Intl. Documentary Festival Amsterdam bows IDFA-TV

Ally Derks would really like to get hold of Oprah Winfrey. “She could help us out,” Derks jokes, alluding to Winfrey’s segue into documentary promotion.

But as founding director of the Intl. Documentary Festival Amsterdam, Derks has her own media empire, one that now includes television: IDFA-TV, a year-round, online venue for international docs.

Other fests, notably Sundance and Tribeca, have tiptoed into online programming, but IDFA’s position is that “everything we do at the festival we also want to do online,” Derks says.

To that end, IDFA — the world’s largest fest devoted to nonfiction films, and the premiere place to sell them — first launched the online Docs for Sale, a virtual version of the fest market (buyers and seller both pay a fee, although IDFA does not benefit from individual sales).

Now IDFA-TV offers fest films old and new, largely for free (100 are available right now), along with curated, thematic programming; the next series will focus on the films of the North African countries embroiled in various revolutionary uprisings.

“If you want to know about a country,” Derks says, “it’s better to watch a documentary than a five-minute news item.”

Cutting into real-world IDFA (attendance was an approximate 180,000 this past November) isn’t a concern. “We only have so many seats,” Derks says, “and the festival is more than 90% professionals and the Dutch audience. The rest of the world needs to know about these films.”

According to IDFA’s managing director, Cees van ‘t Hullenaar, IDFA-TV– which also provides online videos of master classes, fest reports, talkshows and hundreds of doc trailers — was launched with an initial €900,000 ($1.3 million) raised from the City of Amsterdam, the Dutch Ministry of Culture and private funding and grant sources; another $280,000 is needed for improvements, he says, and $420,000 will be necessary to operate the site yearly.

The free streaming content is ad-supported, but IDFA is also experimenting with VOD; rights-holders are free to choose the distribution method they prefer.

Van ‘t Hullenaar says other sources of support are being explored. “I just went to Canon and presented IDFA-TV there, and said, ‘Maybe it’s possible to show films made on Canon cameras and put that on a billboard,’ and they were interested. Between that and Docs for Sale, it’s possible to survive. It might not be hugely profitable, but you can stay alive.”

As a not-for-profit org, IDFA doesn’t have to be hugely profitable to keep its online outlets going. But being in the black, which it is, doesn’t hurt.

IDFA’s mission is to “enrich and conquer the world” with creative docs, and having reached capacity in terms of the physical world, the logical step was to go online — without interfering with the real-world concerns of cold, hard cash; indeed, the parameters of IDFA-TV are outside the windows for other theatrical, DVD, TV or VOD opportunities, and IDFA pays participating filmmakers a non-recurrent fee. When advertising eventually generates profits, execs say, these will be split between IDFA and rights holders.

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