Overture IDFA Forum 30 Years

Memories… Names, film projects, episodes. 30 years of IDFA Forum! Actually I don’t remember the first time I was there. Was it the first edition? At the time I worked at the National Film Board of Denmark and had a seat in the Board of the EU Documentary office. But I remember that Dane Thomas Stenderup, representing the EU office based in Copenhagen traveled a lot to Amsterdam to meet with Adriek van Nieuwenhuijzen and Ally Derks and other team members…

… to talk about how to set up, what has now become the most important documentary meeting place in the world. Documentarians in the world unite. 

An event that many came love and many came to hate: Is there really money to pick up, many said? Is it a financial market? A meeting place? Many thought, what even is this pitching? It is absurd to think you can present your film idea in 7 minutes. You have been working on it for years! But it turned out that the pitching itself was followed by conversations, discussions, networking. It became obvious that you had made yourself visible, inspired, and engaged, a lot of work waited for you.

I have talked with many veteran documentary filmmakers, who remember the first time as a scary one, a kind of exam; at the same time as it was a good start for gaining the knowledge they needed to build their international careers. And again and again I have heard, even among the skeptical, comments like: “You have to go to the Forum every year”, “You have to show your face otherwise people will think that you are not in the business any longer”! It became the meeting point and being sentimental, I sat there as an observer for the plenary pitch session thinking: “Wow all these people are involved with documentaries! What a show of solidarity!

A few words about the projects: I was part of the selection team for the Forum projects several times when EDN (European Documentary Network) existed as a partner for the Forum. It was always great fun, and a challenge, to find a balance between the more creative films and those that had television as a clear target for their presentation. You knew to expect strong journalistic BBC documentaries in the run for a pitch seat and that they would get it, whereas a personal poetic documentary from Serbia would have difficulties getting a place at the table. Fair enough for commercial thinking but let me at this point stress that Adriek and the team have been great in their continous flexible search for changing the original model – shifting from one huge plenary session to smaller group meetings with the chance to go deeper with each project. Here is a quote from an IDFA article from 2019: “…the Forum is adjusting to changing financing structures, while opening up to also include films with less clear-cut narratives and new ways of storytelling.” Meaning less boring formatted projects, more surprises, more experiments – that’s how I see it.

The editors and pitchers: The Forum must also be entertaining – we observers sit there expecting some show elements from both sides of the table. When Viktor Kossakovsky was pitching you had someone, who knew how to catch attention with a globus for “!Vivan las Antipodas!”. There have been people “dancing” their project – and honestly I miss the at times tough dialogues between Arte’s Thierry Garrel and BBC Storyville’s Nick Fraser. Representing the auteur tradition and the investigative journalistic/historical. Later on, Iikka Vehkalahti from YLE joined the table with competent and humorous support, when appropriate, for the artistic documentary. Not to forget wonderful Diane Weyermann, always pleasant to listen to hear. RIP. Who has taken over from these docu-stars? Far too often you hear “thank you for the pitch” and/or “we have a meeting later today!” Boring and incompetent.

As I write this (August 2022) I am sitting in Skopje at the MakeDox festival and there is a Forum taking place for Southeast Europe. In the beginning of September, there is the Baltic Sea Docs and later the same month there is the Nordisk Panorama… and so on and so forth. These are many regional alternatives to the IDFA Forum and many represent first steps for filmmakers before being selected for the Forum in Amsterdam.

The IDFA Forum of today: It’s the full package. You arrive. You can be trained for pitching. You can have your trailer checked and improved. You can have all kinds of information on the market. You are invited to sessions and receptions to meet colleagues and funders…the “only” thing the Forum does not deliver… you don’t learn how to make films…but it can give tools and inspiration.

Tue Steen Müller

August 2022

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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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