The World Documentary Fund (WDF), the $2.5m (Eu2.1m) international initiative set up to promote theatrical documentaries, has made its first visit to IDFA where it is understood to be keen to cherry-pick its third big-budget documentary project.
The fund already has one completed film - Vikram Jayanti's Game Over: Kasparov And The Machine - a contender for this year's Joris Ivens Award and its second, Stephen Silver's study of the aftermath of a suicide bomb attack, Diameter Of The Bomb, produced by Paul Goldin for Rainmaker Films, is currently in post-production.
"We are trying to work out what the next one should be," said Paul Trijbits, head of the New Cinema Fund at the UK's Film Council who sits on the WDF's film selection board. "We've put enough money in to do four films in the first 18 months. We've done two and plan to do more."
The WDF, a collaboration between the Film Council, the BBC and the National Film Board of Canada (Cnfb), plans to spend between $510,000-$850,000 funding each film, split three ways between the partners. In return for their investment, the BBC secures broadcast and non-theatrical rights for the UK and Ireland, while the Cnfb gets world distribution rights (excluding UK and Ireland) on behalf of the WDF partners. The Cnfb, which will act as co-production partner on all films, also has an agreement with CBC to be lead broadcast partner in Canada and will handle Canadian non-theatrical rights.
Jayanti, who claimed his film was the "guinea pig project" for the fund, said the WDF will help film-makers but that the idea is far from revolutionary. "Revolutionary is when you gather a bunch of documentary film-makers and go to Hollywood and kill everybody in the studios - or take their jobs. WDF is good. It's very good, because the agenda of each of the members of this protocol is very different.
"The BBC is a public service for television. The Cnfb is an institution that has a lot of experience with documentary, but strictly in the Canadian idiom which often falls into the old form of films being good for you. And the UK Film Council's job is to get films onto cinema screens. By joining forces, you raise everybody's game."
For pitches to be considered for funding, they must be outstanding films and have a resonance in the three markets where the partners operate, according to Trijbits. "We are trying to discover the most interesting documentary film-makers and the best films," he said. "For companies like the Cnfb and the BBC, which have a huge track record in making documentaries, to get involved, the film needs to be probing in the kind of story it does. It also clearly needs to be something people would go and see in a cinema."
While the fund was set up to boost the prospects for theatrically-released factual films, Trijbits said the impetus to start the fund came not from the success of films such as Spellbound and Winged Migration but from the quality of film ideas coming to the New Cinema Fund. "Clearly when we started, none of the films such as Michael Moore's Bowling For Columbine had happened, so we can't claim we had foresight and wisdom. When we set up the New Cinema Fund three years ago, it's fair to say we didn't think about feature documentaries as something specifically we were going to do," said Trijbits.
"But, quite rapidly, we ended up with very interesting propositions that came to us. First was Sophie Fiennes's Hoover Street Revival, next was John Battsek's Live Forever, then Kevin Macdonald's Touching The Void. So we ended up with a situation that of the the first 20 films, three of them were features documentaries and really interesting pieces that challenge narrative and storytelling. It was also clear that, because documentaries are done for far smaller budgets than most feature films but in incredibly complex ways, with dozens of different bits of money coming from everywhere, if we were going to involve ourselves we had to find a way to simplify that."
Representatives from the three partners operating the fund have all arrived at IDFA, including Andre Picard, director general of the NFB's French programme, and Nick Fraser, editor of BBC documentary strand Storyville.