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Industry Programs Manager Stephanie McArthur Attends CNEX Chinese Doc Forum


This September, Hot Docs Industry Programs Manager Stephanie McArthur attended the CNEX Chinese Doc Forum (CCDF) in Taipei, Taiwan.

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A Perfect Storm

Outside a Category 5 typhoon was raging, but inside a surprisingly robust audience sat transfixed through a full day of industry programming. It was my final day attending the CNEX Chinese Doc Forum in Taipei, Taiwan, and although the rest of the island was closed for business documentary was open.

I had arrived earlier in the week to clear skies and the promise of four days of pitching, networking and knowledge sharing. During my first two days, I and about three dozen other industry professionals gathered ‘around the table’ to listen to 20 pitches from mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. With broadcast representation from Al Jazeera English, BBC, DR, NHK, POV, and Phoenix Satellite Television and festival/institute/market reps including IDFA, Tribeca and Sundance among many others, there was a wealth of perspectives, knowledge and experience giving feedback on the presentations.

Prior to the pitching, teams had three days of prep and training from experts like editor Jean Tsien, and filmmakers Yung Chang and Leo Chiang who critiqued, massaged and clarified pitches to get them forum-ready. The familiar pitching format was followed, with seven minutes to pitch and eight minutes of feedback, all ably moderated by CCDF organizers Ruby Chen and Pat Ferns in front of a packed room of observers.

The projects covered a broad range of themes and topics, but there was an overall thread of change, of old ways disappearing as modernization creeps into even the most remote communities, and of new ideas and opportunities clashing with traditional values. Approaches were different with some stories dealing with their subject using humour while others were attempting experimental approaches.

As is often the case with formal pitching, it isn’t until the private meetings that the true layers of projects and, sometimes, the core of the story is revealed. In the afternoons, we had the opportunity to meet personally with each of the pitch teams, to ask questions and give advise. It was here that some projects lost a little interest, while others became more defined and far more compelling. At one point during the pitches, Rick Perez from Sundance Institute talked about the idea of “messy stories told coherently,” it was only here in the private meetings that the true messiness of some of the stories came out, and the ability of the filmmakers to tell those stories coherently was revealed.

10 Years, 100 Films

On the final day of pitching, an award ceremony was held  and six of the 20 projects were awarded prizes, showing the overall strength of the slate. Repeated again and again during the ceremony was the CNEX mandate “10 Years, 100 Films.” This was the ambition that Ben Tsiang, Ruby Chen, and Chang Chao-wei had when they launched CNEX in 2006, but in the ten years since they have accomplished so much more. Support in the form of funding and training for filmmakers from greater China, the creation of a hub for Chinese documentary film, and introducing a network of talented filmmakers to the international market.

The next day the winds howled with the promise of the coming storm as the Producer’s Workshop began, and when not talking shop all the conversation centered on Typhoon Megi. The storm picked up power as it approached the island but CNEX was determined not to let it ruin the party. On the day the typhoon hit, the panels and master classes went ahead as scheduled. Sitting inside the session room, we could hear the wind hitting the 12th floor windows beside us and we could see the projected image on the screen moving up and down as the building swayed in the wind, but on stage the focus was on documentary. That night, with the city still closed for business, a group of internationals gathered in the hotel restaurant for dinner, those whose flights had been cancelled and those who were hoping their flights would make it out the following morning. But no one was upset they were still there; instead we stuffed ourselves, drank some wine and reflected on the perfect storm of projects and filmmakers we had spent the week with, knowing that the typhoon was only a small part of the story from CCDF7.


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