DocWeek enjoys record attendance, looks for reinvention in 2016

13 March, 2014 by Ed Gibbs

Joost den Hartog at this year's AIDC Conference.


Next year's Australian International DocumentaryConference (AIDC) – aka DocWeek – will be the last for its director, Joost den Hartog, who has revealed that the event would well move to Sydney after he departs.

The Adelaide-based Dutch native confirmed to IF that he will be moving on from his decade-long tenure after the 2015 event, and believes the time is right to reassess the conference’s reach. This year’s DocWeek wrapped March 9, with record-high attendance.

Hartog said: “Ten years is enough, I feel. We’ve really turned a corner with the event, making it a public event. I think it’s time to look at doing something else. We’re currently tendering for expressions of interest for 2016.”

Hartog, who currently works with a modest $800,000 budget, says: “There are three interested parties: New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. There’s a clear argument for Sydney, because that’s where 75 to 80 per cent of the industry actually is. So it’s a lot easier for us to get people in.

“On other hand, if you do it in Sydney, people are very close to their offices, so you run the risk of losing your focus.”

But he stresses there are clear benefits to keeping it in its South Australian base. “If you do it in a city like Adelaide, you basically lock people up for a number of days, and that’s very beneficial for a networking event, which this is essentially is. Adelaide is right in the middle of the country, which for diplomatic reasons is quite neutral territory.

“At the end of the day, it’s the state that can offer us the most financial stability that will win the bid.”

Hartog also points to a radically different landscape as the main game-changer at this year’s event, which enjoyed record-high numbers: over 500 delegates attended over 40 sessions across five days, with box-office receipts for combined public and industry screenings totaling $28,000. DocWeek remains the only national meeting point for documentary and factual creatives anywhere in Australia.

“This year, it’s very, very evident that the content industry has converged,” Hartog says. “The strategy’s digital, the strategy’s online. We’re not looking at the future anymore: it’s here, it’s now, and it’s very different. The consequences are huge. The financing models are totally different. The business models are totally different. The nimble, work-alone content creator is back on the playing field. The true independent is back – but it’s a different generation.”

One of the big draw cards at this year’s DocWeek was a retrospective of Oscar-winning filmmaker Alex Gibney, whose latest doc, The Armstrong Lie, is released locally today by Sony Pictures. Hartog says it was a no-brainer showcasing the work of Gibney (whose master class was carried out via Skype, when the documentarian’s travel plans changed at the 11th hour).

“He’s at the height of his career, he’s the most prolific documentary filmmaker at the moment,” Hartog says. “He’s the only one who manages to release documentary after documentary almost through the studio system. He’s made films through Sony, Universal, through PBS and the BBC. The guy covers the whole spectrum. He managed to create a hype around himself that is very interesting. I think it’s unparalleled.”

As for what he himself will do next, Hartog says he’s not yet thinking about 2016, although he’s “excited” about the changes underway in the factual landscape.

“Stephen Lambert’s keynote session summed it up: adapt or die. Find your market and your business model, and adapt your ways of operation to that. We’re still talking about a creative product, but to be successful you have to treat it like a business. Which means, there needs to be some part of market. I find it quite exciting. One door closes, another one opens. Plus, the more we move to VOD, the more ground creative documentary will regain.”