Sarajevo Film Festival 2024

«We’re committed to new voices and ensuring we renew the voices within the industry, just like mine»

SUNNY SIDE OF THE DOC: Kicking off this week, Modern Times Review spoke with the new Managing Director Aurélie Reman on the La Rochelle market's evolution over 35 years, consistent commitment to amplifying new voices, and more.

Sunny Side of the Doc will celebrate its 35th edition in La Rochelle, France, from 24 to 27 June. This year’s event promises to be a landmark gathering for the international documentary community, focusing on shaping the future of documentary filmmaking through innovation and global collaboration. Key themes include empowering women in the industry, including diverse voices from Africa and South America, and integrating emerging technologies such as VR, AR, and AI. The program also features notable highlights on Australian and First Nations contributions, alongside keynotes from industry visionaries and pitch sessions for top documentary projects.

With Sunny Side of the Doc kicking off this week, Modern Times Review spoke with its new Managing Director Aurélie Reman on its evolution over 35 years, consistent commitment to amplifying new voices, and more.

It’s about exploring new narratives to attract new audiences and storytellers to Sunny Wide.

You’ve been with Sunny Side for some time in various roles. How did the Managing Director role come into being?

It’s been a 10-year journey. I left London to come to La Rochelle and work for Sunny Side. I started in the communication team and then moved to the operations team. Each role was different and really fed my passion for the documentary genre and being part of the community. I feel a sense of mission.

In this role, I want to empower myself as a woman leading an event in the documentary industry and focus on market evolution and diversity. This year, we’re committed to new voices and ensuring we renew the voices within the industry, just like mine.

a crowd listening to a speech at Sunny Side of the Doc
©Paul Pelletier

From your perspective over the last 10 years, how have you seen Sunny Side evolve within the broader documentary landscape?

My feeling is that it’s crucial to be the only marketplace 100% dedicated to the documentary genre. The ecosystem around us tends to show that when you mix genres and different players within the industry, the results might be less visible and impactful. This focus is part of our DNA.

Another key aspect is the future of international co-production, which is the main thread of our event philosophy. We created this platform to facilitate exchange and opportunities in both creative and business aspects. The challenge is to determine if this model has a future and, if so, who we need to bring into the market and community to remain relevant.

Industry professionals demand to stay ahead of trends, market intelligence, and new opportunities in funding and storytelling talent. We are at a crucial point where we cannot rely solely on past successes, as 30 years is a significant period. The vision remains, but we must be prepared for upcoming challenges.

The community is currently suffering in terms of funding and market maintenance. Many companies might not survive next year. We need to react to this with our strengths and the support from public and private industry players. It’s essential to find the right answers.

I want to empower myself as a woman leading an event in the documentary industry and focus on market evolution and diversity.

Specifically for Sunny Side, I’m interested in the trajectory of co-production and its importance in documentary. What is the importance of co-production?

It’s a strong alternative when you see the decrease in public funding. For example, the model is endangered in France by elections and political changes. We need strong international alliances between broadcasters and producers. International co-production is about professional commitment towards new voices. It’s hard for new entrants to access the market. They often lack capacity building in terms of co-production. This year’s event focuses on instigating key aspects of conversations, identifying the right players and channels for projects, and highlighting new talents through pitching and talent spot sessions. This includes talents not typically expected in the market, like those with disabilities and from First Nations.

two women at Sunny Side of the Doc exchanging contact information
© Hugo Lafitte

What are the new diversity and inclusion initiatives for 2024?

For me, the initial reflection was to ensure we contribute to the industry’s evolution by renewing the community members and creating more access. This is why I mentioned the talent spots, which aim to identify success stories among our annual award winners and share them with emerging talent at Sunny Side.

We also have competitions run by our partners to create opportunities for new voices. Additionally, there’s an important territorial aspect, which isn’t based on a specific country but is a result of our global pitch sessions held online in February. These sessions allowed us to reach a wider audience, including talents who couldn’t travel to La Rochelle.

For the first time this year, you’ll see a strong presence of African independent producers and institutions, with countries like Tanzania, Gambia, and Uganda participating. Thanks to online sessions and partnerships with local institutions, we’ve secured the financial support needed for them to attend the market.

