FNE at Jihlava: East European Forum marks 10th Anniversary

Written by Cathy Meils

The documentary industry kicked into high gear on Monday, 25 October, with the first day of pitching sessions at the East European Forum, which celebrates its 10th anniversary along with parent organization, the Institute of Documentary Film (www.DOKweb.net). Once again, EEF brought a high profile group of documentary buyers, commissioning agents, and other professionals to the Czech town of Jihlava, which hosts the Jihlava International Documentary Film Festival (www.dokument-festival.cz) 26-31 October 2010. A record 220 projects competed for 24 pitching spots, nearly double the number of applicants in 2009, and some five times as many as the number 10 years ago, when EEF had to actively court filmmakers. As their reputation grows, Jihlava's pitching forum and its doc fest are becoming desirable destinations for serious professionals.

EEF capped its 10th anniversary with the addition of a third day of presentations, this one a presentation of "Documentary Works-in-Progress," which gives the floor to eight films in the final stage of post-production. This "first glimpse" is intended primarily for festival programmers, sales agents, and distributors as the films prepare for their public launch. In essence, the presentation also completes the sequence in the life of a film. Speaking with FNE, EEF co-director Hana Rezkova said, "We started as a small organization, reacting to the lack of support and funding, and now we realize we have completed the chain of support for the films."

That chain of support begins with the Ex-Oriente workshop, a training session which guides producers and directors through the first phase of their films and prepares them for stage two: the East European Forum pitching session, when films in various stages of preproduction and production are still seeking funding. The Works-in-Progress section aids films in the final stage before they reach the market, when they're seeking the final bits of funds or first bites from festivals and sales agents. The chain ends with East Silver Market, where completed documentaries are available for viewing and prizes for the best long and short films are awarded. All four parts of the chain now take place at Jihlava in connection with the documentary festival and its complementary focus on films from Central and Eastern Europe.

With a complete programme in place, perfecting it will be the next goal. "We decided not to expand to new territories or double the amount of activity. We want to stay in touch with the new films and filmmakers that are popping up. We've been going so quickly. Now is the time to intensify, not grow," Rezkova said.

Keeping a focus on CEE isn't limiting growth in applicants, however. "Filmmakers who would not normally have been pitching now have independent producers with experience who are bringing them to EEF," said Rezkova. And within the region, there is promising development. Poland continues to be a documentary powerhouse, Slovakia burst back on the documentary scene over the past two years, and Romania is on the rise -- following its renaissance as a fiction film force. One exception, Rezkova points out, is Hungary which lacks a specialized documentary film school program and strong support system for documentary films. Indeed, there is just one Hungarian film represented at the various IDF programmes.

Rezkova attributes increased industry presence at the IDF sections to a combination of factors: scheduling the programmes to lead into the festival, rather than compete with space for guests during the festival's closing week-end, and stable financing which allowed the IDF to fund its activities. But look to IDF to perfect its system with one additional programme in 2011: a second "Documentary Works-in-Progress" presentation. IDF is now looking at potential spring festival partners with larger markets to launch documentary films that need more time sensitive treatment than a once-a-year platform can offer.