Inclement weather can't dampen Sunny Side of the Doc


LA ROCHELLE, France -- Despite the inclement weather in La Rochelle, European commercial broadcasters and international producers saw a bright future for documentary films at the 18th annual Sunny Side of the Doc, which wrapped Friday.

With 1,902 participants and 12% more exhibitors than last year, the international documentary market was booming with fresh faces from 46 countries. A series of exclusive public screenings were available for the first time as professional conferences and panels focused mainly on tailoring documentaries to new media platforms.

Less business-oriented than MIP in Cannes, Sunny Side allows members of the small, tight-knit documentary community to collaborate on upcoming projects, plan international co-productions and discuss the future of the always-challenging documentary genre. "It's the place to be for contacts. It's just docs, so everyone knows each other," Arte projects director Alain Wieder says. "There's no pressure and less 'showbiz.' It's a networking event."

As a wave of environmental docus, docu-fictions (recently nicknamed "factions" among industry execs) and criminal investigation films hit the shores of La Rochelle, participants discussed ideas as to how to adapt the increasingly popular genre to consumer demands. France 2 is set to launch a documentary film site where viewers can access exclusive behind-the-scenes footage from docus in production and participate in forums moments after programs air. Arte announced a deal with French TV production association the USPA to make Arte docus available for free online within a week after their airdate.

"Before, these formats were just theoretical, now they're practical," Sunny Side founder and general commissioner Yves Jeanneau says. "I think we're at a crossroads. There are big changes taking place in terms of new technology, and broadcasters are scared. Is TV too old-fashioned as a medium? What are the storytelling forms we need to use to reach younger viewers or more international audiences?"

Public, government-owned channels France 2, 3 and 5 are sticking to topics close to home to reach viewers, with French society and history docus ubiquitous on the programming charts. France 2 is devoting a special "KD2A" time slot to youth and adolescent docus; France 3 will air a fall series dealing with Judaism and Islam in the country; and France 5 has been actively promoting its "Imprints" series featuring 120 documentaries about leading figures in French society and history to be screened over four years.

"Documentaries feature the most creative of all film writing today. It's a very creative, very rich means of editorial expression with innovative narrative forms," Canal Plus exec vp Rodolphe Belmer says.