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DISPATCH FROM AMSTERDAM: Inside the Forum, Pitching New Docs and Scoring The Euros

By Eugene Hernandez | Indiewire November 29, 2006 at 10:59AM

While audiences make their way in and out of IDFA screenings at the City Theaters on Amsterdam's busy Leidseplein, a select group of festival attendees have spent the last few days down the street at the Paradiso, a popular local concert venue. On the first level of the auditorium, seated at tables arranged to form a wide hexagon ringing the floor of Paradiso, are a handful of international commissioning editors -- Nick Fraser from BBC Storyville, Cara Mertes from Sundance Institute, Nancy Abraham from HBO (and so on). The funders listen intently as independent filmmakers and producers (sometimes alongside other commissioners who have already signed on to their projects) pitch new movies. In just a few minutes, after their remarks and a short clip, the filmmaking team will know if their project has any takers.
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While audiences make their way in and out of IDFA screenings at the City Theaters on Amsterdam's busy Leidseplein, a select group of festival attendees have spent the last few days down the street at the Paradiso, a popular local concert venue. On the first level of the auditorium, seated at tables arranged to form a wide hexagon ringing the floor of Paradiso, are a handful of international commissioning editors -- Nick Fraser from BBC Storyville, Cara Mertes from Sundance Institute, Nancy Abraham from HBO (and so on). The funders listen intently as independent filmmakers and producers (sometimes alongside other commissioners who have already signed on to their projects) pitch new movies. In just a few minutes, after their remarks and a short clip, the filmmaking team will know if their project has any takers.

Some 214 projects were submitted for consideration to the 14th IDFA FORUM, with 43 making the final cut. While only funders are typically allowed entrance into the IDFA FORUM to observe pitches from seats either on the floor behind the editors or in the few chairs that ring the venue in a balcony one level up, indieWIRE was invited to attend a day of pitches earlier this week in Amsterdam. More than 3,700,000 Euros in funds were committed at last year's FORUM, with another 1.8 million Euros still closing at the time of the survey, making the IDFA documentary international co-financing event a crucial venue for new non-fiction films.

A thick book of proposals serves as the guide to the many daily pitches, each lasting 15 - 20 minutes. At the end of each presentation, one of the FORUM moderators puts commissioning editors on the spot, asking them for a reaction and prodding them to put the money. When they answer with, "It sounds intersting," the moderator will invariably ask (on behalf of the filmmakers), "So, does that mean you are in or out?"

Among the projects that had FORUM attendees buzzing at a post-pitch session lunch was Diana El Jeiroudi's "Dolls," the first-ever project from Syria, which looks at the Arab version of the Barbie doll, known as "Fulla." Tracking the doll's emergence since its launch in 2003, the project is budgeted at about 120,000 Euros.

Also popular in an informal survey of FORUM attendees was "The Devil Came on Horseback" from Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg ("The Trials of Darryl Hunt"). According to their pitch, it looks at the genocide in Darfur through the eyes of a former unarmed military observer from the African Union, including contemporary footage and more than 1,000 exclusive photos shot by the observer. Currently at the post-production stage, the project has HBO on board with a small amount of money, and other financing secured via private investors and groups. Stern and Sundberg still need to raise the balance of their budget for the project.

Filmmakers pitch commissioning editors at the IDFA Forum. Photo by Eugene Hernandez/indieWIRE

Clearly, a presence at the IDFA FORUM can be a boon to producers, jumpstarting a movie or getting it the last bit of money it might need before completion. A FORUM appearance also puts the film on a track for a future IDFA screening. Ido Haar's "9 Star Hotel" from Israel, in this year's Joris Ivens Competition, was picthed at IDFA's FORUM just last year, and produced by a partnership between Channel 2 Israel, TV Ontario, SBS Australia, Humanist Broadcasting Foundation, TV2 Denmark, TSR, YLE and France 5.

Other noteworthy projects in this year's FORUM include Phie Ambo's "Mechanical Love," about the relationship between humans and robots from the successful Danish production company Tju-Bang Film A/S. It is produced by company partner Sigrid Dyekjaer.

From "The Peacekeepers" director Paul Cowan comes the ambitious "Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed The World," looking at Paris in the first half of 1919 when international politicians Woodrow Wilson, Georges Clemenceau, David Lloyd and others met at a peace conference to discuss the fate of the world in the wake of war. The project promises the "fly-on-the-wall documentary you would have made if you had been in Paris during the conference and had great access."

Promising archival material, stock footage, photos, artifacts and re-enactments, the big-budget production is listed as a 2 million Euro doc, including line items for hair, makeup, sets, animals--much of what goes into a narrative production--with ARTE France, the National FIlm Board of Canada, and Gala Film already on board.

Also ambitious is Gonzalo Arijon's "Renaissance of the New World: Mercosur vs. ALCA," which looks at leadership changes over the past five years in Venezuela, Bolivia, Brazil and other Latin American countries and the move to unite country leaders. He intends to explore life in numerous countries of South America through interviews with locals and profiles of leaders, including music from Caetano Veloso and photographs by Sebastiao Salgado.

After Arijon's pitch, some funders questioned whether he could really create an in-depth look at such an important topic in just the one-hour film he was pitching. Would he be able to tie it all together in such a short amount of time? Not phased, Arijon pointed to his previous work, particularly, "Lula's Brazil: Managing a Hope," a 2005 doc for ARTE France.

"I am sure we'll find a magical equation," the filmmaker assured the more wary funders.

While producers and directors pitch events inside the Paradiso, other filmmaking teams work the lobby, buzzing about other projects or sharing industry gossip, grabbing the coveted attention of the commissioning editors who step out between the presentations.

Some are wondering if the event will be at a crossroads after this year's edition. Longtime FORUM head Fleur Knopperts, a popular fixture at the festival, is leaving IDFA to head over to Sheffield, England to launch a new market under the guidance of new Sheffield Docfest festival head Heather Croall. Downplaying any rivalray between IDFA and the growing Sheffield event, insiders have said that Knopperts' move is amicable and there is talk of collaboration between the two events.

As Wednesday's session ended, commissioning editors warmly embraced, "My Wives and Me," a pitch from Nahid Persson, director of the recent "Prostitution Behind The Veil." With a budget of under 300,000 Euros for the new project, it is the story of Heda, an Iranian man living in a small village with four spouses. Humorous clips won over potential funders with many comitting to the film on the spot. Cara Mertes from Sundance said that the Institute's documentary fund was interested, while Nancy Abraham from HBO told the filmmakers that she was ready to see more footage.

As the pitch wrapped, all eyes eventually turned to the always important BBC Storyville head Nick Fraser. In dramatic fashion, Fraser turned on his mic and said directly, "We've been messing around trying to decide and we'll take it..." Attendees applauded his committment to the new doc, the filmmakers stood, looking pleased, and everyone made their way to the nearby Marriott for the daily FORUM lunch, for more networking.

indieWIRE's coverage of IDFA continues the week with dispatches from Amsterdam and iPOP photos, all included in indieWIRE's special Documentary section.

This article is related to: Documentary, Festival Dispatch







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