The DFA was established in 2007 to promote and protect the interests of doc filmmakers in South Africa. To contact the DFA, please use the contact form: here . The DFA website is at: Membership applications can be made through the website here.

12 July 2011

HOT DOCS Feedback SA Delegation

by Lauren Groenewald, DFA Co-chair

Pascal Schmitz Secretary of the South African Documentary Filmmakers’ Association initiated dialogue with Stephanie McArthur form HOTDOCS about sending a South Africa DFA delegation to the Festival at IDFA 2010. The DFA approached South Africa’s main film funding body the National Film and Video Foundation for financial assistance and the NFVF indicated that individuals would have to apply to the NFVF in their own capacity as filmmakers with a project. The DFA communicated this to its membership and individual filmmakers applied with their projects. Ultimately four filmmakers were informed that the NFVF would support them with travel, accommodation, visas and festival entry fees –the NFVF allocated an amount of 25000 rand per filmmaker. This meant that filmmakers had to subsidise some of their own accommodation, local travel and daily subsistence. Individuals who were not going as distributors also had to finance their own marketing material and duplications of films.

The filmmakers who attended with NFVF funding were Ryley Grunewald a Director and member of MARIE VERITE FILMS, Lauren Groenewald Co-Chair of the DFA and a Producer at Plexus Films and David Forbes a director and Distributor at Shadow Films. Simon Taylor of Periphery Films attended with support from the EMIA DTI scheme.

The delegation received acknowledgement of the funding at a very late stage which imeant that they had to scramble a bit to get everything set up and prepare for the trip. Filmmakers were not able to use the Early Bird benefits and did not have enough time to set up meeting in the Rendezvous section of the Festival, which would have been very meaningful. Rendezvous is a pitch meeting service which takes place through the Conference week.


HOTDOCS has long been a festival that I have wanted to attend as a Producer and Filmmaker –in terms of Documentary it is the most important Festival and Market in North America. Traditionally Plexus Films has concentrated on attending European Festivals and markets with an emphasis on IDFA –International Documentary Festival of Amsterdam. Our European bias has been informed by our positive relationship with the Jan Vrijman Fund, the proximity of Europe and also the content, visual language and style of our films.

The opportunity to attend the HOTDOCS Festival as part of the South African delegation however proved to be an extremely good shift in terms of re-positioning my thinking and being educated in new opportunities and relationships.

First and foremost credit needs to be given to HOTDOCS, the City of Toronto and its people and the warm welcome we received. The spirit of the festival really added to the experience –all delegates were given the opportunity to engage on an equal footing with delegates from broadcasters to distributors.

I was also amazed by the enthusiasm of documentary audiences and surprised and elated every time I saw a long queue outside a cinema, waiting to see a documentary. The free screenings for senior citizens and students during the day really added to the buzz and I engaged in many stimulating conversations with Festivalgoers. The spread of cinemas across the city also gave us a great introduction to Toronto and the diversity of its people and its landscape. The public transport made everything really easily accessible.

The selection of films was broad and representative, although there was a strong Canadian focus – the profile of films brought the world into the cinemas of Toronto. I felt invigorated, stimulated and inspired after my week at HOTDOCS. My favourite film was Bobby Fischr against the World and it was fantastic to have the directors at screenings talking about their work.

MAMA AFRICA was the only South African Film scheduled in the Festival. This was a German, Finnish, and South African Co-Production. I would like to see South Africa better represented next year and will encourage filmmakers to submit their work to HOTDOCS.


This was the first time we attended HOTDOCS as a co-ordinated SA Delegation. This had great value in terms of the experience and many lessons were learnt. The Festival organisers went out of their way to ensure dialogue between the different delegations and to provide platforms for meaningful co-production discussions to germinate.
The industry events that took place in the first four days of the Festival really added great value – the workshops were incredible and the networking evenings at the Burwash Hall provided a great space to talk about the day.

