International doc conference and market Sunny Side of the Doc celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, with a new edition kicking off in La Rochelle, France on Monday (June 23). Ahead of the event, Sunny Side founder Yves Jeanneau (pictured) tells realscreen about the evolution of both the event and the documentary industry itself over the last quarter-century.
Are there specific areas of focus for the 25th edition of Sunny Side of the Doc (SSD) that you can tell us about?
Twenty-five years on, I think Sunny Side is now what it was originally designed to be: a properly international documentary marketplace. Professionals come from all continents. Many from France and all over Europe of course, but after Latin America and Asia, now Africa is knocking at the door. This year we’ll welcome a big South African delegation as well as one from Morocco.
I think this is really the result we wanted for the 25th SSD. These new players, new buyers, new platforms are the future of the genre; they give everyone hope and opportunities for sales and coproduction.
Secondly, the multi-platform Sunny Lab is now more upfront and integrated into the main market. For five years, we’ve been introducing new media /transmedia/interactive projects and new digital platforms. The pioneers came to share their experiences, expertise and research. Today we’re no longer at that stage. This area will be the second phase of SSD, concentrating on all the new ways of writing, producing and distributing. I call them clever content formats.
Last but not least, we’ll keep pushing our main focus: specialist factual international coproduction. This is the main area in which ambitious projects can be developed and financed. Over the past five years, it’s clear that it’s no longer just a specialty of British producers. Now producers from many countries have the experience and creativity in science and history programming.
What have been some of the key challenges you’ve faced over the 25-year history of the conference, in terms of maintaining relevance in an increasingly crowded marketplace for events?
When we started, as a coproduction rendezvous, the doc market had hardly begun. Few films were going elsewhere than to their own domestic markets, and most of the production was done in-house by public broadcasters. Then ARTE, Canal+ and Channel 4′s work with indies really began to build the sector.
I think things really changed for us from 2000 as documentary films began to win more slots on European channels, including primetime ones, particularly with the emergence of dramadocs and specials. On this wave, Sunny Side expanded, extended its borders to more and more countries and players. And it wasn’t easy, as many were announcing, year after year, the death of the genre: it was “not commercial enough”, “old fashioned”, “takes too long to produce”…
Then we moved from Marseille to La Rochelle in order to offer better facilities and to welcome more delegates. In 2009, I began the strategy of looking beyond Europe to the markets of Asia [Asian Side of the Doc] and Latin America [Latin Side of the Doc]. The European market had experienced a sharp downturn, and we needed to see where the new energy could come from.
The doc market was becoming global, with new and strong interest for docs from continents where it’s a new genre. And we added the Sunny Lab, recognizing that the market had become multi-screen with new digital channels, Internet platforms, VOD, IPTV, and apps.
We’ve had, through this now long story, to convince all the players and it took time and a lot of effort. In the first place, broadcasters were reluctant. Then producers became tired. Distributors had to face the economic crisis and public broadcaster budgets were cut. But we’ve remained confident in the way documentary makers and producers can adapt and find new areas for growth.
The key point for understanding why Sunny Side is not dead but growing and extending its influence is very simple: we never changed our strategy. We just kept on going to defend and support the documentary genre. In docs we trust, as I say.
As someone who’s been in the trenches of the international documentary industry for the last few decades, what do you think the biggest challenges facing doc-makers are now? And what are the biggest opportunities?
The documentary genre has always been dealing with “clever content.” It’s not the easiest path to choose if you’re a commercial broadcaster. But more and more, I think these programs will be needed by larger and better-educated audiences who are curious and open to the globalized world. Doc makers themselves need to adapt mainly to new consumer habits, and to try and get more attention from young people.
Public broadcasters have to define their new missions and tools, and commercial ones will have to take care of their image and social utility. The doc community has to be the one to come up with successful ideas for these channels to finance.
How would you like the event to grow in the next 25 years?
Mon dieu! I’ve been managing SSD for 25 years. I can see where to go, and where not to go… for the next five years at least. But, as always, we’ll have to adapt to the new reality, and who knows what it will be by then. We’ll have to be pragmatic. But I do bet on the social usefulness of what we do. I do trust in docs. I do think that new talents will come up from Vietnam, Peru or Palestine, with stories and storytelling we haven’t thought of yet.
- Sunny Side of the Doc takes place in La Rochelle, France, from June 23-26.
- This interview first appeared in the May/June 2014 issue of realscreen magazine, which is out now. Not a subscriber? Click here for more information.