched, raising a budget across multiple territories was rare – today it’s the norm," she says. "That first edition was also the first time many of the commissioning editors from the different European state broadcasters present had ever met." Attendance has since widened to include US networks, funds and foundations such as The Ford Foundation, Impact Partners and, for the first time this year, the Catapult Film Fund, as well as big digital players Netflix and Amazon.
The Forum's reputation as a key funding event has continued to grow, as has the number of submissions. "We got close to 700 submissions this year, and the overall quality was good. It's a huge number. I looked at the statistics, and ten years ago it was not even a third of that", says Van Nieuwenhuijzen.
As ever, the selection includes a number of new projects from award-winning IDFA regulars such as Maite Alberdi and Victor Kossakovsky. Alberdi will present The Mole Agent, her fourth film following the award-winning The Grown-Ups and Tea Time. Using her trademark observational approach, Alberdi follows a real-life investigation into cruelty in an old people's home, employing a lonely octogenarian who is trained to go undercover. "You can really see she is growing as a filmmaker and taking her films to the next level in terms of how she can use the genre to tell her stories", says Van Nieuwenhuijzen.
Kossakovsky will unveil a first trailer for his long-gestating project Krogufant, exploring the emotional intelligence of the domestic animals that generally end up on our plates, such as pigs, cows and hens. "The trailer is amazing. He wants to say something very important about what is happening in the world but in this unique, artistic Victor Kossakovsky way," Van Nieuwenhuijzen adds.
Beyond the established feature-length film directors, this year’s selection includes a number of cross-media projects. "Every year we get more and more strong cross-media projects, which is normal because there is so much going on in that arena and more and more people are beginning to work in it," Van Nieuwenhuijzen stresses. "These projects are becoming more sophisticated as that sector matures and moves on from being purely experimental. It has gone beyond focusing on how to use new techniques to really focusing on the storytelling, to really address issues or explore reality in a different way."
Three cross-media projects will be presented in the Central Pitch sessions this year, including visual artist Meghna Singh's multisensory VR work Container, exploring the complex issue of mass migration, and Brett Gaylor's cross-platform documentary The Internet of Shit, looking at the implications of our increasingly wired lives. Another seven cross-media projects will be unveiled in the Round Table pitches.
Another trend this year, notes Van Nieuwenhuijzen, was the wealth of strong art projects with potential to play outside of traditional art and culture strands, including The Self Portrait, about a young Norwegian woman suffering from a severe form of anorexia who finds solace and meaning in photography. "It captures her struggle with the disease and how she heals herself by taking up photography, and at the same time shows her unique and powerful work. It touches on social issues, but also on art and photography. It was submitted for the Arts & Culture category but we've included it as a Central Pitch."
"This was also the case for Journey to the Morganland. It’s about music and artists, but it is also about refugees and people living in exile," she adds, referring to Frank Scheffer's portrait of Syrian composer and clarinettist Kinan Azmeh as he explores his musical roots through collaborations with other exiled artists.
Van Nieuwenhuijzen also highlights the fact the selection committee has also upped its efforts to include projects from the Global South, even if they do not always have national funding in place. "We don't want to focus only on filmmakers from North America and Europe. We've really worked hard to get projects from the Global South to this platform," she says.
Among these is Sushmit Ghosh and Rintu Thomas's Writing with Fire, about a digital news agency run entirely by rural women belonging to India's Dalit or ‘untouchable’ community. "It's an amazing project, which is supported by the Bertha Fund. There's also Aswang from the Philippines, capturing the present state of society there under [President] Duterte. It is highly political, but at the same time it's a human story and I really believe they can make a cinematic work out of it."
"It can be hard for these projects; they do not have backing from local funds because these don't exist, but I really think that because of that we have to make sure we help to get these stories out there. It's up to the funders to work with these people. We’re seeing more and more producers from the US and Europe doing this because they recognise the importance of these films."