Why documentary films matter

The Danish-Ukrainian co-production A House Made of Splinters is the fourth IMS-supported film to be nominated for an Oscar. While the recognition and visibility the awards bring to films are always welcome, IMS’ support for documentaries is spurred by the genre’s ability to highlight the stories of marginalised groups and overlooked topics – especially in repressive regimes with limited freedom of expression.

Good documentary films activate our senses and emotions – we get goose bumps, hold our breath, laugh hysterically, shed tears. This is one of the genre’s massive strengths which is crucial if you have an ambition of awakening a shared understanding or an awareness needed to create change in minds or societies. Documentary’s ability to use intimate and compelling visual storytelling, often focusing on personal experiences and micro-environments to tell grander societal stories, uncover criminal acts and hold those in power to account, is one of the reasons we have seen a veritable boom in the audience for documentary films in recent years. 

This special ability is clearly visible in all of the documentaries nominated for the 2023 Oscars, whether it’s shown through two brothers saving birds vital to the ecosystem in New Delhi (All that Breathes), the human cost of the opioid crisis in America (All the Beauty and the Bloodshed) or Russia’s attempt to silence and kill opposition figure Alexei Navalny (Navalny). With A House Made of Splinters, Danish director Simon Lereng Wilmont shows the effects of war on vulnerable children in an orphanage in eastern Ukraine through thorough and moving documentation. 

Please accept marketing cookies to see this video.

Providing a platform for underrepresented stories 

IMS was one of the first organisations to give funding to A House Made of Splinters with means from a Danish-Ukrainian youth programme. The documentary, which is a Danish-Ukrainian co-production, follows three children through a period of eight months when they are placed in an orphanage due to violence or alcohol abuse in their homes. The war, meanwhile, is a constant eerie backdrop throughout the entire film.  

Ukraine has been on the top of the global agenda since Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022, but Russian forces had been occupying parts of eastern Ukraine since 2014. Simon Lereng Wilmont started working on A House Made of Splinters in the beginning of 2020, and IMS provided seed-funding in the very early stages of production, at a time when the war was largely overlooked by the international community but still had grave consequences for Ukrainians living in the area. 

What IMS considers when supporting a documentary film is its ability to create societal change or to shed light on a topic untold or under prioritised in mainstream media, like Wilmont’s focus on the ongoing war in Ukraine. We find the films we support either because we are approached by filmmakers with an idea for a film or who are quite early in the production stages or because we identify the films through presence on the ground, using our wide network of filmmakers around the globe.  

We also work to enable collaboration between filmmakers and production companies: the incredibly strong documentary tradition in Denmark has been hugely instrumental to our work as we have connected many young talents from around the world with reputable Danish production companies. Through the years, we have also sent a lot of filmmakers to the Danish Film School for training and inspiration. 

Supporting new talents and voices

Wilmont was already an established filmmaker before starting his work on A House Made of Splinters, but usually we support less experienced new voices – especially women – who have the talent and ideas but lack financial or professional support to produce their films or have them reach a large audience. An example of this is Khartoum Offside that follows a group of determined young women in Khartoum defying a ban by the Sudanese government to play organised soccer. 

Please accept marketing cookies to see this video.

IMS started working with documentary film in 2005 and focused in its early years on supporting filmmakers, film schools and cross-border networks in the Middle East and North Africa. In a region with limited freedom of expression and media controlled to a large degree by the state, we realised that documentary films could – often to a greater extent than traditional journalism – address controversial or overlooked topics, like being queer in Lebanon or the conditions under which people with physical disabilities live in Morocco, without being censored or harassed by authorities. We have also supported several films dealing with the war in Syria, like the also Oscar-nominated The Cave and Last Men in Aleppo. Our aim in supporting documentaries is both to give international audiences access to films from hard-to-reach-areas and to support local talents in creating change in their countries and communities. 

By bringing forward topics in a different way than news media, documentary films present stories about sensitive topics and give women, minorities and marginalised groups a chance to use their voices, contributing to changes on issues related to gender equality, cultural diversity, current affairs and human rights.