Documentaries to change the world


NGOs, foundations, philanthropists, brands and media turned out in droves to support South Africa’s inaugural Good Pitch², an initiative of the Channel 4 BRITDOC Foundation and Sundance Institute Documentary Film Programme, which aims to build partnerships around documentary projects.

The first Good Pitch to take place outside the UK or US was held at Atlas Studios in Johannesburg in September. Good Pitch outreach director Anita Khanna says she expected it to be much more difficult to explain the concept to people.

“The films are selected on the basis of great stories, but also because they have the potential to support work around today’s big social issues. Classical distribution models are not working for the hard hitting documentary that aims to change the world, so when we heard about the Good Pitch model, we realised that we could really do something with it here,’ says Khanna.

Creative partnerships

She adds that Good Pitch fits in perfectly with the biennial People to People International Documentary Conference and the annual Tri Continental Human Rights Film Festival, which took place simultaneously.

“People seemed to be really engaged with the process and lots of partnerships were formed on the day. It’s an invitation only event and most of the participants are not from the film industry. The whole day is designed to get people to think creatively about getting films made and distributed,’ notes Khanna.

“We’ve always believed that social justice films can support social change. That’s their role. They have to entertain and move people, to hold the audience, but they also have the ability to make people question and to ask: “What can I do about this?’ Even if it’s something small – like offering to show the finished film to a room full of people – it counts. Filmmakers want their films to be seen and used, not shown on TV once and at festivals only to be forgotten. This way these films get seen by more people and have a much longer life.’


One of the highlights for Khanna was seeing so many individuals in the room, representing large and small organisations — all interested in using film in their work.

“I think the participants around each table gave an enormous amount to the filmmakers. These are people often working at the cutting edge of the issues being raised in the films and their expertise is invaluable. I liked the fact that we included lots of grassroots organisations and that they taught us what they need in terms of how they can use doccies to support their work – including the need for films in local languages or with subtitles for rural areas. Many really important doccies don’t get to the people that matter because they can’t access them. We need to think about that if we want our films to make a difference.’

Khanna was overwhelmed by the response on the day, and says they’ve had lots of positive feedback.

“Participants felt generally excited about the concept and the ethos, and many participants were impressed by the high quality of the pitches and excited by the potential of these films in production to be beautiful and powerful documentaries. Lots of networking took place and the filmmakers now have a lot of work to do following up on the some of the offers for meetings or for outreach work. In a couple of cases strong offers were made by leading organisations who intend to use the films in their work.

“Some funding was raised on the day and negotiations about further funding are ongoing. The filmmakers are in a stronger position to speak to potential partners and leverage resources for their films.’

Monitoring results

Khanna will be monitoring the effects and concrete outcomes of Good Pitch over the next year.

“Five of the doccies are in production, so seeing how support was raised to get the films finished will be key. I will also track how the films are used in campaigns, not just looking at how many people see the films and where, but also at whether they made a difference. Did they raise awareness? Did they support a campaign or lead to a change in policy? It’s going to be difficult to measure but I think we must try if we want to promote this as a really effective model.’

Another Good Pitch event is in the pipeline, while eastern and west Africa are looking at holding their own Good Pitches.

“Participants from those regions from the Ford Foundation, a key supporter of Good Pitch here and the original Good Pitch in the US and UK, were very excited about what they saw and want to give filmmakers in their regions the opportunity to form partnerships with local organisations by holding local events.

“In terms of what we do, we’re thinking through our call for next year and how we can get many more applications from southern African filmmakers so we can make it a regional event. And quite frankly, I can’t wait to do it again,’ she adds.

SCREENAFRICA Print Magazine – October 2011 (view here)
By Linda Krige


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