Oslo-based private non-profit Foundation Fritt Ord, which is behind ten doc features that bowed at CPH:DOX, has upped its overall annual budget allocation from a pre-pandemic $12 million to $19 million in 2020, a level that will be sustained in 2021.
The Fritt Ord Foundation supports journalism, literature, training, documentary photography, and documentary filmmaking. As its name implies – fritt ord means “free speech” in Norwegian – a cornerstone of its mandate is to protect and promote freedom of expression in Norway and globally. Around 15% of its annual budget is earmarked for documentaries. High-profile Norwegian productions or co-productions that have received its funding include “Gunda,” exec produced by Joachin Phoenix, the Oscar short film entry “Do Not Split” and top IDFA winner “Radiograph of a Family”.
“Unlike many funders that come in later in production, we’re in from development, through production, promotion and outreach,” said Bente Roalsvig, project manager and deputy executive director who sits on numerous pitch forums. “Since 2006, we’ve gradually shifted our focus from production to development, which is where our main presence is today.”
Single doc development grants range between $12,000 and $24,000 and production grants between $24,000 and $36,000. Original, hard-hitting journalistic works such as Sundance Special Jury Award-winner “President” by Camilla Nielsson,, next to more nuanced works, raising societal issues. “We backed Victor Kossakovsky’s “Gunda” from back in 2016 as the film is a non-activist plea to rethink our relationship with animals,” said Roalsvig who invested over $60,000 in the pic.
The Foundation promotes both new talents and filmmakers’ careers, such as that of the Turkish-Norwegian Nefise Özkal Lorentzen, behind the hot festival title “Seyran Ates: Sex, Evolution and Islam,” picked up by Juno Films for the U.S.
“Nefise has a track record of strong works tackling LGBTQ, feminism and Islam and we’ve followed her through the years, but this film is her international breakthrough. We’re proud to have backed it with $48,000,” said Roalsvig.
Another festival darling, Norwegian-U.S. doc “Sisters on Track,” which world premiered at CPH:DOX ahead of its Tribeca showcase, received crucial early development coin of $12,000, before Netflix snapped up global rights.
With the pandemic hitting hard across all arts and cultural sectors, Fritt Ord has pledged an extra $4.8 million in March 2020 to fund its activities, which prompted a 70% rise in applications.
Among upcoming COVID-related docs is the IDFA Forum 2020 selected-“Stay Home,” produced by Norway’s Fuglene, which documents the pandemic, seen through the eyes of 11 children across the world. Roalsvig says several local festivals – Grimstad, Bergen Film Fest – were also granted support to move from physical to hybrid or fully online editions.
Looking ahead, the Fritt Ord executive said her Foundation will sustain its financial commitment to Norwegian documentaries, riding a wave of international success. “Over the last five years, the sector has increased in professionalism and originality. It’s a very generous field, with filmmakers, producers helping one other,” she said.
In its overall pledge for greater freedom of expression, human rights and democracy around the world, the Fritt Ord Foundation will continue to collaborate with international partners such as Civitates, a philanthropic initiative for democracy and solidarity in Europe, and ‘Perspektivy,’ a training initiative for Russian-language journalists.