Jean-Pierre Dutilleux, a Belgian explorer and filmmaker, travels around the globe in search of the world’s untouched societies. Between 1993 and 1999, he lived among 12 different indigenous civilizations never before exposed to modern culture. From the island of Madagascar to the depths of the Brazilian jungle, Dutilleux’s six-year expedition offered him ‘a window to another world and another time.’ Tribal Journeys, a 13 x 26-minute series, is his most recent attempt to share these experiences with others.
Each episode (except one) introduces a different tribe and its intriguing cultural practices. Irian-Jaya’s Korowaibatu prince discusses ritual cannibalism and sexual practices; his wife imparts cooking recipes for human flesh. Dutilleux befriends Chief Raoni of the Kayapo, one of few remaining tribes in the Amazonian rainforest. Exclusive footage depicts Raoni explaining that the Kayapo are at risk of extinction as the younger generation loses interest in traditional ways.
‘The series is extremely well done,’ says Lorenzo Pinna, head of docs (nature and science) for Italian broadcaster RaiUno, which acquired the series. ‘Dutilleux’s contact with the various civilizations is emotionally charged.’ RaiUno acquired Tribal Journeys from Sherman Oaks, U.S.-based distributor Unapix for around us$20,000 per hour, which is a standard fee, according to Pinna. The series aired on RaiUno’s Passaggio a Nord Ovest (Northwest Passage) late Friday nights from June 9 until September 1.
The original films were produced by Dutilleux’s own Belgian-based company, Alexandra Films, where they were edited into 10 x 60-minute episodes at a cost of about $60,000 each. According to Chris Valentini, senior VP of production at Unapix, ‘Unapix re-formatted Jean-Pierre’s original films into a 10 x 30-minute series to make the episodes more palatable to u.s. and international audiences.’ In addition to paying for the re-formatting, Unapix also put up funds for Dutilleux to shoot threeadditional half-hour episodes, bringing the total to 13. This re-formatting and additional filming cost Unapix approximately $90,000.
Kathy Portie, international marketing manager at Unapix, commends the series: ‘Jean-Pierre actually lived among the tribes that he filmed. This unique approach makes for a very interactive audience experience.’
Tribal Journeys is one of a handful of documentary projects picked up from independents each year by RaiUno. The largest share – approximately 25 hours annually, primarily top-of-the-line wildlife programs – is purchased from the BBC. (RAI’s new contract with the BBC stipulates that it gets first pick of the documentaries.) RaiUno also acquires docs from National Geographic (24 hours per year), Canal+ (14 hours per year), plus several independents from around the world. Explains Silvano Fuo, head of art documentaries at RaiUno, ‘Our in-house documentary production totals only 26 minutes per year.’
Despite this extensive list of documentary suppliers, RaiUno does not air docs in fixed slots. Each of RAI’s three channels – RaiUno, RaiDue and RaiTre – features a variety of different programs, including news, talk shows, film, sports and game shows. Pinna explains, ‘RaiUno allots very little time for documentaries and you never know when they will appear . . . one reason why they don’t air in regularly scheduled slots is because the market is so competitive. With other programs and other channels dedicated exclusively to documentaries, we cannot compete. We are working to try to change this.’
Two of RaiUno’s slots, SuperQuark (Tuesdays 9:00 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.) and Northwest Passage (Fridays 11:00 a.m. to 12:00 a.m.), air docs, albeit on irregular schedules. SuperQuark, the older and more established program (15 years running), broadcasts approximately 100 minutes per week of blue-chip wildlife films, on Tuesdays during primetime. Northwest Passage’s particular mandate is interactive films involving adventure and exploration – says Pinna, ‘Everything but wildlife.’ He notes that this new and exciting documentary genre has captured the attention of Italian audiences. ‘Series like Tribal Journeys are more entertaining than the standard blue-chip wildlife documentaries.’
With regards to upcoming acquisitions, Silvano Fuo commented, ‘Nothing much is new in acquisitions. I’m waiting for MIPCOM in October.’