All of the decisions taken this year by International Documentary Festival Amsterdam (IDFA) have been made “with the sustainability of the lives of the filmmakers” in mind, explains IDFA industry head Adriek van Nieuwenhuijzen.
In June, IDFA decided to move all its industry events online, removing any pandemic uncertainty. This decision also meant the IDFA Forum, the co-financing and co-production event that runs November 16-20, could remain a global event, regardless of last-minute travel restrictions.
The documentary community is known for being resourceful and flexible. “On the other hand, I would say that the margins, when it comes to earning money, are way smaller for documentary,” says van Nieuwenhuijzen. ”Whether it’s the sales agent, the producer or the filmmaker, the income situation for many of these people is already precarious.”
In moving its industry activities online, IDFA is therefore trying to provide industry professionals with as much practical help as possible.
How have documentary filmmakers selected for the Forum been affected by the pandemic?
All the projects are affected by the pandemic. People can’t travel any more or they can travel but it’s more costly. A lot of projects are delayed because filmmakers can’t do their research or can’t do the shooting or they have to work with new teams. In terms of content, the actual topics and themes of the films are not so much about the pandemic. These are films that have been in the making for five or six years.
This year’s Forum includes 64% of projects from female directors; was gender balance a goal?
For the Forum, it is not that hard to come up with a gender-balanced selection. In fact, women are over-represented in this selection. It is not like we have to make a lot of effort to get to this selection. We have a lot of female producers in the documentary field. Also, in terms of directors, for us, it’s quite easy and natural to come up with this selection. It’s not like making an effort to select more women. We first go for the fantastic and good projects from across the world and then we start counting and go - wow! If it had been an unbalanced situation, we would have had another look at the selection but this was never necessary.
What have you learned from other festivals and markets that have gone online since March?
What we miss from not going to festivals is the energy and the wonderful, unexpected meetings you can have. But what works quite well is the one-on-one meetings. We are focusing on helping filmmakers in a practical way. It is very hard in this digital world for people to work over the weekend, when the whole family is at home. When you are “away,” then you are “away.” That’s why we do a lot of events on the weekdays. Also, we have tried not to overload the programme. If it becomes too overwhelming when it’s online, when people can choose several things at once, it doesn’t work.
Are you doing anything online to replicate the chance encounters that industry delegates would have at the physical festival?
We hope to facilitate in an artificial way what would normally take place through meetings in the bar by what we call [online] catch- up rooms. After every five pitches, you can go to a ’room’ and meet with the pitch team or hang out with other observers. You can try to find decision makers. Anyone who wants to can go there and wander round. Also, during the five days of meetings for buyers and sellers for Docs for Sale, we have certain moments where people can go to the (online) Arti Café, where people can go and have a chat. For other guests, we also have specific moments where we organise a digital hang-out.
Are there any upsides from moving the industry events online?
The Forum is far more accessible, especially for decision makers. They can say, “Okay, this pitch is very much to my interest so I will specifically join for this pitch.” If they had to come to Amsterdam, that would be quite something, to come for just one particular pitch. That’s what I find rewarding. With all the limitations we have with the online programme, this is something positive for me. It will hopefully translate into a lot of fruitful meetings and new relationships being formed.
Is moving online an opportunity to broaden the reach of the industry events? Will the Forum have more delegates?
Many filmmakers do want to have their very vulnerable projects out to the world at such an early stage. We are still controlling the [number of] people who can see the pitches. But, of course, we can be a little more flexible. Normally there is an enormous pressure on every seat in the Compagnietheatre [the physical venue for the Forum]. Of course, that is easier when it is online. But it is still very important that the filmmakers feel they are in a contained environment.
How will Docs for Sale work in a virtual environment?
The number of buyers, festivals, and other people subscribing to watch the films, is on a similar level to the years before. But, of course, the question is will they watch? We will do everything in our power to convince people to watch. What we also decided to do was to book more one-on-one meetings between the sellers and those with the possibility to acquire.