William Head, recent VCA graduate, was selected for the F4 program, which provides a strand by which eight emerging filmmakers can explore the AIDC. At the same time, the mainstream delegates can connect with the issue of renewal. This is William's experience of the program - a small tribute to the power of POV.
As an emerging filmmaker, an invitation to the F4 Festival as part of the AIDC was a fantastic and eye-opening opportunity. After four whirlwind days, I'm left with the impression that there are ways to begin a career in the documentary landscape, despite the difficulties of financing new projects.
Myself and seven other filmmakers from around Australia were flown in, wide-eyed and bushy-tailed, to introduce ourselves and our films to our peers, seek the counsel of experienced documentarians and immerse ourselves in the debates of the documentary community.
When I arrived, I found the foyer of the Hilton Hotel awash with small groups of people in seemingly intense conversations and I was soon to realise that the real business of AIDC takes place somewhere between this cavernous hotel lounge during the day, and bar-side introductions at night. This scene made it clear that AIDC has less to do with a community coming together in mindful debate, and more to do with the art of financing a project.
After beginning the conference with some brief introductions, we were escorted to our first session where MeetMarket participants were briefed by commissioning editors, sales agents and distributors on what they are looking for in commissioning or funding new films. It was a rude awakening for a recent film school graduate like myself.
Participants were informed that the global financial crisis had seen opportunities for funding documentaries slashed as an easy target of cost-cutting, and that doco slots on television were disappearing to make room for more reality TV. Apparently human interest stories are no longer viable on the international broadcast market and one sales agent even proclaimed that there is actually no audience for documentaries at all, instead advising filmmakers to make factual films that fit into categories usually associated with genres of narrative cinema.
Yet for all the doom and gloom these sessions carried some very practical advice. Like this: as 80% of documentaries open with a shot from the inside of a moving car, to open with such a clich? is instant suicide for one's film. Point taken.
The conference continued apace in a hectic schedule of lectures, addresses, meetings, masterclasses, screenings and functions. Most sessions centred around invaluable tips for financing or ways in which to present a project in the most favourable light. It's a strangely panicked environment in which all the opulence of 5-star hospitality seems out of step with the difficult reality of financial malaise.
In many sessions I was happy to hear calls from panel participants that the industry needs to foster new talent and provide opportunities for emerging filmmakers to cut their teeth and build careers. Being there as said emerging filmmaker, such calls filled me with optimism for my own opportunities at the conference.
As time rattled towards the premiere screening of my short film in the F4 Film Festival, I felt certain that all this discussion would translate into a large audience at the screening. I was mistaken. Even though the F4 program was a core part of the conference, the nightly screenings from new filmmakers alongside established masters, seemed to hardly register on the radar of most delegates.
Yet, despite the poorly attended screenings, the whole experience was an invaluable one for a newbie like myself. Highlights included a session on what makes a trailer great, the opportunity to hear from local and international broadcasters and the chance to participate in Q&As with filmmakers like Tom Zubrycki and Brian Hill. AIDC also facilitated one-on-one mentoring sessions with commissioning editors which, if not encouraging, were certainly illuminating.
After so much focus on the getting of finance it was something of a relief to have a master-class with director Geoffrey Smith (who made The English Surgeon), in which he implored us to forget tailoring our films to broadcasters, sales agents and funding bodies and instead follow a passion to find ways to make films of impeccable quality. This, he said, is the best way to encourage interest from media organisations.
Likewise, the opportunity to rub shoulders with peers during evening drinks was a great way to make new acquaintances and finally get the chance to talk about the art and love of documentary itself.
By the end of the conference I was exhausted. In four days I had seen my industry in all it's frantic energy and managed to watch a bunch of fantastic films from other new filmmakers. I come away with only a vague idea of how to fit into this world of offset funding, broadcaster whim and government assistance to those with track-records, yet I now have a better understanding of how to plunge into a new project.
And so with one educational AIDC under my belt, next year I plan to be sitting in the Hilton foyer engaged in animated conversations about my next film.
William Head William Head is a non-fiction filmmaker, artist and curator from Melbourne. A graduate of documentary at the VCA, his films and new media work have screened and exhibited worldwide. He is a founding producer of dontyouhavedocs.com and was the inaugural Generation Next Documentary Conference curator in 2011. In 2012 he was the host of the F4: First Factual Film Festival program at the Australian International Documentary Conference and the Film and Photography Curator at the 11th Festival of Pacific Arts, Solomon Islands. His non-fiction works can be seen here.