The IDFA Bertha Fund has developed into a powerhouse player for new documentary from Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and Eastern Europe (the so called IBF regions).
“The work we do is so diverse in terms of the filmmakers we work with, not only in the countries and continents they are coming from but also the experience level and the types of films,” reflects Isabel Arrate Fernandez (Managing Director of the Fund) as she contemplates a typically rich harvest of 15 films at this year’s festival.
The haul includes four films in the First Appearance competition, among them Alyx Ayn Arumpac’s Aswang (winner of IDFA 2019 Fipresci prize) about the dark side of Duterte’s Philippines and Meng Han’s Smog Town (sold by Cat & Docs), about one of the most polluted cities in China, as well as many films from more experienced directors.
It’s a measure of the Fund’s success that so many of its titles have already premiered at other major festivals, for example Suhaib Gasmelbari’s Talking About Trees which was in the Berlinale and Hassen Ferhani’s 143 Sahara Street was in Locarno. Other titles were selected for CPH:DOX and Hot Docs.Arrate Fernandez also points out that 52% of the filmmakers the Fund supports are female.
This year, IDFA has placed a special focus on Sudan and Venezuela, creating a positive platform for filmmakers from two countries always in the news as centres of chaos and destruction. The programme offers a different perspective on these countries. The films from Sudan are all Bertha Fund supported. They include Hajooj Kuka’s Beats of the Antonov, Marwa Zein’s Khartoum Offside, about female soccer players in Khartoum, and Talking About Trees.
“It shows one of the effects of what the Fund can do. It was not a strategy that in 2015, we said we would support films from Sudan. They came to us and we liked the projects. We saw the value in supporting Sudanese filmmakers and selected them,” Arrate Fernandez explains. The three films are now touring the world and being feted wherever they are shown.
The Bertha Foundation last year renewed its grant to the Fund. Arrate Fernandez and her team have also secured EU funding for its co-production programme (IBF Europe) and support from the Netherlands Film Fund.
The Fund has already boarded five projects in this week’s IDFA Forum, four pitching in the round tables and one in the rough cut section. They’re an intriguing mix including Manuel Abramovich’s gay cowboy yarn Cowboy Love, and Nishtha Jain’s Kolkata-based doc about pollution and jute The Golden Thread, which is produced and sold by Taskovski Films.
As the Fund boss acknowledges, it remains a challenge to secure distribution for all the films the Fund supports.
“With the bigger titles like Talking About Trees, there are possibilities but the Netherlands as a distribution territory is so small and there is so little space for alternative films,” Arrate Fernandez states.
Films are eventually streamed on the IDFA platform, IDFA TV, but Arrate Fernandez and her team always wait for “at least a year” to give the films every other opportunity of securing distribution.
The Fund boss talks of the long relationship IDFA strikes with filmmakers, often helping them through the IDFA Academy and then staying with them at every stage of their projects’ long, subsequent journey toward the screen. This was the case with critics’ favourite The Letter, the Kenyan doc directed by Christopher King and Maia Lekow.
The Fund has a budget this year of 880,000 Euros, a little more than last year. After a difficult period around a decade ago, it is now in very robust health. It is “the arm of IDFA that is always working in other continents,” Arrate Fernandez says proudly of the Fund’s continuing success in supporting the best new docs from so many different corners of the world.