Event Preview: 2021 Sunny Side of the Doc & PiXii Festival

Mathieu Béjot, director of strategy and development at Sunny Side of the Doc, talks to TV Real about the 32nd edition of Sunny Side of the Doc and the 5th edition of PiXii Festival.

The 32nd edition of Sunny Side of the Doc, which is taking place online this year from June 21 to 24, has as its central theme #StorytellingMatters, which was carefully chosen to best serve a world that has spent more than a year learning to cope with a pandemic. “We found it very difficult to go back to our usual categories,” says Mathieu Béjot, director of strategy and development at Sunny Side of the Doc. “Having history, which we had last year, or science, two years ago, or arts and culture, three years ago, we thought: the whole world, and our industry in particular, is totally upside down. We need to deal with that. That’s why we thought: let’s take a broader approach, which would be #StorytellingMatters.”

Under the theme, Sunny Side wanted to confront some of the global issues that have resurfaced or been exacerbated during the pandemic. A Global Pitch that the marketplace event launched in February was dedicated to current affairs, and global issues will remain an abundant category at Sunny Side, “which means that on top of the six projects that will be pitched, we’ll also have an extra six for which we ***Image***will organize targeted one-to-one meetings,” explains Béjot. “We have more projects in the Global Issues session than others because that’s our focus of attention this year.”

The projects will confront global concerns across science, economic development, climate change, social issues and geopolitics. “All the heavy, heavy-duty documentaries that we all love,” says Béjot, “When we talk about #StorytellingMatters, we also have in mind not just the doom and gloom scenarios—which is usually the case with global docs and investigation—but we want to make sure that we bring to light stories that actually shed a light on action for the future and actually help rebuild the world and societies.”

“That’s the kind of content international broadcasters are looking for right now,” adds Béjot.

This year, Sunny Side of the Doc has partnered with a few U.S.-based foundations, including Ford Foundation, Sundance Institute and The Redford Center. “That’s linked to our focus on #StorytellingMatters and on slightly different types of documentaries and films that are close to the ones that foundations support,” says Béjot. “We’re very happy to bring those players to the market because they usually invest in more social issues, global issues and things that are closer to what we have in mind.”

The official Pitch Selection for the 32nd edition of Sunny Side includes 42 projects from 18 different countries (Armenia, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Israel, Italy, Latvia, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain, the U.K., the U.S.). They will be presented during six themed sessions and tailored one-to-one meetings. The selected projects highlight stories that affect the planet, shake convictions and incite change for the future. Seventy-two percent of the projects selected are created or produced by women. The event’s partners include RTBF for the Global Issues Pitch, PBS International for the History Pitch, Science & Vie TV for the Science Pitch, West Lake International Documentary Festival for the Arts & Culture Pitch, The Redford Center and Love Nature for the Wildlife & Conservation Pitch and Ubisoft for the Immersive Experiences Pitch.

Sunny Side is welcoming more streaming platforms this year and will feature a Meet the Executives session with National Geographic/Disney+ and discovery+ and a panel discussion “Behind the Scenes of Netflix Documentaries,” alongside a New Voices Award supported by Netflix. “Streamers, which are already investing huge sums in commissioning and acquiring documentaries, will now have to work within a well-defined frame. We’re looking forward to hearing about their plans and the types of documentaries they are looking for at Sunny Side of the Doc,” says Béjot.

Also front of mind for the latest edition of Sunny Side is taking an introspective look behind the camera. “We feel that in order to make sure that we have impactful stories, we also need to change who’s telling these stories. The industry has grown more aware of the need to better include and represent a diversity of talents and voices. So we’ll join the global debate bringing attention to the commissioning initiatives and funding policies driving actions and not just talk!,” Béjot says. To that extent, the Women’s Talent Hub will provide new pitching opportunities for docs made by women filmmakers. There will also be a panel on the female gaze and the state of play in documentary. “This is clearly not a women’s problem and if our industry is to change we need everyone’s involvement.”

