Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Some Love from China for Doc Filmmakers

Doc production is a labor of love, so we are always glad to see them get a little in return. This post is devoted to the doc film, with some news from far and near that might help them along their way a bit. The first is a story about a windfall for the traditional doc resulting from China's recent decision to crack down on reality TV and its perceived vulgarity.

The policy change, as told by Peter Hamilton, reality TV consultant and developer, from his blog, has shifted China TV programming in the direction of more content-driven fare.

Hamilton cites the recent NY Times story about the show that broke the camel's back and jump-started the new policy. Titled If You Are the One, it's a dating show with multiple female contestants being suited by a horde of male contestants, who boast of their assets. Complete with nude photos of one contestant circulating online, and a lawsuit where a former male contestant is trying to get a girl to return the BMW he gave her... it's not too hard to see how the show offends a number of cultural taboos in conservative China. Aside from "vulgarity," officials cite excessive materialism (what, that's a problem??). The show doesn't really set the tone for Chinese youth that the Chinese government is craving to portray. Interestingly, the producer/developer of that show was a Fremantle Media employee who was looking for Chinese production companies to buy the rights to develop foreign TV show ideas. We, in America, tend not to think of Fremantle (creator of popular giants like American Idol and America's Got Talent) as a purveyor of corruption.

Be that as it may the new government policy will, according to, leave a place in CCTV's programming for a surge in "less unhealthy" entertainments, i.e. documentaries along the lines of A&E or History Channel long-form shows. As a result, CCTV's (China Central Television, the predominant state-owned broadcaster) Documentary Channel is thriving.

In more local news, IDA (International Documentary Association) is sponsoring an educational Fair Use event as part of its "Doc U" program. In their own words "Doc U is the International Documentary Association's series of educational seminars and workshops for aspiring and experienced documentary filmmakers. Taught by artists and industry experts, participants receive vital training and insight on various topics including: fundraising, distribution, licensing, marketing, and business tactics."

The IDA is a great filmmaker resource, a membership-based non-profit that provides advocacy and various filmmaker services, including fiscal sponsorship (you can fundraise for your doc under their 501(c)(3) umbrella, saving you the paperwork hell of filing your own paperwork with the IRS, etc.), news, education and networking opportunities. They also administer annual grants totaling $75,000 to doc filmmakers, through their Pare Lorentz Documentary Fund.

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