Documentaries for young audiences

In the preparation of the European Symposium "Documentaries for young audiences" Stefanie Görtz spoke to with the invited filmmakers and speakers. We will publish these interviews successive here. First, a conversation with filmmaker Bernd Sahling appeared, followed by an interview with Maria Dickmeis and Andrea Ernst, WDR. After that we published an interview with Melanie de Langen, VPRO, one with Meike Statema, IDFA International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam, one with Gudrun Sommer, Head of the film festival doxs! documentary films for children and young people, one with Katya Mader, film editorial team ZDF/3sat, one with Anna Pedroli, Dutch Cultural Media Fund, one with Filipa Jardim Reis / Joao Miller Guerra, Production company Vende-Sefilmes and one with Anne Sofie Hansen-Skovmoes, Production company Copenhagen Bombay. Agata Sotomska from the Polish Film Institute presented at the symposium a grand coalition for film education. And last two interviews about film distribution in the educational context from Rui Pereira and Felix Vanginderhuysen.

"The main action is not the emphasize on ‚the documentary film’, but to announce and distribute it as a ‚quality film for children’. "

A few questions to Felix Vanginderhuysen | Jekino Distribution

Could you please describe the business of Jekino, what are you specialised in?

Jekino is a non profit organization comprising a distribution department as well as an education one. Within the distribution we are specialized in quality films for children and youngsters. We release theatrically about 8 to 10 films every year but also cover afterwards Video-on-Demand, DVD sales and TV sales.
Within the education department we offer film education programs of all kinds and sizes.

What is the situation for documentaries for young audiences like in Belgium?

I think this is more or less non existing. There is a specialized distributor for documentaries who tries to enter the market, as well theatrically as on DVD. But within their catalogue also the films for children or young audiences are very few. You can see their complete catalogue at .
Also on TV (as well public as commercial) I don’t see many documentaries (beside the common known geographic ones).

What are your experiences with the distribution and dissemination of documentaries (especially regarding length and content) until now?

As we were until now mostly focused on full length feature films for children, we don’t have any experience with the distribution of documentaries. But now we have acquired the distribution rights for two documentaries (“Dancing in Jaffa” and “I’m Thai”). The first one is targeting on the age group up 10, the second one is meant for pre-schoolers. Personally we are delighted about those two productions and we will do all the possible efforts to get these to the audiences, but for the moment I cannot predict the final results.

What are your experiences with retailers, film education, students, and pupils?

For certain we will use the two mentioned titles for schools and film education because I think that most of the opportunities are in this field, but also here it’s just crossing fingers and hope that we will succeed. There are not yet any results known.

What would you suggest to improve the status of documentary films in the distribution field?

I suppose the main action is not the emphasize on “the documentary film”, but to announce and distribute it as a “quality film for children”.

"Persistence and resilience are real important characteristics one should have, because we’re competing with a very powerful marketing machine "

A few questions to Rui Pereira | Zero em Compartamento, Cultural Association

Could you please describe the business of the cultural association Zero em Comportamento, what are you specialised in?

Zero em Comportamento is focused on the distribution and exhibition of cinema for children and teenagers. We work both with shorts and with features, either with documentaries or with fictions. We organize thematic programmes of shorts for the youngest accordingly to the subjects given at each scholar grade. To the oldest ones, we show features, also subordinated to themes they study.

What are your experiences with the distribution and dissemination of documentaries (especially regarding length and content) until now?

As said before, we provide the right content for each grade. And adjust the length of the films to the age we are working with. Because of the language issue we’ve been obliged to avoid showing documentaries to the youngest. We don’t dub films so we subtitle them. This means that we can only show subtitled films to kids who can already read subtitles. Typically this means teenagers. The most important thing we’ve learnt is that kids have little understanding of what means a film. They’re so used to television content that they forget that a film is always the result of someone’s will. This means that they take everything that is shown in the film as if it is for real. With documentaries this gap is of course much smaller.

What are your experiences with retailers, film education, students, and pupils?

I divide the experience in two:
The critics are really overdemanding with the films that are released. They expect each released film to be a masterpiece and they evaluate the films according to that. But they have a very narrow perspective of their work forgetting that most of their readers are not educated enough to understand their references. On the other hand, we have these other “critics” who are only interested in the Hollywood star-system so they overlook everything else.
The other side of my experience is the one with everyone that we’re able to convince to go to the cinemas or to book the films to show it to their students, etc.
Usually these people really enjoy the films we show them because they are surprised with the fact that they can use the films as a starting point to discuss specific and important issues.
Therefore, we can only be confident that we’re growing our audience little by little and we know that we have to keep on working.

What would you suggest to improve the status of documentary films in the distribution field?

