Delegates sitting on the patio of the Palais du Pharo, site of the annual Sunny Side of the Doc market in Marseille, France, were treated to warm rays of sunshine and a cool breeze blowing off the Mediterranean sea. It’s hard to feel like you’re working in such a setting. Ironically, the three-day event (June 26 to 29) is establishing itself as a market where deals are started and closed. Not surprisingly, end-of-the-market stats reveal that attendance increased again this year. A total of 1,357 people from 31 countries came to the event. Of these, 220 were from 111 broadcast outlets. Exhibitors numbered 237; 567 companies attended.
Organized panels focused on providing producers with the information needed to successfully sell docs to broadcasters and to navigate the twists and turns of coproducing with international partners. For the most part, panelists delivered the goods. During the case study for Tackling Terror, Brian Lapping of Brook Lapping Productions in the U.K. revealed that although the U.K.’s Channel 4 essentially commissioned the film, it refused to sign a contract (or provide funds) until it could read the contracts of every other copro partner. ‘This is becoming common practice and it’s awful,’ said Lapping. ‘It forces you to make programs with your own cash flow.’
The session ‘Documentary in Great Britain’ proved equally candid. Peter Dale, head of docs at C4, noted that last year’s financial losses have propelled the pubcaster to produce more films through international copros, particularly history and science docs. Dale also revealed there has been some internal discussion surrounding the launch of a low cost (i.e. digital) factual channel by C4, but warned the idea is far from a reality. On the same panel, Krishan Arora, senior commissioning exec of the BBC’s independents and nations department, said BBC Choice will soon expand its factual programs, about 25% of which will come from the indie sector. The outlet currently focuses on entertainment.
Sheila Nevins, executive VP of original programming at HBO, was billed as the event’s special guest. In conversation with Pat Ferns, Nevins lived up to her reputation for being frank and honest, sometimes brutally so. ‘Nobody buys HBO to see my docos,’ said Nevins, explaining she always has to fight for factual programming in the pay-channel’s predominately fiction environment. As a result, Nevins admitted she is a ‘ratings ‘ho’ and said HBO docs must be ‘colloquial, frank, provocative and worth paying for.’ Since 9/11, explained Nevins, the ideas that are palatable to HBO’s audience have changed. Because of this, she argued it’s important to have all kinds of ideas pitched to her, but reminded filmmakers that HBO docs must have ‘top spin, unusual access and energy.’
Two awards also premiered at this year’s market. The Other Side, by Mark Daniels and Rangnar van Leyden took home the Olivier Masson Award for best European doc project listed in the projects catalog. Nicolas Gabriel’s film Journey to the Center of the Stone, won the Voyage Prize for best travel-discovery project. Each received EURO10,000 (US$9,900).