#StorytellingMatters Interview with... Zdeněk Blaha, Programme Director at Institute of Documentary Film

Sunny Side of the Doc 2021 aims at helping bring to light talents and stories which question, engage and impact.Through a series of #StorytellingMatters interviews, discover the vision of our most influential partners in the international documentary ecosystem.

Be together! Please introduce yourself and tell us briefly what your company’s main objective is at Sunny Side of the Doc.

Institute of Documentary Film, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary, is helping filmmakers coming from the Central and Eastern Europe to develop their projects at its Ex Oriente Film workshop, find partners and funding through the networking and matchmaking at East Doc Platform, help with sales and distribution through East Silver programme, or alternative international distribution through the KineDok network. I believe Sunny Side of the Doc is the best place to introduce the emerging talents from CEE and help them reach potential partners and broadcasters.

Be positive! What has been your greatest professional accomplishment over the last 12 months ? What lead to this success, despite the pandemic?

I would say the pandemic was a great opportunity to rethink our strategy, look closely upon our programmes and services, and shape them in more meaningful ways. The pandemic was rather than a challenge, more of an opportunity. We have created several new activities, namely re-created the whole follow-up programme for our Ex Oriente Film workshop participants, which offers much more creative feedback and artistic inspirations.
Also our main networking event, the East Doc Platform market and pitch, which was completely online in 2021, hosted record breaking number of attending professionals, which already resulted in several new collaborations. And since 2020 we also host online programmes, panels and masterclasses, such as our regular IDF Industry Sessions, or True Story podcasts with really interesting people who we would not be able to reach otherwise. So although the current state is not ideal, we all could still turn this into an advantage. 


Be inventive! What new strategies are you looking to develop in order to attract international partners as well as provide engaging content in 2021/2022?  

In 2020 we have introduced several new programmes focused on factual series and VoD distribution. Although the pandemic changed some plans, we delivered our first session of East Doc Series, a programme of know-how exchange and networking for factual programmes from Central and Eastern Europe (and you could meet these projects here at Sunny Side of the Doc !).
What proved to be a good timing was also the start of our new support programme focused on VoD distribution. By providing a collection of titles to various national and international VoD platforms in Europe, we hope to open a new distribution channel that will complement our festival distribution programme East Silver Caravan and help filmmakers from our region to reach a wider international audience. These are our main areas we would like to focus on more in the upcoming years in order to support filmmakers in CEE.     

Be aware! To that extent, what will make a good documentary pitch/encounter for your organisation this June ? What’s the best way to reach out and start co-creating ?


We are always open to new projects and ideas, trying to recommend the best programme that could suit the type of the story presented. Since the IDF activities are basically covering all stages, ranging from development (Ex Oriente Film Workshop), to productions and post-production (East Doc Platform) and distribution (East Silver Market and alternative distribution network – KineDok), we are able to provide advice and guidance throughout the process.

Of course, our possibilities are not boundless, as we offer a rather limited number of slots in our different programmes – and there is a big interest coming from the filmmakers – but we try to at least recommend other options and activities run by our partners and help filmmakers from Central and Eastern Europe to find the right collaborators. So feel free to visit our digital stand, or send us an e-mail. We will try to find a way to help you. 


Be inclusive! How is your organisation stepping up to the challenge of fulfilling a mandate for a diversity of voices and a more inclusive pipeline of upcoming storytellers across the entire production process ?

We have been always looking for ways to include underrepresented groups in our programmes, and give voice to different talents. Being it a question of gender equality, sexual minorities, but also equal representation of different countries, in order to help filmmakers from excluded regions to reach their foreign colleagues and connect them with the international community, either through participation in workshops, or markets.

Making the programme and selection of projects more diverse was always important to us, we have been advocating for the CEE region for 20 years now and promoting its cultural diversity since the beginning. Of course we always look at ways to make this better, or on a larger scale, but even if our possibilities might be limited, I believe we manage to give voice to those overlooked.    

Be inspired! Who would you want to put on the spotlight at Sunny Side of the Doc 2021, for some well-earned recognition? And why ?


I would like to express gratitude to all the people in our documentary community who express solidarity and support in these difficult times. It was really a very positive wave of togetherness, when people helped each other by sharing knowledge, ideas, and know-how in these difficult times.
So I would like to thank all my colleagues from the documentary industry, being it film festivals and markets, for sharing their experience with online tools and platforms. Big thanks goes to all the film professionals and decision makers, who were really open to attend virtually and offer their support and time to meet with filmmakers, watch the pitches and provide their feedback.

It really showed a positive spirit that is in our documentary community and I hope that this attitude will remain somehow omnipresent, even if we might be currently facing certain “online fatigue”. We will need to keep high spirits so we – as a filmmaking community – can quickly recover and start anew.


documentary  |  Interview  |  east doc platform  |  #SSD21  |  Storytelling Matters  |  Sunny side of the Doc 2021  |  Central Eastern Europe  |  east doc series



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