It is very difficult to give a general answer to this question as reality is different in each country, but I would say that:
Persistence and resilience are real important characteristics one should have, because we know we’re competing with a very powerful marketing machine;
Knowing that, we have to show documentaries (and other kind of films) to as many kids as possible because this is the only way we have to make them used to watching this kind of cinema;
But we have to adjust the kind of documentaries we show to each age group because we can’t expect them to be interested by very important and classic documentaries (in a cinephile way) if they are not used to watch that and if the subject is not interesting to them.
In resume, I’d say that kids need to become used to watching documentaries as a genre since a real young age, but they need to be provided with interesting issues and the level of difficulty has to be progressively harder.
There’s no point in trying to “fight” the mainstream/Hollywood films with the same weapons because not only we don’t have the same resources but also because kids are just not used to watch it so they will not want to watch documentaries just because it is documentaries.

"Of course there would be no success without competent teachers, who understand why film education is so important these days"

A few questions to Anna Sienkiewicz-Rogowska and Agata Sotomska | Polish Film Institute

Your platform Filmoteka Szkolna is based on a coalition for film education. How come that you developed such a platform with the aim of building up a huge infrastructure during the last 5 years?

At first there was a DVD box of 55 Polish films that were sent free of charge to all middle and secondary schools in Poland together with lesson plans and film analyses. We believed that it would be enough to start a common film education process at schools. Of course we were wrong. It turned out that there is nothing like methodology of film education at teacher faculties at universities so teachers don’t really know how to use films within lessons. That was when we invited the Center for Citizenship Education and Warsaw Film School to cooperate with us to train teachers. There is no education departement in the Polish Film Institute so the number of people working on Filmoteka Szkolna is very limited. We knew that if we want to have a comprehensive film education system in Poland we are not able to do that on our own. The coalition for film education was a natural next step. The activities run by the institutions affiliated to the coalition complement each other, we also share newsletters. So now the reach of film education projects in much wider.

And in the meantime we decided to expand the number of films available for schools. As teachers were complaining about the lack of time to watch films during regular lessons we thought of creating an online platform. This solution enables pupils to watch films as their homework at home and teachers to show only film clips at school.

Which role does the Polish Film Institute takes within this coalition? What are the tasks of the Polish Film Institute in general?

We chair the coalition for film education and we are the contact point for all those institutions that would like to join us. The Polish Film Institute also promotes projects organised by affiliated institutions and supports them financially.  The Polish Film Institute was established in 2005 to help a local film industry to regain it’s international position by supporting all stages of film production, disseminationf of film culture and promotion.

What is your position and function within the project? What different section the platform offers?

Anna Sienkiewicz-Rogowska is the head Film Culture Dissemination and Promotion department and Agata Sotomska is the coordinator of film education initiatives run in Polish Film Insitute.

Apart from being a VOD platform, the Filmoteka Szkolna-website gives teachers the opportunity to cut film clips which improves the course of lesson if they want to recall some important fragments. Pupils and teachers can also find some useful information about all activities that we or our partners organise for them. Once a year we also organise an online festival for schools. On a particular day within a couple of hours youngsters can solve all sorts of film tasks that we publish on the website, they can also participate in online chats where they discuss various film topics.

Who are the partners of Filmoteka Szkolna?

Since 2009 we’ve been working closely with Center for Citizenship Education and Warsaw Film School who deliver workshops for teachers and pupils. Over time, other institution as Fundacja Generator, New Horizons Association and Polish Filmmakers Association started collaborating with us. Cyfrowe Repozytorium Filmowe (Digital Movie Repository) is our technological partner.

Could you please explain the role documentary films and documentary forms play amongst the several sections of the platform’s content?

The idea of Filmoteka Szkolna is to place films in a wider cultural and social context and that is why they are divided into theme sets. Each set contains of two or even three films and documentaries are present in almost all of them. There are 121 films on the platform and 40 of them are documentaries so they play an important part in our programme. We believe that if we teach about documentary films and make them a starting point for discussions on the condition of human being and world in general, we will eventually educate critical and conscious people who want to understand what they watch and experience around themselves. On the other hand documentary films are not easily accessible – they are not screened at cinemas apart from film festivals and we intend to give them a second life within Filmoteka Szkolna.

How do you address young audiences, how do young audiences find the content of the platform?

Certainly it’s not an easy task to interest youngsters in Polish films, especially older ones. That’s why we run online courses aimed at pupils to make those films more comprehensible. We also organise several contests where they can write about those films or make their own short forms inspired by the titles that they find in Filmoteka Szkolna. We encourage young people to organise their own film projects or school film festivals where they can decide on the programme. Once a year we meet in Warsaw with almost 200 pupils from across Poland – that is the time when they can present what they did during the school year to famous actors, film directors, producers and film critics. Over the time we can see that it has worked. Of course there would be no success without competent teachers, who understand why film education is so important these days, who know what films they should show first and how to inspire pupils to learn more about Polish films and cinema in general.  

