France 3 isn’t the biggest player in its territory, but when it comes to doc programming, it has taken the lead, thanks in large part to the efforts of Patricia Boutinard-Rouelle, France 3′s head of documentaries.
It was Boutinard-Rouelle who spearheaded Species Odyssey, an innovative non-fiction production about Earth’s first humans that was one of the year’s most spectacular success stories. She recognized that France 3 needed to take a chance with its doc programming if it was going make a mark in primetime, and she embraced the use of fiction techniques in the production as a way to take non-fiction in a new direction.
It was a risk, because the approach runs counter to the strong tradition of auteur docs in France, but the gamble paid off. Not only did the film draw a huge audience (one third of all viewers in France, a record-breaking achievement), it paved the way for more primetime doc slots on France 3 and more creative commissions. Perhaps most importantly to producers, Species Odyssey‘s success also gave Boutinard-Rouelle the ability to throw her support behind more expensive projects.
Producer Fred Fougea of Paris-based prodco Boréales says he encountered no difficulties when he presented her with the US$4.1 million estimated budget for Sapiens Odyssey, the follow-up program to Species Odyssey. ‘For France 3, the real challenge is to have something on primetime that is very original and strong,’ says Fougea. France 3 is the lead broadcaster for Sapiens Odyssey, though it will not finance the program exclusively.
Boutinard-Rouelle is also open to experimenting with other styles, including reality formats and docusoaps – anything that will bring new energy to the form. As she told RealScreen earlier this year, ‘We are at the start of a revolution. Documentary will become more and more popular, if we make the effort.’