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Docu-makers Balance Competing Demands

Broadcasters seek local angles when commissioning

SAN SEBASTIAN, Spain — You can’t please everyone, as documentary-makers found on Thursday at the IX Lau Haizetara Documentary Co-production Forum at the San Sebastian Film Festival.

Chilean producer Diego Canizal was first told by a Spanish commissioning editor that his project about Chilean children in revolt, “Cruzando,” would need a Spanish element added to the story. “You have to add a link with Spain,” said Andres Luque Perez from TVE. Then he was told by a French commissioner that it would have to have a French element. “We would need a character with a French dimension,” said Sandrine Delegiewicz of Planete+. No doubt if the Finnish commissioner, Pentti Valiahdet of YLE, had been asked… well, you get the picture.

Ironically, at a time when broadcasters are demanding that the programs they commission should have a local angle, they are increasingly looking to co-produce with international partners as their budgets have been cut. “Many pathways for documentaries have been closed,” said Jordi Ambros Hortensi of Catalonia’s TV3.

Their budget are further constrained, they reported, because they now have to pay for a raft of online content.

Changes in the market are also affecting the commissioners’ decisionmaking. Chello Multicanal, for example, is increasingly dependent on advertising, so ratings are of great importance. This leads them to “inject a greater degree of entertainment” into their documentaries, said Ramon Verdet. “We want to do this, but do it responsibly and avoid superficiality,” he said.
The channel was now after shows with positive, uplifting stories, he said. “We are uncomfortable about just looking at the bad things in life,” he said.

But despite the tough environment for documentaries, there were no shortage of high caliber projects being pitched at the Forum. Two of note were “Dali, Lacroix… Au Dela de l’Objectif,” which uses freshly uncovered photos and recordings of Salvador Dali, and “Oleg,” about another eccentric, Russian composer Oleg Karavaichuk (pictured).

The Dali project in particular got the commissioners salivating. Ali Delici of Arte France wanted it to look at the artist’s creative process, while Hortensi at TV3 wanted it to show Dali as a normal person.

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