Could you please explicate your experiences with the platform and the feedback of the audience and especially from the education field?

It was not easy to convince film producers to let film be on our platform because of the complicated authorship law in Poland. But eventually, after a couple of years negotiations we succeeded. Teachers and pupils welcomed the new solution with gratification. Before there was one DVD for use of the whole school. Now teachers from the same school can show the same film at the same time. The only problem is that the internet connection in Polish schools is still very weak and some teachers who would love to screen films during lessons are not able to do it.

Additional question: Is it true that in connection with the infrastructure building you succeeded in starting the digitalization of all films from Polish directors? Did we get that right?

Digitalisation of Polish films started in 2010. It is true that those films that are in Filmoteka Szkolna and other educational programmes have priority over others in the process of digitalisation.

"The central factor is to be where the youth is."

A few questions to Anne Sofie Hansen-Skovmoes | Production company Copenhagen Bombay

The online diary project DOXWISE is meant to be made by young people and for the youth. How big is / was the response by your target group – as contributors and as an audience?

DOXWISE is an online documentary project, which has been tested in Denmark during two seasons in 2008 and 2009 and one season in the Nordic countries back in 2012. During 10 weeks you follow young people's lives. The youth between 18-27 years open their home and hearts and share their thoughts and feelings. With great courage and sincerity they offer a glimpse of their lives!

DOXWISE originated from a wish to let the voices and stories of the youth themselves be heard. Not as reality or give space to the selfie-generation, but to show a more honest side of the youth.

The vision for DOXWISE is to create a digital youth platform where young people can communicate on their own terms across national borders on specific problems, situations and basic challenges which concerns young peoples lifes here and now.

There has been a great interest from both the contributors and the audience – at least the ones who DOXWISE reached. The first two seasons were made back in 2008 and 2009. The first season was launched at MySpace and the second season at a Danish newspaper’s online version called Politiken. The third season in 2012 was Nordic with Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Finland and Denmark and was hosted by the media partner MSN.

How do you address and reach your target group, who supported you to expand your audience?

Having changed the platforms from season to season has had positive and negative effects as DOXWISE did not get to establish its own media platform, but was spread out over three platforms plus on Facebook and other social media. DOXWISE has reached different sub groups within the target group – and clearly also reached an older audience at the newspaper Politiken platform. In all DOXWISE has reached around a million hits.
In the wish of expanding the audience there has been made a marketing strategy for each season and country – also depending on the protagonists stories and lives – that entails the social media, interviews in TV, radio and newspapers and presentations made by the DOXWISE directors and protagonists. The central factor is to be where the youth is.

The DOXWISE-protagonists are documenting their everyday life with camera and then deliver hours of raw material to the professional team of director and editor, who then edit and upload 3-5 minute webisodes on the DOXWISE-Page. How was the communication and participation between contributors and the professional team organized?

Making DOXWISE relevant, honest and interesting takes a lot of effort from both the contributors as well as the professional team of directors, editors and producers. The cast has to feel safe and protected in order to let the world in to their lives. It’s a vulnerable process. This is why dialogue is so important. The directors follow their cast closely and they are responsible for the content uploaded on the DOXWISE platform. So the 10 weeks of production demands that the professional team is stand by all the time.

Can participation of protagonists be connected with the production and the ideas of artistic documentary?

Indeed. With this way of producing content to young people by the youth themselves you never know which directions it will go. NotHing is planned or censored. It’s impossible to predict life and thus also DOXWISE. This is the beauty of it. Having young people living their lives, exploring life and feelings and taking them new places. It’s honest and it’s real.

What does the future of DOXWISE look like?

The future DOXWISE will be global. We have a hope that the youth around the world can gather, get inspired and experience that in spite of different cultures, religions and sex they have many things in common. DOXWISE is build upon young peoples curiosity and desire to create dialogue between cultures in order to gain insight, tolerance and solidarity among young people across borders.
We hope that DOXWISE GLOBAL will come alive in the nearest future.

"They gave us total artistic freedom and never questioned our options"

A few questions to Filipa Jardim Reis / Joao Miller Guerra | Production company Vende-Sefilmes

The film “Cat’s Cradle” was produced in a film project financially supported by the City Council of Setúbal as part of their social and cultural work in this special district. When did you come into this project?

We came into this project when we won the public contest that was held to decide who would take part on this big adventure. We had been working in Setubal for a while in a different project and we had heard about this so we decided to give it a try. It was with great satisfaction that some months later we knew we had won that public contest.

Did you have a special framework to obey during this project which also influenced the film production process? Could you follow your own artistic ideas and views?

