News on documentary film financing from DocInfo

February 16, 2021

The annual DocInfo is a meeting place for financiers and the documentary film industry. It was hosted online for the first time on Friday, February 12, 2021.

The participating funding bodies were The Finnish Film Foundation, The Promotion Center for Audiovisual Culture AVEK, Yle and The Church Media Fund. The event was moderated by Baba Lybeck, the Chairperson of The Finnish Documentary Guild.

The Finnish Film Foundation, AVEK and Yle will host more events like this later in the spring – be sure to follow our communications.

The new film commissioners introduced themselves

The Finnish Film Foundation has not made any big changes to its documentary funding this year. The share for documentary films will remain the same as before. Head of Production Matti Paunio and film commissioners Iris Olsson and Eero Tammi talked about The Foundation’s activities.

One thing that will change is that production or distribution companies can apply for impact support through marketing and distribution support. This makes it possible to apply for impact support throughout the year. The application form for marketing and distribution support will be renewed to better accommodate impact work. The total support sum for marketing and distribution for this year has not been decided yet.

The Foundation’s application system will be renewed this year. The new system will make work easier for both applicants and the Foundation staff. One of the major improvements is that the new system can be used in Finnish, Swedish and English.

Film commissioners Iris Olsson and Eero Tammi, responsible for the support for documentary films and series, started their work last fall. Tammi will handle projects supported by Piia Nokelainen, and Olsson will take Pekka Uotila’s projects. According to the guidelines given by the Ministry of Education and Culture, the applicants can no longer choose the film commissioner for their applications – the Foundation staff assigns them to the film commissioners. If the application gets a rejection, you may apply again with the same project and your application will be assigned to a different film commissioner.

Documentaries got a little over 2.9 million euros in support last year. Women directors’ projects got 59.9 % of the production support.

See statistics on support for documentary films (pdf)

Gender balance for projects that received production support 2016-2020

More statistics will be published in Facts & Figures which will come out later in the spring.

The Finnish Film Foundation did not get any additional support for the expenses film productions had because of the pandemic. There was revival support for new productions, and the Foundation took 1 million euros from its funds to cover the additional support for productions. At the moment, it is yet to be seen if the government will provide us with additional support this year. The Foundation is ready to use its regular funds for pandemic support if there is no additional funds to be had.

Production companies have also requested support for their fixed costs. This would be considered a business subsidy which the Foundation cannot give according to law. The Foundation’s support is only for projects.

We get often contradictory feedback on the application deadlines. The current system with four application periods is a compromise that in our opinion serves the industry best at the moment.

Regarding meetings with film commissioners, the procedure is that after the application has been sent, the film commissioner may ask the applicant for more information. The applicant may contact the film commissioner after the decision has been made if they wish to get feedback on their application.

This is the procedure because the current resources do not make it possible for the commissioners to meet all applicants. For example, in the current application period, each commissioner has 50 applications to consider. If all applicants had a chance to meet the film commissioner, the decision-making process would be considerably delayed, because there needs to be enough time for a thorough and balanced evaluation.

For more information on what is considered in the evaluation, go to our How to Apply page.

Ensuring diversity refers to the diversity of filmmakers, subjects and genres. The timespan is longer than one application period – the aim is that within 1–3 years, there is sufficient diversity in the productions supported by The Finnish Film Foundation.

The applicant’s eligibility is considered from different aspects. With screenwriting grants, the previous work of the applicant is evaluated. With production support, the applicant company’s financial situation is evaluated, in addition to looking into the previous work of the filmmakers. It is also essential to prepare the application in a professional manner.

Applicants ask from time to time for examples of good applications. It would be quite difficult to make them as projects can be very different from each other. There is no one way to make a good application. The most useful thing to do is to read the support guides and application announcements carefully, and to allocate enough time for preparing the application.

Online festivals continue in the near future

International Promotion Advisor Suvi Railo, who is responsible for the promotion of documentary films, had some news from the festivals. The Finnish Film Foundation’s international department will have its own meeting in March. There will also be a project for packaging and developing marketing materials for documentary films later in the spring.

The Foundation handles the international promotion of those films that have received production support from the Foundation, but advice is given also to other projects, resources allowing.

Preparing a festival strategy begins when the film is about to be ready. Usually the producer will contact the Foundation’s international department. Normally films are submitted to festivals once they are finalized but in some cases, the programmers can also watch films that are in post-production.

Out of Finnish documentary films, Lady Time, Anerca, Breath of Life, Colombia in My Arms and Aalto circulated the festivals the most last year. Approximately 30–40% of the screenings were online, and according to the festival organizers, most events will be online or hybrid in the coming months.

Many festivals ask for video greetings from the filmmakers – these videos also influence what the audiences will watch. Therefore it is recommended that you make sure you send high-quality videos. You can also apply for material support for international promotion for making these videos, as well as for producing other materials needed at festivals.

Online and hybrid festivals require a range of formats. It is best to make sure in good time that you have both a DCP and lighter formats available, both with and without subtitles.

AVEK – from filmmakers to filmmakers

AVEK’s funding comes from copyright renumerations which means that the basis of its operation is to distribute the artists’ funds back to them. Film Commissioner Mikko Peltonen reminded that AVEK introduced their new decision criteria last year.

