Six months after Canal+ head of documentaries Diego Buñuel told delegates at Sunny Side of the Doc that his goal was to air “great f***ing movies,” the French pay-TV channel has films about dancer/choreographer Benjamin Millepied and judo champ Teddy Riner set for 2016.
Buñuel, a television journalist and filmmaker who joined the company to lead its doc division in September 2014, is on a mission to commission documentaries with legs on the international festival circuit and invest in more coproductions. He is appearing at the Realscreen Summit today (February 2) during a panel focused on international coproduction.
The network has ten 90-minute documentaries locked in for the year ahead that will air under the channel’s ‘Création Documentaire’ banner, as well as 10 hour-long films that air at 10:30 p.m., on topics ranging from sports to the porn industry, and from Islamic extremism to the arts.
Highlights include Game Fever, director Hervé Martin Delpierre’s look at the growing market for eSports in Asia; and a coproduction with BBC2 and Keo Films about the plight of migrants in Europe called Break into Europe. An American coproduction is also underway that he can’t talk about just yet.
“The idea with ‘Création Documentaire’ was to make films that we were not used to seeing in France, meaning very strong storytelling and high-quality cinematography that is more common in the UK and U.S. markets but not so common in France,” Buñuel tells realscreen.
So far, there is evidence the strategy is working. The network’s BBC France-produced doc feature about French dance duo Daft Punk, Daft Punk Unchained, was picked up in the United States by premium cabler Showtime and aired in December.
The film is indicative of the lighter tone he hopes to strike in comparison to rote, expert-laden dissections of social issues that he says viewers have come to expect from French TV documentaries. International producers hoping to land financing at Canal+ generally need a local connection but Buñuel is keen to sign on to big projects with global appeal.
“There has to be a French connection,” he explains. “It’s hard to bring people to our channel in primetime for 90 minutes if we don’t have something strong. Having said that, if the film is a unique access point into something incredible – I’m making this up but something like ‘Obama’s last month at the White House’ – then OK, we’ll take it.
He wants to steer the channel away from talking head-type docs that delve into a particular subject and instead focus on projects that have a cinematic vision and strong narrative arc.
“I’m not looking for purely international topics like the crisis in Ukraine or purely geopolitical films,” he says. “We don’t really do history or science. We do ultra-contemporary issue stories. Like I said in June, my editorial policy was ‘to do great f***ing movies’ and that remains my editorial policy. I don’t want to shut myself off from theme – if it’s a great story, we want to hear about it – but it has to be an ambitious, cinematic film.”
Buñuel attends an exhausting list of festivals and markets, including the Summit, Sundance, TIFF, IDFA, MIPCOM, MIPTV and Tribeca. Budgets for original 90-minute primetime docs range from €400,000 to €600,000.
Recent Canal+ acquisitions include Alex Gibney’s Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi‘s Meru and Matthew Heineman’s Cartel Land – all three of which, incidentally, made this year’s Oscar shortlist.
In the meantime, Buñuel hopes he will also be promoting Canal+ titles at some of the aforementioned festivals.
Specifically, Thierry Demaizière and Alban Teurlai’s Millepied doc Relève and Teddy Riner from Black Dynamite Production and HTO, for which cameras have followed the eight-time world champion judo athlete for three years in the lead-up to the Rio Olympics.
“I really want to go international, do more coproductions and bring France into the fold of the global documentary community,” he sums up.
- This story, part of our Commissioning Report, first appeared in the January/February 2016 issue of realscreen magazine, which is out now. Not a subscriber? Click here for more information.