I attended the CPH:Dox festival in Copenhagen, an event which celebrates the role of documentaries in changing our perceptions of the world.
At the CPH:Dox Conference it was clear technology is making a huge impact on filmmakers and the audiences they serve. Here's what I took from the discussion:
1. It's sexy to do documentaries right now
Simon Chinn Founder and Producer, Lightbox Films and Sigrid Dyekjær, producer at company Danish Documentary talked about how different the documentary industry feels now compared to 10 years ago. Whilst the traditional theatrical model is challenging, the accessibility to documentaries through Netflix has brought new audiences to this medium. This has created opportunities for filmmakers and the dawn of a golden era.
2. Marketing is more critical than ever
Documentaries have to be made with the audience in mind. In order to sell a film to a distributor, filmmakers must create a package suggested Philippa Kowarsky, Managing Director, Cinephil. Documentary makers in the room were advised to think through their social strategy and marketing in advance to raise the money for the film. Planning ahead and anticipating audience reactions has never been more important.
3. We're living in a globalised world
Today people tend to be more open to watching films with subtitles. For example, 'On Her Shoulders' is a documentary mostly in Arabic and Kurdish and it has been incredibly successful. However documentary makers also need to remember that younger viewers are changing their viewing habits. Eve Gabereau, Founder and Managing Director of Modern Films reminded the audience that young people want to be able to do other things at the same time as watching TV, and therefore subtitles are not as appealing to this demographic.
4. Encourage cinema-going in new ways
While digital platforms have changed the way many documentaries are consumed, some companies are using them to encourage cinema-going. For example Efe Cakarel, CEO and Founder, MUBI talked about how its SVOD is working with cinema chains to offer its subscribers unsold seats through MUBI Go. This model not only helps cinemas fill seats but audiences tend to spend on food and beverage at the cinema, as well as recommend the films they see to others. It's a win-win approach across digital and offline.
5. Will public broadcasters remain relevant?
There was discussion throughout about the role of public service broadcasters and the impact they've felt from players like Hulu, Netflix and Amazon as they take away audiences. Although facing a crisis right now, commentators from across the industry highlighted that if these channels can move even further from the linear model and provide more curated viewing experiences they can stay relevant.
This year’s industry activity at documentary festival CPH:DOX, which took place in Danish capital Copenhagen this week, was dominated by one question: will traditional documentary business models survive in the face of increased disruption from online platforms?