PARIS — America’s lust for information about other countries is growing, sparked by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the East coast, according to HBO’s Sheila Nevins, guest of honor at the Intl. Documentary Market which wrapped Saturday in Marseilles.
“Before, we used to say ‘If it’s not about America, we don’t want it,’ ” Nevins, exec VP original programming, told an audience of broadcasters and doc producers from around the globe. “Not anymore.”
But that doesn’t mean viewers will sit through a foreign-lingo pic.
“Subtitles are a turnoff for our audience,” Nevins admitted, noting that subtitled pics might find a home on Cinemax, HBO’s “art house” affiliate.
Some 111 television stations and 567 production companies turned out for the 13th event, also known as the Sunny Side of the Doc. For the first time, it admitted the public at screenings of docs including HBO’s “In Memoriam: New York City 9/11/01” and Jean-Xavier de Lestrade’s Oscar-winning “Murder on a Sunday Morning.”
Docs in demand deal with social issues or human interest subjects.
“In America, reality has taken over,” Nevins told Daily Variety. “Whatever anyone is talking about becomes a documentary. How people deal with fear and vulnerability is more important now than ever.”
Documentaries sold well over the past year, despite an overall down market. Michael Moore’s “Bowling for Columbine,” about the U.S. obsession with guns, screened in competition at this year’s Cannes Film Festival — the first time a doc played the Palais since Louis Malle and Jacques-Yves Cousteau’s “The Silent World” in 1955 – and won a special jury prize. UA paid $3 million for the pic.
USA Films “The Kid Stays in the Picture,” a doc about Hollywood icon Robert Evans, also boasted brisk and big buck Cannes sales.
ARTE Germany topper Klaus Wenger said the genre was more accessible now as a new generation of European documakers — trained in film school rather than on the front line — “integrates a visual and cinematic language and construction into its films.”
Docs with character arcs and plot lines?
“Yes,” said Xavier Carniaux, producer of Chantal Akerman’s, “De l’autre cote” (From the Other Side), a doc about Mexicans crossing the border into the U.S., which had a special Cannes screening.
“In a 90-minute documentary, there’s got to be a dramatic evolution,” explained Carniaux. “Either the main character has to change or the spectator must change. There needs to be a voyage.”
“It may be new for them, but its not new for me,” laughed Nevins. “I’ve always emulated features. The HBO documentary hasn’t changed, it’s just that everyone else is catching up.”