Woman with telescope looking up at the night sky. Still from the film Sapideh

Documentary film is a tool for change

IMS Documentary Film works with independent filmmakers from around the world to develop new projects, connect with the film industries and enable collaborative storytelling that creates impact and contributes to social, political and cultural developments.

Documentary film increases awareness and, in some instances, generates solutions. We want to influence audiences and power holders to react and contribute to change in some of the most challenged parts of the world.

We strive to engage with filmmakers from trying parts of the world – from the front end to enabling environments to outreach and impact.

“We believe that films are only films when they meet the audiences.”

Rasmus Steen, Head of IMS Documentary Film

Telling stories through different voices and views

While trust in the media is challenged globally, the independent documentary film industry and its audiences are growing. Documentary filmmaking has become one of the most influential ways of telling stories, even as the broader media experiences unprecedented disruptions.

As a genre, documentary film speaks in a language of its own – it is neither journalism nor fiction but rather a genre where social, political and cultural criticism finds a space. This is the case even in countries where media and freedom of expression are highly restricted. Documentary film creates a space to promote new voices and views.

In repressive societies, documentary filmmaking often escapes censorship imposed on news media and plays an important role in providing a diverse media landscape. An increase in professionally produced documentaries from ambitious filmmakers looking to tell stories can raise awareness and bring about change. The stories they tell are about personal lives, political change and social dynamics that are rarely found elsewhere in the media stream. As an audio-visual medium, documentary film has the ability to include all – also those that are illiterate, underserved or reliant on one-sided and state-controlled news and information.

Good documentary films activate our senses and emotions – we get goose bumps, hold our breath, laugh hysterically, shed tears. On top of this, you have the meta-story that addresses the topic in a bigger societal context. Both levels are crucial if you have an ambition to awake some sort of shared understanding and awareness in order to create change.

Rasmus Steen

Looking ahead, IMS envisages that the genre will remain a top priority for global distribution platforms and their audiences, which will provide unprecedented potential in reaching new audiences with vital stories from around the world. Supporting local documentary film environments in challenged countries is an effective tool to broaden the content of the media and thus to generate alternative voices and give audiences access to more sources of information. Furthermore, it will ensure that filmmakers can operate under the most challenging of circumstances. Empowering local documentary film environments will have an immediately noticeable effect for broad audiences, for the media industry, for journalism and for a lively society.

Call for applications

EAVE, CPH:DOX and IMS are calling for eight teams with documentary projects in development from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine as part of the CHANGE co-production training course.

Our areas of work

Since 2005, IMS has worked in close partnership with local filmmakers, production companies, film schools and labs, film festivals, distribution companies and TV stations. Three cross-cutting principles are the driving forces in our work: inclusion, integrity, and diversity. With these principles in mind, we seek to enable and strengthen the infrastructures and outputs of domestic film environments through the following approaches:

Still from the film the Cave showing two women

Front-end interventions

IMS Documentary Film aims to participate in the front-end development of filmmakers, production companies and film environments and to enable these communities. We strive to be proactive in identifying new original voices and talents and to enable an inclusive approach in existing local environments. IMS Documentary Film is often the first organisation to support a particular documentary film. We know from experience that the first funding can be hard to obtain for independent filmmakers. When IMS Documentary Film supports at this stage, we empower and encourage innovative film productions and filmmakers and help raise the quality of the project.

Film poster for We Could Be Heroes

Enabling collaboration between film professionals

Enabling collaboration is the basis for most of IMS Documentary Film’s work. We believe in the importance of having a strong and enabling infrastructure underneath the film production layer. A country needs film schools and training units as incubators to grow new talent; independent film spaces where filmmakers can meet and exchange knowledge and experiences; local or regional film labs and workshops to further develop professionalism and instigate advanced technical specialisation; access to distribution through local and regional TV or online media to reach the broad masses; and local film festivals where filmmakers can reach local audiences of all ages and interests and young filmmakers have the chance to try out their film in front of an audience – often for the first time.

We work to enable regional networks and collaboration as well as inter-regional co-production. We also build a bridge between documentarism and journalism through the mutually beneficial exchange of methodologies like fact checking and strong storytelling.

Still from the film Khartoum Offside

Outreach of documentary films

Reaching new international audiences is crucial to secure growth in regional film communities and subsequently a diversity of productions from these communities. The productions supported by IMS Documentary Film represent new voices and voices that are new to the audiences; in this regard, the productions also serve as an instrument to increase awareness of the issues promoted by IMS Documentary Film: inclusion, gender equality, marginalised groups and diversity. While the outreach for each individual film is an output by itself, it is also a strategic tool to engage with civil society actors for better impact.