As temperatures climbed into the high 80s (or high 20s in Celsius terms) during the Sunny Side of the Doc conference in La Rochelle, France, topics generating some heat during panel discussions included the emergence of 3D, monetizing online content and new distribution challenges facing filmmakers. And in at least two sessions, the importance of emerging talent – platform-agnostic content creators – and attempting to invigorate the factual genre itself were key components of the conversation.
‘Evolution of the Doc Species’ brought a mix of producers (Wall to Wall’s Alex Graham, October Films’ Denman Rooke, Sebastien Brunaud of France’s Phare Ouest), network commissioners and controllers (ITV’s Jo Clinton-Davis, Current TV’s Lina Prestwood) and a distribution representative (RDF Rights’ Emily Elisha) together to discuss how documentary is evolving into new forms and onto new platforms. One of the key new shapes that the genre has shifted into is that of factual entertainment, the hybrid of documentary storytelling and entertainment that admittedly has seen better reception in certain markets (the U.S. and UK) over others – France being a prime example. ‘Putting entertainment inside documentary or factual is difficult for a French broadcaster to understand,’ admitted Bruneau. ‘I think they can be very happy bedfellows,’ offered Clinton-Davis, citing prison doc Wormwood Scrubs as an example. ‘If entertainment and factual are subtly interwoven then you have a strong product.’
Wall to Wall’s Graham agreed, pointing to the success of the company’s own Who Do You Think You Are? and Electric Dreams. ‘There is more of a willingness and an ability to use inventive entertainment forms to drive real content.’ October Films’ Rooke, pointing to the work showcased during Prestwood’s clip from Current TV, drew the line between new, emerging talent and new ways of creating compelling factual television, saying it was imperative for prodcos and broadcasters alike to ‘take risks with younger filmmakers and new sensibilities.’
Shortly afterward, several younger filmmakers attempted to convince assorted commissioning editors to do just that, during the ‘Under 30s’ edition of the BIPS presentations. Projects ranged from edgy approaches to wildlife (Tom Keeling’s Untamed Europe), to untold histories (Canada/France/Palestine copro The Wanted 18; Sunfilms S.R.O.’s Without Bitterness), to social-oriented docs (How to Match Love from Fechnermedia GMBH; Kungfusion: Fighting Girls at Shaolin School from Angela Yeoh and L’envol Productions’ Pencil Strokes). And in the vein of moving the form forward, at press time, the crossmedia BIPS presentations were standing room only inside the Agora.