Respected as both a commissioner and a champion of documentaries, Patricia Boutinard-Rouelle’s 16-year tenure with France Télévisions has seen her overseeing some of its biggest factual programs, including the acclaimed Second World War series Apocalypse.
Since joining in 1994, she has worked across all five of the network group’s main channels, and at last count oversaw more than 1,000 hours of factual a year.
However, the French broadcaster has spent the past year undergoing a major restructure, and its new decentralized set-up sees individual channel commissioners overseeing programs directly, making the director of docs role redundant.
“It has been a fantastic adventure for 16 years,” Boutinard-Rouelle reflects. “I was very free to develop the documentary policy, and I had a fantastic team with me. We had the chance to innovate, and we created a primetime for documentaries that never existed before.”
While there may have been an opportunity to revert to a lesser role on one of the network’s channels, she decided to use the change as a chance to try something fresh. “‘Tourner la page,’ as we say in France,” she says.
Boutinard-Rouelle has now launched Nilaya, which means ‘blue heaven’ or ‘abode in the blue’ in Sanskrit. Based in Paris, the production company’s first major commission is an ambitious doc special for France 2, which will air in 2012 to mark the 50th anniversary of the end of the Algeria-France war.
Tentatively titled La Guerre d’Algérie (The Algerian War), Boutinard-Rouelle hopes the 4 x 52-minute program will air as a high profile, two-part special over two days, as ratings-winner Apocalyse did. The documentary is being directed by acclaimed French director Patrick Rotman (The War Without a Name) and aims to be the ultimate authoritative documentary on the eight-year conflict.
“I would like Nilaya to develop big event documentary,” Boutinard-Rouelle says. “Big generalist channels are desperately looking for big events and breakthrough programs, and I want to produce documentaries which serve as the definitive reference on a subject.
“Take Apocalypse, which is the film about the Second World War – it became the film that everybody had seen and was talking about. With the Algerian War, what’s happening today in France is that there is an echo – a sort of resonance – and people need to know this historical background.”
Beyond La Guerre d’Algérie, Boutinard-Rouelle says she is working on “ideas for big scientific and historical projects that fit with primetime on big channels.” However, longer term, her ambitions lie beyond just doing docs. “I don’t want to prevent myself from producing drama, especially drama inspired by history or reality,” she says, adding that coproduction is an area she will be looking at.
“I will be looking to reactivate my network in terms of commissioning editors, but also in terms of independent producers. I know many producers I’d love to work with – Dangerous Films, Darlow Smithson, Impossible Pictures – and I’m sure there are many I could work with and share expertise, finance and creativity.”