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Claus Mueller


Claus Mueller is a Film Festival Ambassador to filmfestivals.com

He is based in New York where he covers the festival scene.


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Programming Documentaries DOC NYC 2019

 

Held in New York City each year DOC NYC is the largest documentary festival in North America and has been expanding each year. The tenth annual edition was held from November 6-15  2019 in several downtown venues.

Basil Tsiokos serves as the Director of Programming for DOC NYC

Claus Mueller is the New York Correspondent for the London-based filmfestivals.com

Claus Mueller:  Do you observe any thematic changes in your  2019 program compared to 2018 and prior years?

Basil  Tsiokos: The programming is always organized in different thematic sections, Fight the Power, stories about activism, for example [ there were 24 sections in 2019]. We remain flexible about these sections and let them develop from the work when reviewing submissions and viewing films that we scout on the circuit. If there are not appropriate films to justify a given strand, we simply skip that section and develop a different one instead.

 

 

CM:  Were there any changes in the audience preferences as indicated by ticket sales?

BS:  Nothing that was really noticeable. We did make an effort in 2019 to include more international titles, and the audience responded well to these. I introduced our new Winner's Circle section, a showcase of films that had already won awards at notable international festivals, and that we wanted NYC audiences to also take note of. They did benefit from exposure at DOC NYC.

 

CM:   Do you have any data on the size and composition of your audience?

BS:   We estimate that we had approximately 32,000 attendees over the course of the 10 day festival in 2019. We do not have demographic information on our audience. I'd say that the festival draws a diverse crowd. We do have outreach to local area universities and have a healthy audience from academia. 

 

CM:   Do you track what happens to your docs after they are shown at the festival?

BS:   We encourage our alumni filmmakers to keep in touch with us about any developments regarding sales, etc, and we regularly promote theatrical, broadcast, and ancillary releases of our alumni titles via our social outreach and in our weekly Monday Memo newsletter.

 

CM:   Does the market or streaming services such as Netflix influence documentary topics selected by filmmakers?

BS:  Good question. Some filmmakers certainly will take notice of the kinds of projects that are successful and will seek out stories that are within the same genre or topic. For example, the success of MAKING A MURDERER (which had its world premiere at DOC NYC) and THE JINX definitely influenced a wave of true crime doc features and series.

 

CM:   Is there a greater appeal of foreign documentaries since the audience has more exposure to them through streaming services?

BS:   I'm not sure that I would agree that international documentaries, as a whole, are getting a great deal of exposure through streaming services. The vast majority of these titles still generally depend on festival exposure, and most US festivals, DOC NYC included, have tended to focus primarily on American titles. As I noted above, we have been trying to be more inclusive of international productions/co-productions in recent years.

 

CM:  What are the most important changes in the documentary distribution and market sectors?

BS:  Streaming has opened up audiences to discover nonfiction, and to recognize that there's not just one kind of documentary - that there can be doc comedies, doc thrillers, doc adventures, etc. Beyond streaming, the success of several documentaries in theatrical release has reminded distributors that viewers will go to the cinema to see nonfiction - this is not new, of course, but it's important to have the evidence of films like FREE SOLO, RBG, THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS, APOLLO 11, THE BIGGEST LITTLE FARM, etc.

 

CM:   Are there favorite thematic areas for buyers such as, pop culture, sports, music, true crime docs and what were the past favorites?

BS:   Buyers react to the marketplace and to their perceived ability to reach audiences. These kinds of themes have been popular in the past and continue to be popular now because they generally can be easier to market vs a personal doc, for example, which will require more creativity and effort to attract attention in a very crowded marketplace.

 

CM:   How many documentaries were produced in North America last year and what is the proportion of those not picked up?

BS:  While I can't speak to hard numbers, I can say that a relatively very small number of docs enter the marketplace in a significant manner. As a reference point, DOC NYC received approximately 1000 feature submissions this year, and we only programmed about 10% of those. Even with those that are selected, not all of them will end up being acquired for theatrical or other distribution. That said, I'm sure that the situation is equally daunting, if not worse, for fiction features. The market can only support so many films.

 

CM:  What is your assessment of the future role / impact of Netflix?

BS:  Netflix and the other streaming services that have emerged in the past year are here to stay. They have deep pockets and are able to support the production of content, which is, of course, attractive to doc makers - a healthy budget plus a guaranteed and very large audience of subscribers. Creating prestige original content seems to be the model that the platforms are using now more than acquiring completed titles from festivals, and I think this will continue. If it helps filmmakers to make new films, I don't see a big problem. While theatrical is appropriate for some docs, it's not necessarily a given for all nonfiction titles, and that's OK - they'll likely get far larger audiences streaming than in theatrical release, which is its own very big challenge.

 

CM:  What is the biggest  problem your festival encountered this year?

BS: The nature of film festivals is dealing with a lot of smaller issues, resolving them, and moving on. With DOC NYC now two months ago, it's hard to remember anything major that came up. We're fortunate to say that our 10th anniversary edition was a very successful year.

 

 

 

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