Le Blog documentaire is one of the partners of Sunny Side of the Doc in La Rochelle. We present here the event, for the first time in english, with an interview with Yves Jeanneau.
Le Blog documentaire : This Sunny Side 2012, which opens on Tuesday 26th June at La Rochelle, is entitled « Resistances, support the power of documentary ». Why did you choose this theme ?
Yves Jeanneau : Sunny Side’s point of view is neither French nor european, it is international. Everybody noticed that last year was marked by major upheavals, particulary in the Arab world. Resistances, in plural, because we are living in a word in crisis, particularly in the Middle East. Resistances are, for me, one of the ontological characteristics of documentary film – its rebellious side. In every crisis, or almost, we see a renewal of the international community of documentary film. A new responsibility appears.
During the Arab spring, we saw new players appear, making documentaries as they had never been made before. They used their mobile phone because no other means was available. In cities, in the countryside, people started making films very quickly, sometime broadcast on cobbled-together channels, sometime shown in festivals. This movement provoked new meetings, discussions and exchanges. In this way, documentary film can be seen to play a very real role in resistance. Today these film makers are uniting, coming together to form a new middle-eastern community, which is worth following.
How does Sunny Side 2012 reflect this movement ?
This movement is hard to grasp because of its spontaneity. There is no organisation, no CNC [Centre national du cinéma] to support them … The television channels are sometimes as young as the producers. In La Rochelle, we are aiming to reflect this gathering momentum by defining a meeting space for these new players. This year’s festival will certainly see many more producers and distributors from North Africa and Africa.
We are also considering the possibility of organising a special Sunny Side on this continent, as it has already been done in Asia or in South America. It is a project that would take a while, but I think it would be a strategic move. We are already in discussion with players in Qatar, Abu Dhabi, Dubaï, Morocco and Tunisia… We also have contacts in Turkey and Iran. We think we can help them to get organized, to create a structure.
Sunny Side 2012 ‘s theme – Resistances – is also a geopolitical reading of documentary, on a North/South axis. To simplify, we could say that the centre of gravity has shifted from the North Atlantic to the Pacific. In the West, particularly in the US, documentary has almost become a dirty word. Documentaries have become an old fashion way of expression, something depreciated. Today, other kinds of film are produced, often very good, taking the place of documentary film. In France, there is a resistance to this, an ongoing struggle to ensure that the documentary is not confused with other types of programs.
For example, I could have decided that Sunny Side should become the place for all "factuals". One could argue that the documentary includes everything that deals with realilty, whether scripted or not. One might imagine that we have the right to stick reality onto a pre-drafted script. In which case, everything can be pre-empted: the love story, the break up, etc. I have chosen not to get involved in these products. I chose the path of resistance. Commercially this is foolish, but from a historical perspective it is much less so.So we are going to see new players at Sunny Side 2012. There will be meetings, exchanges, and pitching sessions. What makes a good pitch ? What is the best way to present a new project ?
It’s a simple question but answering it is harder. Today, everybody knows how to make a pitch. It’s a 7-minute exercice, during which everyone knows what must be said and what must be keep silent. What strikes me is that all pitches are built on the same model, often a bit mechanically : a 45-second hook, a 2-minute trailer, then the presentation of the characters and project specificity, before concluding with production indications. This pitch standardization is what makes the demonstration effective – a starter, main course, dessert – but it is also what can make it rebarbative.
Seeing a good pitch today is meeting someone who doesn’t sound like he’s making a school-boy recitation. It is meeting someone who makes you think, and believe that he really wants this film, that he has an amazing story, and that it’s original. Someone a little rebellious. So again, Resistances…
The projects that won awards at Asian Side 2012 had all these characteristics. The chinese director who won the big prize really believed in his film. He showed a perfectly crafted trailer, with beautiful images – that was decisive for the jury. And he had never made a pitch for a project in his career.
Why does Sunny Side 2012 give so much space to Germany and European coproductions ?
It’s a strategic position. As I said earlier, the cursor has moved from the North Atlantic to the Pacific, and with regards to Europe, it has shifted from London to the Black Forest. Germany has become a platform for inter-European co-production, more important than either England or France. There, projects are being undertaken with scandinavian countries, eastern European countries, France, Switzerland and Benelux, and to a lesser degree with the mediterranean countries. And this applies to co-productions both for cinema and for television.
There is much greater dynamism and diversity in Germany than in France for production methods, financing and writing. German channels are more numerous and more varied than they are here in France. Regional production is also more profuse, thus contributing to market flow, whereas in France this sector tends to reduce. What is going on in Germany has a domino effect that affects the entire system. Focussing on Germany is a way of reviving debate on documentary within Europe. I might add that with Arte, German, French and European players need to meet and talk, and this is just what Sunny Side enables.
This year Sunny Side has teamed up with Cuban Hat on webdocumentary projects or intercative documentaries. Is an interest in "new writing" also a form of resistance ?
Yes, of course. We have been talking about webdocs, transmedia or interactive documentaries for several years, but without making much headway due to the lack of an economic model. Which doesn’t matter. Projects are undertaken, some of which are interesting, but we are still in the research and development phase. That said, it is Sunny Side’s role to be interested. We have been in this particular sector for three years, and this year I thought it was time to go a step further by launching a call for projects.
We will do everything we can at Sunny Side to ensure that these projects are seen and discussed. Here we use above all the internet in its true role: a forum for meeting and discussion. Everybody has been able to put forward their project. The best of them, those which won the most votes, will be presented at La Rochelle. Meetings will be made, but not in the traditional manner of the pitch. Thanks to online "video-pitches", we will be able to explain to Dailymotion, Arte or France Televisions that such and such project got so many thousand votes.. This is a great launching pad.
More generally, do you think that the internet might become an integral part of documentary film production, particularly in terms of broadcasting ?
Probably, but attitudes change very slowly on this type of subject. The same thing happened 20 years ago with the fans of television, and those who believed only in the cinema. The reluctance to think of television as a broadcasting space – too little, too late, too mass-market – was long lived. It is the same for the internet today. There are believers, and those who do not know its capabilties do not make the effort to get to grips with it. Similarly, those who despised television did not watch it !
Today, the internet may be suffering from its image as a general platform where you can find everything and anything. Some authors do not want their film to get lost in the endless flow. Obviously not everyone reacts that way, indeed it may be a generational thing.
I think we should be very pragmatic. « Tell me what kind of film you’re making, tell me why you’re making this film, and then we can talk about how best to distribute it ». Each film needs its own strategy. You can’t hierarchicise different media. I might add that distribution often needs a militant approach. Christian Rouaud’s film, for example, Tous au Larzac, exceeded 120.000 viewers in cinemas. I don’t know what was done on the internet, but certainly fantastic work was done.
The internet is useful for « militant » approaches, but it may lack what it takes to unite communities over the long term. That said, if a film’s audience is very targeted, it would be a shame not to use the Internet’s resources. Projects that focus on long-term viewing and recognition should think about it. We must explore all the possibilities. For example, why not use the internet upstream of the movie ? It’s a question we need to think about.
Interviewed by Cédric Mal
Translation by Annabelle Taylor