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Documentary: on the map, under pressure

Simon Enticknap

A distinctive feature of the Australian International Documentary Conference (AIDC) is its confluence of craft and commerce. It is a place for practitioners to pitch new ideas, find out what people are buying and selling and participate in the DocuMart sessions with international buyers. The conference is also a forum for discussing ideas about documentary making from various perspectives (technical, textual, visual, ideological). This year’s theme, “The Journey”, asks where we are literally and figuratively coming from and challenges delegates to consider where they are headed in the 21st century.

For the first time in its 17 years, AIDC in 2004 will become an annual event. This follows the success of last year’s conference which attracted about 800 delegates. Conference Director John Beaton says the decision indicates the pace of change in the film industry, and is a strategic move to strengthen Australia’s position on the documentary scene internationally. Having just returned from similar conferences in France and the Netherlands, Beaton is mindful of Australia’s standing in the international market as a small but significant supplier with a reputation for high quality product. The purpose of AIDC, he says, is not to put Australia on the map—it’s already there—but rather to confirm that presence.

Beaton’s personal picks for the conference include the opening plenary session “Refugees in the World”, with Julian Burnside QC and noted academic and filmmaker Trinh Minh-ha discussing the portrayal of human rights in documentaries. This will be followed by a session with Tom Zubrycki, Ned Lander and Dennis O’Rourke, entitled “Thinking Inside the Box”, which will look at government interference in documentary filmmaking in the wake of September 11. Another session will examine the success of feature-length documentaries such as Bowling for Columbine and Travelling Birds and ask whether the sudden interest from distributors is driven by box office returns rather than a love for documentary per se. Beaton says this session will also investigate the proposition that Australian filmmakers are ill-equipped to work internationally with feature documentaries because they lack understanding about the theatrical context, or because short-sighted funding bodies provide few opportunities to work on such projects. “Endangered Species—arts programming” features the ABC’s Courtney Gibson.

AIDC is also a chance to screen local documentaries. The only work confirmed as RT goes to print is Fahimeh’s Story (producer Ian Lang, director Faramarz K-Rahber), about an Iranian divorcee who remarries and converts a retired Australian army sergeant to Islam.

There is also the Australian DocuMart, in which documentary filmmakers get their very own Idol moment. Of 60 applicants, 15 are chosen to present their projects and ideas to an international panel, with the prospect of winning valuable funding. This year’s forum will be hosted by Pat Ferns from Canada’s Banff Television Foundation. Several international judges will sit on the panel including Discovery Networks Asia’s Vikram Channa, CBC’s Jerry McIntosh and NDR’s Wolf Lenwenus. Short-listed DocuMart applicants will also join a training session conducted by Christoph Jorg from ARTE France and Barbara Truyen from Films Transit, Netherlands.

Previous DocuMart projects include the now released Dances of Ecstasy (producer Nicole Ma, director Michelle Maher) (RT 58, p.18) and The Real Mary Poppins (producer Ian Collie, director Lisa Matthews). Finance negotiations are almost complete for several documentaries pitched at the 2003 Byron Bay DocuMart. One project, Selling Sickness, produced by Pat Fiske and directed by Cathy Scott, is currently in pre-production.

While the reputation of AIDC may reside in its ability to attract the big names and industry heavyweights, Beaton believes the conference’s greatest value is for industry players with little or no track record. If you don’t go, he asks, how do you know what’s going on? There is nothing like meeting your industry peers and hearing about what people are doing, how they pitch ideas and what people want to watch. There is, says Beaton, a “serendipity” about conferences: that unlikely meeting in the lunch queue can lead to unexpected projects, collaborations and opportunities.

The 9th Australian International Documentary Conference (AIDC), Fremantle, Feb 26-28,

RealTime issue #59 Feb-March 2004 pg. 24

© Simon Enticknap; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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