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A sold-out Sunny Side means harvest time for documentaries!

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Yves Jeanneau • CEO, Sunny Side of the Doc


- Cineuropa, a media partner of Sunny Side of the Doc, met up with Yves Jeanneau to take stock of the 2015 edition

Yves Jeanneau  • CEO, Sunny Side of the Doc
© Frederic le Lan/CdA La Rochelle

For 26 years, Yves Jeanneau, CEO of the Sunny Side markets, has been taking the documentary industry to the next level, traversing economic crises and navigating digital bends, by increasingly opening up to Asia and the rest of the world. The 2015 Sunny Side of the Doc gathering in La Rochelle, which is totally sold out, delivers on its promise of harvesting the best titles while honing its instincts for the future. The global industry clearly places its trust in the event. Cineuropa, a media partner of Sunny Side of the Doc, met up with Yves Jeanneau to take stock of the 2015 edition. 

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Cineuropa: In your view, who are the good European pupils that are inspiring the industry with well-performing documentary markets?
Yves Jeanneau
: I asked myself that very same question, and for several months now, I’ve been in the process of launching an initiative – an observatory for international documentary co-productions. No one is doing it at the moment, not even the European Audiovisual Observatory. The industry really needs it. I don’t have significant resources available myself, but I’m basing it on around 120 projects from all over the world that have been pitched at Sunny Side over the last three years. What has become of these projects? The study shows that 80% of them have been completed or are in their final phase, having the finishing touches put to them. At this stage of the study, 55% of the projects are co-funded by at least two countries. These figures are really encouraging, and they clearly show the presence of three national hubs that are crucial for giving the sector some kind of structure, and which have a pro-active, strong-willed approach: these are Germany, China and France. These three countries are light years ahead of the others, and China has only been open to documentaries for six years…

Great Britain is not among this top three. The workings of the British system generally don’t steer producers towards co-production. And yet, this year, there are almost 75 British producers at Sunny Side, compared to around 30 last year. They have realised that there’s a train pulling out of the station right now, fuelled by this French-German bipolarity, and that it’s time for them to get on board as well… 

What are the main focuses of the 2015 edition?
The first focus is the desire to retain Sunny Side’s roots, which I established on a bedrock of internationalisation and professionalisation. Opening up to the world gets more and more important every year. In 2015, we are welcoming television stations from Peru and Uzbekistan for the first time, for example. This attitude of opening up is also occurring towards SVoD and the huge IMAX-style screens. The IMAX fund is endowed with $50 million for developing content in a sector where audience demand is even more substantial than the supply of films to be screened. 

The second focus is Sunny Side’s positioning, which aims to expand the areas of "specialist factual", science, history, religion, investigation and so on. This year, we have focused on asking all of the players in this tiny sector to come – a sector that is significant in terms of numbers. They are all here. The representatives of Wild Life are thrilled to be here because they don’t have a market anywhere in the world – just a few festivals, which, by the way, we have collaborated with to organise these themes.

The third focus is returning to Europe in the wake of some of the recent editions that centred on Asia. We are welcoming 130 German professionals in 2015, which is three times more than we had before, 75 British ones and even more Scandinavian ones. Asia is still there, but right now, they can all work together here in La Rochelle, at a market that has really been revitalised in terms of its European attendance. I would say to the Europeans: "Stop whinging about your national subsidies being cut. Work together among yourselves, but also with the rest of the world, which is very much open to co-production!" 

In five years of Sunny Lab and the proliferation of new media at Sunny Side, have you noticed the influx of a new generation of producers who are more dedicated to the new platforms, rather than to television or cinema?
Their average age is evidence of that. Young people are arriving on the scene, and they are juggling transmedia, cross-media and technological innovations. I have noticed the arrival of native digital projects that do not envisage any distribution via television or even a traditional distribution partner. These projects are thought out differently. This is also the case for the Asian and Middle Eastern territories where documentaries only used to exist for propaganda purposes. For those territories, documentaries are a novel idea introduced by a new generation of digital producers. We have also observed a phenomenon whereby there are more and more partnerships being struck up in animated documentaries, thanks to the technical advances that are making the tools more accessible. The projects for very big screens are also giving rise to highly specialised producers. There’s a true rejuvenation and a diversification of documentary producers that is clearly visible at Sunny Side. This is also their market. It always has been, and Europe has finally realised that it wasn’t all just hot air. 

What are the challenges for the upcoming editions?
I still think that a documentary is a programme in the public interest. Its conceptual definition does not change, in my opinion. I’m delighted to observe that beyond Europe, the audiences that are turning their attention to documentaries are youngsters. We have to carry on standing up for this difference to make sure it is heeded here, on our continent. The backdrop has not changed. There’s an explosion of styles, and that’s great news for the creative – or even the utopian – aspect of the content. This innovation is hitting every sector. Take the Big Cities project, for example, which is a very institutional construction involving the distributor organisations in Europe, Asia and Latin America that have joined forces with Sunny Side to set up a groundbreaking global project focused on production and distribution. We are constantly sparking off new challenges. For Sunny Side, one of the challenges that lie ahead for the 2016 edition is the big comeback of cinematic documentaries, which concurs with my intuition at the moment and is taking place right now outside Europe. We have to be part of that, and that will probably be one of the key themes at Sunny Side of the Doc 2016.

(Translated from French)


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