Sunnyside was recently under threat when Sheffield Doc / Fest rescheduled its prestigious event from the autumn to early June.
- Many buyers were obliged to choose between South Yorkshire or the French seaside.
- The ‘Anglo-Saxons’ mostly opted for Sheffield.
- The ‘Franco-phones’ stayed at a diminished SSD.
La Rochelle is a historic city dominated by medieval siege defenses.
- SSD felt that it was back under siege.
- Not from invading Royalists, but from irrelevance.
SSD director Yves Jeanneau and his team had other plans.
- They figured that the French weren’t alone in their unease with the dominance of Anglo-Saxons.
- SSD targeted the rapidly expanding ‘non-Anglo-Saxon’ international nonfiction market.
This year, SSD came charging back.
- More than 2,000 delegates attended.
- There were 244 buyers from 58 countries.
- La Rochelle served as a beautiful location for a relaxed market that was very informative and good for new business.
- And many Anglo-Saxons returned, too.
- China sent a big delegation.
- South Africa’s Association for Transformation in Film & Television led a team of producers.
- There were delegations from Korea and Taiwan. Mexico also. And many other territories.
- NHK Japan was an active participant.
- I also met with producers from island territories that offer sizeable production subsidies, including Trinidad & Tobago and Malta.
- Screen Australia organized a delegation of quality producers from my homeland, and SBS also attended.
- Takeaway #1 is that Sunnyside is back!
- Here are several other findings from my conversations and meetings.
China is in the hunt for international partners in Unscripted content, as we have frequently covered here.
- But Chinese buyers and their funders hadn’t found a market to serve as their beachhead for global business development.
- They didn’t warm to the ‘take it or leave it’ vibe of some industry events in the UK and North America.
- And giant content markets like MIP and MIPCOM may be overwhelming for emerging players.
The SSD team put in a huge effort to establish relationships in China, including staging Asian Side of the Doc 2014 in Chengdu.
- The Chinese appreciate the respect, the moderate scale and cost, the emphasis on relationship-building, quality of translation services, and other China-targeted benefits offered by SSD.
- Chinese delegations in La Rochelle included CCTV 9 (Documentary), CCTV 10 (Science), regional channels like Jilin and Heilongjiang, the syndicators LIC China and RARE Media, and the state copro funder CICC.
- SSD has become China’s global beachhead.
The presence of European copro partners also helped.
- ARTE has scale and reaches across language markets.
- French, German, Dutch, Belgian, Austrian and Scandinavian broadcasters all enjoy access to EC funding.
- They share a remit to create content-driven docs and specials.
- For highly-qualified projects, their missions overlap with the ruling Communist Party’s top-down mandate to showcase China’s stories via nonfiction television.
- The outlook for independent nonfiction producers is ‘storm clouds ahead.’
- The conservative Abbott government is taking a razor to the public television sector, notably the ABC, SBS and the funder Screen Australia.
- The driver of it all is the Murdoch-family’s interests in the Foxtel Pay TV service, which is lagging in subscriber penetration and viewing. A frustration for the Foxtel business plan is the consistently high ratings and viewer loyalty earned by ABC and SBS. These viewers of public terrestrial TV could have otherwise drifted to Foxtel’s subscription service, which offers a package of low-cost, imported non-fiction and lifestyle channels, with a token but expanding stream of local Aussie commissions.
- The Murdoch’s monopolize Australian media in a way that shouts ‘Banana Republic!’
- With around 85% of Australia’s daily print circulation, they have been relentless in using their news assets to shape policy to their commercial advantage.
- They strongly supported PM Tony Abbott’s election campaign.
- A crippled public television sector is the political payback.
The Takeaway: A shrinking horizon for Aussie doc and nonfiction producers.
- You can read more about the Aussie funding crisis here.
- And about Rupert Murdoch ‘The Aussie Prince’ .
- Australia’s banana republic political economy is in sad contrast to Canada’s.
- They are comparable societies, but Canada adopted a wise regulatory framework that has long been supportive of local content and equity.
- Nevertheless, years of Conservative dominance have eroded Canada’s commitment to public television funding.
- At SSD, I heard from Canadian producers who saw the recent electoral rejection of Ontario’s Conservatives as the beginning of the end of an era.
- They also applauded the CBC’s exit from prime time Hockey as a proper return to the mission, one that will free up funding for unscripted commissions.
- These producers are optimistic that quality commissions will rebound.
- More Takeaways from Sunnyside soon, including ‘How Trinidad Stole the Show.’
- And BTW, Sheffield meanwhile built on its reputation as a vibrant international showcase and conference, attracting the documentary community from around the globe.