Westdoc helps documentary filmmakers connect the dots

For documentary filmmakers, getting a movie in the can is never without its share of obstacles, whether that means shooting in unforgiving environments, getting access to hard-to-reach subjects or simply enduring the grind. Yet for some projects, the biggest challenge is getting the film in front of an audience.

The documentary and reality conference Westdoc, which returns to Los Angeles for its third installment Sunday through Wednesday, aims to help nonfiction filmmakers do just that by connecting them with network executives, agents and distributors, as well as with fellow writers, directors and producers.

"A lot of filmmakers have great ideas, want to get them out there. They can shoot, they can edit, but they don't really know what comes next," said Westdoc co-founder Richard Propper, a veteran distributor and executive producer. "That's where you've got to really sit down and hear from people who've done it."

The conference's marquee event, to be held Wednesday, is Pitchfest, at which 12 finalists present pitches to a panel of about a dozen network and development executives. The winner is determined by audience voting and takes home a cash prize.

The previous two Pitchfest winners were Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky's film "Indie Game," about independent video game developers, and Bess Kargman's "First Position," which follows young dancers preparing for a prestigious ballet competition. Both documentaries, which were made by first-time filmmakers, had theatrical runs in Los Angeles in May, and both received positive reviews from The Times.

Kargman, Swirsky and Pajot will return to Westdoc to participate in the opening panel, one of 30 panels overall. The conference also features a day of screenings; a keynote with Kirby Dick ("The Invisible War," "This Film Is Not Yet Rated"); sit-downs, in which broadcasters such as the Sundance Channel, PBS, YouTube and National Geographic will outline the types of content they're looking for; and sessions called FaceTime, in which conference attendees are granted 10-minute one-on-one meetings with network execs.

Co-founder Chuck Braverman, an Academy Award-nominated documentary filmmaker (for "Curtain Call"), said the conference has sparked many other projects in addition to "Indie Game" and "First Position."

"I think there's a hundred projects that we don't know about because it's all the networking that goes on and elevator pitches and FaceTime, and all the projects that are developed after people learn what the networks are looking for," he said.

Propper said another goal of the conference, which is expected to attract  about 500 attendees this year, is to foster a sense of community among documentary filmmakers on the West Coast.

"There was this notion that all the important decision-makers were on the East Coast when in fact there's a tremendous number on the West Coast," he said. "And so we've proved that to be accurate, than you can do it out here."

Westdoc runs Sunday-Wednesday at the Culver Hotel and the Pacific Theaters Culver Stadium 12.


Movie review: Children in love with ballet in 'First Position'

Movie review: 'Indie Game' captures the struggle to create

DocuWeeks gets documentaries where they need to be: before eyes

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