The RTBF at Sunny Side

Questions to Marc Bouvier, Head of the Documentary Department – RTBF

This year at Sunny Side RTBF will be giving an award in the form of a pre-buy for a project presented during the pitching sessions.

Questions to Marc Bouvier, Head of the Documentary Department – RTBF


What sort of projects are you looking for at Sunny Side?

Marc Bouvier: You need to make a difference between coproductions and acquisitions and pre-sales.

For coproductions one thing is essential, you must have a footing in Belgium. Either editorially (if it is a subject which concerns Belgium in any way, from a historical, sociological, cultural, political, topical, or any other point of view), or industrially, with filming, editing, post-production, graphics, etc., taking place in Belgium in part or in full. Obviously if the two criteria (editorial and industrial) are combined in the project, it is a must… If the authors are Belgian that also comes into play, but it is far from being the only criterion. Priority is given to the project above all.

In acquisitions or pre-buys, I have to respect the logic of the schedule. And here we are clearly talking of “slots” and “genres”.

I am mainly looking for subjects on society, but which speak to our audience: the issues must be close to them, or at least known to them. This means that a subject on, and this is off the top of my head, the spread of AIDS in emerging countries would come across better than a one on fighting malaria.

I am very sensitive to current affairs: anything concerning the news, whether it is predicted (elections, commemorations…) or unpredicted (all types of events in the headlines, the death of a personality…)

I am also looking for investigations, at a local level (police investigations, general interest stories…) and an international level (major investigations into significant events).

Apart from these three areas, society, current affairs and investigation, I frequently take historical subjects, but mainly (but not only) contemporary history from the 20th century to today.

I also regularly buy animal/nature/environment documentaries, as long as they are not dealt with from a scientific angle.

I can also tell you what I will absolutely not buy: scientific documentaries (including human sciences), and “auteur” documentaries, simply because for us auteur films fall under coproductions, which are mainly, but not exclusively, focussed on encouraging creative projects of Belgian authors.

Are you looking to sign more for pre-buys or acquisitions?

Marc Bouvier: I am clearly not looking for pre-buys. We have an active coproduction policy, with around 50 a year, which is a lot for a small structure like ours. Our real documentary identity is our coproductions. Acquisitions are a more “pragmatic” way of going about things: the programmes must correspond to the line dictated by the channels, who I represent for the documentary slots. Why would I take the risk of buying documentaries on paper which might not, at the end of the day, correspond to the objective stated at the outset? The only thing that would encourage me to make a pre-buy would be to have a contractual agreement for a priority to broadcast before the big channels watched by Belgian viewers, when the project is announced as being slated for a prime-time broadcast on France 2 or France 3, for instance.

This year at Sunny Side RTBF will be giving an award in the form of a pre-buy for a project presented in the Docs in Progress section. Can you explain your pre-buy policy to give producers and idea of your commitment?

Marc Bouvier: My propriety will be for a project which is original, above all, because there is massive supply of documentaries, and buyers, who are constantly exploring the market, are more aware of the competition than producers or authors themselves. It is rare that a good idea is alone in the marketplace. Then I will look at the completion bond: the project must be ambitious but realistic. It must also stand up over time so that it is not obsolete when it is released. Financially our commitment is not massive: as it is a special prize we are talking of €7 000 to €8 000 for a 52’ or between €10 000 and €12 000 for a 90’. But my average purchase price is €100 per minute. We offer a lot more, however, for coproductions.

Which slots are earmarked for documentaries on your channel? What sort of documentaries are shown?

Marc Bouvier: We have three weekly slots on La Une (our premium channel) after 10 p.m., and one on Sundays afternoons. One weekly slot, prime time, on La Deux and many more (repeat broadcast) on La Trois. We also have a certain number of magazine slots, some of which are in prime-time. The boundary between “documentaries” and “magazines” is increasingly blurred, and not only at the RTBF.

All the documentaries on La Une are systematically repeated on La Trois, which is a more cultural channel, and often in prime-time.

The offering is very diverse, from auteur documentaries to international mega-productions, from geopolitical investigation to society, news, current affairs, animal/nature matters, heritage, history, biographies… I don’t know where to look!

How many hours of documentaries does the RTBF broadcast?

Marc Bouvier: For first showing, it is simple, around 200 hours a year.

For repeats, on our three channels, it is more difficult to calculate, but I would estimate around 1 000 hours a year.