[Source: Playback Online]
Veteran doc distributor Jan Rofekamp is this year's winner of the Doc Mogul Award, presented May 4 during the 17th annual Hot Docs bonanza (April 29 to May 9) in Toronto.
"I'm of course very happy with this," says Rofekamp. "And I think it's a good thing they celebrate someone from my profession [distribution]. We are the guys behind the scenes who always have to pay for the lunches and never get invited anywhere. We are the work horses," he says, chuckling.
Rofekamp came to Canada from Holland and hung up his shingle - Films Transit International - in Montreal in 1982 when the market was ripe for independent fiction distributors. He had a huge hit with Patricia Rozema's I've Heard the Mermaids Singing, just before that market bottomed out in the late '80s with the birth of the mini-majors (such as the former Miramax).
Rofekamp quickly refocused his passion on docs in the early '90s and has since distributed titles from the obscure to household names, such as Shelley Saywell's international human-interest docs to the launch of the restored version of the 1970 Rolling Stones tour movie Gimme Shelter. He has been an outspoken voice of the doc genre ever since.
Regarding the state of the doc industry today, he says: "There's one huge problem, to put it in a nutshell, if you look at the supply and demand in the documentary business. There's an insane number of documentaries from everywhere and there's no way the [global] broadcast market can absorb this, and it's still the only market that pays any money."
Rofekamp says there's a glut of 'auteur' docs for sale arouind the world annually (5,000 to 7,000 titles), but notes that "there's only a place for maybe 300 or 400 of them. [The buyers] look for the Oscar nominations and films that get festival exposure, and occasionally there's a wild card. It's tough because of the volumes."
Films Transit takes on 20 to 30 new docs for distribution each year. To merit the risk, Rofekamp says he has to feel he will be able to pitch the film with the same level of enthusiasm as the filmmaker does, for about two years. And his criteria are simple - he has to like the film and believe it has relevance so that he feels he's doing something useful as he pitches.
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