LA ROCHELLE, FRANCE — With young audiences converging upon digital platforms for their content consumption, the television landscape has been challenged to adapt non-traditional storytelling techniques.
In a session titled “Revamping History in the Age of Disruption” on Wednesday (June 21) at the 2017 Sunny Side of the Doc market, a panel of industry executives who have reinvigorated the history genre shared examples of how they have managed to shake up the factual field, while still maintaining the truth of documentary filmmaking.
The panel, moderated by Patrick Hoerl, founder and MD of the fact-ent label Autentic, led the audience packed into the Agora room of the Espace Encan building into areas of filmmaking which have been, until very recently, unexplored.
Leading the panel was Chloé Jarryof Paris-based Camera Lucida Productions with an exploration into two digitally produced documentary experiences: the recently launched immersive exhibition The Enemy and the in-development Replay Memories.
A coproduction with France Télévisions, Canada’s NFB, Montreal’s DPT, France’s INA and Paris-based Emissive, The Enemy utilized both virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) to bring users face-to-face with combatants from three conflict zones: with the Maras in Salvador; the Democratic Republic of the Congo; and Israel and Palestine.
Directed by 20-year war photographer Karim Ben Khelifa, the project serves as a collective experience with up to 20 people experiencing the opportunity to witness testimonies and confessions about their lives, experiences, and perspectives on war to better understand their motivations and humanity.
“We had quite a long production,” said Jarry. “(It’s been) more than three-and-a-half years, and more than one year of research and development, to figure out how we can [execute this project].”
After premiering in Paris on May 18, producers of the VR/AR experience will embark on a world tour that will bring the hour-long project to Tel Aviv, Boston, Montreal and Mons, Belgium.
Camera Lucida’s Replay Memories, meanwhile, serves as an immersive journey into the “collective worldwide memory to revive your own souvenirs.”
Directed by Gordon and Andrès Jarach, the TV/VR hybrid uses a headset to transport users to an interactive 3D internet that can be touched and manipulated in order to retrieve a historical event and compare your memory to that of the web’s, and to re-immerse yourself in the historical event.
“The idea is to be confronted by 3D archives on the web, but also witnesses from these events while being transported to its location,” Jarry explained. “The other idea was to use the idea of the memory. When people try VR, you haven’t watched something, you live it – you’re making a new memory.”
Up next was Looks Film & TV Produktionen’s Gunnar Dedio who presented his version of a revamped history: Clash of Futures 18, a docudrama commemorating WWI slated to premiere next Easter on 19 international broadcasters and counting.
The eight-part series, which is currently in production and expected to use 65% drama, explores the post-war era of the 1920s and ’30s and follows the fates of 13 real-life characters from seven nations using their own diary entries, letters and memoirs as storytelling narratives.
“There are three things I’m convinced of: We have to deliver history in the form of series; we have to deliver more than a series because we’re not Game of Thrones. We have to deliver an event; history is a very national thing,” Dedio said.
At a cost of €10 million, the series is a copro with Paris-based Les Films d’Ici in cooperation with Finland’s YLE, as well as international partners Austria’s ORF, Sweden’s SVT and Denmark’s DR. Other co-producers include Luxembourg’s Iris Productions and Leipzig’s Fortis Imaginatio. The lead broadcaster is ARD-owned German broadcaster SWR.
Accompanying the tentpole event will be a four-week play, a 4 x 25-minute radio series, 4 x 30-minute school version, and an eight-museum exhibition in Europe, various other promotional stunts.
Finally, Windfall Films CEO David Dugan offered his remixed take on the history genre through Channel 4′s living history series Mutiny (pictured), in which nine men take on Captain Bligh’s legendary Bounty voyage, a 4,000-mile expedition to collect and transport breadfruit plants from Tahiti to the West Indies in 1787.
The modern-day Mutiny crew attempted to make the same journey with the same rations, facing the same conditions in a tiny wooden boat, while a film crew and medical staff trailed closely behind.
Dugan explained that if producers are to follow a similar path of attempting to hybridize the history genre with reality television, the series must be cast exceptionally well.
“We had a casting team of eight people to make sure we had the perfect crew. We had to get the balance right – we needed some people who had sailing experience and quite a few who didn’t. Because if everyone’s an experienced sailor, the chances are you wouldn’t have gotten that much out of them. We wanted people to actually feel that fear of the sea.”
As a result of Windfall’s non-traditional storytelling technique, Mutiny‘s audience skewed very young – an outcome that made the UK pubcaster very pleased, Dugan said.
He added: “The VOD audience, I’ve just been informed in the last week, had doubled the entire audience. We’ve gone up to four million now and it seems as though people are picking up the series later on after seeing the odd episode.”