In terms of scheduling it was fantatstic that the CO-PRODUCTION Day kick started the festival as it set the tone for future discussions throughout the week. It provided a public and formal introduction to the filmmakers in attendance as well as their projects. Being part of a formal delegation also gave us more leverage than attending as individuals. I attended a networking dinner as Co-Chair of the DFA and the co-ordinator of the SA Delegation on the first night. This was a positive contact building exercise and I met with Milton Tabbot – and it waas great to enage with the HOTDOCS team in a social and relaxed manner -Elizabeth Radshaw Hotdocs Forum and Market Director, Stephanie McArthur Hot Doucs Forum and Market Manager were great conversationalists and I also met with Lara Vehlo, Executive Producer of Terra Brasilis Filmes. This was also an opportunity to highlight the work of the DFA.

The casual networking luncheon on the Co-production Day gave us an opportunity to meet with a Swedish Film Festival and filmmakers from Iceland and Finland. It was fantastic to have such a broad exposure.

David Forbes of Shadow Films and Lauren Groenewald of Plexus Films and Co-Chair of the DFA presented in the morning of the Co-Production Day.
The content of our presentation provided an overview of the Documentary Industry in South Africa, we spoke about what South Africa could offer and what we needed in terms of Co-productions.
We highlighted the value add of our content, locations, communications and infra structure as well as our skill set.

In terms of addressing the formal funding structures we introduced the NFVF, the DTI rebate scheme as it stands and we gave some background on the crisis at our National Broadcaster as well as giving information on the new channels. We spoke about funding models and funds available for SA filmmakers. We were intent on positioning the industry in a positive but realistic light. We also gave an overview of the DFA, SASFED and the IPO. David Forbes also spoke about Distribution and Developing Audiences.

Although I believe it was an informative presentation we certainly could build on the experience and I highly recommend that next year the Delegation has a formal NFVF representative as part of the team. The Delegation should also have he opportunity to engage with the DTI in a real and meaningful way before the trip.

The various presentations from other countries ranged from large contingents like the Italian delegation that also hosted a function later the week to more personalised presentation such as the American delegation. This was a particularly useful session as it covered funding options for filmmakers outside of the USA and gave an insight into the mechanics of the various American channels. The new Oprah Winfrey Documentary Network was discussed as well as funds such as Sundance, The Ford Foundation and the Tribeca Institute.

I appreciated the varied form and nature of the presentations and the representatives. It was great that the format of the Co-Production day allowed for countries to present in their own unique way –it gave an insight into the thinking of the filmmakers from the different countries.

Another positive outcome of being part of the SA Delegation was the relationships that were built between us as a collective. We had representation from Cape Town and Gauteng and we also had the opportunity to network and engage with Monica Rorvik from the Durban International Film Festival –King Naki and The Dawn of a New Day will be will be screening there in July.


I travelled to Canada with three main objectives 1. Find buyers and distributors for a catalogue of projects 2. To research HOTDOCS as a market and festival 3. Profile the DFA.

The reason I was particularly interested in exploring the North American market was to get a better sense of possible distribution networks and opportunities as well as focusing on educational distribution opportunities.

I secured meetings with Jan Rofenkamp from Transit Films, Peter Jager from Autlook and Johnathan Miller from Icarus Films as well as a number of other distributors. It was a positive learning curve in that I realised that the distributors I was targeting for educational material were not the right ones and that I should direct my energies at another market being The National Media Market ( ). The Market brings together librarians, educators, and distributors of documentary and educational films in a concentrated three-day flurry of screening and buying.

After the Co-production Day I was also approached by a number of Canadian Producers to possible facilitate a project in South Africa.

I also attended an Industry Conference called Broadcasters Revisted.

The session was particularly valuable in terms of understanding the potential of cable and smaller channels in terms getting projects out there. I met with Craig Colby from HiFiHDTV.

High Fidelity HDTV is Canada's leading all-HD broadcast and Production Company. They broadcast four channels, Oasis HD™, eqhd™, Treasure HD™ and radX™. We currently are working on some HD extreme travel content and we will be following up on this conversation regarding programming for the RADX Channel- Risk Adventure.

Another industry session that I found inspiring was MAKING IT BEAUTIFUL where filmmakers reflected on their craft and their experiences in the field. Leonard Retel Helmrich passionately demonstrated his own hand steady can invention and Nick de Pencier the moderator from MERCURY FILMS in Canada eloquently navigated the conversation around perpetual state of revolution in film. The conversation related largely to the digital camera having become the cinematic tool of our age.

