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The full length documentary “Les pépites” will be released October 5, 2016. Its producer, Bonne Pioche (France), offers to the public a special screening, introduced by Xavier de Lauzanne, its director, as part of Grand Ecran Programming, on June 22 (10.00 pm). Interview with Xavier de Lauzanne, director, and Yves Darondeau, producer.

 

 

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Question: How did you become aware of the subject and why did you explore it?

Xavier de Lauzanne: I met Christian and Marie-France, who founded the school, 15 years ago in Cambodia. At the time I was working on training projects in catering. I was interested in video film, and they asked me to make a film for them. After this we kept in touch. As the years went by, I saw their project grow into one of the most recognised institutions in Cambodia, and I wanted to tell this outstanding story. Above all, I wanted to show a chain of events starting with the encounter of a man and woman and leading to the creation of an amazing human project.

Yves Darondeau: One day Patrice Leconte told me that for a number of years he had been a patron of an extraordinary school in Cambodia. The school was built up by a French couple over some 20 or so years, to help thousands of children whose only means of survival was foraging in an open rubbish dump in Phnom Penh… He told me about the origins of the school and the incredible story of Christian and Marie-France, the French couple who started it. When they retired they dropped everything in France to devote themselves to this project. They started from nothing in 1993, building a little hut which could give a few meals to the children. Today, they have managed to develop a genuine campus, and in just a few years have provided for almost 10 000 children… Patrice introduced me to Xavier de Lauzanne who had already started developing the idea of making a film with Aloest. They were looking for a coproducer to make a cinema film.

Once we had read Xavier de Lauzanne’s outline of this incredible project we were immediately carried away by this story, which has proved to be an amazing human story. The idea behind the project was clear and ambitious, with footage which had been shot over more than 20 years. As far as we were concerned, it held the promise of a wonderful cinema film, based on humanistic and universal values. A film which makes the world progress!

 Once we had read Xavier de Lauzanne’s outline of this incredible project we were immediately carried away by this story, which has proved to be an amazing human story.

Question: As a director, what (financial, logistical, etc.) difficulties have you encountered in setting up projects like yours?

Xavier de Lauzanne: With documentaries I like to tell stories, life experiences, stemming from the people I come across and who I am. I think that the main difficulty is meeting people in broadcasting companies and finance committees that I would like to share projects with, without being limited to writing. Even though you may have a strong subject, it is possible that the written presentation does not fully correspond to the expectations of the people reading it. In this case, most of the time, the baby is thrown out with the the bath water, without there being any discussions. I can understand this being the case for fiction, where the basis is the script, but for a creative documentary, particularly on a social subject, which is a window on the world and which is built without dialogues but with the progress, the questioning and the constant development of the people you are filming, it is not very healthy to force onto this reality a totally preconceived vision based on the certain people’s codes. Using pictures to serve an idea, capturing and interpreting the unexpected, allowing yourself to be carried away while still keeping control of the subject, acting with sensitivity, working with the subtleties of the characters… are all notions which cannot just be measured by a simple turn of phrase. We should be allowed the opportunity to defend our projects by speaking to a jury. Meeting the director, knowing their background, their vision, their consistency, seeing the fire in their belly, understanding their emotions, should all be as important as a written presentation. But unless you have a “name”, this discussion often seems impossible and, most of the time, I find myself facing a closed door. So I have learned to get by on my own. I have set up a production company with a friend of mine, Aloest productions, and we have made institutional films enabling us to self-finance most of my projects. There are some films where I was all by myself on the shoot, others where I did the editing by myself, and for the theatrical release of my first documentary feature, “D’une seule voix”, we set up our own distribution arm… All this was an education for me, but this independence has its limits when you are looking at bigger-scale films. That is why I wanted to work with another producer for my latest film, “Les Pépites”. After a lot of work I was lucky to meet Yves Darondeau, from Bonne Pioche cinéma, who was immediately won over by the project. This collaboration is new to me and has proved extremely enriching, as much in terms of discussing the development of the film, the notoriety for the project, as the consideration it brings to my work.

Meeting the director, knowing their background, their vision, their consistency, seeing the fire in their belly, understanding their emotions, should all be as important as a written presentation.

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Question: As a documentary producer, which factors made you want to become involved in producing a film like this?

Yves Darondeau: Even though a few rare documentaries have a good success in France, a large majority of films released in theatres don’t find their audiences. This is also due to a lack of investment in production and/or marketing on release. The economics of the documentary is delicate. The leading TV or theatrical partners rarely count the documentary as a priority in comparison to fiction. Producing a film is a struggle in itself, but producing one is more than a struggle – it’s a vocation. When you decide to produce a documentary for the cinema, you have to combine at least two essential qualities: a subject which explores a strong, emotional, story (which is a basic for a big-screen film in my opinion) and a clear and ambitious point of view of the director. We think that it is very important to a fairly clear vision of the target audience; our ambition is (almost) always to address the broadest audience possible. And, of course, the human relationship with the director was also essential: going off on the production of a documentary film is like setting off to row across the Atlantic!! You have to stick together come what may…

Question: “Les Pépites” is distributed by Rezo on October, 5. Did you think of a theatrical release for this film at the outset or was it something that came as you were writing it?

