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AIDC #2: Australia’s Documentary Conference Was A Winner / Updated

2017 March 30
by Peter Hamilton

Here are 6 reasons why the 2017 edition showed AIDC as rising towards the top tier of documentary conferences.

 

“The Australian International Documentary Conference Board is delighted to announce that Alice Burgin, who programmed a very successful 30th anniversary conference in Melbourne earlier this year, has been appointed to the role of AIDC Director.” (May 1, 2017)

Congratulations to Alice and the AIDC Board. Great choice, as you can gather from my report below on AIDC 2017. Peter

1.  Oscar Winner:

AIDC scored a big coup by showcasing Ezra Edelman, director of O.J.: Made in America, winner of the 2017 Academy Award for Best Documentary.

In the opening Keynote, Edelman was joined by John Battsek (One Day in September, Fire in Babylon) in a discussion that was expertly moderated by ABC journalist Tracey Holmes.

Takeaways included:

  • It is a new Golden Age for archive-based documentaries at Awards time, for projects commissioned by channels and SVOD platforms.
  • Budgets are in the $2-3 Mn range for “auteur” documentaries, based on a benchmark of 18-24+/- months for production / post.

  • Ezra Edelman is ferocious worker, impressing us all with the depth of his prep for each interview with the subjects of his films.
  • We were fascinated by the keynoters discussion of the emotional tension between the commitment required to complete a comprehensive documentary on a taxing subject, and the detachment needed to capture an objective “truth” about the characters who are at the center of a film.
  • And the prolific John Battsek is an inspiration for those who are searching for fulfillment by doing what they love.

2.  Melbourne in March.

  • March is the best time of the year to visit booming Melbourne, an impressive city at any time of the year.
  • Steady warm days made for relaxed conversation in the sun at AIDC’s Federation Square location.
  • It’s in the heart of the city, but a few metres to the Yarra River and Botanical Gardens, and a tram ride through the Victorian inner suburbs to the beaches beyond.
  • All of this made for lots of opportunities to relax, chat, eat well, and build valuable relationships.

3. Welcome to Country

  • I was moved when I received a note from AIDC asking moderators to recognize the Aboriginal owners of the land around Melbourne:
    • ‘I’d like to begin by acknowledging the traditional owners and custodians of the land on which we meet today, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation, and the Elders from other communities who may be here today.
  • It was a shock to experience in this way the shift for the Aboriginal people from official invisibility to recognition, all in my own lifetime.
  • Indigenous Australians were not even recognized as citizens or granted the vote until 1962, when I was already at high school.
  • I now live in Brooklyn. I wonder if I will ever hear a comparable acknowledgement at Tribeca of the Lenape people. They are as invisible in New York’s conversations today as Port Philip’s first peoples were when I was in grade school.

4. Decision-makers

  • AIDC counted 49 local and international decision makers, buyers and funding agents.
  • They were among the 89 speakers who participated in 30 panels and workshops.
  • They ranged from the basics like distribution strategies to hot trends, like my session on LIVE / Instant Documentary.
  • Congrats to the fresh and upbeat AIDC programming team. They are taking it up in big steps, year by year.
  • AIDC has become an attractive and rewarding destination, despite the distance for Europeans and North Americans.

Fire In Babylonmy favorite John Battsek film.

5. Australia’s Documentary Economy

  • Australia is enjoying a generation-long boom based primarily on the sale of natural resources to China, and a real estate market that is a safe haven for Asian buyers.
  • But the rising wealth isn’t being shared with the documentary sector.
  • There is no philanthropic culture in Australia that is comparable to the web of U.S. foundations that supports film making and the arts
  • Among public funders, there have been rolling cutbacks at Screen Australia, the ABC and SBS.
  • The ABC’s new MD shows a deaf ear to the pubcaster’s loyal but older audience, risking all on a pitch to young consumers who are tuning out the channels anyway.
  • The commercial broadcasters are in a downward valuation spiral as Netflix and binge-viewing take root.
  • Amazon’s upcoming entry into the market with a full warehouse based inline retail system will further disrupt the video economy.
  • In this context, AIDC has evolved into a valuable platform for internationally-minded Australian producers to pitch their projects to distributors and overseas buyers.
  • And now that Reality has long lost its flavor-of-the-month status, U.S. factual networks are looking back to the territories and suppliers, including Australians, who helped build their brands in the era before Dog The Bounty Hunter.

6. And more

  • I have more to cover from AIDC.
  • I particularly want to write about A&E’s Live PD, which was expertly presented on my “Instant Documentary” panel by Laura Fleury, the new SVP Programming for A+E Networks / International.
  • Watch this space after MIPDoc and MIPTV.

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