Another eye opener was the workshop on CREATIVE PRODUCING it was reassuring to see that very similar experiences and realities experienced by filmmakers in the first world.

A definite highlight was the FORUM pitches. It was an incredible learning curve to see the level of research and development that had gone into projects pitched at the FORUM. A personal favourite project for me was he story of Vivian Meyer.

I was torn between watching films and attending the sessions and really found great value in listening to colleagues talk about their experiences.

In conclusion it was an incredibly worthwhile experience and I hope to return to HOTDOCS next year.

Some comments from the SA delegation
by David Forbes

“Apart from the business end of the festival, it is also a place of creative renewal and stimulation. Outside of market hours, informative sessions and social functions are arranged to facilitate networking opportunities and intelligence-gathering. Its importance as a benchmark for international documentary production cannot be overemphasised. For any serious documentary filmmaker, Hot Docs is a vital part of the annual calendar.

I went with four objectives (as per the Shadow Films Export Marketing Development Plan for 2011). These were:
1) To promote Shadow Films as a supplier of quality African content to the global broadcast market and to understand how Hot Docs operates
2) To build new relationships with distributors, broadcasters and buyers in the global market and to renew old relationships from earlier markets and festivals.
3) To find co-production partners for new projects and understand the co-production process better.
4) To promote South Africa as a supplier of content to the global market, and market South Africa as a co-production partner and location as part of the invited South African delegation to Hot Docs.


It was incredible to watch and listen to the pitches, so see how it is done at this level, and to listen to the comments and interaction with the Commissioning Editors, where one begins to understand the dynamics of what films will make it and which ones will not. This is invaluable experience, and one also gets a lot of intelligence about trends, pilot films, budgets, and as a Forum member, you
get the entire pitch document with budgets and funding commitments.

David made contact with filmmakers from Brazil, Canada, China, France, Italy, France, Peru, the UK and the USA. There is a possibility of a South African-Italian co-production.

He made distribution contacts with India, Italy and the USA, and broadcaster contacts with Belgium (VPRO), Canada (CBC, CBC News Network, Discovery Canada), Finland (YLE), France (Arte, Arte-ZDF), UK (BBC), and the USA (PBS, ITVS, Cinereach & Sundance).

David also spent a fair bit of time in the Online Doc Shop, checking out films from other countries and attended a public screening of a Cameroonian film. It must be said that audiences in Toronto were fantastic, always packed, and with interesting questions afterwards. If SA could develop audiences like they have in Toronto, we will have a thriving film industry.

The support provided by the NFVF was invaluable in creating a South African presence at Hot Docs, and contributed to putting SA on the global filmmaking map. It needs to be sustained over a number of years, so we hope that the NFVF will continue to support this initiative, and perhaps take it to the next level by having some South Africans pitching new projects at the Forum at Hot Docs 2012.

Report on Hot Docs 2011:
by Ryley Grunenwald, Marie-Vérité Films

First of all, a big thank you to the DFA for initiating the South African delegation and to the NFVF for their financial assistance that enabled us to take part.

A Crucial Event

After IDFA, Hot Docs is the next biggest documentary film festival. The Co-Production Day, festival screenings, formal and informal networking opportunities, conferences, Rendevous service, DocShop and the Forum make it a jam packed experience that can only help South Africans raise the profile of the South African documentary industry, help us find co-production partners for future projects as well as working towards the international sales of our films. There is no doubt that this high profile event should have a continued and growing South African presence.

Co-Production Day

This all-day event is the most important day for the official delegation and gives participating countries the opportunity to encourage foreign producers to work with one another – obviously to mutually benefit from tax breaks, funding and broadcasters that may otherwise be impenetrable. The panel presented well by giving a balanced look into some of the advantages as well as challenges of working within South Africa.