Yves Darondeau: 10 years ago, Xavier de Lauzanne made a 52’ film on the subject which was broadcast on France 5. The story was so powerful that it lent itself totally to the cinema. Xavier wanted to show it in a way which was adapted to the big screen. “Les Pépites” was conceived for the cinema. Sharing emotions with an audience, in a theatre, is always much stronger than all by yourself in front of the television. This is how Xavier perceived his film and made it with that in mind.

He spent several weeks shooting in Phnom Penh with the technical facilities which would enable him to make very cinematographic sequences. Once these sequences were edited alongside the shots of children taken 20 years ago it brought to light their incredible story and takes us on an emotional and optimistic journey into their future.

Xavier de Lauzanne: This film has all the ingredients needed for a cinema film. An epic story, an aesthetic, characters, twists and turns, intensity… but above all a big emotional potential. The sensory language was a choice from the beginning. As for the shoot, I also used “cinema” facilities. With DV quality archive footage, I decided to shoot in 4K with heavy equipment (dollies, cranes, steadycams, drones, etc.), which is fairly rare for a social documentary. The idea was to juxtapose the past and the present with two very different picture types, in a 2.35 format which is particularly suitable for “wide horizons”. With this contrasting content, I wanted to have ambitious production values to match the work taking shape before our eyes. With the pupils I also had access to thousands of extras for some scenes, which was exceptional. As for the form, I like to serve the viewers and avoid it being pretentious and getting in the way. For this sort of project where “humanity” is at the heart of the narrative, truth and sincerity are immensely important and contribute to the deep feelings felt by audiences. What really counts in the cinema is emotion, as long as it is not “milked” and over-naïve. In a complex narrative, with some very demanding images and accounts, my biggest challenge was to give the illusion of simplicity.

With DV quality archive footage, I decided to shoot in 4K with heavy equipment (dollies, cranes, steadycams, drones, etc.), which is fairly rare for a social documentary. The idea was to juxtapose the past and the present with two very different picture types, in a 2.35 format which is particularly suitable for “wide horizons”.

 

LESPEPITES-resizedQuestion: Your film is being premiered in the Grand Ecran at Sunny Side of the Doc. What does this market mean for Bonne Pioche and Aloest?

Yves Darondeau: We have been coming to the market for several years already. The biggest volume of Bonne Pioche’s documentary production is made for television, not forgetting that Bonne Pioche produces between 30 and 40 hours of documentaries a year. Our idea is to make documentaries for the international market and to do this we have to go out meet and discuss with foreign producers and broadcasters, to understand their expectations and their knowhow in different territories. Sunny Side is an unmissable event in the international documentary calendar. This year, with the première screening of “Les Pépites”, it will also be an opportunity to show French and foreign broadcasters a film that will take them on a journey. Sales are handled by Lucky You.

 

This year, with the première screening of “Les Pépites”, it will also be an opportunity to show French and foreign broadcasters a film that will take them on a journey. Sales are handled by Lucky You.

Question: What trends can you see emerging in documentary coproduction? Is it possible to say that some territories are more fertile than others, or is it just a question of meeting the right people or the right projects?

Yves Darondeau: Up until recently, the coproductions we have had with foreign companies have often been linked to projects and encounters, and also to the country the shoot was in or the nationality of the director. In the past we have coproduced with the US, Brazil and Canada, all of which are countries we have filmed in. We have also coproduced with the UK, for a film directed and conceived by a UK producer, but which was shot in Japan.

Canada and Brazil have also been particularly interesting for coproductions in terms of the financing structures in place in these territories.

We have also benefited from significant financial support from Peru, where we shot “Il était une Forêt” by Luc Jacquet. The same applied to equipment and human resources from Sourire Prod in Cambodia to make “Les Pépites” by Xavier de Lauzanne. These coproductions were always beneficial to close the financing of these films, but each coproducing country country naturally retains the exhibitions rights for its own territory. The difficulty in coproducing always lies in the financial balance you have to find between the spending obligations in the territory, granting rights to the territory and the net contribution that remains at the end of the production. The administrative red tape for a coproduction can also sometimes generate extra costs in some areas. But in all cases, these coproduction agreements have enabled us to bring into existence films that we would not have been able to make with French finance alone.

 

Question: What is your point of view on new screening formats (SVOD and other platforms)?

Xavier de Lauzanne: I’m often asked: “Where can we see your documentaries?”. New screening platforms are obviously welcome as an extension to the original circulation of our films. It’s already a big step. But unfortunately they do not solve the question of funding or the identification of a film. A film which has not had any visibility on TV, or with its theatrical release, will probably not stand out on these new platforms. Defending the documentary, directors and their diversity must correspond to a choice against wind and high waters. What we need is people who will fight alongside us to enable us to create.

New SOVD platforms can attract very niche audiences, and will enable these singular films to be more widely circulated. They can provide international exploitation and can be involved in financing with significant offers. In my opinion, it is totally complementary to traditional media, and this represents an extra source of earnings. This can be beneficial for the diversity of the documentary genre and will probably lead to developments in these formats.

Yves Darondeau: I think that it is an interesting opportunity for films which have a singular style of writing or which explore subjects for a very targeted audience. Traditional media, such as the TV, often try to bring in a broad audience, which naturally leads us to propose films with consensual subjects or writing. New SOVD platforms can attract very niche audiences, and will enable these singular films to be more widely circulated. They can provide international exploitation and can be involved in financing with significant offers. In my opinion, it is totally complementary to traditional media, and this represents an extra source of earnings. This can be beneficial for the diversity of the documentary genre and will probably lead to developments in these formats.