As founder and CEO of international documentary markets Sunny Side of the Doc and Asian Side of the Doc, Yves Jeanneau has seen the evolution that the genre and the global industry surrounding it has undergone over the last three decades. His prior experience as a producer includes co-founding French prodco Les Films d’Ici and serving as director of documentaries for Pathé Télévision, and on the network side, he headed France 2′s documentary unit from 2001-2005.
Realscreen caught up with Jeanneau as he was in the home stretch of preparations for the 30th anniversary edition of Sunny Side of the Doc, taking place in La Rochelle, France, from June 24-27.
What did the international documentary market look like 30 years ago?
Thirty years is a long time. One must remember that documentaries had very little room on public channels. They were mostly produced in-house, rather boring and old-fashioned.
The creation of Channel 4 or, in France, of Canal+, really marked a break because these channels were conceived without any in-house production arm, and were commissioning everything outside. I remember one of our first battles was to get broadcasters to reduce the length of rights to 10 years from perpetuity. Documentaries were not much traveling outside their home country then, beside maybe the Anglo-Saxon ones.
And those were the circumstances in which Sunny Side of the Doc was born?
At the time, we had recently set Les Films d’Ici together with Richard Copans; we were these fledgling independent producers. I was also active as part of the La Bande à Lumières movement, a group of 70 or 80 activist doc-makers fighting for documentary to get recognition and access to subsidies from the funding body, the CNC. That’s where I met in Lyon [Sunny Side co-founder and MD until 2001] Olivier Masson, and we decided to create La Biennale Européenne du Documentaire, which moved to Marseilles and became Sunny Side of the Doc.
My obsession at the time was that if there was a genre suitable to travel abroad, besides animation, it had to be documentary. The first Marseilles years proved difficult ones; if not for our stubbornness we would not have continued. The move to La Rochelle was a good one, as it enabled us to build a more professional, and long-lasting space.
How has it all evolved, 30 years later?
Documentary has come a hell of a long way. In France, there are now 2,000 documentaries produced per year, and the genre is a strong contributor to export figures, even though it is the 15% with larger ambitions that are traveling, and the remainder, still under-funded domestic shows.
In 30 years, documentary has gained wide recognition. The radical change is that documentary has learned to tell stories, as opposed to merely illustrating a commentary. There is a great diversity of narrative styles, of production models, of stories, and good projects can now come from anywhere. I was surprised by the big number of high quality projects we received this year for our history and science pitches, whereas in some years, we were struggling to find six good ones. So 30 years after, I can say that these Utopian dreams I had have been completely overcome by reality.
How do you see the future for the genre, and accordingly, the evolution of Sunny Side?
I believe that in the current troubled times, demand for documentaries will grow, as in crisis, people look to understand what’s going on.
And where traditional broadcasters will remain risk averse, they’ll be challenged by the SVOD platforms, which have no taboo subjects, and, being schedule-free, offer more creative freedom. They are representative of a new lifestyle in not watching TV at a set time anymore. Traditional broadcasters have to catch up [with] their technology, and producers need to learn [that] it’s not anymore just about a film, but how to tell a specific story in a multitude of forms for various audience profiles — a media responding to another.
Regarding Sunny Side of the Doc, we always managed to be ahead of the changes, interesting ourselves in new territories and players, and in technology innovations, and we will continue this way. This year we will have a major German delegation, and Netflix will attend for the first time, along with Chinese platform Bilibili. Our Pixi digital exhibition space will this year welcome museums from Latin America, the Middle East and Asia, which are at the forefront of non-linear forms such as VR.
This story first appeared in the May/June 2019 issue of Realscreen Magazine, which is out now. Not a subscriber? Click here for more information.