Sector turns to Doc Society for relief

Sector turns to Doc Society for relief

As the documentary community struggles with the financial challenges posed by the COVID-19 lockdown, London and New York based non-profit Doc Society is reporting a huge number of applications to its new Documentary Impact Producer Relief Fund.


The Fund, administered by Doc Society with support from the US-based Perspective Fund, is aimed at impact producers experiencing financial emergencies due to the pandemic.


“It became clear that this was a sector which needed co-ordinated support. While a lot of events were moving online, there was a very real concern that impact producers themselves were potentially going to face quite a lot of hardship,” Sandra Whipham, Foundation Director at Doc Society, told Business Doc Europe. “We are present working with countries all over the global south where there is no government support whatsoever and we were very keen that we didn’t lose these very talented individuals to the sector over this period.”


Underlining the hardship corona has caused, Whipham revealed that the Fund received 578 requests in its first round from all over the world. “The need is clearly there.”


The application form is available in English French, Spanish, Portuguese and Arabic. $600,000 is available and the amounts being given out are standardised by cost of living indexes. The Relief Fund is being administered in a series of three rounds. The first wave of applications came at the start of June. Further funding rounds will be held on July 10th and August 12th.


“We opened our last funding round before corona and lockdown happened. In many cases, people were applying for money based on a whole set of activities that were then locked down,” Whipham explained. “What we have done in that round is to try and prioritise as many projects as possible for development funding, editing or research. We’ve really just tried to be practical about how we could support projects so people could continue working with funding from us.”


Without hardship funding available, the aim was to support as many documentaries as possible to “enable them to keep going during this really difficult period.”


However, BFI Doc Society has now been able to launch a production SOS Fund to support British producers whose independently financed documentary feature projects have been interrupted by the COVID 19 pandemic. “We were able to support our grantees with funds if they ran into difficulties but we didn’t really have the resources to support the whole of the UK documentary sector. We were very aware that filmmakers had shut down their productions and we wanted to support them in some way.”


The total SOS fund is £200,000. Money is offered in the form of non-recoupable grants up to a maximum of £15,000.


Doc Society representatives have been participating in many of the virtual labs, markets and festivals taking place over the summer, among them Sheffield’s Meet Market, Hot Doc Dealmakers and the CPH:DOX Forum. “(For) the project meetings, it has actually been really productive organising them online. We might find that we are spending a bit more time chatting to the producers than we would do otherwise,” Whipham said. 


Few Doc Society films have launched during the lockdown. One that did is I Am Samuel, directed by Peter Murimi and about the struggles facing a gay Kenyan man. This premiered at the Human Rights Watch Film festival digital edition earlier this spring.


As the industry continues to adjust to life with COVID-19, Doc Society is now developing a set of tools for impact screenings online. “They’ll be open access and for the community to use,” Whipham said of the tools which are intended to enable filmmakers to hold online screenings and to follow them up with discussions and debates.


Together with the Sundance Institute and other film organisations, Doc Society has also recently launched a set of coronavirus filming guidelines aimed at documentary makers worldwide. “Independent Documentary Filming in the Time of Corona” is “a living document” and can be accessed through Google Docs. It will be updated as new information and protocols become available.


This week during Sheffield, Doc Society held its first consultation event on the recent report from the University of the West of England, Keeping It Real: Toward A Documentary Film Policy For The UK that painted a dire picture of the circumstances in which many UK doc makers are working.


“I think there is frustration within the industry that as the profile of independent documentaries have risen, it feels harder than ever to get projects off the ground. There are all sorts of things that came out of the report, a lack of diversity, a lack of co-ordination, a lack of funding. Within the UK, apart from our fund, there are very few places to go. Broadcasters don’t really support this work anymore either apart from the honourable exception of (BBC) Storyville whose budget is very small,” Whipham notes. “Corona will exacerbate all these issues epically in terms of diversity and access.”