FourDocs site provides a mix of amateur docs for fun and the works of up-and-coming professionals who use it as a way of getting into the industry.
FourDocs is the broadband channel for documentary from UK-based Channel 4. It is a place where anyone can upload a film as long as it’s between 3–5 minutes, and represents, in its own words, ‘the democratisation of documentary filmmaking’. Since its launch in August 2005, over 250 short documentaries have been uploaded to the site, made by a wide variety of filmmakers, from first-timers to more experienced amateurs and professionals.
In the words of Patrick Uden, Executive Editor of FourDocs, the site was formed because, We wanted to establish a new medium for the public to air their views on issues they felt passionate about. FourDocs is the first time that anyone has given both practical support and a high-profile platform for people to make and display their own personal documentaries. The site is free to use and open to everyone, whatever their level of experience.
The quality of the films varies, as one would expect when they aren’t vetted, but there’s plenty to enjoy and educate. In just half an hour of viewing, I learnt about Long Horn cattle, the animals that apparently made British beef famous (Long Horn Jim); the history of Japanese Kokeshi Dolls (A Day, A Death, A Doll); and Britain’s first officially registered witch (Experiences of a Village Witch); and I entered the worlds of amateur boxers (Gloved Up); street children in Kenya (Street Kids); and finger painters (Finger Painting Society). A useful star system also indicates how much other people have enjoyed each film.
Not only does the site offer filmmakers the chance to inform and entertain viewers, it’s also an opportunity for career development. Each month a selection of docs are seen by commissioning editors at Channel 4, one of whom is Kate Vogel, the Commissioning Editor for ‘3 Minute Wonder’, a documentary strand for new directing talent that is broadcast weeknights directly after the Channel 4 news. It is commissioned as a series of four films (usually by the same director), connected by a theme.
Tomas Leach, a documentary-maker who uploaded his film The Glass Eye Maker to the site shortly after it was launched, had no expectations that his move would lead to other commissions, although the link with Channel 4 was undeniably enticing. Keen to move one filmmaker from site to broadcast in the first year, FourDocs took his work to Kate Vogel. She really liked my work, so we met and she asked me to put together some ideas. I wrote quite a few different proposals before we finally settled on the Amazon… the films ended up being called I Am Amazon and went out in January this year.
It has definitely been a positive step,Leach attests. I had long wanted to do some ‘3 Minute Wonders’ and this sped the process up. I’d worked abroad directing commercials and documentaries before I submitted the Glass Eye film, and I’d really wanted to get into the UK broadcast world, having moved back to the UK.” Leach is currently working on post-production for an hour-long film for TSI, the Swiss broadcaster, about a family preparing for the annual drunken horserace of Todos Santos in Guatemala.
In addition to the opportunities FourDocs offers within the UK, the site also provides possibilities for broadcast outside its own territory, and ZedTV in Canada has already licensed and shown several films from the website. FourDocs also actively creates outside links to the films, particularly if a documentary’s subject matter warrants wide or specialised attention. One such example is Rachel Cares, a film about an 8-year-old who writes a letter to her future daughter explaining how she takes care of her disabled older brother, which links though to Sibs, a charity for the brothers and sisters of people with special needs.
Collaboration with Sheffield
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