In the original contest framework proposition we were asked to make one or more films in a specific neighborhood of Setubal and to have people from that specific place involved in the process. Our proposition was to make two short fiction films, in straight collaboration with the inhabitants, and an observational documentary more about that place and the way that people lived there. That was exactly what we did. This was a major influence in the process, we had to prepare the fiction films while we were shooting the documentary. In other words we used the documentary as a strategy to get to know better the neighborhood where we would be living and working for three months. At the same time that would also gained us more confidence with the population.
We had always, at any time, during the whole process total agreement and confidence from the team with whom we worked from Setubal City Council. There was never a "no". It was this amazing relationship that brought this results. They gave us total artistic freedom and never questioned our options.

How did you find your protagonists?

We spread some posters that said "Casting" throughout the neighborhood asking for people to come and take part on one of our films. Some just told us their stories and went away but others stayed for more. We worked with them on writing and acting for our films.
After this we did some drama workshops with those who stayed.

Your film is an artistic documentary film with a decisive authorship and style. It has been screened at international film festivals. How did you manage within the framework based on partnership and participation of the people of Setubal?

Before concluding all three movies we showed them to all the participants to be sure they were ok with it. After that we presented the Setubal City Council a strategy on how we thought the films should be released, not to cannibalise each other and how they should be first released on festivals and them commercially on cinemas. Despite they had never thought about it, they accepted our proposal. It ended up working very well for both sides, us directors and producers and them, City Council.
Would you regard this way of financing and producing beyond film funding and film industry as a realistic way of filmproduction?

Yes, very much, but there has to be confidence and that sometimes is very difficult. It also has to exist a perfect match between what the authors want and have to say as artists and what the financing partners have as a purpose.

"It is good to see that the genre has grown so much over the past years, but it’s still a delicate niche that needs to be taken care of and nourished."

A few questions to Anna Pedroli | Dutch Cultural Media Fund

What is your task in the Mediafonds regarding the KIDS & DOCS workshop?

The Kids & Docs workshop is a project of two film festivals, IDFA and Cinekid, and the Mediafonds. We have been organizing this workshop together for 15 years now. Each organization appoints one representative and for the Mediafonds, that’s me. The three of us divide the work amongst each other, quite organically.
From my position within the fund I’m the contact person for the broadcasters. Each edition starts – apart from evaluating last year’s workshop, the results, adapting the curriculum, approaching a tutor, scouting for new talent – with an inventory of participating broadcasters. When they decide to participate, I make sure they know how it works, what we expect of them. Furthermore, the workshop needs some coordination during its course; plans change, workshop participants run into problems during research, broadcasters have other ideas about their projects; all kinds of things that need to be discussed. It’s all in the game, it’s documentary.

How did the documentary film production in the Netherlands develop since the Kids & Docs workshop has been launched?

Our workshop definitely has had a positive impact on the development of childrens’ docs in the Netherlands. It stimulated almost 100 different filmmakers to make high quality programmes for children. The workshop, in close cooperation with a lot of different broadcasters and (more and more!) independent producers has resulted in 77 childrens’ docs now. Off course they are not all ‘genius’, but in general I think we can say that the quality is high, as well as the effort to experiment.

Would you say that the artistic documentary filmmaking for young audiences did get support or a kind of reliability through this program?

Yes indeed! Kids & Docs aim is – as well as the Media Funds’ - to stimulate filmmakers to create high quality documentaries for children. And by keep on doing and ‘preaching’ this, and evaluating the results, and creating volume over the years, we set a standard.

What is the additional benefit of documentary production for young audiences? What would you answer to somebody who asks‚ why documentaries for young audiences?’

Documentaries give us new perspectives on the world. They teach us new things, new ways of living, they give us insight in worlds we didn’t know and through all this, we see our own lives in a broader perspective. I think this is inspiring, and healthy even. And I think that this applies to both grown-ups and children. And besides documentaries in general about many different subjects, it’s enriching to consume, and tell, stories in different shapes, forms and visual approaches. That’s what we (Kids & Docs, the Mediafonds) encourage filmmakers to do.

How do you see the further development of kids documentaries in the nearer future?

I really hope that the success of Dutch childrens’ docs will keep the genre alive in the future. Dutch public broadcasters are confronted with big budget cuts (that also threaten the Mediafund that is likely to lose its total budget from 2017 on) and these kinds of programs are vulnerable. It is good to see that the genre has grown so much over the past years, but it’s still a delicate niche that needs to be taken care of and nourished. Also it’s good to think about crossing different platforms, media and genres; how can that bring childrens’ documentary further, both in terms of the creating process of the ‘content’ as well as finding your audience. There’s some terrain there to be explored by us, together with filmmakers and children.

