For nearly two decades, the Millennium Docs Against Gravity Film Festival has helped to grow and support Poland’s documentary community through an event that takes place simultaneously across seven cities each May. But Artur Liebhart, founder of the country’s largest documentary film festival, insists that this is a year-round effort.
Liebhart, who is also the founder of distributor Against Gravity, has been focused from the outset on exploiting every channel for documentary film distribution in Poland. In the 2000s, after a wave of initial success selling documentary films to Polish cinemas and broadcasters, “I gathered very fast the trust of the leading world sales [agents],” he says. “And then it was like a snowball.”
Along with a profitable business in theatrical and TV sales, Liebhart estimates that he has roughly 150 titles on various Polish VOD platforms, along with an “extremely successful educational branch” working with the film faculties of three Polish universities.
Once the curtain goes down on the physical edition of this year’s Millennium Docs Against Gravity Film Festival, which due to the coronavirus pandemic will take place from Sept. 4-13, the fest will migrate online. More than 100 films from this year’s selection will be available on the festival’s website for the following fortnight, after which the fest’s new VOD platform will go live for consumers across Poland.
Roughly 200 titles will be available, comprising both selections from this year’s festival, including the European premiere of Ron Howard’s “Rebuilding Paradise” (pictured), and other titles in Against Gravity’s catalog. While Liebhart admits he prefers the theatrical experience and “[doesn’t] embrace the shift to online,” he says the launch of the festival’s VOD portal is “a beginning of a new challenge.”
That challenge includes efforts to make the most of a rapidly evolving distribution landscape, and learning how to “extend the life of a documentary film beyond the regular channels,” he says.
To that end, Against Gravity works with its partners to create special screening series—such as “There Is No Planet B,” a collaboration with WWF, Youth Climate Strike, and the youth culture website Noizz.pl—organized around specific themes. The monthly screenings, held in 12 cities, usually sell out, says Liebhart. “Some films gain bigger box office by one-off screenings ordered by cinemas, cine-clubs and NGOs, than by a regular distribution [from] Friday-Thursday,” he adds. “That fact influences our acquisition strategy.”
When it comes to documentary distribution at a time of so much industry flux, adaptability is key. “It has inside energies which can change the path of that river tomorrow,” says Liebhart.