Agora Talks: Quo Vadis Documentary Financing?

Within the framework of the Agora Talks of the 25th Thessaloniki International Documentary Festival’s Agora, the discussion Quo Vadis Documentary Financing? took place at the MOMus Museum of Photography, where documentary professionals shared practical advice and experiences. The speakers were Helle Hansen, Freelance Consultant, Film Commissioner at Filmfond Nord, Arkaitz Basterra, Producer, Economics consultant (Moby Dick Film Capital), Victor Ede, Producer (Cinephage) and Yorgos Angelopoulos, Director, Head of Development and Production (Greek Film Center), while the talk was moderated by Brigid O’Shea (DAE- Documentary Association Europe).

Ms. O’Shea first took the floor. “I would like to emphasize that the Agora staff is the most hardworking staff I have seen in a long time and we are glad to be participating in the Agora activities. Documentary production is morally rewarding, but also an extremely costly and multilayered process. We are caught up in a kind of… schizophrenia as we are living through the golden era of documentary - or reaching its end - that has attracted the interest of advertising. Festivals and Film Markets screen our documentaries and the budgets have risen. But where does this funding come from? A big part of the preparatory work is the search for financial resources from many different sources, for the goal of completing a film. While public funding is shrinking and the funding sphere is constantly shifting, getting informed about the various possibilities of financial support is crucial for the completion and success of a film. It is very beautiful to have big dreams, but we must also be realistic when it comes to the prevailing situation regarding funding”.

Afterwards, Arkaitz Basterra was given the floor. “I am here today as a member of the Moby Dick Film Capital. We fund films and documentaries via private funds. The most important thing we need to know when funding a film is the content we are dealing with. It’s the only way to know what strategy to follow. Certain content may not be ideal for private funding and all of us in Europe need to understand what private funding is and what role it plays in our documentaries. I learned about all these things as a director. Four years ago, I got a call from a Spanish producer in L.A. so that I could make a documentary. For me, it was a whole new world. I had gotten used to the classic way of funding in Europe, meaning film centers or co-productions. When private funding became an option, I developed our documentary further. Something like this offers more freedom with regard to creativity. We will shoot this in China, the UK and the US”.

Victor Ede took the baton and said a few words. “I am a producer at Cinephage, based in Marseille, as well as a director. It is a production company founded in 2007 by me and Jean-Robert Viallet. Initially designed as a production studio, as of 2014 it mainly produces documentaries with international co-productions. We take upon productions for TV, film or platforms. We love to discover new films that interest different types of audiences. We are not strictly interested in French films. As I said, we love co-productions. We also work with private funds, as well as sponsors. One of my first films got a small funding from Unicef”.

Yorgos Angelopoulos referred to the Greek Film Centre. “I have never made a documentary, but I can understand and relate to the directors and the fact that they need money to make their films. The Greek Film Centre has changed through the years. We managed to reform it and we now deal with documentaries exactly as we do with fiction films. We support them along every step of the production. However, we still work with a very limited budget, less than four million euros per year. And it’s such a pity because there are so many talents out there. The number of submissions for funding is constantly increasing and we would like to support them. In Greece, we have the Greek Film Centre, ERT and EKOME for documentary funding. Co-productions are limited and there are no private funds in our country. I don’t know if this may change in the next few years”.

Mr. Basterra said in relation: “I believe things will change in Greece and filmmakers will turn to private funds, because public funding will become all the more harder. We need to have the tools to attract the right people. Before someone funds a film, they need to see the script. So, the more prepared we are the better”. “I’d love to have a rich uncle”, Ms. O’Shea humorously added and everyone agreed. 

Moving on, Helle Hansen took the floor. “I have always stood by the side of the filmmakers, even when I was working at the Danish Film Institute. I made a lot of documentaries for TV and four documentaries with the Danish Film Institute. There are more directors, but the funding pie does not get any bigger, everyone is applying for the same money and funds. We are happy to have an Institute with a high budget in our country. Co-productions are a nice way to fund your film. Everyone asks to watch the first version of the film before they fund it. But in order for this to happen, you need money, and there is still a chance, even with this version, the rough cut, to get rejected”. 

According to Victor Ede, “the main interest of the investors when funding a film is to get their money back, so filmmakers should be prepared to take a risk”. To a question by Brigid O’Shea about why she continues to work as a documentary consultant, Helle Hansen responded: “I love being a consultant because I love filmmakers and documentaries. I learned a lot while working for the Institute and with this experience I can help them get funding and make the right presentation. Your project may change again and again until it’s ready and you need financial security to make the film you want. I am here to help you”.

“I’m not sure if it’s possible to change the ugly world we live in, but I think the ideal is to maintain public funding through film centers and institutes while also looking for private funds”, Ms. O’Shea mentioned. If you had a genie what would you wish for the creators, Ms. O’Shea asked Yorgos Angelopoulos, concluding the talk. “More money! Honestly, there is so much passion and talent out there, but we need money in order to move forward”, he concluded.