How CPH:DOX became a key event in the documentary calendar – Diversity
As CPH:DOX transitioned from a fall festival to a spring celebration in 2017, it emerged from the shadow of the IDFA to become one of the most influential documentary events of the year.
“It took a big leap of fame when it moved to March because it fit into the calendar in a more exciting way for a lot of documentarians,” said Thom Powers, lead documentary programmer for the Toronto Film Festival. “It became a great place for films coming out of Sundance to have a European launch. It has also become a very important place for films to have world premieres earlier in the year, which they can then send on a trip and travel to other festivals like Hot Docs or DOC NYC.”
In its 20th year, CPH:DOX is one of the largest documentary film festivals in the world. This year’s program includes 200 documentaries, more than half of which are world premieres. There are 61 competitive titles across five international competitions, and for the first time in the festival’s history, all 13 films competing for the top Dox:Award are world premieres.
For 13 years, CPH:DOX took place in November in the weeks leading up to IDFA, but in 2015, as the international industry expanded its presence at All-Doc Fest, the decision was made to make more room as the former CEO of the Copenhagen Film Festival Steffen Andersen-Møller put it this way: “Unleash the potential of CPH:DOX.”
“Ideally, (the date change) will ensure that CPH:DOX opens the year and IDFA closes it,” Andersen-Møller said in 2015.
According to producer Julie Goldman, that’s exactly what happened.
“IDFA and CPH:DOX complement each other wonderfully,” she says. “They’re both these very significant and influential document-driven festivals at the beginning and end of the year.”
Goldman, a two-time Academy Award nominee and founder of Motto Pictures, has three films at CPH:DOX this year: Love to Love You, Donna Summer by Roger Ross Williams and Brooklyn Sudano, The Eternal Memory by Maite Alberdi and Nancy Schwartzman “Victim/Suspect.”
“Eternal Memory” and “Victim/Suspect” premiered at Sundance in January.
“It’s a wonderful next stop for both films,” says Goldman. “It’s a first look for an international audience.”
Powers, who will be hosting the festival’s Morning with Filmmakers series at CPH:DOX, adds: “Since the inception of CPH, they have made a real effort to bring together international decision makers from the world of distribution and festival programming. So, more than some other European documentary film festivals, it is a place where filmmakers have the chance to advance their careers in different ways.”
Despite the festival’s growth, it remains a unique, community-based event known for its enthusiastic audience and upbeat vibe. It’s also a festival that doesn’t fear the continuous evolving form of the non-fiction genre.
“CPH is a very curious festival,” says CPH:DOX Artistic Director Niklas Engstrom. “For a while we were cooped up as this crazy festival in Copenhagen, mostly focused on hybrid films. That’s part of the history of the festival, of course, and these types of films are still super interesting to us because they try to expand the idea of what documentary is.” But Engstrom explains that CPH:DOX programmers alongside the experimental are also attracted to a variety of documentaries, including simple investigative journalism projects.
CPH’s overall mission, says Engstrom, is “to expand what documentary film is and can be.”
The CPH:FORUM, which will include 34 international projects, is a prime example of this mission. Film financiers from around the world and top representatives from streaming platforms like Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon are all coming to Copenhagen to take part in the annual four-day event.
Season 5’s Blake Levin and Ariel Richter will be there looking for any funding, equity financing and/or partnership documentation. Richter commends Tereza Simikova, Head of Industry and Training at CPH:DOX, for making the FORUM stand out from the rest.
“One of the great things Tereza does is she recognizes what corporate mandates are and recommends what projects you should hit,” says Richter. “It’s very difficult to try to bring sales agents and buyers together with a curated list of projects. It takes time and a lot of thought, and she does it. Last year we were interested in everything she told us to focus on.”
Levin adds, “We are an independent film and television studio. Global storytelling and great storytelling are our mandates. That is our interest in being able to go to CPH:DOX. Someone who can bridge the gap for us like Tereza and the festival is super valuable.”
Opal H. Bennett, co-producer of “POV”, had heard a lot about CPH:FORUM over the years but never attended. This year, she made the festival a priority.
“The feedback was that you have to be there,” says Bennett. “Special things happen there. There are special talks. It’s really well curated. So I booked my flight.”