Regarding gender parity, I was adamant about creating a new space for empowering women in the documentary industry. We also have the DocSafe survey, which will be sent to all industry professionals—men, women, binary, and non-binary individuals—to understand issues of safety and abuse within the industry. Some people question why the documentary industry would face the same issues as fiction or cinema, but I believe it’s essential to give everyone a chance to express their experiences. We can then analyze and respond appropriately as a media organization, marketplace, or festival.

We need to react to this with our strengths and the support from public and private industry players.

How can we strengthen Africa’s presence in the European and international co-production markets? What are the primary hurdles for African filmmakers?

It’s inspiring how they tackle the need for more capacity building. The stories are there, but producing and directing at a high-quality level is a challenge. Local initiatives built within the community are essential. For example, a director in Tanzania started by putting cameras in villages to see what stories people wanted to tell. This led to a documentary submitted to Sunny Side. The obstacle is often meeting the high quality demanded by the market. It’s about decolonizing the storytelling landscape locally first. Even if only a few reach Sunny Side, the knowledge and confidence they gain can benefit their communities and countries.

a pitch session at Sunny Side of the Doc
© Jean-François Augé – Studio Ouest

Can you talk about the Australian presence this year and the thought process behind curating a country of focus?

We pay close attention to project submissions each year, identifying emerging countries. This year, we saw more projects from Australia. They share funding models similar to those of France and Europe, which are facing similar challenges. Post-COVID, we aimed to reboost connections. This year, we’re focusing on producing talent, including Australian First Nations. We want to escape the model of changing countries each year without solid results. We aim to create lasting co-production agreements and new relationships. Highlighting First Nation cultures and stories is crucial. It’s about understanding cultural obligations and creating a safe space for First Nation talent.

What thematic threads have you noticed in the projects for 2024?

It’s more complicated for us since projects are categorized by market needs. But in the New Voices and Impact campaign pitching sessions, I noticed a focus on women’s empowerment and intersectionality. Key questions include who tells the story, from where, and to whom. This creates a different sense of storytelling, pushing boundaries and taking more risks.

© Jean-François Augé – Studio Ouest

How involved are you in Sunny Side’s New Media aspect, and how has it evolved from last year to this year? This year, I see there’s a focus on podcasts, which is interesting because audio documentaries can be very engaging.

For me, it’s about exploring new narratives to attract new audiences and storytellers to Sunny Wide. This mandate was given to the team, particularly regarding podcasts. We had extensive internal discussions to find the right angle, understanding that podcasts might not initially seem like international material. However, we’ve seen the IP opportunities they can create.

This year, we adopted the approach of «from podcast to screen,» considering the podcast industry as a creative lab for documentary stories. While it’s still experimental, the domestic context has shown that podcasts can generate advertisement revenue, large audiences, and significant interest. The immersive aspect of well-directed podcasts is quite impressive, and thematically, they tend to be more daring.

Key questions include who tells the story, from where, and to whom.

Producing new media is expensive, consolidating it within Western production companies. There’s a lack of new media projects from the global south. It would be great to see immersive experiences from places like Gambia and Tanzania.

I agree. The social impact of new media is significant. We run a local festival in La Rochelle on digital cultures, focusing on access to technologies and the messages they convey. It proves that new media can have a broad social impact.

Skin in the Game Dena Curtis
Skin in the Game, a film by Dena Curtis

Regarding the 35th anniversary, the film Skin in the Game will have its world premiere at Sunny Side. This is the first such premiere I have seen. How did this come about?

We used to have screenings from French broadcasters, but this is different. It’s part of our work with Australia, involving NITV, a channel dedicated to Indigenous content. The film follows Marlee Silva, a sports commentator and engaging personality of Gamilaroi and Dunghutti origin in Australia. It combines sports, women’s roles, and societal issues, aligning with our programming choices.

What aspects of the 2024 program do you find interesting and important? What would you attend if you were a delegate?

I’m excited about the keynotes, which are a new element. We need inspiring perspectives, not just business talks. The angle on artificial intelligence is intriguing, presenting it as a field of opportunity rather than with fear. We’ll discuss the best technological possibilities combined with professionalism, resilience, and innovation in our community.

AI is a significant topic. It can democratize production if used responsibly.

Absolutely. It sheds light on the effects of digital technology on our lives. We need to ask questions and see how our community reacts.

Steve Rickinson
Steve Rickinson
Steve lives in Bucharest, Romania. He is Communications Manager and Industry Editor of MTR.

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