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When Mathieu Béjot starting work on this year’s edition of Sunny Doc of the Doc – a La Rochelle-based marketplace for documentary and factual content that runs from June 22-25 – his guiding principle was continuity.

Stepping into a role closely associated with doc world veteran Yves Jeanneau – who co-founded Sunny Side in 1989 and oversaw it until his passing in November 2019 – Béjot intended, above all else, to make the June event feel of a piece with the thirty versions that preceded it.  Only, things did not exactly go as planned.

“Obviously, our plans changed mid-March,” says Béjot, who served as executive director of TV France International from 2000 to 2018 and joined Sunny Side with the newly created title of Director of Strategy and Development.

“Moving online forced us to rethink [our programing and the way we presented it]. We had to become more hands-on in assuring concrete takeaways for our participants, because we know that time is of a premium. We wanted to shy away from panels that were too broad in scope, and we had to streamline.”

Dubbed the Sunny Side of the Doc: the Connected Edition, this streamlined, online event will host four days of workshops, case-studies, and networking sessions, along with a number of market premieres such as the Arte- produced “Louis XIV and the Battle for Luxury” and the all-too-timely “COVID-19: Battling the Devil,” presented by the China Intercontinental Communication Center (CICC).

As in previous editions, a genre-spanning pitch session will bolster this year’s proceedings. Encompassing formats like history, science, social issues, arts and culture, wildlife and digital experiences, the forum will host 42 original projects with pre-recorded pitches that will air twice a day to better accommodate European and North American participants.

“This is really part of our DNA,” Béjot explains. “When we started thinking about going online and deciding what would be relevant, the first thing that came to mind was the pitch session.”

Covering projects from 17 countries, the year’s pitch session saw a record number of submissions, up 60% from 2019. Béjot credits both internal and external factors to account for such a substantial increase.

For one thing, Sunny Side has actively courted new talent over the past few years, relying on the European festival network to connect with Eastern and Central European producers that were previously out of reach; for another, the event recently altered its submission process, allowing prospective pitch projects to submit their application without having to pay the registration fee.

Of course, a certain health crisis might have also played a role. “With the impact of the pandemic, people realized that they really needed exposure,” says Béjot. “They needed to reach out to decision makers because they weren’t able to see them in the usual spots like Cannes.”

Going forward, Sunny Side will continue its outreach initiatives in Eastern and Central Europe, and plans to relaunch Asian Side of the Doc, its Southeast Asian arm that has been dormant since 2018.

“One of the reasons the festival was interested in me [was due to my experience in Asia],” adds Béjot, who served as a cultural attaché to the French embassies in Japan and Hong Kong.  “We’re still speaking with our partners, but we do hope to rekindle Asian Side of the Doc in China – if perhaps as a digital edition before a physical one.”

On that front, the future is clear. “We know that an online presence will certainly be necessary next year,” he continues. “Like most events that have gone online, we’ve realized that doing so could expand our reach. If for whatever reason – be it timing or logistics — someone could not make it to La Rochelle, we will remain accessible to them. Expanding our presence means maintaining some online elements.”

“And if you had asked me three months ago,” he reflects, “I would have never expected to say that.”

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Sunny Side of the Doc © Jean-François Augé / StudioOuest.com