The documentary industry has left its lens cap on

Following a review of the winners and nominees of the British Documentary Awards today, I have been struck by how little the documentary industry has grasped the Internet.

It strikes me as unbelievably short-sighted not to use the Internet when film-makers spend most of their lives trying to make people aware of their films, travelling across the globe, entering film festivals and desparately trying whatever they can to get their work noticed.

And yet of the 37 films that made the short list of the British Documentary Awards, the creme de la creme of this year’s output, only five have their own websites – and four of these were cinematic releases, demonstrating how much more aware the larger film industry has become of the Net.


Of the 37, just 25 have any form of webpage or “microsite” and these were almost exclusively produced by the TV station showing the documentary (Channel 4 and BBC Four most of the time). Even though 25 had a web presence, only 10 of these actually placed any clips up on the site. This is incredible considering that the whole medium the documentaries work on is film. And considering the huge uptake of broadband, this is very shortsighted.

Perhaps people are worried about the cost of websites: they needn’t be. Setting up a website purely for your own documentary is a matter of a few hundred pounds. Considering the money put into promoting films elsewhere, this is a pittance. And the cost of running clips is also extremely low these days. A hosting deal for just £100 could handle large traffic without too much trouble.

Most telling is the fact that only one of the 37 film actually sells its film for download. I suspect there is a fear among film-makers that this will lead to piracy, or perhaps they don’t know how best to sell their film online. It can be tricky but there are websites out there right now itching to take high-quality documentaries and sell them online.


And the piracy issue is something you just have to get over – because it will happen with or without you. Over half of the shortlisted documentaries are available for download – including some that aren’t even on sale in any format.

In fact, only 15 of the 37 films are available for purchase in any format. This is incredible. I really don’t think that the documentary industry has understood how the Internet has changed this market entirely.

It is very notable however that the most Net savvy are two stark groups: the films that get a cinematic release, and the newcomers. The winner of this year’s newcomer award, Clare Richards for her Disabled and Looking for Love has experimented with putting rushes up on Google Video, and her production company also has a small clip up.

Business opportunity

I think I might start up a business catering for what is a virgin market – providing consultancy and website building. Explain to film-makers what can be done – and how it needn’t cost the earth. I can only assume the reason they’re not jumping all over this is because of a mixture of fear and ignorance. Incredible really.

In the meantime, I will just have to continue not being able to see people’s films, along with the millions more people exactly like me.

  1. i want to make documentaries for a living but i am studying an archaeology degree some one please tell me how i would go about doing that.

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