The Human Side of the Doc Market: An Interview with Sunny Side’s Irem Couchouron

“We’ve expanded (…) to encourage the circulation of projects and films to emerging markets – and to bring fresh new stories from these countries to the heart of Europe.”

Sunny Side of the Doc has been around since 1989 and has expanded to Asia and Latin America. What is Sunny Side’s current philosophy?

Sunny Side of the Doc is one of the most renowned international marketplaces solely dedicated to doc professionals, and has been set up at first to facilitate co-productions and sales of finished programmes in the non-fiction and factual markets. The idea was to create a global marketplace in France where people gather every year to exchange ideas, do business, co-create & co-produce, and meet each other, in a more relaxed atmosphere.

In a sense, our philosophy has evolved around the documentary genre itself. We’ve expanded, creating Latin and Asian Side of the Doc, to encourage the circulation of projects and films to emerging markets – and to bring fresh new stories from these countries to the heart of Europe.

This year, for the first time, we’re opening a new event where industry delegates (in the morning) and the general public (in the afternoon) will be able to try out innovative devices showcasing virtual and augmented reality and immersive experiences through an international line-up of documentaries in virtual reality and 360° video.

 picture of film and documentary festival Sunny Side of the Doc taking place at La Rochelle

Sunny Side is definitely a unique and essential moment of the year for the documentary industry. What is your “secret sauce”? What distinguishes you from other industry events?

I think what distinguishes us from other events is the « feel-good », relaxed and friendly atmosphere of Sunny Side. We’re very proud of that! When you come to Sunny Side of the Doc, you’re among friends and colleagues. It’s a very small community – everybody knows one another.

We have a team out there from September to April, travelling the world, meeting people, not only promoting Sunny Side but also gaining insights on new trends and initiatives in the industry. We regularly talk with producers, distributors, and broadcasters to make sure we understand the global market’s needs and challenges. We also push them to take risks when we believe in their stories. International coproductions can be difficult, but it’s definitely worth the journey.

The Pitch Sessions are always a powerful and unforgettable moment at Sunny Side. At Archive Valley, we’re super excited to partner with Sunny Side of the Doc for the Historical Documentary Pitch Session this year.
What makes a good pitch in your eyes? Do you have a story about a pitched project that really got your attention and held it?

A good pitch is all about the story. We’re looking for stories that combine not only quality, but also originality, exclusive access, and creative storytelling. There could many many documentaries on any given subject. What we’re trying to find are those inspiring projects providing a strong point of view, an understanding of international issues – in history, science, social interest, arts – even wildlife. We’re open to all producers, filmmakers, authors, visual artists and digital creators who embrace innovation and creativity.

pitch session taking place during the Sunny Side of the Doc documentary and film festival at La Rochelle

A few years ago, we met a young couple of producers from Hungary (On the Spot) with a never-before-seen story. They came up with a documentary project on the children of the last living dictators of the 20th century. (Pinochet, Goering, Castro and Amin) They initiated the project’s research on their own, went out and interviewed these children who bare the weight of history on their shoulders. They submitted the idea to Sunny Side’s international pitch competition in 2014 and that’s when we acknowledged the potential of the story and the talent of this emerging creative team. They got selected for the History pitch, won the archival work prize and landed several deals during the 4-day marketplace event.

Their documentary became a successful international co-production and a documentary series picked up by a German partner, Autentic. Recently, they have also found their way into Asian Side of the Doc for a case study and reach for new partners, and actually have started discussions for a commission on a second series about the living children of Asian dictators.

This journey exactly illustrates what Sunny Side of the Doc is all about.

Eszter Cseke and Andras Takacs discuss their documentary called On the Spot at the Sunny Side of the Doc documentary and film festival

Eszter Cseke and Andras Takacs (On the Spot Productions, Hungary)

You’ve chosen History as the theme for edition 2017. What went into this choice?

The shrinking horizons for History documentary on worldwide television alarmed our community; it was becoming a secondary genre, with audiences aging. For the past two years we’ve created at Sunny Side a special day dedicated to historical programming « History Day », with the aim to establish an annual gathering of history professionals under one roof, to collaborate, exchange information, sell/buy concepts and share current problems, anxieties and challenges within the genre. It was also a unique occasion to showcase the latest History works across the world.

We decided that History would be at the heart of Sunny Side 2017 as a result of these two years of experience. In the current challenging climate, we’re standing in a very important point of our global shared history today that forces us to face the past to shape a better future. Historical documentaries can’t fight alternative facts alone. That’s why our 4-day Historic programme will include debates, exclusive screenings, a pitch session, master classes and a worldwide distributors’ showcase, and a lot of networking events – to raise awareness in the industry, bring solutions and invest in archives.

What do you think is the biggest struggle producers face today when trying to bring history to life?

I think the biggest struggle today is the way that traditional broadcasting models are crumbling. We notice lesser appetite for the history genre in traditional media, whereas younger audiences are hungry for historical content with innovative storytelling on digital platforms.

Broadcasters are facing the challenge of re-aligning themselves with digital platforms and new techniques of creating/consuming content – from crowdsourcing to User Generated Content (UGC). Producers are challenged by aging audiences, the generational use of new media and technology, the fading of the traditional economic model and the disappearance of linear history slots. 

As Stephen Segaller, Vice President, Programming, WNET (USA) – and a member of our Historic Steering Committee says « Looking back has never been so forward-looking as it is today. » It’s definitely exciting times. It’s time to spur investment in exploring archives and digitizing user generated content – from YouTubers, from Twitter, etc… Who owns the rights to this type of footage, how to archive it, and how to properly source it… These are only few questions that preoccupy our minds.

This is why we’ll be revamping History at this year’s Sunny Side and ask the question “how do you make history relevant at the age of disruption?”

 an insight into documentary and film festival Sunny Side of the Doc during the 2016 edition at La Rochelle

Archive images are often at the heart of a good historical doc. How, in your eyes, can Sunny Side promote archives during the festival?

Over the years we welcomed footage sellers from all over the world at Sunny Side. They were all dispersed in the exhibition hall. This year is the first time we’re grouping the archive sellers, associations, producers and channels – all the industry pros – in a visible manner so they can be identified in a unified HISTORY ZONE.

We’d like to do a special master class on ARCHIVES DETECTIVE WORK for Ron Howard’s documentary The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years. The award-winning filmmaker Matthew White & Apple Corps’s Jonathan Clyde will demonstrate the value of rare and surprising archives footage and crowdsourcing in successful historical programming.

 

What advantages do you think a platform like Archive Valley could bring to the documentary industry?

I think you will have real potential in the archives of tomorrow. There are a lot of collections sleeping somewhere – in whatever countries, where one cannot often get access without knowing the right people in that territory. Your role will be important in connecting people with the right sources – producers looking for archive material in countries where exclusive access is everything.

A platform like Archive Valley will be very valuable for documentary producers in their research for the right people and the right footage, and I think that those two things should go together for a successful production.

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