Documentary films need more funding

As the founder of one of the very few UK companies that specialise in making and distributing independent cinema documentaries, I read with interest that Peter Bradshaw (Opinion, theguardian.com, 27 December) is unhappy about the state of documentaries at the end of the decade. Saying that he was now seeing documentaries that “feel lightweight, sometimes almost negligible”, he lamented the failure of documentaries to reflect the austerity of the last 10 years, suggesting that the reason may be “too many documentarians chasing too few genuinely strong subjects”.

From where I sit, I see no shortage of strong subjects, with committed film-makers wanting to make films that address them, and over the last 10 years, Dartmouth has been able to bring some of these films to the British public, many of which have been generously reviewed by Bradshaw – one of the few critics to treat independent British film seriously. What I do see is a shortage of money to make these films so film-makers have a chance of making a reasonable living.

As British television has progressively withdrawn from commissioning heavyweight documentaries, no other significant source of funding of documentary films and film-makers has emerged. (The BFI Doc Society Fund does good work, but it is small compared with the budgets of the broadcasters.) Through ingenuity, good fortune and (most significantly) the extraordinary commitment of film-makers, we have been able to find ways of funding and distributing the sorts of documentaries that Bradshaw wants to see.

But for this model to be reproduced and turned into the basis of a sustainable part of the creative industries, there needs to be a much better understanding among policymakers and potential funders of the cultural,social and economic importance of documentaries – and the financial realities of making them. Let’s hope that the important study being undertaken into the documentary industry at the University of the West of England, due to report this year, will play a big educative role in this regard.
Christopher Hird
Founder and managing director, Dartmouth Films

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