Embracing the Asian Side of the Doc

In advance of the fifth edition of the documentary market, kicking off in Chengdu, China tomorrow (March 18), realscreen spoke with event CEO Yves Jeanneau about the evolution of the conference, and that of the Asian documentary industry.
March 17, 2014

Five years ago, Yves Jeanneau and the team of organizers behind the long-running Sunny Side of the Doc conference and market in La Rochelle, France, made their first move into Asia with the premiere edition of Asian Side of the Doc in Hong Kong. Fast-forward to 2014, and attendance for the Asian event has ballooned by 200%, with 615 international delegates slated to attend this year’s market, kicking off tomorrow (March 18) in Chengdu, China.

Delegates will be heading to the event from Europe, North America, Australia and, of course, Asia, and for the first time, organizers are providing an exhibition hall with 1,200 square metres of space for exhibitors.

Just before the event’s launch, Yves Jeanneau took time to reveal more about what’s ahead for the event this year, and how it fits into the fabric of the Asian non-fiction content industry.

RS: From what you’ve seen in presenting this event for several years, how has the dynamic between Asian broadcasters and producers evolved over the years, and is there an evolving dynamic of collaboration between Asian content creators and broadcasters and their international counterparts?

YJ: Five years ago, Asian broadcasters, except for some like NHK and KBS, had few exchanges with their international counterparts, and most of them only produced in-house. Things had to change. They are now looking for better stuff; they need to be present on the international market, they buy more and they are coproducing. Many documentary channels and doc slots have started up. It’s really been a documentary boom for us to build on.
Just one example: in China, CCTV9 launched three years ago as a full documentary channel. And from the very beginning they set up an international copro policy. They even fully produce films using well known directors and producers like Phil Agland, Steve Burns or Eric Valli. They want to learn how we do things, and increase the skill level of Chinese filmmakers. So more and more coproductions have been set up, which is also why ASD has grown so quickly.
One important thing to understand; even though Indie production companies are now appearing on the scene, most of the broadcasters are still producing in-house. Japan, Korea, and Malaysia are the countries where indies are organizing themselves and carving out more space. In China, it’s very new but the process is now underway.

RS: This year you’re looking extensively at digital storytelling. Is this an area that Asian broadcasters and producers are keen to explore further? Different territories in Asia probably have different approaches to digital, but do you feel broadcasters and producers from the region are eager to learn about success stories from Europe and North America in the digital realm?
YJ: They’re certainly keen to learn, and are encountering the worlds of crowd-funding, and the power of social networks, VOD, and even docs on cinema and other giant screens. In Asia, particularly Korea and Japan, ambitious projects are being produced in 4K as a baseline – they’re thinking 8K or even 16K. This year we received many more 4K-produced projects.
They’ve also begun to understand what can be done as interactive programming. We’ll have a specific master class about that, on Monday (today), run by Michel Reilhac and Tom Perlmutter, two of the very best international experts.
It’s still all about storytelling though. They know they have to improve and radically change their styles, and they learn very quickly.

RS: You created this event to foster connection between Asian documentary makers and networks and their global counterparts. What advances have you seen in that area since creating the event? Do you hear of connections being made and deals being done at the event between international partners?
YJ: It’s true; there have been so many coproductions completed or underway that it would take too long to name them all. ASD will start with a panel on four case studies of copros between Asia and the rest of the world, looking into what made them work. We’re happy to see these projects becoming films in a short period of time. We’ll screen some of them in Chengdu, and also in La Rochelle in June for the 25th Sunny Side of the Doc.

RS: Can you tell me some names of decision-makers from the West who will be attending, as well as notable decision-makers from Asia?
YJ: We have 126 decision-makers confirmed [at press time]. We have more than 40 from the West, representing ARD, ARTE, ORF, SVT, NRK, DR, BBC, Knowledge Network, PBS, France Télévisions, TV5 Monde, IKON, RAI, RTBF, Al Jazeera, NGCI, and Discovery Canada.
Rudy Buttignol, Paul Lewis, Fabrice Puchault, Claudia Schreiner, Patricia Schlesinger, Aaqil Ahmed, Nick Fraser, Mette Hoffman-Meyer and Margie de Koenig, to name a few, will be with us.
Almost 100 decision-makers will come from all over Asia, including NHK, KBS, EBS, Phoenix, PTS, RTHK, Nat Geo and Discovery Asia and History, but also Fuji-TV, Hokkaido TV, Bhutan TV, VTV, Nepal TV, and many more. Of course, all the Chinese Broadcasters will be there, and I’ll just name a few: CCTV9, CCTV10, and the other channels in the CCTV Group; SMG-DocuChina; Hunan TV; Jilin and Heilongjiang TV will all represented by senior execs.

RS: What advice would you give to someone from Europe or North America who is attending Asian Side of the Doc for the first time, and why do you think it’s important for Western producers and broadcasters to be investigating opportunities in Asia?
YJ: Take the time to understand who is who.
Learn from your colleagues who’ve been doing business with Asian partners. They like to know your track record, who you’ve been working for and delivering to. You can find very different partners, with completely different needs and tastes – just like in Europe.
Think about what’s going on here in Asia. New audiences are discovering the Internet, Pay-TV, VOD and so on, and they need educational programs, surprising stories, and an understanding of global issues and experiences, so they can developing better ideas. In addition, those broadcasters and media groups want to be active on the international market.
Again, take your time to avoid misunderstandings. Find the right partners, and think about the best projects to promote.

Asian Side of the Doc takes place from March 18-21. For more information, click here.

About The Author
Daniele Alcinii is a news reporter at realscreen, the leading international publisher of non-fiction film and television industry news and content. He joins the rs team with journalism experience following a stint out west with Sun Media in Edmonton's Capital Region, and communications work in Melbourne, Australia and Toronto. You can follow him on Twitter at @danielealcinii.