Documentary Films for Children

Machteld van Gelder -
Executive Producer of EBU documentary film series

Interviews concerning Documentary Films for Children 5
European Symposium 2001

Could you outline the main idea of the structure of the documentary series for children in the context of EBU which seems to be one of the very few continuously working structures in the area of non-fictional formats for children?
The main structure of the EBU exchange is, that all participating countries produce one documentary for the yearly exchange. Participating countries are Netherlands, Germany, Ireland, Belgium, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Turkey, Greece, Spain, South Africa, Slovenia, Slowakia. All documentaries last exactly 15 minutes and have the same theme. The theme is renewed every year. This year, the theme is: "My life will never be the same". The targeted age group is 10 till 13. EBU and programme experts appoint a new executive producer every year. He is in charge of the content of all contributions. The EBU headquarters in Geneva facilitate the main information to all countries, and handles the actual exchange.

How do you develop a theme for a serial?
The theme is developed each year at the end of the annual meeting by the group of programme experts. Suggestions come from all participants. The experience learns that it is best to choose a theme with some action in it. Successful themes were "I have made my choice" and "The day I decided".

Why do you think does this programme work so well for so many years?
How do you survive in the concurrence to the big field of features and especially comics in the children programme?
I think the programme works for so many years because the results are so different, and every country can just pick the ones they like. Some take the whole series home. Some only take three episodes. Everybody takes the ones they like best.

How and by whom are the films produced and financed?
The films are produced and financed by the participating countries individually. Every country finances its own film supervised by the executive producer.

What exactly is your work in this field?
My work is to coach individual countries in the process of developing topics for films, developing scripts, giving advice on interview techniques or cutting down costs, stay in touch during shooting periods, watch the rough cuts together in each country, advise on the final cut, to make it suitable for the international exchange.

Can you make out any national differences or styles in the films?
There are certain differences in style and genre between different countries. Generally one can say that Southern countries find family values and the family life very important. Northern countries like to portray more eccentric characters. Southern countries tend to dramatize sometimes, where documentary style could be more natural. Northern countries tend to stylize their films strongly.

Within the genre of documentaries do you have the impression that some subjects or formal aspects are of special high interest for the children? Are there some films that do not work at all for the children?
This is a very difficult question, I do not have any information on viewers and audiences in the countries that participate. We get positive reactions from colleagues, but not from the national audiences unfortunately.

Do you believe that if there is an offer of documentaries for children on a high artistic level this might also develop a request in this area or at least a higher interest?
Yes, I think if you offer well made and entertaining documentaries for children, that they will certainly like to see more of them. It is like watching other children, it is a funny thing to do.

What makes a documentary film a film that is suitable for children? Do you have any criteria?
The topic is explained by a child in his own words and the child is shown in his natural situation, so that even when the child is living a complex life, the children can observe this for themselves. I think no subject can ever be too difficult to make a film about. You have to protect your main character though.

Kontakt und weitere Informationen:
Petra Schmitz (Leitung) •
Stefanie Görtz • Bettina Schiel (Presse)
Dokumentarfilminitiative im Filmbüro NW
mail: dfi(at)