The renaissance of theatrical documentaries has been given a further boost by the launch of the World Documentary Fund, a ground-breaking new partnership between the National Film Board of Canada, the U.K. Film Council and the BBC.
The trio has pledged $2.5 million during the next two years to fully finance three or four feature-length docs.
The first project, titled “Game Over,” will be directed by Vikram Jayanti (director of “The Man Who Bought Mustique” and co-producer of “When We Were Kings”). It tells the story of the chess match between world champ Garry Kasparov and IBM’s Deep Blue computer, billed as the ultimate tussle between man and machine.
“Game Over” is a co-production between Alliance Atlantis and Cafe Prods. It will be released this fall by Alliance Atlantis in Canada and Momentum Pictures in the U.K.
The World Doc Fund will be financed equally by the three partners. The NFB will co-produce all the projects and will typically act as the worldwide sales agent, with CBC lined up as the Canadian broadcasting partner. The BBC will take U.K. TV rights plus an equity stake, while the U.K. Film Council’s New Cinema Fund will make an equity investment.
Greenlight decisions will be taken jointly by Tom Perlmutter, director general of the NFB’s English program; Nick Fraser, commissioning editor of the BBC’s Storyville strand; and Paul Trijbits, head of the New Cinema Fund.
“The World Documentary Fund is a giant step in the direction of ensuring that ambitious documentaries that foster debate and further the documentary art form get the level of funding they need and the audiences they deserve,” Perlmutter says.
The experience of backing three docs in the space of a year through the New Cinema Fund — “Live Forever,” “Hoover Street Revival” and “Touching the Void” — convinced Trijbits of the need for a simpler financing structure.
“It’s mad to do piecemeal financing on $500,000 budgets,” he says. “Documentaries are usually funded with 20 grand here, 30 grand there. We want to make it easy for filmmakers to come and get fully financed, and we think their films will have more chance commercially if they are set up this way. We hope this fund will be a magnet for the world’s best documentary filmmakers.”
The fund will be structured overall as a U.K./Canada co-production, but individual films will not have to conform exactly to co-production requirements, so long as the elements balance each other out over the whole slate.