AIDC CEO and conference director Alice Burgin.

The 2018 Australian International Documentary Conference (AIDC), with the theme ‘Southern Exposure’, had a local slant. So when preparing this year’s event, conference director and CEO Alice Burgin thought it was appropriate to turn the focus to how the Australian documentary and factual sector fits in internationally: the theme for 2019 is ‘The Bigger Picture’.

In preparing this event, Burgin has put focus on the positive. Rather than looking at threats in the market, she wants to explore the new opportunities that have come about now that the dust has somewhat settled on digital disruption. With that, the conference will put a spotlight on international co-production and co-financing.

“Last year I went to a lot of international markets and had a lot of conversations with buyers who are hungry for Australian content. A lot of this [year] is about how do we take Australian stories and get them to be told in a way that can work internationally,” she tells IF.

“I think that’s a huge question, so that’s something that we’re really interested in investigating.”

There will be various sessions focused on collaborating with different territories. ‘Working with the USA’ will feature heavyweights such as Participant Media’s president of documentary film and television Diane Weyermann (An Inconvenient Truth, CITIZENFOUR); Theresa Navarro, VP of external affairs, American 16 Documentary | POV; Ben Braun, SVP & director of sales and distribution, Submarine Entertainment; and Cinereach head of development Elliott Whitton.

Session ‘Nordic Focus’ will bring in commissioners from Sweden’s SVT and Finland’s Yle to talk about recent successes and co-production opportunities with Australia.

There will also be a session on breaking into the Asian market, with speakers such as Donovan Chan from Singapore’s Beach House Pictures; NHK commissioning editor, world documentary, Yoshihiko Ichiya; Victoria Noble, who will discuss Discovery Networks’ international activity in the Asian region, and Screen Queensland’s Jo Dillon, who will offer screen agency perspectives on Asian-Australian collaboration.

By the same token, Burgin is also keen to shine a spotlight on Australian practitioners making a name for themselves overseas, such as directors and keynote speakers Al Hicks (Quincy) and Gabrielle Brady (Island of the Hungry Ghosts), who will give masterclasses in music documentary and hybrid documentary respectively.

Over 70 national and international decision makers will attend this year, including representatives from BBC, Discovery, NHK, Cinereach, Yle, SVT, Knowledge Network, Submarine, Visions du Reel, Sky TV, ARTE and China’s Tencent.

Last year, Burgin introduced a more curated marketplace in Cut to the Chase, which will continue. It connects filmmakers with relevant decision makers who already have an interest in their project.

“It’s worked really well, and also meant we can really closely track our business outcomes. We have a marketplace manager and she follows up every six months to find out how projects are going. That allows us to see which buyers are really putting money on the table and who’s just coming to AIDC for a jaunt. It also allows us to see where the trends are and what the international market in particular is interested in.”

Burgin has also been keen to engage more this year with content partners that sit outside of traditional film and television. Audible has come on board as ‘decision maker’ and will be taking pitches for podcasts, and AIDC is working with Google News Initiative to host a data journalism pitching forum for projects that could potentially take any form. An XR marketplace, which covers a variety of new mediums such as VR/AR, will also be held again this year.

AIDC has also partnered with the University of Melbourne to see academics to pitch to producers their original research, with the aim of triggering the development of new factual series or one-off documentary projects.

“That for us has been about: How do we take the documentary sector and further develop, push them in terms of where they’re getting their ideas from.”

Other pitching events will include Pitch Australiana, a joint initiative between AIDC, Screen Australia and VICE, the Untold Australia pitch for SBS, as well as the centerpiece public pitching forum, The FACTory.

New this year is an in-depth masterclass strand. Burgin hopes these sessions will be both inspiring and rigorous in terms of practical application. Curating them has largely been about figuring out what early to mid-career filmmakers – who she calls the “bread-and-butter” of AIDC – need, want and enjoy out of the event.

“A lot of that often comes down to craft or business focused masterclasses that can be like going back to university and learning something in a really in-depth way.”

Sessions will cover a range of topics such as distribution, hosted by Jess Fuselier from the Sundance Institute Creative Distribution Initiative; producing by Participant Media’s Weyermann; cinematography by John Brown (Frozen Planet, Planet Earth II) and innovation by Canada’s Lisa Jackson, creator of First Nations VR project Biidaaban: First Light.

Also new this year is an expanded screening program, which Burgin describes as “a bit of an experiment” to see whether or not there’s an appetite among delegates to also watch films. Among the projects to screen are Shirkers, Quincy, Surviving R. Kelly, Islands of the Hungry Ghosts, Rockabul, and The Proposal.

The Australian International Documentary Conference will be held March 3 – 6 at ACMI in Melbourne. The full program is available at

This article appears in IF Magazine #187 February-March. Subscribe here

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