Sunny Side ’12: La Rochelle to showcase docs in progress

As international buyers descend on the French port city of La Rochelle for the annual Sunny Side of the Doc, CEO Yves Jeanneau (pictured) tells realscreen about the event's continued focus on Asia and a new pitch session entitled 'Docs In Progress.'
June 26, 2012

As international buyers descend on the French port city of La Rochelle for the annual Sunny Side of the Doc, CEO Yves Jeanneau (pictured) tells realscreen about the event’s continued focus on Asia and a new pitch session entitled ‘Docs In Progress.’

Non-fiction buyers and producers are descending on the French port city La Rochelle for the 23rd annual Sunny Side of the Doc conference this week.

This year, the event’s organizers are continuing to foster connections between European producers and broadcasters and their counterparts in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and China, and have introduced a new pitch session called ‘Docs In Progress,’ offering a chance for producers of films already in production or post-production to secure completion funds.

As economic woes continue to grip Europe, Sunny Side of the Doc has positioned itself as a meeting point for European producers looking to sell their programs to international – and especially Chinese – broadcasters in need of content from abroad.

Around 1,400 delegates from 600 companies are registered to attend, up 10% on last year, including 287 commissioners and buyers from 60 countries, organizers say.

Among the European delegation are the presidents of French organizations ARTE, France Television Group, INA, CNC and RMC-DĂ©couvertes; and execs from the UK’s ITV, Al Jazeera Documentary Channel, Finnish pubcaster YLE, Discovery Networks Asia-Pacific, National Geographic Channels International, and a large German contingent. The event kicks off today and runs from June 26-29.

A delegation of Chinese broadcaster attended Sunny Side of the Doc for the first time last year and this year CEO Yves Jeanneau and his team has attracted five of China’s top non-fiction producers, including Rare Media, which supplies 200 broadcasters in that country with three hours weekly of documentary content.

“The years before there were Asian delegates coming just to learn and to see. Now they are getting booths, investing, and coming with budgets to buy programs,” Jeanneau tells realscreen. “A year ago [European producers] were looking at me and saying ‘he’s dreaming or telling us stories.’ Now we have more Japanese, we have more Chinese, we have more Koreans.”

He added that the cultural barriers that have historically hindered business between the regions are becoming less of an issue.

“I’ve been to China many times,” he said. “I’ve been spending quite a long time training [the producers], understanding what they do and how they do it and helping them to formulate their proposals… It’s mainly a matter of words – they need to learn how to talk with the international market.”

Jeanneau also believes the strong emphasis on attracting Asian delegates has helped differentiate his event from Sheffield Doc/Fest, which last year moved from November to a June slot two weeks before Sunny Side. A Chinese delegation due to attend Sheffield Doc/Fest earlier this month pulled out from attending at the last minute.

At Sunny Side, panels and workshops will focus on topics such as crowdfunding, interactive production, 3D technology, Chinese coproductions, docu-games and a discussion with Elizabeth McIntyre, Discovery Networks International’s head of production and development for factual, about making international shows for multiple territories.

Sunny Side’s Best International Projects Showcase pitch session for projects in development will also return for its fourth year. It is divided into categories including history, science and environment, investigation and society, feature docs, and little gems. The top projects in each category will receive US$2,500.

Europe’s dicey economic situation has prompted organizers to rethink Sunny Side’s pitch session. Noticing that commissioning editors are increasingly reluctant buy into projects in development, Jeanneau introduced ‘Docs in Progress,’ an event where producers of 26 projects in various stages of production will seek financing in the form of pre-buys or completion funds for post-production and distribution. Additionally, a jury will award one of the projects a $2,500 prize.

Jeanneau also plans to cut the number of development pitches in half at Sunny Side’s sister event Latin Side of the Doc in favor of more in-progress pitches.

“Basically the commissioning editors from Europe or North America don’t want to take risks so they are waiting to screen something before they sign commitments,” he said. “It’s a way to help the commissioning editors and buyers to make good choices,and for producers to cover their costs and complete their financing. I think it fits the reality of the market today.”

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