“Theileana-stanculescu-144878l Bridge”, Ileana Stanculescu’s film about a bridge across the river Tisa between Sighet, Romania, and Slatina, Ukraine, won the First Appearance award at IDFA in 2004 and has since then travelled to Thessalonica, Munich, Lisbon, USA, Canada, Brazil, UK-as well as lots of other festivals around the world. But in order to get that far, i.e. to lift the film to professional level, a grant from the Jan Vrijman Fund (JVF) was crucial. Ileana Stanculescu explains that “It was almost a ‘no-budget’ film, financed by my parents and by the team itself. So [with the grant from JVF] we could make a professional sound-mixing and finish the editing.”

386bf1d29e3f93da9e726dad77ae2625“The Bridge” is just one example of a film supported by the JVF that has amazed viewers at countless festivals around the world. Other films that have been supported for their engaging stories and stunning filmmaking qualities include “In the Dark”, “Estamira”, “And Along Came a Spider”, “The Immortal”, “The Inner Tour”, “The Wall”, “Children of the Decree”-to mention just a few from the long list of films supported since the fund was founded in 1998.

Countries with Few Possibilities

The fund is open to filmmakers from “developing countries”, including countries like Romania and Russia, countries where filmmakers have limited access to film funding. In Romania, for example, Ileana Stanculescu explains that the state television only rarely works with independent filmmakers and the Romanian film fund allocates only a small percentage of its budget to documentaries, forcing filmmakers to rely on foreign partners. She says, “For most filmmakers, the JVF can be one of the only possibilities to make or finish your film. Because the state funding or television is more interested in “classical”documentaries (mostly about historical events or old cultures in Romania or biographies of Romanian writers, poets, etc.), it is difficult to finance a documentary which may be critical or may concern issues considered ‘not so important’ for the public.”

In Argentina where fiction films are doing well abroad, documentaries are completely overlooked. Filmmaker Alejo Hoijman explains: “While Argentinean fiction films have been occupying important spaces at important international film festivals in recent years (Berlin, Cannes, Venice, Toronto, Rotterdam…), this has not happened yet with the Argentinean documentaries. It is very difficult to get any kind of Argentinean funding for a documentary and almost impossible to get it distributed in our country. Every year, the Argentinean national film institute (INCAA) gives many subsidies to fiction films and just a few to documentaries. The rules for applying for subsidy for a documentary are almost taken from the rules for subsidies for fiction films, ignoring completely the specific characteristics of documentary production.”

“There is a lack of experience about producing documentaries at an international market level (with some exceptions of course!) and, at the same time, many documentaries are being made right now. This means that many ‘new’ and maybe ‘young’ documentarists are working in Argentina. But it is very difficult to apply for a subsidy from the INCAA because it wants the filmmaker to have experience and it is necessary to complete very bureaucratic and complex forms that are difficult for these ‘new’ filmmakers to handle. So the JVF is the fastest, easiest and sometimes the only way for ‘new’ Argentinean filmmakers (or any Argentinean filmmaker, for that matter) to get a subsidy to develop or produce a documentary.”

Improving the Quality

Alejo Hoijman was able to finish his film “Home Made Money” thanks to a grant from the JVF. Besides making it possible for filmmakers to realise their films at all, it is also important for the JVF to give filmmakers more freedom to make the films they way they want, as a member of alejohoijmanp8wj5wnwzsrmthe selection committee during all the years, Rada Sesic explains:

“Very often, developing countries have no funds for creative independent documentaries at all. One can only find some support from NGOs for the subject that fits into the agenda of a particular NGO. The NGOs aim of the visual material is to achieve certain goals. This means that the filmmaker is not free to choose the style and has to cater to the expectations of the NGO. Very often this is better than nothing, so most of the documentary makers in India or Bangladesh are very happy if they can get any support to keep making films. But this is where the importance of funds like JVF comes in. We give total freedom to the filmmaker to create his/her own piece. We don’t dictate the length as many broadcasters have to do since they have certain slots. We don’t determine the style or usage, either, of dialogues, voiceover or approach which can be either very personal, poetic or essayistic or even fake documentary or mokumentary. For our committee, it is important that a project appeals to us and that it seems artistically mature, creative and relevant to the audience and to society in general.”