Another reform from last year was the support for documentary series. In 2020, AVEK got 248 applications for documentary projects and funded 82 projects, 33% of the applications. Distribution by gender was exactly 50-50 between male and female screenwriters, directors and producers. AVEK does not have gender quotas.

Applications for film support saw a rise of 51% from 2019. The pandemic had a major influence on working conditions in the film industry. AVEK was able to give 120,000 euros in personal grants in order to help filmmakers suffering from the pandemic. There are no extra funds for this year, and AVEK’s funding will remain on the same level as last year. The Ministry has not yet confirmed the allocation scheme of the private copying levies for this year.

As a reform this year, AVEK will hike up the support sum for individual projects and introduce fixed support sums. Emphasis will be more on development support.

The fixed sum for screenwriting grants is 3000 euros, and the aim is to get the projects faster to a development phase where the script can still be developed. Development support sums are 10,000 and 20,000 euros. The smaller sum is for projects in earlier stages and the bigger sum is for more advanced projects.

Projects can get the development support twice, with the total not exceeding 30,000 euros. The fixed production support sum is 30,000 euros. The fixed sums are based on the average sums that the applicants have asked for previously from AVEK. There are no fixed sums for international coproductions.

Beginning this year, impact support can be applied for throughout the year. It is applied as post-production support and the fixed sum is 15,000 euros. This means that projects not participating in DocPoint IMPACT are also eligible. Nevertheless, it would be good to see DocPoint IMPACT continue as it is a great workshop, especially for filmmakers doing their first impact campaign.

Towards the end of the discussion there were questions about what is considered professional distribution. Both The Finnish Film Foundation and AVEK are flexible in this matter – Yle is not the only option. The applicants may be creative in finding distribution channels for their works.

AVEK’s film commissioners will discuss the projects with the applicants, also after the applications have been submitted. AVEK has no specific deadlines which means that the applicant can get a decision quite fast. It is good to read the new support guidelines before applying – it will make the decision process faster. AVEK also has interesting projects coming up, so do follow their newsletter, social media and podcast. The Afternoon with AVEK events will also continue.

Yle has eyes on Areena

Buyer-producers Erkko Lyytinen and Jenny Westergård gave the latest news on documentary films and Yle. Elina Pohjola, who started working for Yle on Feb 1st, also made a short appearance. Pohjola is the team leader for the film team and will handle fictional feature films together with Piia Nokelainen. Sari Volanen commissions short documentary films.

There is more information on the film team and their practices with production companies on Yle’s webpage (in Finnish).

Last year Yle’s audience and programming grew. There was pressure to buy more content but on the other had the pandemic slowed down their own production. The digital platform Yle Areena increased its audience numbers.

Filmmakers are recommended to study Areena and consider how their films will be displayed there. Most of the programming strips are created by algorithms but the “Hard docs” (Kovat dokkarit) strip is programmed by hand. Buyer-producers do not edit content on the platform, Areena has its own staff who looks at the content from an audience perspective. This means that documentary films and other documentary content may find itself under the same headline.

Series and genres are popular in Areena. There are different ways of highlighting single films. Last April, Yle Areena hosted its first documentary festival. During the festival, 20 films were shown on the platform, half of which were domestic. Six of the films were also broadcast.

Some of the marketing stunts could not be done due to the pandemic, but in general the festival was considered a success and it will be renewed this year. The goal was to reach new audiences, especially under 45-year-olds, and this was achieved.

Yle is no longer attached to the idea of slots, emphasis is on the digital platform. This is not the case everywhere in Europe yet – in some countries, slots are still a driving force in programming. Yle’s strategy is to find interesting content and to find a way to publish it so that it finds an audience. One successful project that reached both audiences and the media was the release of the film Donner – Privat with other programming tied to it.

Discarding the idea of slots also means that the duration of the films is flexible. Over 90-minute-long films are still difficult for broadcasting, though. Rarely a film is too short. There was discussion on the difficult balance between the theatrical release of the film and the TV premiere. Yle will continue the dialogue with the filmmakers in order to find a release schedule that works for everyone.

A question was asked about the prices of archival materials from Yle in cases where Yle has commissioned a film. In some cases, the use of the archive may be considered as part of the funding for the work, but in principal, the archive prices are the same for everyone.

Yle and Kopiosto have had discussions concerning reruns and how they are compensated to the filmmakers. The intention is to consider the compensation in other terms than just reruns on broadcast TV.

Also for Yle, it is important continue to have a dialogue with the filmmakers. Yle’s new slogan promises to be common for all but in a unique way for everyone. Yle will continue its morning coffee sessions.

Last year for Rajamäki

The Church Media Fund (KMS) is an organization founded by 24 parishes and the National Church Board in 2005 with the intention of supporting film projects dealing with religion and world views. KMS gives screenwriting grants between 1000–4000 euros, pre-production support between 3000–10,000 euros and production support between 3000–15,000 euros.

Last year, the fund received 143 applications – the previous year the number was 130. Total sum of 210 500 euros of support was given to 35 projects. 25 of the projects, or 71%, was directed by women. For impact work, KMS gave a total of 10,500 euros.

Popular topics in the applications were stories of refugees and immigrants, parenting and family, female point of view, climate change and corona and its effects. There were fewer projects that really hit the mark in terms of what the fund is looking for, but there were also very few projects that totally missed the mark.

This is the last year for KMS’s representative Juha Rajamäki who received many thanks and good wishes from the audience!