The Lisbon International Documentary Film Festival

By Hannah Patterson


This October will see the fourth incarnation of The Lisbon International Documentary Film Festival, a vibrant and diverse event housed in the city’s cavernous Culturgest centre for the arts. Last year, over 90 films from around the world screened to packed, enthusiastic houses; further proof, if any were needed, of the burgeoning audience for documentary in the cinema.

The festival features several competitive strands: International Competition, National Competition and First Works, and Investigations, which focuses on films about current issues. The Grand Prize for Best Feature Documentary was jointly awarded to two films: Yan Yu e Li Yifan’s Before the Flood, an examination of the relocation of Fengjie to escape the flood that will occur with the completion of the Three Gorges Dam- which also won an award for Best First Documentary Work- and Alimentation Générale, the story of the last remaining grocery store in an immigrant community in the banlieu. Massaker, featuring interviews with soldiers involved in the massacre of Sabra and Shatila during the Lebanese civil war, won Investigations. The Universities Jury Award went to the aesthetically alluring art documentary By the Ways (A Journey with William Eggleston). A rare chance to see a selection of post-Soviet Russian documentary included stimulating work by Viktor Kossakovsky, Sergey Dvortsevoy and Alexander Krivonos.

Undoubtedly the most popular event of the festival was the complete Ross McElwee retrospective, the first in Europe. Longer pieces such as Sherman’s March, Time Indefinite and Bright Leaves played alongside Backyard and Charleen, and collaborations with other directors such as Something to Do With the Wall. Trademark McElwee- wry and self-deprecating- the films mix personal travelogue and rites of passage relationships with family, friends and lovers to comic and poignant effect. The director was on hand to introduce screenings and give a master class, discussing his own inspirations, influences and documentary making. Other festival highlights included Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man, Darwin’s Nightmare and the moving The Three Rooms of Melancholia.

The entry deadline for submissions for this year’s festival is July 14. A form and guidelines can be found online at The LisbonDocs pitching forum will take place from 24th-28th October. 14 projects will be selected and participants will receive expert tuition from six internationally experienced producers and directors on how to develop their ideas. At the end of the workshop all projects are pitched to a panel of Commissioning Editors from leading international co-production TV channels. Last year, there were representatives from ZDF/ARTE in Germany, in the Netherlands, TVC in Spain, AVRO, NPS and Dutch Film Fund in The Netherlands, SVT in Sweden, TSR in Switzerland, the Finnish Film Foundation, and RTP1 in Portugal.

For this forum, the deadline for sending in your project is September 1st. Send a maximum of two pages, including: synopsis, visual approach, short CV of company and director, the total budget, a brief financing plan and contact details. Your project presentation should be sent to EDN by email:

Hannah Patterson is a writer, editor and filmmaker.