MIPTV & MIPDoc: The Week in Factual


High-end, ambitious factual storytelling took center stage at MIPDoc and MIPTV. Topping the list of most-screened projects still in production at MIPDoc was ZDF Enterprises’ Anthropocene: Human Force of Nature, a three-part 4K doc that looks at the scientific and societal solutions for humankind’s impact on Earth.

MIPTV announced it is backing the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals Media Compact and hosted a keynote showcase featuring Seeker’s The Swim, a documentary highlighting ocean pollution and plastic contamination.

The importance of raising awareness of our effects on the environment was also a major theme of Dr. Michael Gunton’s keynote conversation with World Screen’s Anna Carugati on day one of MIPDoc. The creative director of the Natural History Unit and factual at BBC Studios talked about working with David Attenborough and immersive wildlife filmmaking before he was presented with the World Screen Factual Trendsetter Award.

Gunton’s impressive list of credits includes Planet Earth II and Dynasties, among many other landmark natural-history series. On his approach to storytelling, Gunton noted, “Natural-history audiences love to see new things. When the camera can draw the veil back and show things that are remarkable, that’s the approach. Trying to find surprising stories. Some of the best surprises come from when you think you know an animal and you show something that completely turns [that belief] on its head.”

On landmark series like Planet Earth, Gunton commented, “Every time you make one of these, people say, You’ve done it all! Mother Nature is so extraordinary and so fascinating, if you dig deep, you do find new stories. Of course, you want to bring in new technology that allows you to show things you might have seen before in one way but can now be shown in another way.”

Planet Earth II let audiences “savor the wonders of the world,” Gunton said. “It came at the right moment. The idea was to get close to the animals. Get down there and use the camera and the storytelling to make you feel you were experiencing their lives.”

Natural-history docs have “many roles,” Gunton added. “We had 2 million years of evolution that connected us with the natural world and the last 250, 300 years we’ve stepped away from that. People want to make a connection with the natural world. And there’s endless fascination about our fellow creators on the planet. They’re a reminder of the wonder and value and fragility [of the natural world].”

Premium factual was the theme of A+E Networks’ MIPDoc session on Saturday afternoon. Patrick Vien, A+E Networks’ executive co-managing director of international, A&E’s Elaine Frontain Bryant and History’s Mary Donahue outlined their programming remits, highlighting The Clinton Affair and Jesus: His Life, respectively.

“Premium factual for the family of A+E Networks is deeply ingrained in our DNA,” Vien said. “It has been part of a production mandate for as long as we’ve been in existence. Not just megadocs, but also docudramas, award-winning feature documentary films and groundbreaking factual series, all of which have successfully ignited conversations in the U.S. but also on an international level.”

Frontain Bryant is the executive VP and head of programming at A&E Network, spotlighted The Clinton Affair. “A&E is trying to stay a culturally relevant brand and a globally relevant brand,” said Frontain Bryant on how the six-parter from Alex Gibney and Blair Foster fits into the channel’s programming remit. She went on to note that A&E wants to be in the “cultural conversation. We definitely want to be a watercooler brand.”

Donahue, senior VP of development and programming at History, talked about the recent megadoc event series Jesus: His Life from Jane Root’s Nutopia, which features both expert commentary and high-end scripted reenactments. “History has really led the way in hybrid storytelling,” Donahue said. “The production values in this documentary are extraordinary. We filmed it in Morocco with a cast and crew of 550 people. The actors were mostly British stage and television and film actors. We used premium directors. [We demanded] historical accuracy from every level.”

On what else the channel is seeking out, Donahue said, “We always look for ideas that haven’t been told before, with the best production values we can bring to them. We want to surprise our viewers. We view ourselves always as looking to tell stories that are smart and heartfelt.”

The rapidly developing factual SVOD scene was also a hot topic at the market. The latest contender in that landscape, DocuBay, had a major presence at MIPDoc. The soon-to-launch SVOD service was a partner in the MIPDoc Project Pitch. The winner of the MIPDoc Science and Technology Project Pitch was One Giant Leap from P3 MEDIA in the U.S. The winner of the MIPDoc Current Affairs and Investigation Project Pitch was The Doubt Makers from ZED in France.

Meanwhile, it was linear broadcasters who drove deal activity at the market. Autentic Distribution closed a range of deals, including a culture and science bundle with Al Jazeera Documentary Channel that features over 20 hours of programming. Banijay Rights sold two docuseries, The Operatives and Saving Lives at Sea, to CBC. Beyond Distribution secured a raft of factual sales to broadcasters in the U.S. and Canada. Starz picked up the feature documentary Under the Wire, directed by the BAFTA-nominated Chris Martin, from A+E Networks. Gusto Worldwide Media licensed a range of food content to Hungary and South Korea. RTL Netherlands picked up Irreconcilable Differences and Cashed Out from GRB Studios. TCB Media Rights struck a four-title deal, totaling 32 hours of content, with Viasat World. Blue Ant International licensed more than 435 hours of programming into France. SPI International/FilmBox took on 200 hours from ARTE Distribution. HBO Europe announced it will debut El Pionero (The Pioneer), a Spanish nonfiction series about the politician, football mogul and property tycoon Jesús Gil.

Other factual news last week included PBS International entering into a distribution partnership with HHMI Tangled Bank Studios, the production company behind The Serengeti Rules, Globalive Media securing early second-run sales with inflight content providers Global Eagle Entertainment and Inflight Dublin for Beyond Innovation, Earth Touch signing up the Smithsonian Channel as a co-pro partner on three wildlife films and factual indie Barcroft Studios being commissioned by Channel 5 to produce a documentary film about a U.S. marine who underwent a bilateral arm transplant.

Catch up on these stories and more on TVReal.ws and read our recaps of format and drama news.