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Reality hot, traditional docs cool at Mip mart

Exposes sought-after, animals on decline

CANNES — Documentaries are in demand, fueled by the proliferation of branded doc-focused channels. But old-school docs are an endangered species, threatened by reality programming, globalization and increasingly budget-conscious broadcasters.

That was one clear message from the two-day MipDoc convention at Cannes, which wrapped Sunday.

Some talked-about changes:

  • Current affairs programs with a tabloid touch look hot. Two of the most sought-after docs were exposes, Television Suisse Romande’s “Echelon: Total Surveillance” on U.S. communications espionage; and Pretty Pictures’ “Secrets of Silicon Valley,” about the underbelly of U.S. high tech.

  • Wildlife docs of the lion-eat-antelope ilk may need a rethink. The number presented to MipDoc dropped from 203 in 2000 to 157 this year. Many big purveyors of animal fare have admittedly tied down distribution outlets in much of the world. But MipDoc suggested fatigue with old-school natural history.

  • Reality programming has knocked docs off factual program slots and tinged their styles, stressing elimination elements or introducing more human elements into programs. One example, according to Janet Vissering, National Geographic Channels Intl.’s senior veep programming and operations, is “Next Wave,” which follows the lives of scientists traveling by boat to their destination.

  • On the rise: docutainment and event docs, such as National Geographic’s “Pearl Harbor: Legacy of an Attack,” to broadcast globally May 27.

Launched in 1998, MipDoc has become the most important general doc minimart around.

This year’s edition underscored that the market is splitting toward top and low-tab documaking.

For high-end docs, co-production looks a must. Daylong confab “Doc World” featured a panel with top commissioning editors from the BBC, ZDF, French-German web Arte, Canada’s VisionTV, Film Australia and PBS producer 13/WNET. Yet of these key doc players, only VisionTV showed an appetite for acquiring completed docs. Many smaller broadcasters pick up docs — but at far lower prices.

“There is a process going on which is going to separate the big guys and girls from the little. The funding agencies ask for more and more in the way of license from broadcasters but our public is flat. So we’ll have to give more and more money to fewer documentaries,” said Peter Flemington, a special adviser for VisionTV.

“The passion-driven, small film-makers who don’t want to make formulaic series material for the consolidating giants of this world are in for a really rough ride,” he added.

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