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Sunday, June 16, 2024

35th Sunny Side Of The Doc Aims To Chart Future Course Of Doc Field

A documentary field roiled by change could use some clarity on how to navigate turbulent times. It’s about to get that opportunity at the 35th edition of Sunny Side of the Doc in La Rochelle, France, a four-day gathering that’s the only international market entirely dedicated to the documentary genre.

More than 2,000 professionals representing 70 countries are expected at the event – creators, producers, buyers, sales agents, and broadcasters. Sunny Side’s ambition is nothing less than “to shape the future of documentary filmmaking.”

Aurélie Reman, Sunny Side’s managing director, and Mathieu Béjot, head of strategy & development, acknowledge the moment of anxiety, but also of possibility, facing this year’s attendees from across the globe.

Sunny Side of the Doc graphic

Sunny Side of the Doc

“In the ever-changing documentary industry which is about to be turned upside down once again with the surge in artificial intelligence, it is vital to remain at the forefront of emerging trends,” Reman and Béjot said in a statement. “This is why we will give particular prominence to the latest developments in the documentary world, concerning financing as well as innovative formats which push the boundaries of storytelling. These new creative approaches are paving the way for engaging and immersive experiences, captivating an ever more diverse and demanding audience.”

Sunny Side of the Doc runs June 24-27 in the historic city astride the Atlantic Coast. The four-day event is built around three key objectives:

• To encourage international co-productions and the development of projects, and facilitate networking between industry peers;

• To foster the circulation of documentary programs across Europe and the world;

• To inform and train industry professionals on key market trends, media economics and breakthrough technology.

Sunny Side of the Doc attendees

Sunny Side of the Doc

Sunny Side of the Doc

To further those objectives, the program is stacked with panel discussions, keynotes, a Works in Progress showcase, a Studio for exhibiting innovative work, and pitch sessions – the latter “always the most highly anticipated and popular part of the event.”

This year, more than 300 pitch submissions were received from 60 countries; those were narrowed to 42 that will be presented at Sunny Side. Following the pitches, one winner will be selected in each of seven categories: Science, History, Arts and Culture, Nature and Conservation, Global Issues, New Voices and Impact Campaigns. “Each session’s best pitched projects are decided by a jury of industry experts,” Sunny Side notes. “The seven winners will each receive a cash prize endowed by respective session sponsors: €3,000 (Science, History, Arts & Culture, Nature & Conservation, Global Issues) and €2,000 (New Voices and Impact Campaigns).”

Artificial intelligence, perhaps the hottest topic in the entertainment industry as a whole, if not all of society, is going to be a major focus of Sunny Side. The event is convening panels of industry experts to “bring into the spotlight storytelling trends, innovation, as well as the impact and possible uses of artificial intelligence.” Two of the entities represented will be Spanish company Artefacto Films and runwayStudios, which created OpenDocs, “the first international program bringing creative AI to short non-fiction films from diverse communities and regions from Africa, Asia and Latin America.”

HERA graphic from Terra Mater Studios

Terra Mater Studios GmbH

Sunny Side will also present a case study — a documentary from Terra Mater on the European Space Agency and NASA’s Hera project, “which puts artificial intelligence at the heart of the project to create multi-platform, personalized stories.”

Terra Mater describes the project as “a unique, thrilling, real-world drama” about the effort to test whether asteroids on a potential collision course with Earth can be diverted from their path.

For the second year running, Australia will be Sunny Side’s country in focus, “shining the spotlight once again on this country’s rich and diverse documentary output.” The 2023 event gave a platform to institutional stakeholders in Australia, including broadcasters and Screen Australia. This year, the focus will be on Australian talent; seven of the projects in the Pitch Sessions hail from that country.

Work from Australian First Nations will be showcased during the event, Sunny Side notes, including a screening of the documentary Skin in the Game (produced by Southern Pictures), which “reveals the secrets behind one of the country’s most-loved sports with an almost religious-like following, through the eyes of a female sports commentator from the First Nations.”

Sunny Side also intends to bring together Aboriginal and First Nation industry professionals from other countries including Canada, the U.S. and Scandinavia, “to shine a spotlight on their output and foster networking opportunities with other industry professionals… A growing number of documentaries, particularly looking at the environment or the climate change, features protagonists from First Nations, which is why it is now more vital than ever to enable producers and filmmakers to access the international market with their own stories.”

Sunny Side of the Doc logo

Sunny Side of the Doc

All the major French channels will be represented at Sunny Side, as well as Japanese public broadcaster NHK and key distributors from around the world, offering creators the chance to hear what those outlets are interested in developing, as well as opportunities for co-production.

“The dedicated Meet the Executives sessions will feature the BBC, the Swedish public broadcaster SVT, National Geographic and Love Nature / Blue Ant, who will all reveal their needs and future editorial directions.”

Woman using VR headset

Sunny Side of the Doc

Attendees are also going to learn about new opportunities for distribution of nonfiction content – including social media platforms and even cultural institutions that are eager to cultivate audiences with immersive forms of media. “The new Meet the Museums session straddles the worlds of linear and non-linear, and will reveal French and international cultural institutions’ strategies and needs in terms of content and formats for the years to come.”

Another hot area of new media – podcasts – is going to be explored at Sunny Side. Sessions are expected to probe several questions, among them, “What are the documentary trends in audio creation? How do you adapt a story from an audio medium to a linear documentary? Has the podcast industry become a hive of material for the screen?”

Deadline will be reporting from Sunny Side from June 24-27. Can four days of proactive sessions change the course of the documentary field? Professionals working in the nonfiction arena are about to find out in La Rochelle.

“May this latest edition once again be a source of inspiration and discovery for you this year,” say Sunny Side’s Aurélie Reman and Mathieu Béjot, “and may it open the way to new collaborations and new horizons for the future of the documentary genre.”

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