This year, instead of a country in focus, Sunny Side of the Doc will concentrate on revealing emerging storytelling talents from Central and Eastern Europe. “It’s a very broad notion, going from the Balkans to the Baltics and up to Central Asia,” explains Béjot. The event will provide a dedicated panorama, with activities aiming to strike up international collaborations: match-made meetings between producers, a Talent Hub presenting five projects in development and production and a Work in Progress showcase to enhance sales and pre-sales.

For the 5th edition of PiXii Festival, a new format will make its debut. “We used to have an exhibition space close to Sunny Side’s main venue, meant both for professionals and for the general audience,” says Béjot. PiXii Festival will continue its strategy in helping foster international co-production opportunities and networking between producers, broadcasters, platforms and cultural actors in the world of XR. For its 2021 edition, from June 19 to 24, PiXii Festival has teamed up with several of La Rochelle’s most-loved cultural and heritage sites, expanding its program for the general public and locals, as well as for creative and cultural industry professionals. Museums, aquarium and SNCF TGV train station will act as the backdrop for the selected immersive experiences.

The nine immersive experiences from the official selection (Belgium, France, Germany, Denmark) will be exhibited in La Rochelle’s Natural History Museum, Musée du Nouveau Monde, Tour de la Chaîne (Centre des Monuments Nationaux), the aquarium and the SNCF train station. Ubisoft will present “Georges Méliès: virtual fantasies” out of competition, a virtual reality experience designed especially for the Musée Méliès, the new movie museum by Cinémathèque Française. A selection of seven XR films (360, 3 DoF and 6 Dof) as well as a podcast/vodcast series will be available from June 7 to 30 via a dedicated video library for PiXii Festival.

PiXii Festival will also host a pitching session for immersive experiences and a few panels as part of the industry program. One session of particular note, developed in collaboration with the Annecy International Animation Festival and Market, is dedicated to works produced for social networks and mobile phones. “One of the takeaways from the pandemic is that the production of VR and the use of VR has been a bit complicated,” explains Béjot. “A lot of places have been closed for sanitary reasons, and VR headsets are difficult to share. There has also been a drop in investment by museums, mostly because they’ve lost so much revenue. We realized that immersive experiences have to go beyond VR this year. Looking at how to produce for or with mobile phones and for networks like TikTok and Snapchat, we find it very interesting.”

Once again this year, Sunny Side will be held entirely online despite efforts to pull off a hybrid event. The PiXii Festival’s immersive exhibition will celebrate the re-opening of France’s cultural venues. The doc professionals registered for the online event will have access to all activities with a simple click to join the sessions via Swapcard.

“This year, all of our pitching sessions will be held at 1:30 p.m. French time,” says Bejot. “This will allow us to reach the Americas early in the morning and Asia as well as Europe. I know a lot of people on the East Coast in the U.S. tend to get up early so they can start the day with a cup of coffee and a pitching session at Sunny Side.”

Sunny Side’s digital platform will stream live most activities all day long—from pitching sessions to panels to channel lineups. A takeaway from all of the online markets over the last year is that attendees aren’t necessarily available for an entire day as they would be at an in-person event. “You’re working from home or from your office,” says Béjot. “You have your email, you have phone calls, etc. We know that’s a key issue so we decided to open the platform two weeks ahead of time. June 7 we’ll be opening the platform, meaning that people can start planning their meetings and visit our screening library packed with fresh content.”

Another takeaway from last year is that the more business-focused the sessions the better. “We’ve shied away from panels that are too general and too mainstream because we know that people don’t have that much time and therefore they have really good takeaways and concrete approaches to anything we can discuss,” says Béjot. “We tend to focus on very hands-on sessions, what we call the Meet the Executives sessions. It’s basically 30 minutes with interactive, live Q&A sessions at the end for people to interact with reps from broadcasters, from platforms or foundations as well.”

Also key to any successful market—whether it be in-person or online—is boosting the interactions between those who are attending. “We know that the kind of energy and serendipity and interaction you have at an in-person event is hard to find online,” says Béjot. “We’re doing a lot in terms of meeting with experts, organizing meetings for our foreign delegations (Central and Eastern Europe, Spain, Finland, Germany, Chile, Catalonia and Basque country) with fellow producers, or sales agents or with experts. We are doing what we know best, get people to network and exchange documentary ideas.”