Fest fetes genre as filmers bemoan financing

AMSTERDAM — Worries about shrinking coin for creative docu makers plagued delegates attending the Intl. Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam (IDFA), but failed to dampen the enthusiasm of professionals and visitors who convened for the 12th edition of the event in record numbers.

The 12-day fest closed Dec. 2 as the 25,000 guilder ($11,350) VPRO Joris Ivens Award, the fest’s highest prize, was bestowed upon John Appel for his documentary “Andrew Hazes — The Film,” about the long career of the Dutch singer.

Next to Sunny Side of the Docs in Marseilles, IDFA is the largest gathering of documentary filmmakers in the world, drawing closing to 1,300 professionals and some 62,000 visitors this year, up from 56,000 a year earlier.

IDFA also drew Michael Apted, director of the latest James Bond pic, “The World Is Not Enough,” whose feature docu “Me and Isaac Newton” was among 25 in competition.

Financing fears

The fest rolled out some 205 documentaries, but producers and directors at the sidebar co-financing and co-production event the Forum also unspooled more than a few worries about the fate of the feature-length documentary, a genre in which the fest specializes. The Forum, funded by the Dutch government and the European Commission, is one of the most successful documentary funding vehicles in Europe, with more than 70% of the projects being pitched eventually getting funded.

But Oscar-nominated U.S. director and producer Jonathan Stack of Gabriel Films told Daily Variety that stations “were spending more and more money on branding and trying to develop Internet projects and less and less on the creative side of the picture.”

Stack, who received an Oscar nomination for his pic “The Farm: Angola USA,” is one of the few in the biz who apparently has little trouble putting financing together. One of his co-financing partners is the U.K.’s Channel 4 Intl., which has a first-look option with Stack’s company. (Stack’s short “The Wildest Show in the South: The Angola Prison Rodeo” has been accepted at Sundance.)

‘Branded and stranded’

Channel 4 Intl. programming exec Richard Life noted that even pubcasters were becoming “increasingly branded and stranded.” He said, “The schedule is competitive, and terrestrial broadcasters are very keen to keep their audiences locked in with recognized brands. As a result, it is becoming increasingly more difficult to find slots for the one-off creative documentary which is usually more than an hour long.”

During the IDFA awards ceremony, German filmmaker Bettina Haasen walked away with the Fipresci Award, given by a panel of international journalists. Dutch filmmaker Heddy Honigmann and Belgian filmer Patric Jean received cash prizes of $5,000 each, Honigmann for her docu “Crazy” and Jean for “Kids From the Coal Land — A Letter to Henri Storck.”

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