However it would have been very beneficial to have had a short, concise visually aided presentation by the NFVF on the smaller details of Co-Production in South Africa particularly since the organizers, audience and the delegation itself were under the impression they would be present. Fortunately the South African presentation was in the morning as into the afternoon the various presentations became quite repetitive and the attendance dropped off. For this reason it would be useful to strategize how the South African presentation can grip the audience’s attention in case we are one year scheduled for late afternoon.

For the future it would be worthwhile to strategize in advance to ensure a larger South African delegation, (with films screening in the festival and pitching in the Forum). Some countries had booklets available profiling their filmmakers, their production companies and their documentaries. This is a useful resource for foreign producers needing leads to South African co-producers.

Festival Screenings

With a delegate’s pass we were able to see films at no charge which enabled us to see as many films as possible. It was useful to see what style of films and what subject matter were selected. Aside from being inspired by some excellent films it was also a challenge for us to aim for South African films in the future Hot Docs festival (about only 8% of submissions are accepted). Furthermore, it was amazing to see the Canadian public’s support for documentary (most large venues filled to capacity with long queues outside). With theatrical release of documentary not being supported in South Africa, and thus not financially viable, it was another challenge for a South African documentary audience to be developed.

Networking, Meetings and Rendevous

Every evening offered the opportunity for delegates to attend social events which is where most introductions were made. This allowed for some impromptu pitches although the online community and Rendevous Meeting service allowed the majority of meetings with broadcasters, sales agents and distributors to be organized well in advance. I was able to set up about 10 meetings beforehand with the aim of finding the right sales agent or distributor for The Dawn of a New Day. As schedules fill up quickly it crucial for delegates to register well in advance to be able to access the online community to set up meetings. The meetings went well and gave me a better idea who I would and would not like to work with on my current project and for the future.


The DocShop is a useful service but the reality is that decision makers, who can spend all day watching documentaries at the on-site Doc Shop, do not even have time to watch ¼ of films that have been officially selected for the festival. Furthermore, some of the films were not digitized properly so it is important for filmmakers to check their films once they arrive at the festival. However, the films will be online from after the festival for an entire year which gives password protected access to decision makers. One can invite commissioning editors and sales agents who attended the festival to watch one’s film online.


The Forum is an excellent platform to find funding and to gauge the reception of a film in development as it is scrutinized by a large group of broadcasters and funders. However, only 22 projects are selected and need to have a broadcaster and some of the funding already in place. This requires us to plan well in advance and to have all these secured in time for the Forum applications deadline. For spectators it was an opportunity to see what subject matters and styles are in demand and which are not.

Personally, my experience of Hot Docs was positive as I had the chance to meet with decision makers who just don’t come to South African events and are unlikely to respond to a faceless email or parcel. I met with some interested broadcasters although my focus had been on finding a sales agent to handle further sales so that I can develop my next documentary. I met some enthusiastic and seemingly transparent sales agents as well as those who charged ridiculously high commission and seemed unsuitable. In the next two months I should see if there is an outcome form these meetings. From the Forum and the screenings I came away both inspired for my next project as well as having a better understanding of preferred trends in the international market. I also realized that South African craft and skill is up there with the rest of the world, and in some cases stronger – but we do need to spend more time and money in development.

Some suggestions for funding would be that the actual costs of attending the festival be taken into account as it is more than R25 000. Furthermore, these extra costs on the filmmaker would be reduced if we were able to include simple meals, public transport and the printing of marketing materials into the allowed expenditure. If this were the case we would happily stay in low-key accommodation and cover more of our costs with the NFVF funding. It is understood that these funds have been abused in the past but the filmmaker could present proof of all the above-mentioned costs as evidence that they are not being bad stewards of the funds.

Once again, many thanks to the NFVF and the DFA for this wonderful opportunity.


Ryley Grunenwald


I recently attended HOTDOCS in Toronto. Hotdocs is soon to launch a new fund for African documentary. The most important part of hotdocs for us was establishing relationships with some new European and North American co-production partners. Strongest films at the festival for me were you’ve been trumped and after the apocalypse the releases of friends of ours – fiercely independent films and I felt that is was an absolute priveledge to be at the premiers of those in Toronto. It’s films like these that keep us in the business of factual producing. The hotdocs community are amazing hosts, for more info visit

No comments: