About IMS Documentary Film

IMS launched our documentary film programme as a strategic focus area in 2005 when a group of Arab filmmakers approached us requesting support for the set-up of a film school to further documentary filmmaking in the MENA region. Contacts with some of the key institutions in the Danish film environment were established and plans for projects to further independent documentary filmmaking in the Arab world were made. Shortly thereafter we got involved in Syria and took part in initiating the first documentary film festival in the country, Dox Box.

At that point most filmmakers in the Arab world worked alone; afraid that sharing thoughts and skills would be an invitation for others to steal their ideas, the added value of collaboration and constructive critique was not realised. This unused potential formed a path for IMS to follow when we integrated documentary film into our programme. We wanted to motivate filmmakers to collaborate across the region and establish film hubs with film courses and workshops. We also worked to expand the infrastructures of filmmaking in the region and to contribute to changing the mentality in these film environments.

In 2008, IMS expanded our efforts with a documentary film programme in China that aimed to support and connect independent filmmakers and contribute towards getting Chinese-produced documentary films a wider audience. Based on our experiences from the MENA region, we realised that documentary film initiatives, as opposed to other media, remained under the radar of restrictive political regimes, and this paved the way for stories that would otherwise not have reached the audiences.

Documentary film played a significant role during the Arab Spring in 2011. Along with the vast number of people utilising the new possibilities of online and social media, documentary film grew as a medium for telling stories from the countries affected by conflict. Some films produced during this period focused on the current conflicts, the fighting and warfare. Others documented how people strove to keep up daily life in a time of war. During the first three years of the uprisings, the Arab world produced 150 documentary films – more than four times the number produced in the years before (Baltruschat & Erickson, 2015, Independent Filmmaking around the Globe).

Since IMS began promoting documentary filmmaking, we have supported over 190 documentaries from more than 25 countries including some 30 co-productions between production companies from the Global South and the Nordic region. The films cover current affairs, cultural and social issues, gender equality, diversity and human rights issues and reach audiences through cinema, TV, and on a multitude of online platforms. Today, we are working with core film programmes in the MENA region and Eastern Europe. Documentary film is now a major tool for IMS and thus we are in the process of integrating documentary film in all the programmes that IMS implements.

Over the years we have worked with documentary film, the genre has become an even more powerful tool for change. Not only do documentaries diversify the media by telling stories and bringing topics forward in a way that differs from the news media, documentary film also presents stories about sensitive topics and gives a voice to women, minorities and marginalised groups, contributing to changes on issues related to gender equality, cultural diversity, current affairs and human rights.