The business of documentary film

Photo by Jurre Rompa.

Support and facilitate the industry

Head of IDFA Industry Adriek van Nieuwenhuijzen, responsible for the markets—IDFA Forum, IDFA DocLab Forum, and Docs for Sale—and the Industry Program, decided that all activities had to move online. But even though her team made some hard choices to help keep the industry afloat, “the physical exchange that happens during a festival and market in Amsterdam is irreplaceable,” she stresses. “2020 was a time of great uncertainty for filmmakers, producers, sales agents, financiers, and other stakeholders in the documentary community. In response, the team behind IDFA’s markets and Industry Program worked hard to accommodate their needs. We made the necessary adjustments to keep supporting and facilitating the aspirations of this community: financing and selling films on the one hand and sharing knowledge on the other. Whereas we knew the markets would be online from the start, we aimed for a hybrid version of the Industry Program initially. Yet due to changing regulations, we opted for an online edition with talks and sessions in the end as well.

“Since Docs for Sale already offers an online platform for potential buyers, we took advantage of the existing setup by releasing additional films early in 2020. In doing so, we attracted more viewers over the course of the year than usual. We’re always committed to facilitating and scheduling one-on-one meetings between selling and buying parties during the festival, so when we moved this service online, we also expanded it. But even though our chat rooms could mimic spontaneous encounters, everyone missed having an informal conversation during daily drinks at the Docs for Sale Lounge or Guests Meet Guests events.

“The challenges were more difficult to overcome regarding the Forum. It's important for film professionals to see, live, how such a market works and how possible financiers react to pitches, so we explicitly retained the live element in our online format. The advantage of going online was that we could allow more participants than usual, so the Forum became accessible to international project teams that wouldn’t otherwise have the funds to travel to Amsterdam. Because of that increased accessibility, we noticed a rise in submissions, selected projects, and participants from non-Western countries. We will definitely retain these lessons with us in future editions, as we work to be more inclusive while keeping the live element.

Photo by Jurre Rompa.

“The Forum pitches themselves happened in a live studio setting with on-site moderators. Pitch teams presented their projects via video conferencing to a small group of hand-picked decision makers who also joined digitally to comment. With this approach we tried to remain as faithful as possible to the ‘normal’ Forum in Amsterdam, where over 600 participants gather at the Compagnietheater. “Alongside the markets was of course the Industry Program. Every year we design the line-up in relation to topics that we consider important, such as inclusivity, distribution trends, and knowledge sharing. The program is always a considerable festival pillar for attending guests who, this time, joined the talks and sessions online. In the end we had nearly 40 well-attended roundtable meetings, which enabled guests to connect and gain industry knowledge.

“All in all, we managed to move most of our regular industry activities online, including around 2,000 meetings that we booked for participants in Docs for Sale, the Producers Network, and the Forum. Even so, we strongly feel that the physical exchange that happens during a festival and market in Amsterdam is irreplaceable. It remains of great value to build and maintain networks for everyone in the business.”

Adriek van Nieuwenhuijzen, Head of Industry

Where did the selected films and projects come from?

Figure includes main production countries for IDFA Forum selection; main production countries and co-production countries for Docs for Sale selection.

Figure includes directors and producers for IDFA Forum selection; directors and co-directors for Docs for Sale selection.