“Documentary film uniquely meets one of the basic needs of young people—namely to want to get to the bottom of things in an open, inquisitive and imaginative way.”

Questions put to Katya Mader | Film editorial team ZDF/3sat

What was the thinking in the 3sat film editorial team that led to the “Ab 18!” call for proposals?

Over the past 20 years we have developed and produced two series of documentary films, which have dealt with the personal worlds of children up to 14 years old, or in the second case, 17-year-old girls, in the form of 30-minute-long films. These experiences gave us the impetus for the development of the documentary film series “Ab 18!” On one hand, we wanted to develop a proven forum for documentary film, in which we can reconcile the needs of television for format specifications with the particularities of auteur films. On the other hand, we wanted to realign the content focus on youth issues after 20 years of “Fremde Kinder” and “Mädchengeschichten” and to continue where the two predecessor series left off. That means crossing the threshold between childhood and adulthood, which the protagonists stand before, or on, in “Fremde Kinder” and “Mädchengeschichten.” “Ab 18!” is about young women and men who have left this liminal state behind them and who now operate autonomously and must find their bearings in the first decade of their lives as adults.

What are the benchmarks for this programme in terms of content and aesthetics?

We are looking for concepts for creative documentary films that differ from the reporting, objectifying television forms (reportage, feature, documentation). The films should each be dedicated to one protagonist (in exceptional case also a couple or group of friends) and be told personally and subjectively. We hope for authors who face their protagonists on an equal footing and who have a recognisable attitude and cinematic signature. We are open to all possible topics that are relevant to young adults between 18 and 28, and trust our authors to find protagonists who can carry a 30- to 45-minute-long documentary film. It is important for us that the filmmakers find a cinematic analogy for their protagonist’s stories, which does justice to both the personalities and the material as well as the short form, which should not be underestimated.

What do you answer if someone asks why there must be documentary films for children and young people?

Because documentary film uniquely meets one of the basic needs of young people—namely to want to get to the bottom of things in an open, inquisitive and imaginative way. And it can achieve so much more than the pure mediation of information or entertainment. In addition, documentary film offers huge narrative and creative freedom, which provides for a bit more variety in the daily media monotony and works on different levels: not only do they lead to real places and people, who one wouldn’t perhaps encounter otherwise, they also train seeing and understanding. Another characteristic of documentary films and their makers, which can not be over stated, is that one takes more time than is normal nowadays for encounters, empathy and serious reflection, and as such they can manage without the usually forms of ingratiation, which unfortunately often characterises adults’ engagement with youths and youth culture.

Documentary film productions for young target audiences surely don’t feature highly in the ratings—where is the profit in it for a broadcaster?

We do not produce our documentary film series targeted at a particular audience group. It is much more the case that we are interested in the issues and stories of young grown-ups, because we believe that insights into their worlds and the related questions around growing up today is worthwhile for the general 3sat audience—both for the parental generation as well as for young viewers, who, in the best case, can identify with the stories of the protagonists. Alongside this content aspect, the funding of documentary forms in television, which builds up the profile of the 3sat programme, is a matter for us that works reliably and sustainably as part of a series that has new calls for proposals every year. The compact form of the “Ab 18!” films means they can be positioned flexibly within the programme—both as a series and on their own. And they reach far beyond the horizon of the television programme, in that they are shown at festivals and in media pedagogic contexts, are awarded prizes and are spoken about in the press or social networks. That means the films are not only television content, but also cultural assets, and as such satisfy the 3sat remit of producing so-called “public values” alongside a certain amount of audience-accepted material.

“In no way have young people already given up on television”

Questions put to Gudrun Sommer | Head of the film festival doxs! documentary films for children and young people

What is the idea behind doku.klasse? Which experiences from doxs! led to the development of the project?

The basic idea is simple: documentary filmmakers exchange views on a concrete film project with young people—directly. All of the authors who took part in the 3sat “Ab 18!” call for proposals could apply for these workshops with their exposés. The name “doku.klasse” refers to the artistic context, to “film classes” or “ateliers” because it’s about an open, creative encounter and not about superficial test viewings with the audience.
Experience from earlier projects has shown that young people often don’t feel represented or engaged by what is on offer on TV, but that they have in no way already given up on television, as is often asserted. So instead of complaining that young people are turning away from television, one could try to enter into dialogue with them. We are interested in intelligent and creative forms of participation, between the audience, filmmakers and those responsible for broadcasting. It becomes really exciting when participation and having a say don’t just function as a marketing fig leaf, but enter into a dialogue with authorship.

The title of the symposium panel about the reason behind doku.klasse is “A youthful appearance is no longer enough”—does that mean that television and filmmakers must find out more about the attitudes and sensitivities of the young audience in order to reach them?

