Small is Beautiful

Since 1988 he has produced over 50 fiction and documentary programmes, and with considerable success. Most recently his efforts won him the PROCIREP French “Producer of the Year” award – shared jointly with big-budget producer Jean-Pierre Guérin. Denis Freyd himself prefers to stay small and independent.

With his engineering studies at the Ecole Polytechnique and a master’s degree in philosophy, Denis Freyd’s high-level education dealt with thought in its most abstract forms. But he did not become a technology freak or an abstract thinker himself. On the contrary: the Archipel 33 producer has devoted himself for ten years now, with talent and success, to developing the film projects he holds dear. Producing only a few films at a time (between 3 and 5 a year), with a small team, he devotes himself intensely to each project. As a result, his company’s filmography reads like a list of prizes. In 10 years, 12 films have won awards, including: “Les vivants et les morts de Sarajevo” by Radovan Tadic, “Le Convoi “by Patrice Chagnard, “En compagnie d’Antonin Artaud” by Gérard Mordillat, and “Corpus Christi “by Jérôme Prieur and Gérard Mordillat. In 1998 Archipel 33 developed 3 productions: “La commission de la vérité “by André Van In (which won an award at Cinéma du réel 1999), “Off the Pigs” by Jens Meurer, and “En cet an là “by Thomas Sipp.

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“Les vivants et les morts de Sarajevo” by Radovan Tadic

How did you get involved in production?

I worked in the programme department of the Institut National de l’Audiovisuel (INA) for 6 years. That gave me the opportunity to see very different things, because it really was the television research and creation sector: we were there to invent, to find new forms of television and new frameworks. INA had an autonomous budget for production and the broadcasters were required to air the programs. Today this is no longer the case.

Do you think that French production misses that?

Yes, because I think every sector needs a research and development service. Today, having a team of program people not linked with broadcasters’ demands, who would be free to think and invent genres, forms, find new filmmakers – it would be a breath of fresh air for television.

How did your experiences at INA influence your career choices afterwards?

It was there that I really acquired the taste for production and met lots of directors, with whom I continued to work later. Suddenly, although I wasn’t a specialist in documentary production, I became very interested in the process of development. It is extremely fulfilling, because it opens you up to realities to which you wouldn’t otherwise have access. And I found it very interesting to place myself on the border between the two genres: fiction and documentary.

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“En compagnie d’Antonin Artaud” by Gérard Mordillat

What are the necessary qualities for a producer, in your opinion?

Obviously one must be able to deal with all the financial problems, but the essential quality is artistic expertise. When you have a project in your hands, you must be capable of discussing it with the filmmakers, of pushing them to go further. It’s really at the level of these artistic questions that the distinctions between producers becomes clear.

What do you look for when you produce a documentary?

The director’s attitude. For me, the relationship between the director and the people being filmed is just as important than the subject itself.

Do you think there is a Archipel 33 “school”?

No, because what interests me is precisely being able to accommodate a diversity of points of view, and to find the appropriate means that will allow each project to succeed. That’s what’s interesting about a given project: finding the right means. Because one can totally ruin a project if, in the beginning, the right choices have not been made in terms of shooting time, size of the crew, and the technical means.

How did you react to receiving the PROCIREP “Producer of the Year” award?

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