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Source: EDN

The European Documentary Network (EDN) voted to disband itself during a stormy annual general meeting held in the middle of the International Documentary Festival Amsterdam (IDFA).

However, in a reflection of the chaos and uncertainty surrounding the troubled documentary body,  EDN members have not yet established whether they are allowed to vote their own organisation out of existence.

The event was attended by EDN’s former director Paul Pauwels, who left the organisation last spring and has been engaged in a long-running war of words with the new administration.

EDN chairman Jan Riemens, the Dutch internet entrepreneur who came to the rescue of the cash strapped organisation through his Adversa Media Group, left his own meeting when the members voted to allow Pauwels to stay in the room. Attendees are reported to have insulted each other (with one calling a former associate a “Nazi”) as the mood degenerated. The meeting culminated with the members voting to dissolve their own organisation.

However, uncertainty remains over whether the small number of voting members (17 or 18 of a body numbering around 600) are allowed to take such a drastic decision.

In advance of the meeting, the EDN board had compiled a report on the running of the organisation under Pauwels titled “Why EDN Went Bankrupt”. 

Screen has seen a copy of the report.

Put together by independent financial auditor Stefan Baars, this contained several allegations of financial impropriety against the former director and his associates. 

The report also accused Pauwels of waging a “Facebook smear campaign” against the new board.

Pauwels forcefully refuted the allegations. “Everything in the report, wherever he claims that money has been embezzled or has been sent to other organisations of whatever, I deny it strongly,” Pauwels said.

What next

Established in Copenhagen in 1996, to represent the interests of documentary professionals across Europe, the global network had more than 1,000 members at its height. 

However, the past 12 months have seen the EDN in disarray. The controversial appointment of Riemens followed a funding crunch in late 2018 when the Danish Film Institute (DFI) withdrew structural funding. Riemens moved the EDN’s offices from Copenhagen to Amsterdam and appointed an interim board, neither of which were put to a vote by the wider membership. 

Discussions are now underway to ensure voting members who could not attend the event today and were not allowed to vote by proxy will be given a say on whether EDN should continue or not.

If EDN is dissolved, the strong likelihood is a similar organisation will be set up. As has been made clear during IDFA this week, independent documentary makers are strongly in need of support and representation from such a body.

“I believe organisations such as EDN are key. This community needs every possible way of coming together, connecting and empowering each other,” IDFA director Orwa Nyrabia, a former EDN member, told Screen in advance of the AGM. “We are looking forward to seeing a clearer vision and a normal election process which will give a chance to the organisation to remain alive. Otherwise, I think the industry has to find its next organisation.”

In the report, Riemens expressed sadness and bewilderment that his intervention to save EDN at a time when it was in a parlous financial state has ended in such bitterness and recrimination.

“With the small team we had, it felt like a hurricane of resistance from within was hitting us in the face while we were expecting a supporting back wind.”

“Never in my life or my professional career have I experienced such a disappointing and unfair treatment by people who should know better,” Riemens wrote. “Nevertheless, I took on this responsibility and I stood by it, despite all the criticisms experienced.”