When CPH: DOX transformed from a fall festival to a spring festival in 2017, it emerged from the shadow of the IDFA and became one of the most influential documentary events of the year.
“It took a big leap forward when it moved to March because it fit into the schedule in a more exciting way for a lot of documentary actors,” said Thom Powers, senior documentary programmer for the Toronto Film Festival. “It’s become a great place for films coming out of Sundance to have a European launch. It’s also become a very important place for films that have world premieres around the start of the year, which can then sending on a circuit, traveling to other festivals like Hot Docs or DOC NYC.
Now in its 20th year, CPH:DOX is one of the largest documentary film festivals in the world. This year’s lineup includes 200 documentaries, more than half of which are world premieres. There are 61 titles competing in five international competitions, and for the first time in the festival’s history, all 13 films competing for Best Dox:Award are world premieres.
For 13 years, CPH:DOX took place in November in the weeks leading up to IDFA, but in 2015, as international industry participation increased its presence at the all-documentary festival, the decision was made to create more space to, as former Copenhagen Film Festival CEO Steffen Andersen-Møller says, “expand the potential of CPH:DOX.”
“Ideally, (the date change) will ensure that CPH:DOX opens the year and IDFA the close,” Andersen-Møller said in 2015.
According to producer Julie Goldman, this is precisely what happened.
“IDFA and CPH:DOX are wonderfully complementary,” she says. “They are both very important and influential documentary festivals at the beginning and end of the year.”
Goldman, a two-time Oscar nominee and founder of Motto Pictures, has three films at CPH:DOX this year: “Love to Love You, Donna Summer” by Roger Ross Williams and Brooklyn Sudano, “The Eternal Memory” by Maite Alberdi and Nancy Schwartzmann. “Victim/Suspect”.
“Eternal Memory” and “Victim/Suspect” premiered at Sundance in January.
“It’s a wonderful next step for both movies,” Goldman says. “This is a first preview for an international audience.”
Powers, who will be at CPH:DOX to host the festival’s Morning with Filmmakers series, adds: “Since CPH’s inception, they have made a real effort to bring in international decision makers from the world of distribution and festival programming. It is therefore a place more than some other European documentary festivals, where filmmakers have the chance to really propel their careers in different ways.
Despite the festival’s growth, it remains a unique community affair known for its enthusiastic audience and upbeat vibes. It is also a festival that does not shy away from the continuous evolution of the form of the documentary genre.
“CPH is a very curious festival,” says CPH:DOX artistic director Niklas Engstrom. “For a while we were cooped up in this crazy festival in Copenhagen focused mainly on hybrid films. Of course, this is part of the history of the festival, and these types of films are always very interesting for us because they try to broaden the notion of what documentary is. But Engstrom explains that in addition to experimental, CPH:DOX programmers are also drawn to a wide variety of docus, including straightforward investigative journalism projects.
CPH’s overall mission, says Engstrom, is to “develop what documentary is and can be.”
The CPH:FORUM, which will present 34 international projects, is an excellent example of this mission. Film financiers from around the world and leading representatives from streaming platforms such as Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon all travel to Copenhagen to attend the annual four-day event.
Blake Levin and Ariel Richter from the fifth season will be there looking for docuseries to fund, equity fund, and/or associate. Richter thanks Tereza Simikova, Head of Industry and Education at CPH:DOX, for making FORUM stand out.
“One of the great things that Tereza does is it recognizes business mandates and recommends projects you should do,” Richter says. “Trying to connect sales agents and buyers with an organized list of projects is very difficult. It takes time and a lot of thought, and she does it. Last year, whatever she told us to focus on, we were interested in.
Levin adds, “We are an independent film and television studio. Global storytelling and quality storytelling are our mandates. It is our interest to be able to go to CPH:DOX. Someone who can bridge the gap for us like Tereza and the festival is super valuable.
“POV” co-producer Opal H. Bennett had heard a lot of talk about CPH:FORUM over the years, but had never been there. This year, she has made partying a priority.
“The feedback was that you had to be there,” Bennett says. “There are special things happening there. There are special conversations going on. It’s really well organized. So I booked my flight.