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Sunny Side Welcomes Attendees Back to La Rochelle


After two years of taking place online, Sunny Side of the Doc, an international market for documentary and narrative experiences, is returning to La Rochelle, France, for an in-person event. The 33rd edition, which will feature the central theme of New Voices, will run from June 20 to 23. The top priority for this year’s market, according to Mathieu Béjot, director of strategy and development at Sunny Side of the Doc, is to bring everyone in the industry back together again, enabling attendees to meet face-to-face and facilitating new business opportunities and creative conversations.

“There has been a lot done online, but at the end of the day, we all know that the kind of discussion that can be had in person is totally different,” says Béjot. “We want to make sure that ***Image***people have enough places to meet and meet easily. We know that’s going to be top of the list.”

Once again, Sunny Side will host its traditional themed pitching sessions: Global Issues, Wildlife & Conservation, Science, History and Arts & Culture. Under the digital creation umbrella, there will be the Immersive Experiences session as well as the Digital Na(rra)tive Stories session, which will include “basically all nonlinear documentaries, produced for YouTube, TikTok, Snapchat, etc.,” explains Béjot. “Anything produced for the social networks or platforms, as long as we’re not talking about the traditional linear format. We will be introducing some podcasts as well. The idea is to explore new types of storytelling in documentary.”

A showcase of Ukrainian projects will include titles in development, those that are looking for production, as well as those at a more advanced stage. “We’re really talking about documentaries, not war footage—there’s a lot of coverage; we don’t have much to add to that,” says Béjot. “But we want to make sure that some of the Ukrainian producers and filmmakers can reach out to the international documentary community. It’s about helping people find some financing for their projects, and obviously, that’s something we usually do at Sunny Side.”

In keeping with Sunny Side’s theme this year, it will have a specific New Voices pitching session. Under the umbrella of New Voices, not only are there emerging talents—first- and second-time filmmakers and young and inexperienced producers—but also those from underrepresented communities and countries. Amid the pandemic, which curtailed international travel, and therefore impacted and impeded production plans across borders, Béjot saw a silver lining in how it spurred on more diversity in documentary filmmaking.

“One way that [documentary filmmakers] have managed to get around the pandemic is by producing with international partners, maybe just to have a local producer who can bring something to the table and make sure the documentaries could be completed,” says Béjot. “It’s really accelerated the movement that was kickstarted by the ideas of diversity and inclusion, to make sure that there are more local voices that are involved.

“These days, when you talk to people doing wildlife, for instance, you don’t send a U.K. or French crew to Africa anymore,” Béjot adds. “You need to work with local partners, both behind the camera and on-screen. It’s generating new, fresh looks at some of the existing stories that are already well-known. It’s generating more authenticity as well.”

For this year’s Sunny Side, there will be a delegation from South Africa, as the market has plans to expand connections throughout the African continent and around the world.

“We have to make sure that we have all of these new voices bring their own projects,” says Béjot. “They also join the international documentary community, in order to have more inclusive projects in the genre and to help producers on either side—from the global north or south, any country—to set up more international co-productions.”

As for the sixth edition of PiXii Festival, it is continuing an evolution it began during the pandemic, placing its immersive experiences in truly immersive venues around the host city of La Rochelle. Last year, the VR experience Lady Sapiens, which explores recent scientific discoveries about the roles and realities of women in the Homo sapiens era, was held at the city’s Museum of Natural History. “That’s really the idea of PiXii Festival this year, to go and meet the audience where they are, at iconic venues in La Rochelle,” says Béjot, who adds that this year’s three-day event will be open to both the general public and anyone with a badge from Sunny Side and PiXii Festival. “We notice that it’s very much appreciated by professionals. Because instead of showing their experiences in a nondescript venue, it’s much more relevant, and the feedback from the audience is much better as well.”

Béjot also notes that this year’s PiXii Festival will be more integrated with Sunny Side. The Canadian Pavilion, for example, will include both traditional linear producers of documentary and people doing immersive AR/VR from Québec under the same roof. “The idea is to mix the two of them together to build bridges between PiXii Festival and Sunny Side. At the end of the day, it’s often the same producers doing both.”

Returning to an in-person event this year after two years online, Béjot acknowledges that Sunny Side will retain some of the advantageous adaptations from the market’s digital editions—but that he’s keen to once again deliver the benefits of an in-person event. “What we’re all looking forward to is the energy, serendipity of markets, the creative discussions, which are much more difficult to have online,” says Béjot. “We hope to see that energy that we all know, that only happens at markets.”

To cater to those who cannot attend Sunny Side in person as well as for those on-site who might not be able to attend a particular session of interest, it will have hybrid pitching and Q&A sessions. “The pitching sessions will be totally hybrid, interactive, some will be live-streamed, with the possibility of asking questions remotely,” says Béjot. “We do have a kind of digital extension. What we don’t have, what we don’t want, is an online market. No virtual stands, no market activities. I won’t say it doesn’t work, but it’s much more difficult, and it doesn’t generate the same energy and the same return on investment.”

The 33rd edition of Sunny Side, as it returns to form in La Rochelle, will showcase content across factual genres—and often straddling genres, as Béjot notes an uptick in documentary titles that blend traditional factual categories together. There’s also a proliferation of new narrative techniques, including animation and docudrama.

“That’s the beauty of documentary; it’s not as well-defined a genre as animation or drama,” says Béjot, who adds that not only is there an encouraging amount of creativity in documentary filmmaking but more new voices and gender parity than ever.

“Forty percent of pitch submissions were first or second films, and there was absolute parity—as many projects directed by women as by men, which was great,” says Béjot. “It was great to see across all categories that we have this absolute parity between projects from female directors and male directors. That’s a good sign that the industry is headed in the right direction.”








About Chelsea Regan

Chelsea Regan is the managing editor of World Screen. She can be reached at cregan@worldscreen.com.

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