Docs All Over – Is that Good?

Are there too many documentary film festivals? NO – those who complain are professionals, who say they can not be in two places at the same time. Understandable argument if you want to attend all so-called industry events with pitching and development workshops, that run parallel to the screenings of films. On the other hand most broadcasters or sales companies include more than one person… AND the documentary film festivals are first of all there for the audience. For films to be screened to regular citizens, doc lovers, cinema goers. Right? AND there is an audience. In most of the below mentioned festivals that I have attended the halls are full – hmm, and the ones who come are mostly pretty much younger than me. Bravo, there is an interest for documentaries among the 20-35 years old.

But are there too many documentary film festivals at this time of the year? Do they cannibalise each other, when it comes to getting the films. In terms of

getting the best of the best it is no secret that festivals for publicity reasons want premieres and that might mean that one festival blocks films for another festival. There is a competition and filmmakers have to make choices.

Let me make a line-up of the important festivals coming up in this month and into November – I have probably forgotten some:

Cinédoc in Tbilisi presents its fourth edition October 21-25, Jihlava International Documentary Film festival takes place October 25-30, 20th edition (!), DocLisboa dates are October 20-30, 14th edition. In principle the dates could make it possible for a doc addict to go from one to the other, and then proceed to DOK Leipzig (October 31 – November 6) and take a break before IDFA (November 16-27). Kamikaze!

Back to the competition question, let’s turn it around: Do the festivals collaborate? Honestly, I don’t know. And if not, you can argue that with the huge amount of quality documentaries which are made world-wide, combined with the many festivals, there should always be a place for the good documentary, so no collaboration needed… and there are more than those selected: During the years I have said to many filmmakers, whose film(s) have been rejected: don’t worry: There is nothing wrong with your film, it will find a festival. Normally I have been right.

Back to the two big festivals. DOK Leipzig presents 309 films, IDFA 297. DOK Leipzig has 100 world and international premieres, IDFA 102 world premieres. Overlapping, yes for some titles and that is good news for the audience: Sergey Loznitsa with ”Austerlitz” is in competition in Leipzig, the film is also shown in Amsterdam where the director is responsible for ”The 10 Best According to…”, and there is a retrospective of his work. Danish ”The War Show” is shown in both cities, as is the new film of Vitaly Manski – and several others I am sure. Both festivals have panorama sections where films that did not make it to competitions are shown. It is actually impressive and amazing so many quality documentaries that are made – and now I am only looking at film lists from this autumn. 2017 and the spring festivals are coming. Soooo…

keep smiling – it’s good times for the creative documentary.

Photo from Loznitsa’s ”Austerlitz”, in competition at DOK Leipzig and part of his retrospective at IDFA.

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Tue Steen Müller
Tue Steen Müller

Müller, Tue Steen
Documentary Consultant and Critic, DENMARK

Worked with documentary films for more than 20 years at the Danish Film Board, as press officer, festival representative and film consultant/commissioner. Co-founder of Balticum Film and TV Festival, Filmkontakt Nord, Documentary of the EU and EDN (European Documentary Network).
Awards: 2004 the Danish Roos Prize for his contribution to the Danish and European documentary culture. 2006 an award for promoting Portuguese documentaries. 2014 he received the EDN Award “for an outstanding contribution to the development of the European documentary culture”. 2016 The Cross of the Knight of the Order for Merits to Lithuania. 2019 a Big Stamp at the 15th edition of ZagrebDox. 2021 receipt of the highest state decoration, Order of the Three Stars, Fourth Class, for the significant contribution to the development and promotion of Latvian documentary cinema outside Latvia. In 2022 he received an honorary award at DocsBarcelona’s 25th edition having served as organizer and programmer since the start of the festival.
From 1996 until 2005 he was the first director of EDN (European Documentary Network). From 2006 a freelance consultant and teacher in workshops like Ex Oriente, DocsBarcelona, Archidoc, Documentary Campus, Storydoc, Baltic Sea Forum, Black Sea DocStories, Caucadoc, CinéDOC Tbilisi, Docudays Kiev, Dealing With the Past Sarajevo FF as well as programme consultant for the festivals Magnificent7 in Belgrade, DOCSBarcelona, Verzio Budapest, Message2Man in St. Petersburg and DOKLeipzig. Teaches at the Zelig Documentary School in Bolzano Italy.

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