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"We look for documentaries which touch hearts as well as minds"

Industry Report: Documentary

Aleksandra Derewienko • Head of Sales and acquisitions, CAT&Docs

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The French sales agent’s Polish head of sales and acquisitions gives her viewpoint on the state of the market for documentaries

Aleksandra Derewienko  • Head of Sales and acquisitions, CAT&Docs

After notably working for Taskovski Films, Poland’s Aleksandra Derewienko joined the French international documentary sales agent CAT&Docs (founded by Catherine Le Clef) in 2016, where she now works in sales and acquisitions. We met with her on the occasion of the 34th Sunny Side of the Doc (running 19 - 22 June in La Rochelle) where CAT&Docs is in on the action with a line-up notably including After Work [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Erik Gandini
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by Erik Gandini, The Mountains [+see also:
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by Christian Einshøj, Hawar, Our banished Children [+see also:
film review
interview: Pascale Bourgaux
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by Pascale Bourgaux, Apolonia, Apolonia [+see also:
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interview: Lea Glob
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by Lea Glob, Vintersaga [+see also:
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by Carl Olsson, The Flag by Joseph Paris, Between Revolutions [+see also:
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interview: Vlad Petri
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]
by Vlad Petri, Who I Am Not [+see also:
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by Tünde Skovrán, The Last Seagull [+see also:
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interview: Tonislav Hristov
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]
by Tonislav Hristov, Aurora’s Sunrise [+see also:
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interview: Inna Sahakyan
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by Inna Sahakyan, My Pet and Me by Johan Kramer and American movie Make People Better by Cody Sheehy.

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Cineuropa: What’s your view on the state of the market for documentaries?
Aleksandra Derewienko:
It’s a really interesting transition period. There are numerous platforms on the scene, numerous VOD players, and TV networks are edging ever closer towards SVOD. We’re seeing increasing numbers of AVOD platforms and FAST channels. I’m really curious to see how it’s all going to turn out. It’s a really exciting time for documentaries, with more and more festivals programming them, which shows that there’s a wide potential audience for these kinds of films now. There’s also a bit of strategic thinking going on about the best way to expose films, because cinema releases outside of France are no longer working to the extent they were before. Time will tell how it’s all going to play out.

What impact has the rise of streamers had on documentary sales?
There’s room for all kinds of documentaries, but not necessarily on platforms which mainly focus on crime stories, investigations and biopics. The kinds of documentaries you see at festivals aren’t really their target, because they’re looking for entertainment. But it’s nonetheless different from what other broadcasters buy; for example, nobody was interested in documentary series before, but now everyone wants them. But I’m hopeful that there are still outlets for more creative documentaries tackling societal subjects and shining a light on more subjective stories. In any case, that’s the kind of documentary we offer up. They might not be to Netflix’s taste but there’s a real demand for this type of work too.

What is CAT&Docs’ editorial line?
CAT&Docs look for documentaries which meet substance and form requirements: pertinent and impertinent films exploring current affairs or timeless topics; well-researched documentaries which are rigorous in exploring their content, audacious, open to the diversity of the world, and which impose themselves on the international scene; documentaries which question the world and offer up lines of thought in fields as varied as history, society, justice, the environment, economics, politics, art and culture.

We try to develop a diversified catalogue with up to 10-15 new films per year hailing from different corners of the globe and exploring different subjects. 70% of the documentaries we represent are acquired at the rough-cut stage. It might seem obvious, but we look for documentaries which touch hearts as well as minds. Evidently, the ideal is captivating and brilliantly shot stories which strike the right balance between formal and narrative qualities, but it’s also really important to know who we can propose these films to. It sometimes happens that we discover wonderful films which don’t really have any commercial potential outside of festivals.

What kinds of documentaries are buyers currently looking for?
It depends on the buyers: some specialise in historical documentaries, others in more personal stories; some broadcasting slots are very open and their subjects might range from art through to history. But most buyers want to capture the attention of as big an audience as possible, so prices and selections in festivals are clearly significant selling points. And in recent months, a very clear trend has emerged: buyers are looking for documentaries which warm hearts, which entertain, which inspire hope, which is totally understandable after the challenging times of the pandemic, followed by the war in Ukraine.

What’s your view on Sunny Side of the Doc?
The entire industry gets something out of it. There are lots of buyers looking for finished documentaries, a number of programme heads seeking out films to co-produce, but there are producers too, which is interesting when you want to know more about new projects in production. The selection of pitches is also really good and, given that it’s thematic, it’s a brilliant event for anyone looking for specific focuses (history, science, art & culture, etc.).

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(Translated from French)

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