Knowing your audience is not a bad thing... But the next step would be to involve young people actively in programming. The relationship between supplier and recipient has not only been intensified, but also fundamentally changed by digitalisation. There are new technological possibilities and more importantly, a new consciousness for participatory processes.
But in particular the title plays on the radical change that television in general is subject to. The term “broadcast” as the essence of television’s remit is running into trouble given the importance of social media and video-on-demand platforms. The non-linear use of media libraries, twitter traffic, the interaction with programmes and the relationship with the viewer via facebook-likes are growing immensely in importance. Indication enough that the logic of television will change over the next years. The question is: what influence will this development have on the programme? What effects will this change have on the broadcasters’ media landscape, on the editorial teams and as such on the filmmakers and creative work?

The doku.klasse is a cooperation between doxs!, Grimme-Academy, ZDF/3sat and FSF Berlin—are so many partners necessary to stimulate the production of documentary films for young audiences?

In this case: yes. Because our aims are both in film education and in the qualification of filmmakers. The individual partners all bring their competences into the work and also function as multipliers in the respective scenes. These networks are essential for a niche topic such as documentary film for children and young people.

The education of film culture is of great political importance in most European countries. Is this where the future of documentary films for young viewers lies?

Hopefully not! Or more precisely: hopefully not only there.

Documentary film should already be a fixed component of curricular and extracurricular education. That’s why with doxs! we closely linked the festival with scholastic contexts from the very beginning. doku.klasse is also about the interface between cultural education and documentary praxis.
But to reduce this historically developed filmic form to that alone would be to fall decidedly short. Documentary work is, in the first instance, an artistic praxis, which, in the same way as music or theatre, is not at all limited to educational demands. Documentary film is a specific artistic form, a way to reflect the world, to formulate standpoints, to get involved—no matter who the target group is. It would be fatal if, in the future, documentary film for young people were forced to legitimise itself purely through its pedagogic use.

"If filmmakers are able to see many examples, they are challenged to improve and innovate the genre"

A few questions to Meike Statema | IDFA International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam

What is your task at IDFA and at the KIDS & DOCS workshop?

I am Head of Education at IDFA. This department organizes all kinds of projects for young audiences and emerging filmmakers. One of them is the Kids & Docs Workshop. Being part of the organization (together with the Mediafund and Cinekid) I need to make sure that the program and content of the workshop is there and that we make sure we have a good selection of filmmakers participating. When the results are there, I am in touch with the filmmakers, producers and broadcasters for the screening of their films at IDFA. So I am also responsible for the program section of children’s documentaries at IDFA. This is a selection of around 15 titles from all over the world.

How did the documentary film production in the Netherlands develop since the Kids & Docs workshop has been launched?

I think we managed to give a boost to the genre in the beginning. The industry got more committed, in the beginning these were mainly the broadcasters, nowadays a lot of producers are more and more interested as well. Also in times when the production volume got really low, I think 8-10 years ago, there were still results coming out of the workshop. The last years, a few broadcasters initiated great documentary series as well, so the number of titles increased enormously. So that is about the volume. Talking about the artistic quality of the productions, I think we really tried to improve the genre as well. Developing the projects in a workshop setting that you are able to sharpen every year, helps. Also, if filmmakers are able to see many examples (because of the volume as mentioned above), they are challenged to improve and innovate the genre further as well. I have the feeling we have a ‘scene’ now within the industry, with producers, broadcasters and filmmakers who are not producing just one title but are following up with more titles.

Would you say that the artistic documentary filmmaking for young audiences did get support or a kind of reliability through this program?

In a way I think so, yes. Like I said, we (including the committed broadcasters) kept going even in harder times. And now we are at a point that it has a good reputation and for example, producers who normally produced for adults are also attracted now to commit. So I think it helped. But for example, it is still hard to find the best slot on television for these kinds of productions. It is still a niche within a niche.

„Kids & Docs“ and „Zapp echt gebeurd“ combine the elements internet, television, cinema, festivals and interactive participation. What range of audience can be reached with this model, did the audience for documentaries expand by this cross section distribution?

I am afraid I cannot give you any numbers. But I think that this is what we need to do, get those films out there and being seen. The cooperation of these strong platforms is necessary to reach also new audiences. I think it is a hard audience. They might bump into a film by zapping or surfing and they keep watching because they (for example) recognize something in the story. But these are coincidences, I don’t believe they will say ‘documentaries’ to be their favorite to watch (besides the wildlife stories maybe). So you need to force them a little. By reaching them through schools and other kind of screenings during the festival. Once they watch, the response is really great. So there is a big task for us to keep finding ways to reach them.

What is the additional benefit of documentary production for young audiences? What would you answer to somebody who asks‚ why documentaries for young audiences?’

