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“We won’t need VOD platforms anymore to share and monetize a film"

Industry Report: Documentary

Kristian Van der Heyden • Producer, Harald House


The 2022 Emerging Producer from Belgium talks about the impact documentary films can have, both in the present and the future

Kristian Van der Heyden  • Producer, Harald House

An interview with Kristian Van der Heyden, producer for Belgian company Harald House and selected for the 2022 Emerging Producers programme. Read his EP profile here.

Why do you produce documentaries? Do you understand documentary film as an instrument of social and political change?
Kristian Van der Heyden: I could talk about my childhood, the video store around the corner from my house, and the many hours of watching critical documentaries in my youth out of sheer curiosity about the world. But I’ve tried other things over the years. I studied visual arts, built installations, ran a non-profit organisation to exhibit video art... Wanted to be an actor, and then lived in Los Angeles for eight years producing branded commercials until I moved back to Belgium in 2016. My first documentary was A Punk Daydream about street punk in Indonesia, which came out at IFFR in 2019. A friend of mine was directing and asked me to produce it. I was already 35 by then. There isn’t some vision or meaning behind why I produce documentaries that I could honestly believe to be 100% true. I am looking for truth, form, and nuance these days, and I want to move away from romanticising things too much.

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There are great examples of impactful films such as Bowling for Columbine or The Cove. But these are exceptions, right? The idea of having no impact with my latest film Slave Island really terrifies me. We filmed a family that still owns child slaves, kept in a backhouse, their tiny bodies covered in scars from beatings with a stick. The film needs to be seen, and something really needs to change locally. But can we really claim that a documentary is an instrument of change? The process and result is highly uncertain and the expenses of impactful production currently do not qualify for most production subsidies. It is a shame. So what is the basis of our efforts? Slave Island has been selected for the Movies That Matter Impact Producing Program. I hope that through workshops, building a network, and using my own wit, I can find a way to have an impact! 

The pandemic had an impact on the entire sector. How did it influence your work as a producer? Have the projects that you work on changed?
I would say the cost of production has gone up by 10%-20% during the pandemic due to delays, visas for travel abroad, covid tests and other difficulties. Especially when filming far abroad.  We all try our best to deliver the same quality as before but the interruptions cause characters to change, their stories have gaps – and that makes it a lot more costly and complicated to deliver a proper story.

What do you think is the future of the distribution of documentary films?
My guess is that we are moving towards a decentralised revenue model for film, embedded in A.I. and blockchain. Meaning we won’t need VOD platforms anymore to share and monetize a film. Anyone will be able to curate their movie selection and sell films on social platforms. The demand for cinematic experiences will only grow as we bring cinema closer to home on any screen. As filmmaking becomes easier, the challenge to be seen, to stand out, will require more and more expertise. That’s my fifty cent prediction.

What projects do you have underway?
I am producing my first short film in Belgium, a horror titled Daughter based on Persephone’s mythology. There is an arthouse co-production underway with Iceland, titled Urna, about an old man that drinks his deceased wife’s ashes and can't let go of her passing. It is a play about loneliness at old age, which is an issue in Europe. I guess it is all pretty dark. I like darker stories. Together with fellow Emerging Producer from Italy Leonardo Barrile [read more about him here), we are in early development on Trona, an abandoned mining town in the desert of California, where we want to capture the broken soul of the American Dream among its remaining residents. Finally, I am also writing my own sci-fi series ­– a dystopy set in Brussels. Wish me luck!


EMERGING PRODUCERS is a leading promotional and educational project, which brings together talented European documentary film producers. The programme is organised and curated by the Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival.

Deadline for applications to the EMERGING PRODUCERS 2023 edition is 31 March 2022.

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