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Echoes from the Sunny Side '96

By Sandrine Simonnot

This year, there were 1,597 documentary professionals from 34 countries attending the seventh issue of Sunny Side of the Doc. The growing number of participants (1,420 in 1995) might suggest that documentary is doing well; yet, comments from independent filmmakers and producers suggest some mixed feelings about the state of creativity, independence—and above all—qual­ity. In France, 739 hours of documentary were produced in 1995, compared to 389 the previous year; still, filmmakers worry that documentary production is driven by the targeted needs of the TV channels and, in the process, losing its diversity, melting little by little into an international audiovisual system.

This year's Sunny Side saw some noticeable resistance from independents. Bowing to the demands from the TV channels for a more entertaining approach to documentary, former independents have been forced into the need to associate, and co-production has become the rule, rather than the excep­tion. Such is the case with Gedeon (France), Pilot Production (U.K.) and Paneikon (Italy), now united and ready to produce 60 hours of documentary.

Also, Doc & Co., a new organization of seven French documentary production firms, has been created to market their individual documentaries and to present a catalogue of 230 hours of documentary production for a stronger impact on buyers. Say the broadcasters: our needs are largely predefined and themes are established in advance. Muse the independents: freedom of production may have become a thing of the past.

The independent initiative is rapidly being replaced by a more industrial approach. ARTE is the only channel in Europe recognized as quite open to subjects, supportive of creative style and in search of interesting writing. Thierry Garrel, in charge of documentary production for ARTE: "In 1995, seventy­ five hours of programs have been produced with forty different independent producers. In this way, ART is taking the opposite course from other channels in helping to promote works with strong character. I believe that documentary cannot exist without independent production." Asked whether there was any hope for American filmmakers with ARTE, his answer was not optimistic: "ARTE is very much aware of U.S. documentary and we're watching closely the various festivals. But it is not the policy of ARTE to sponsor U.S. filmmakers, except for a few internationally recognized filmmakers such as Frederick Wiseman, with his documentary about the French theatrical institution 'La Comedie Française.' We think it's interesting to have an American view on this so very French and so very old institution."

Three years after the creation of an American corner to host as many as twenty producers, the scarcity of independent com­panies was very apparent in 1996. Slawomir Grunberg, president of Log In Enterprise (Spencer, New York), was attending for the second time: for his film Steht, winner of the Cinema du Reel prize this year, Sunny Side is a good market to meet with European broadcasters and buyers. "Nothing like this exists in the U.S. It is very stimulating." Grunberg stressed the expense for a U.S. independent producer to travel from overseas and to purchase a booth. For him, a total cost of $3,000 includes lodging, airplane tickets and booth rental. But, he added, it is still worth it.

As for Tod Solomon Lending, from Nomadic Pictures in Chicago, there was no doubt about the positive advantages. In this his first time at the market, within three days he had already signed two deals. He was also seeking co-production possibilities for a series of 4 one-hour programs about chil­dren, No Time to Have a Child. "The advantage is to have the films registered at the Market library. This way it is easy to get contacts." Both Grunberg and Lending noted the increased recognition from participating at the Sunny Side, something to their advantage in talking with HBO, ITVS and international broadcasters. They also felt at a disadvantage compared to Canada, strongly represented this year thanks to the National Film Board. It seems that U.S. producers may need to gather together under a cooperative entity to lower the cost of participation and amalgamate their impact.

A bit of positive news: as of December '96, Japanese television audiences will have a new channel featuring independent films: "Cinefil Imagica." lt will present Japanese television viewers with quality independent films from around the world, including doc­umentaries, art programming and short films. Contact Alternate Current, Inc., based in New York, at 212-684-2266.


SANDRINE SIMONNOT is an IDA member based in Boulogne, France.