Of course the easiest answer would be: “Why not?”. If you think it is a powerful genre in general and if you think it is important to have good fiction films, books, games etc. for children why not making documentaries that are attractive to watch? It is my experience that the genre is perfect for a young audience if you hear and watch their response. Although I have no illusion and some will find them boring. The films can be fun or interesting to watch and after that ‘first level’ of experience, it often makes them think about themselves, their world around them. Sharing their opinion afterwards is an important aspect.

How do you see the further development of kids’ documentaries in the nearer future?
What kind of function do have festivals? Are they sort of incubator for new ideas concerning the visibility of documentaries?
What kind of special contribution provides IDFA in the KIDS & DOCS model?

I think a lot is said in the above already but I see it as a responsibility for IDFA to be part of an industry that is keeping the genre alive and finding new audiences. I think there is still a lot to win. Not only in numbers of audiences, but also in creating ways new media and platforms are influencing the genre, telling the stories in a different way and reaching them in a different way.

"The fact that all events really happened make the kids feel like it can happen to them"

A few questions to Melanie de Langen | VPRO Jeugd

sounds for mazin 2 k

Zapp Echt Gebeurd“ is a docs-only-platform. How come?

Documentaries are a very important genre in the Netherlands. For adults there was already a digital documentary platform: NPO Doc, (former: Holland Doc). Because we produce a lot of documentaries for children – in just the past fifteen years more then 300 docs for kids – there was a wish to create a platform for children. Different broadcasters worked together on ‘Zapp Echt Gebeurd’. And there it was, launched at the Dutch kids festival Cinekid in October 2011.

In mixed film programs (fiction, animation and documentaries) documentary films for the youth have a rather hard competition for audiences. Decision makers (teachers, parents) tend to prefer fiction before doc. What is your experience with the docs-only-program for young audiences?

Actually we see that a lot of teachers choose docs over fiction. The real stories have an incredible impact on children. The fact that all events are really happened make the kids feel like it can happen to them: it comes closer, and it creates more empathy for children who go through all that. Therefore it has a great educational value. Documentaries can expand children’s view of the world.

„Zapp Echt Gebeurd“ adresses the kids explicitly. How do you reach them? Who else gives support to enlarge your audience? Are there other media or websites who put a link to

We reach them online thanks to the digital platform, after they were broadcasted on TV. A lot of school teachers follow us and we are part of a big school project called ‘Media Masters’ with 2900 classes (72.500 pupils). We work together with film festivals like Cinekid (Dutch kids festival), IDFA (International Dutch Documentary festival) and Movies that Matter, which put links to our website and the other way around.

How does VPRO integrate the feedback from the website in further commissioning and producing documentaries for young audiences?

Not directly, but we start an experiment at the Cinekid Festival in which children can submit their own movie for a masterclass and who knows for a further cooperation. On the platform we can also observe trends by reactions from children. And with this overview we saw a lot of documentaries had very heavy subjects. Then we can decide to go for a different approach in the Kids & Docs program for example.

What would you answer to somebody who asks ‚why documentaries for young audiences?’

Because they are real stories. Completely from the point of view of a child. You can really follow what the child goes through. And it’s told by an incredible work of cinematography. Therefore also very interesting for adults.

“For some these films simply give them the courage to step away from their own standpoint and think laterally.”

Question put to Maria Dickmeis and Andrea Ernst | Department for Ethics and Education, WDR television

to be a b girl 1 k

dok’mal! addresses the young target audience directly without going via the school or parents. How did you reach this concept from the viewpoint of the broadcaster and the Ethics and Education programming group?

Imparting media competence is an important part of our public educational mandate. dok’mal!—for which both WDR and SWR are responsible—offers an outstanding online platform for this, where young people can find their way directly to the films and our multimedia content on the topic of media competence. dok’mal! offers both: films for young people and educational material for school lessons. Using the example of “JugendDokFilme”, we show what it is that makes a documentary film and how it differs from journalistic forms.

We address in particular the 13+ target group, so from the 7th grade up. With dok’mal! they find out lots about filmic and dramaturgic means in an entertaining way—ideally mediated by their teachers. On our portal they can find numerous suggestions for making lessons exciting—including creating their own projects such as photo stories, reviews or clips.
In the meantime, the further training of teachers is also a standard part of what we offer.

How do children and young people react, in your experience, to documentary forms / elements in films?

Young people often like to watch, for example, nature documentaries, docu-soaps, casting formats and other forms of scripted reality in their everyday lives. But they wouldn’t necessarily watch documentary films that look at everyday with a subjective, unrefined perspective, without guidance. This is where dok’mal! comes in: with our range of films which speak directly from the world of the young people, about their desires, fears and aspirations. In this way they are introduced to documentary film. The reaction is often very positive.

dok’mal! is associated with Planet Schule, where teaching material on individual films can be found, then of course the WDR with its documentary film production is also behind the project—how do uses complement each other?

