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“Nous avons foi en l'idée que les documentaires peuvent changer les choses : ils inspirent empathie et compréhension”

Dossier industrie: Documentaire

Jérôme Plan • Directeur, 99

par 

La plateforme peut donner aux courts-métrages documentaires une seconde vie après leur tournée des festivals, et ainsi toucher un public plus vaste

Jérôme Plan  • Directeur, 99

Cet article est disponible en anglais.

Cineuropa caught up with Jérôme Plan, the director of 99. The platform, which bears the same name as the non-profit project behind it, aims to prolong the life cycle of short documentaries, and to intercept new audience segments made up of viewers who are not festival regulars.

Cineuropa: Could you please talk us through 99’s business model and its mission?
Jérôme Plan: 99 is a non-profit project based in France. You can think of its business model as a jigsaw puzzle with many pieces. We receive donations, film submission fees, screening fees from cultural venues, funds from public institutions such as the EU via the Creative Europe programme, and funds from private foundations. We also organise film-literacy workshops in different venues, including schools, libraries and correctional centres. Our mission is to promote short documentary films, online and in real life, beyond any cultural and linguistic barriers.

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Why did you decide on the short documentary format?
We focus on short documentaries because they’re an amazing medium to get across important stories in a quick way, matching the attention span of people in today’s world. While it’s great to be able to watch a film on your phone on a bus, we don't want 99 to be a purely digital experience. We’re not only a platform.

Since we believe that cinema must remain a collective experience, we organise screenings of our films in cultural venues, theatres, schools, libraries and retirement homes all around the world, where our ten [official] languages are spoken. This can happen in a large cinema in Vienna or in a small room, with a simple projector and a white wall, in the Lyon correctional centre. We believe shorts can be a gateway to documentary features because for many, these may seem too serious, elitist, intimidating or boring [at first].

Plus, where can you watch short documentaries on the big screen these days, if not at film festivals? That’s great, but festival audiences are well-informed, passionate people, who are already familiar with the documentary genre. Our objective is to intercept new audiences. Festivals can also be frustrating for many of the directors we work with. Their films have been screened at major events and have won awards, but have only been discovered by a limited audience. 99 can be a way for them to reach larger, more diverse audiences, thanks to multilingual subtitling, free online access and alternative distribution.

What types of titles do you seek to acquire?
The films we curate need to be 40 minutes long or less. That being said, the average film we feature is around 12 minutes long. The second criterion is the universal message the film must carry. Anyone should be able to understand and enjoy it, beyond cultural and language barriers. We prioritise original and innovative films made by independent filmmakers from developing countries, and documentaries whose messages and characters have the potential to spark debate.

99 can be a great post-festival distribution option. Most of the films we choose have already had successful festival runs over the years. Some of them have received prestigious awards at [festivals such as] Clermont-Ferrand, FIPADOC, IDFA, CPH:DOX, Sundance and SXSW. But somehow, they have reached the end of their “potential” from a distribution point of view. 99 is a way to give them a second life. [...] Therefore, the year of production is in no way a selection criterion for us, as long as the film stays relevant.

What about the size of your catalogue?
Our objective is to add one new film per month and per language. That’s why our catalogue is rather small, with only 40 films for now. We have faith in the transformative power of documentaries: they inspire empathy and understanding around issues such as climate change, the elderly, LGBT communities, migration, disabilities and many more topics. Just as importantly, they enthral us, entertain us and make us laugh. Our films let you experience realities from elsewhere.

What about your main partners? Are you looking for any new ones?
We have partnerships with universities in Europe, Lebanon and Hong Kong, whose fifth-year master students in Interpreting and Translation work on the subtitling of our films, supervised by their professors. We now have a community of 70 translators from all over the world. One-third of them are professionals who offer us their precious time and share our values. The other two-thirds are master students. We think it would be interesting to forge partnerships with European cultural networks such as the French Institutes, the Alliances Françaises, the Goethe-Instituts or the Institutos Cervantes, so that they can screen our films to their local audiences in Europe and around the world. We’re also looking for foundations whose values would be aligned with our own. We believe our not-for-profit model can succeed and provide filmmakers with respectable remuneration and broad exposure.

What are 99’s long-term goals?
Humbly, we’d like to become a major player in short documentary film. To do that, we need to play a more upstream role in the life of a movie. Today, we are downstream and “recover” films to give them a second life. Our goal is to become an attractive option, from the start, for any filmmaker wishing to distribute their film. To achieve this, we need to make ourselves known, offer respectable remuneration and continue to fight to ensure that our films exist long after they have been completed.

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