Gain valuable insights into a documentary's long journey from idea to screen

Key takeaways from DocsBarcelona Industry 2024

From my point of view, the last edition of BarcelonaDocs Industry has – again – been a great event to see what kind of creative auteur-driven documentaries are cooking, both projects in development and films that have already made it into the festival’s competition. 

First of all, when I attend a fair, conference or festival, I usually ask myself beforehand what I want to learn and see there, and who I want to meet. For the documentary film festival in my chosen home city of Barcelona, I had planned to participate in activities where film projects are pitched and discussed at different stages. So I went to the so-called labs, where projects in the pre-production phase are presented, and to presentations of half-finished to almost-finished productions. I was curious to see what stories were making their way to the screen, what opinions and evaluation criteria were coming from the expert panels, and how storytelling and production techniques were evolving.

Much has changed since I wrote my graduate thesis on the social science documentary, but it remains true to what Sundance Institute founder and president Robert Redford once said: “Storytellers broaden our minds: engage, provoke, inspire, and ultimately, connect us.” Today documentaries are much more accessible through streaming platforms and festivals around the world, but at the same time, it seems even harder to capture audiences’ attention because of shorter attention spans and an abundance of (social) media content. 

So let me share my main and very personal takeaways as an observer of various presentations and pitches at DocsBarcelona Industry from the filmmakers’ pitch and presentation feedback given by an experienced panel of commissioning editors, film funds, sales agents, and documentary experts.

I had to think for a while about how to generalize and organize the many impressions and sometimes very project-specific feedback. In the end, I decided to work with the following headlines and I would be delighted if you could give me your opinion. 

A few words about the experts who took part in the festival, and this already includes my initial findings. Again, I will generalize and not name names. The composition of the panels is just as diverse as the contributions themselves. to successfully fund and release a project, it seems essential to address the key issues and interests of the respective broadcasters, institutions, and licensees, and more. It makes sense to build up a relationship as early as possible with the people from whom you expect something as a filmmaker. Festivals and especially non-public industry events are particularly suitable for this. More than once I’ve heard comments like “I’ve known about the project for a while and have seen how it developed”. If you think you can just make a nice movie and everyone will jump on board enthusiastically, you will almost certainly get disappointed. Ultimately, a film must also satisfy the interests of those who should and must finance, promote, and publish it. The challenge for filmmakers is to find a compromise that everyone can live with. 

Having said that, I now come to the first headline.

What makes a good pitch?

1) Goals.

When preparing your presentation, first make it clear what exactly you want to achieve, state this clearly right at the beginning, and assign your specific content to these goals. This will make it easier to leave out aspects and get the increased attention of people who can help you. The more concretely you can address this, the better. Are you looking for funding or just for feedback or help with the realization through co-producers or for distribution channels or internationalization? Talk about it at the beginning and the end and don’t forget to mention the benefits for those who are to get involved. If you show that you are not only able to realize a good film but also put yourself in the other side’s shoes, this will certainly be appreciated.

2) Don’t hide.

It may only be fifty percent about the theme of your movie and how it is designed. Perhaps just as important is a convincing explanation of why exactly you are the right expert and what your credible motivation is for making the film. Explain it and tell the story of how the movie came about and where the source of your passion for the movie is. 

3) Target audience, target audience, target audience.

Don’t get tired of explaining why the movie is needed, who it will help, and why the audience is interested in your movie.

4) Impact.

One of the most frequently asked questions from the experts was what impact your film will have: on the people portrayed, their environment, and society in general. Here, too, the more specific the better. Will the film change the perception of the topic, build or revitalize structures, influence political decisions, trigger investments, or bring help? And what are you doing specifically to achieve this? How will the film be accompanied by actions and additional media and campaigns? It’s okay if you don’t have a clear overview of all this yet. Then name it and ask for advice and ideas.

5) Arouse different emotions.

Empathy for the actors in your movie is not enough. What can arouse curiosity, what makes you worry, and what gives you hope? Does humor play a role or anger or fascination? And how exactly can you trigger these feelings?

6) Show your how & why.