The importance of the artistic qualities is also very crucial to the filmmakers. South African filmmaker Khalo Matabane (“Story of a Beautiful Country”, “Young Lions”) says, “For me JVF means additional funding and therefore more time for research and editing. It means just better quality films. I can have the best crew. Documentaries are always a hard sell and the more artistic the doc is, I think the less audience it has. In SA there are the South African Broadcasting Corporation and the National Film and Video Foundation which fund docs, but it is always difficult and the budgets are low.”

Selection & Money

The projects are selected by a selection committee of film professionals from different backgrounds. Long-time member Rada Sesic explains what they emphasize: “We look for creative, original ideas of a filmmaker in terms of what is the subject of the film and in terms of how cinematically one approaches this subject. For me, creative documentary should have an inspiring and powerful film language, not only a dramatic, engaging, shocking or moving story. Some small story about someone’s grandmother can be told in personal, unique and cinematically superb language that makes the whole story universal and appealing.”

 The JVF receives between 350 and 400 applications a year and is usually able to support around 32 projects. The 2006 budget is EUR 340,000. So obviously the fund rejects a lot of projects, some of them good ones, though sometimes the fund prefers to support more projects by granting less money per film. The maximum amounts offered by the JVF are EUR 15,000 for production, EUR 4,000 for development and EUR 7,000 for distribution and sales. Usually, these figures are far from enough to cover the whole budget, but a JVF grant can also help the filmmakers in the sense that funding opens doors to further funding. As Rada Sesic says:

“If JVF is on board with some support, that is already some sort of proof to many broadcasters or other funds that the project is promising. The filmmaker has many more chances, especially at home, to get some money from local sponsors or broadcasters.”

This is exactly what Alejo Hoijman experienced. “The fact of having the JVF logo on the film has helped me a lot with “Home Made Money”. But also with my new projects, as I met many producers and distributors at festivals and now I am working on a bigger documentary film, a co-production between Argentina and Spain. Now I have much more experience than two years ago, which also helps me with the INCAA as I have now the ‘experience’ they want me to have to be able to apply for a subsidy there. So, the JVF has been for me much more than a big help, I learned a lot, thanks to it. It has been for me something ‘to turn on the engine’…”


“Home Made Money” was selected for IDFA in 2004, and this and other films supported by the JVF have a great advantage of being closely connected to IDFA, as they are often screened at the festival where they get noticed by the international, professional doc business. Indian filmmaker Arvind Sinha thinks this is very valuable. His film “Journeyings and Conversations” (2003) was even selected for the Joris Ivens competition:

”The film was supported by JVF (script support, only a little money: USD 4000). It gave me a platform to showcase my film at IDFA. Because JVF not only gives financial support but what is also equally important (to me, even more important) is that it showcases the JVF supported films at IDFA. Which is fantastic.”

Undoubtedly the JVF has helped many docs from developing countries to not only have been made but also distributed. The importance of this is best explained by the funds coordinator Isabel Arrate Fernandez: “Because otherwise the films we see, the stories we are told would be very unilateral.”

Jan Vrijman Fund

JVF’s namesake is IDFA’s co-founder Jan Vrijman who was a keen supporter of filmmakers from developing countries. Vrijman passed away in 1997.

The Jan Vrijman Fund provides financial resources for documentary projects from developing countries. Eligible projects include research and script development, production and post production, distribution and sales. In addition, other activities for the promotion of production and the distribution of documentaries, such as the organisation of workshops, documentary film festivals and other educational programmes, are eligible for support.

The basic principle for grants is that projects would not otherwise have been realised, or only to a lesser extent, had it not been for the support of JVF.

Director: Ally Derks
Coordinator: Isabel Arrate Fernandez
Application deadlines: 1 February and 1 June