AMSTERDAM — Despite divisions in the outside world, the community spirit still thrives in IDFA’s Forum.
It used to be called The Cuban Hat. But now, before the main awards are handed out at IDFA, the festival’s industry arm has a more personal honor to bestow: The Dutch Clog. The business equivalent of the main festival’s audience award, it is given at the Forum’s finale to the best projects presented in the Central Pitch and Round Table Pitch arenas. “We have these Dutch clogs going around where people can put money in,” explains Forum Co-ordinator Yorinde Segale, “so they will win the clogs and also the money that’s in there.” The Forum itself puts €500 in. “But also people put pledges in there,” she adds, “so if you ever go to Sweden, someone might say, ‘You can sleep on my couch for four nights,’ or there are free passes for different festivals around the world in it, because their programmers put them in there. It’s a very eclectic prize!”
Indeed, this year’s winners can expect ukulele lessons as well as market badges to the Hot Docs and Leipzig festivals. “It shows the solidarity of the documentary community,” laughs IDFA Bertha Fund Manager Isabel Arrate, currently holding the fort while IDFA’s Head Of Industry Adriek van Nieuwenhuyzen recovers from a recent illness. “A lot of documentaries are not always fun,” adds Segale, “and you don’t want everybody to leave depressed.”
But as the 2018 Golden Clog awards went on to show, it was not all doom and gloom at this year’s festival, despite a slew of films warning of the rise of the far right, plus the dangers of climate change and institutional corruption. Indeed, Best Central Pitch went to John Webster’s “The Happy Worker – Or How Bullshit Took Over The Workplace”, a critique of modern work culture that seeks to expose “how empty corporate jargon, management fashions and self-serving bureaucracy masquerading as efficiency hi-jacked the purpose of work.”
Perhaps not surprisingly, it was a clear crowd-pleaser. Best Round Table Pitch, on the other hand, went to Simone Manetti’s “I’m in Love with Pippa Bacca,” the tragic story of the Milanese performance artist who was murdered in 2008.
The vast difference between the two winners shows the diversity of interests within the Forum, and under the stewardship of new artistic director Orwa Nyrabia, that diversity only seems set to expand, even if it’s just by one innovation at a time.
“For instance, we had this new idea about ‘hot seats’,” says Segale. “In the central pitches, we wanted to open things up a little bit more to different kinds of institutions, funds, and distributors, so that they could also take part in the discussions. We looked at the catalogue, and for specific projects we thought, ‘OK, this institute only supports first or second-time filmmakers, so they might want to sit at certain specific pitches and comment on the projects.’ It changes the dynamics of the table, which is very, very nice.” Adds Arrate, “It was a way to really get a different perspective on certain projects.”
In that way, the Forum, although the festival denies that it is a conscious strategy, is testing the limits of the Pitch format. “What happens here during these three days [of the Forum],” says Arrate, “is that the core of it is still the Central Pitch and the Roundtable Pitch, with these linear documentaries, but at the same time what we’ve done with the Forum, as a market, is to add other divisions or parts that also reflect a little bit more the broadness of the festival.
She added: “We have Rough Cut screenings [of works in progress], because that works for filmmakers and producers who are in the last stages of the process and are not ready enough for the festival but need to find that additional money, or the sales, to be able to launch. And we also do the Crossmedia projects, which directly connects with our whole DocLab and interactive program – we try to get in at an earlier stage and give these projects the opportunity to find their funding.”
It was the elevation of Crossmedia pitches to Central Pitch status that caught many industry figures’ attention, including Andy Whittaker of the U.K.’s doc specialists Dogwoof. “I was personally pleased to see three Crossmedia projects at the Central Pitch,” he enthuses, “pitching to an audience of professionals from the interactive storytelling field as well as the documentary film industry. In particular, I was impressed by ‘Prison X’ by Violeta Ayala. A collection of interactive stories – inspired by a jail in Bolivia and hand-painted in VR – it’s a world of magic realism that sucks you in. Immersive documentary is a medium that can create a compelling platform for storytelling, so it’s great to see new people and hear diverse voices at the table on both sides.”
Jessica Brillhart of Vrai Pictures tentatively agrees. “It certainly felt there was an increased interest from all sides compared to other years,” she says, “not only in creators looking to pitch immersive projects, but also in audience interest in hearing the pitches and the collective interest in having critical discourse around the role of crossmedia in documentary.
She continued: “[But] I still feel like we’ve got a ways to go, where immersive techniques like VR and AR won’t feel like slapped-on solutions. As the medium of immersive content continues to mature, and as familiarity with those formats continues to grow, we’ll start to see these pitches dig much deeper than the surface to places where traditional documentaries truly cannot go themselves. That’s when things will really start to get interesting.”