Wildlife, VR and Daft Punk set for Sunny Side of the Doc

The annual conference and market for factual producers in La Rochelle, France is putting an extra emphasis on wildlife films, in addition to showcasing a virtual reality project and Daft Punk Unchained.
June 18, 2015

With 2,000 delegates preparing to head to La Rochelle, France, for the latest edition of Sunny Side of the Doc, the conference and market has announced it has sold out its booth space for the first time in its 26-year history.

Due to take place from June 22 to 25, the annual event is a hub for specialist factual producers from Europe and elsewhere in search of coproduction deals.

With recent moves by U.S. cable nets Discovery Channel and National Geographic Channel signaling renewed interest in science, natural history and wildlife documentaries, organizers are hoping to see more Americans making the trek across the Atlantic in years ahead.

“There already is an impact but I think it will be felt more at next year’s event,” Sunny Side founder Yves Jeanneau tells realscreen. “National Geographic is coming with an eight person-strong delegation, which is new. Usually they’ve come with only a couple of them.”

Nat Geo Wild SVP of development and production Janet Han Vissering and Discovery Networks International exec producer and director of production and development Tom Gorham are among the speakers, as is Steve Burns, head of programming at Discovery Channel founder John Hendricks‘ recently launched SVOD service CuriosityStream.

There will be 110 Germans in attendance, including approximately 35 commissioning editors. The UK will be represented by around 80 delegates including 15 commissioners.

Jeanneau has noticed the Chinese delegation to Sunny Side increasingly includes independent producers looking to do copro deals in addition to usual network execs. “They are young, they are creative and in a way they are much more interesting than the broadcasters themselves, which are more controlled,” he says.

During the conference, commissioners, including Burns, will outline their acquisition and coproduction strategies and panels will cover the efficacy of docs about climate change, transmedia approaches to history programming and coproducing with Chinese doc-makers.

yves jeanneau

Yves Jeanneau

Programming is divided by genre, with a day focused on history, one on science and for the first time, one devoted to natural history and wildlife, which will be the focus of Sunny Side’s screening program.

“Wildlife usually wasn’t really strong at Sunny Side,” explains Jeanneau. “Nowadays, these types of films and natural history are easy to coproduce or sell all over the world so they have become more interesting for everyone, including the Asian market.”

This year’s films were chosen in partnership with the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival and the Wildscreen Film Festival and include the Disneynature films Chimpanzee, African Cats and Bears; Thierry Machado’s Night on Earth, which was announced at last year’s event and features natural history footage shot at night in full color, and PBS miniseries Your Inner Fish.

While many of the films screening are TV projects, Jeanneau adds that there may be a greater focus on giant screen and IMAX wildlife at the next edition of the event depending on the types of wildlife projects produced over the next year.

“The wildlife genre is changing a little bit with all the debate about what kind of wildlife do we do now,” he says. “Do we go very big screen?”

Organizers also added Daft Punk Unchained – another doc announced at last year’s Sunny Side –  at the last minute after French network Canal+ set a June 24 broadcast premiere date for the film, which is billed as the first-ever doc about the Grammy-winning French dance duo.

The market for digital corproductions is not as developed as its linear counterpart, but Sunny Side’s transmedia Sunny Lab tract of programming is now more integrated into the general conference schedule. Five years ago, sessions focused on digital topics generally attracted only a handful of delegates. That number has grown as more production companies, networks and funding bodies put more money into digital.

Transmedia projects and initiatives showcased at Sunny Side include the virtual reality doc The Enemy, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, and Eurotransmedia, a project created by the European Commission two years ago with the goal of harmonizing research around transmedia projects in five regions.

“Five years ago, traditional producers were almost laughing at me, saying, ‘Yves, what are you doing? You want us to discuss something where there is no economic model, no money going around and no market?’” says Jeanneau. “Last year, we moved Sunny Lab to a bigger room and offered more elaborate programming and there were much more people. Nobody is laughing anymore.”

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