What are your methods, what is your style, how do you work, what creative and technical means do you attach particular importance to, and why?

7) Previsualization.

Show different examples rather than many examples of the same aspect. A trailer is essential. Perhaps an interaction in the rough cut, a sequence where the actors are observed, places where you will film or have filmed, people you still want to interview, musical moods that will carry the film, the color moods that will shape the images, the rhythm of the montage and so on. And if you don’t have all that yet, then work with sketches, storyboards, or mood boards. This way you will either learn what is not working yet or you will find out that you are on the right track.

8) Make it as short as you can, because nothing is as valuable as the time left for the experts’ comments.


In my opinion, there is no such thing as the perfect pitch. But if you fulfill as many of these aspects as you can, then all is well.

What’s trending, what’s popular?

If I knew which topics would work in any case, that would be very nice. But unfortunately, I don’t know, of course. I believe that everything can and nothing has to. From my point of view, however, it was noticeable what financiers, broadcasters, and producers are particularly looking for at the moment.

1) Strong female characters.

Stories that focus on women questioning their role, redefining it or breaking down traditional clichés, and – as successfully as possible – standing up to resistance are very much in demand.

2) Transformation.

The focus is on stories about people who are particularly affected by a rapidly changing world, who are looking for solutions, and who have to reinvent themselves. The focus is on technological change, e.g. through digitalization and artificial intelligence, as well as climate change. 

3) Migration and racism.

This does not need to be explained. The topic is both a perennial issue and highly topical.

4) Polarization of the media landscape and the crisis of democratic societies.

Everything related to the renaissance of dictatorships and autocracies is attracting a lot of attention.

5) Celebrities.

Unknown biographical details of living and deceased stars from culture, sport, and politics are booming. Did you know that Roberto Rossellini had a midlife crisis and from then on only made TV films? Soon you will know. 🙂


Does that mean you have to jump on one of these trends to get a movie off the ground? Of course not. The best example is the success story of John Wilson’s “How To” series, which can be seen on HBO. In the end, it’s what you do with your story that counts. 

What is often recommended?

I have experienced the representatives, sales and finance agents, broadcasters, festival decision-makers, and co-producers in attendance as seeing themselves as guides and supporters, but repeatedly mentioning that they are frustrated when filmmakers behave in an unprofessionally prepared and unreliable manner. It was therefore often recommended that applications for funding and agreed meetings should be carefully prepared and adhered to. There is a great willingness to talk at an early stage of project development.

They want to get to know the filmmaker’s resilience and to see their willingness to embark on a long journey from the initial idea to the finished film. Therefore, check the catchy websites to see which offers exist and which can really suit your project. Don’t be put off by the huge competition, make advance payments with self-financed filming and seek personal contact at festivals and accompanying events at an early stage. This all sounds obvious, but it doesn’t seem to be. So: let yourself be encouraged. 

Finally, I would like to say a quick thank you to the organizers and the DocsBarcelona staff. There is more than just work behind such a well-run festival and it is not a matter of course what is offered to us filmmakers here. Thank you.

Some resources

I don’t want to end without mentioning at least a few places to go and I would be delighted if you could share more sources with us in the comments. 

What do you think? Were my impressions interesting and helpful for you and do you have other and additional impressions? Thank you for your interest and your comment. And I appreciate a lot if you want to reach out or connect, 

Best regards, Christopher

DocsBarcelona Industry. This year’s edition is just over. Check out their website to get the latest info about all upcoming events.

HotDocs provides a $13M portfolio of production funds for doc makers with much-needed development, production, and completion grants and valuable professional development opportunities.

Catalyst is a Sundance Institute’s film financing program, aiming to build a culture of partnership between independent investors and filmmakers and grow the community of indie-film supporters. 

Jacob Burns Film Center provides creative residencies for filmmakers actively working on a film project, primarily working in the writing or post-production phases.

Woman Make Movies is supporting women in directing and producing by offering a production assistance program. 

dok.incubator offers workshops that are focused on the creative development of documentary films in post-production. 

Thanks in advance for sharing my content.