“The 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.”
“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 the 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:
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