The teaching material offers comprehensive information on the production of films with work sheets and lesson suggestions and explains, using many examples, how and with which means directors, editors and sound engineers work. The accompanying material and the workshops we offer encourage teachers to attempt their own film projects with their pupils. That is the central core of what dok’mal! has to offer. We facilitate the pupils’ introduction and access via films that deal with the topics in their everyday lives, which put their worlds, hopes and feelings centre stage.

The production of documentary films cannot usually be justified by their ratings. What do you answer if someone asks why there has to be documentary films for children and young people?

In a media world increasingly characterised by fakes, scripted reality and trash TV, documentary films convey a very different and very special quality in dealing with people and issues; they are mostly of great social relevance. They enable a deep, authentic view, participation in a real—sometimes foreign—world, in which reflection and slowness are allowed and desirable and, at best, stimulates reflection on one’s own positions and attitudes. For some these films also simply give them the courage to leave their own standpoint and think laterally.
Who could doubt that it’s important to bring children and young people close to this quality and open it up to them—and to do this from the perspective of their own worlds?! With films that focus on their topics, their everyday lives and their growing up.

That can’t be about ratings. That’s the public service and social remit. It’s about coming into contact with a media that has already become quite foreign to many young viewers. Young people’s television is increasingly mainly made up of fun and entertainment. Immersing in the lives and problems of their age group is, alongside fiction, news, reports etc., therefore important. Possibilities for identification are created, as documentary film is—alongside the experiencing of social relationships, emotions, the unusual, otherness and problems—also an aide to life/survival. Therefore it is extraordinarily important from our perspective for young people to know or to get to know the full range of filmic formats, and focussed on being age appropriate. On this foundation they can develop their own judgements and appraisals of mediated realities.

Where is the added value for the broadcaster to invest in this branch?

It’s not about added value for a broadcaster. It’s about added value for your society. We follow our statutory mandate, which all citizens are responsible for with their TV licence fees.

We must (!) attract young people to our programme and part of this is focusing on their topics, looking at the world from their perspective. If we can do that well, we can get them interested in our films. With the help of what we offer with dok’mal!, we can hopefully also contribute to children and young people learning to differentiate good films from bad and becoming more conscious of the possibilities of media manipulation.

“What happens in the cinema for young viewers is most often about escaping reality.”

ednas tag 2 k

Questions put to director Bernd Sahling

Not only your documentary films, but also your feature films, have a documentary signature—why do you think it is important to handle realistic material for children?

What happens in the cinema for young viewers is most often about escaping reality. Children go to the cinema to have a good time, without being “bothered” with problems from their own lives. That’s what is established, that’s how money can be made. What has almost been forgotten in this is how intense and beneficial it can be to experience stories in the cinema that have very much to do with your own everyday life.

How do children react, in your experience, to documentary forms / elements in films?

At first they are, of course, uncertain because they don’t know it. It requires an introduction so that they know what they are engaging with, just like what happens in the school cinema weeks.
Afterwards I have often experienced what is for me an unexpected gratitude, they are thankful that we have dealt with their conflicts, their fears and hopes in a film. And there is usually a desire for discussion after the film, to analyse what has been experienced.

The development of digital media influences the audience’s reception. How does this change or influence your work as a filmmaker?

I don’t really know to be honest. Many are of the opinion that because of the speed of the media that our children consume, films must also become quicker. But I have certainly been able to reach many children with slowness. The story is still the decisive point, whether it interests young viewers and whether the narrative style and the cinematic means correspond with the story of the film.
But what I have noticed is that there is a huge potential in their skills in photography, with their own small films, which almost every child films with their own device nowadays. I can always build on that when I run a film workshop with children. And it is equally helpful in film discussions that are also about the application of filmic means.

Where do you find support for the production of documentary films for children nowadays? Are new partnerships in the production and distribution of your films formed through digital media?

There is a lot of support from people who work with children themselves, whether they are teachers, media educators, non-commercial distributors or festival organizers. They are all looking for this kind of film projects, because they need them for their work.
The application of films has been greatly simplified by the diversity of playback possibilities.
But in terms of financing, we all have to start from the very beginning of that rocky road with each new project. Most of these kinds of films don’t make any profit and the ever-decreasing cultural film funding is fiercely contested.

Does the area of film education represent a (new) market, which, in your opinion, goes towards securing the place of artistic documentary film?

I wouldn’t call it a market. If we look at school budgets, for example, and their room for manoeuvre—there are other priorities as to where the money should go.
But society cannot ignore the growing demand for documentary films in the educational sphere and special budgets could be formed from that, which must be wrested by a unified political effort.