IDFA Bertha Fund turns 25 supporting Ukraine and focusing on Talent Development – ​​Diversity | Episode Movies

The IDFA Bertha Fund, which celebrated its 25th anniversary this year and was originally established to support documentary filmmaking in developing countries, has undergone a number of significant changes in both its budget and scope of funding in recent years.

Speak with diversityCommenting on the fund’s recent changes, Bertha Fund Executive Director and IDFA Deputy Director Isabel Arrate Fernandez said: “One of the big changes this year is that we have been able to increase the contributions and the number of projects we select in a year. We started the year with the goal of supporting 25 projects through IBF Classic and we ended up supporting 35 because we added a whole Ukrainian stage.”

By the Ukrainian leg Fernandez means the special appeal IDFA Bertha Fund Classic – Ukrainian Support, which is funded by the Open Society Foundation. “It came about very quickly as a practical response to what was going on. Ukraine had an active national film institute and funding agency, but they shut everything down because all the money had to go to the war. So our reaction was very quick. In the end we picked seven, which will most likely be nine. So this is something really new.”

This year, 11 films supported by the IDFA Bertha Fund made the official IDFA selection: Shaunak Sen’s All That Breathes; Anna Shishova-Bogoliubova’s The New Greatness Case; Marusya Syroechkovskaya’s “How to Save a Dead Friend”; Theo Montoya’s “Anhell69”; Clare Weiskopf and Nicolas van Hemelryck’s Alis; Manuel Abramovich’s “Porno Melancholia”; Siri Chen’s “Dear Mother, I Wanted to Write About Death”; Loving Martha by Daniela Lopez; Burcu Melekoglu and Vuslat Karan’s “Blue ID”; Nishtha Jain’s The Golden Thread; and Angie Vinchito’s Manifesto.

Fernandez singles out Manifesto as a film she’s “extremely excited about—although ‘excited’ is a bit of an odd wording in this case.” According to the IBF executive director, Vinchito’s patchwork of often shocking videos posted by Russian teenagers on social media is “one of those haunting films that gets under your skin. It brings perspective to a country we all now see as the great enemy.”


Russia only became eligible for the IBF in 2016, when the fund was amended to include countries from lower ranks of the World Press Freedom Index. Fernandez says of the change: “I think it proved necessary. Things have only gotten worse with Russia. If you want to make an independent film there, you have to be underground. That’s the only way if there are still people around. And countries like Iran and India, where the media is much more controlled, have always been on our list and have always scored low in the World Press Index. So it hasn’t really meant a change in our selection, but we see that filmmakers have a hard time in their countries because their freedoms are restricted and they are being watched.”

Working with filmmakers living in tense political situations adds an additional emotional toll to the IBF selection process. “There are people you build a relationship with. So if something goes wrong for them in their country, we try to help, but we can’t always. Sometimes it can be tough. We had a lot of filmmakers in Kabul so we really got into it and it was heartbreaking. In a way it is perhaps comparable to what movies can do to you, good documentaries go beyond what you read on the news. They tell you stories and experiences from the inside out.”

Fernandez emphasizes that at the core of how the IDFA Bertha Fund works is support that goes beyond the financial. “One of the most important things about the support that we do with the IDFA Bertha Fund is that with the grant we give to filmmakers, there is a very clear, tangible financial support for production and development, but the other part of the support that we offer is to engage in dialogue with the filmmakers to assist them with whatever else they may need. It’s up to you. We speak of tailor-made support because it depends on the project and the filmmaker. Some don’t need it, they work alone, while others need much more either creative advice or business advice in terms of distribution, sales and co-production.”

“Some of our first-time filmmakers have come a long way to get to this point and are now having their world premiere at IDFA,” she says, citing titles like “Loving Martha” and “Blue ID” as examples of films that support more than just financial support through the Bertha Fund, but also took part in one or more of the festival’s talent development programs.

“Dear Martha”

Focusing on this comprehensive support is the future of the IDFA Bertha Fund, notes the managing director. “In 2020, within IDFA, we brought the IDFA Bertha Fund and talent development activities under one roof and named it the Filmmaker Support Department, which I lead. This has led to even greater collaboration and support that we can offer to filmmakers selected through the IDFA Bertha Fund. So I think what’s ahead is really this collaboration between the funding agency and the talent development partner to offer people who are new to this industry the resources to help them navigate this world and the best way forward for their projects to find.”

How does Fernandez look back on her 20-year legacy at IBF? “I look back on that with a little pride. I won’t say that so quickly [laughs]. If we look at this year, we have all these first-time filmmakers, but we also have Nishtha Jain, who we have supported on four of her five projects. So when you talk about legacy, it’s about how we’ve been able to support filmmakers on several of their projects. It’s the kind of cycle you always see and probably the most rewarding aspect.”

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