21 - 24 JUNE 2021 / EDITION N°32


Sunny Side of the Doc

COMMUNITY VOICES – Episode 3 feat. Fabrice Puchault, Arte France

We may be living through times of unprecedented change, but in uncertainty lies the power to influence the future of storytelling.
Now is not the time to despair, but to act and interact!

Please introduce yourself in a few words. What’s your current position? What is your company main activity?

Fabrice Puchault, head of Society and Culture department at Arte France.

I’m in charge of the Society & Culture department at Arte France. The department is in charge of documentary slots, whose themes range from:

  • Investigative (90’- 2×52’),
  • History (90’ or mini-series),
  • Society (52’),
  • Geopolitics (52’),
  • as well as the channel’s Wednesday night Culture slot (52’, which is more orientated towards literature. Cinema, plastic arts, performing arts, music and biographies feature in other slots).
  • There are also our “Grands Formats” (90’ in-depth programmes by auteurs),
  • and last but not least, La Lucarne featuring documentary experiences with an off-kilter narrative that are 52’ and longer.

For these slots we co-produce and pre-purchase about 85 to 90 films a year.

Not only is Arte a European channel, but it’s a global one too. It is committed to supporting different voices and opinions, offering a unique and complex vision of the world. Our programmes must show strong voices, must take a step back and also take things slow.

Arte is the channel which says no to the deadly increase in constant information overload. Documentary is a slow affair, but one which undoubtedly enables us to better understand and report on upheavals in this ever-changing world. We’re looking to develop a roster of films that can find their place in society, leave an impact on viewers, and “complexify” narrow-minded, restricted views of the world.

We try and show the diversity in our societies, from cultural, ethnic, gender and, of course, class diversity – the latter of which is often overlooked.

Documentary film producers, broadcasters and distributors are currently facing a period of uncertainty due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which has had an impact on film productions all across the world.
What is the impact on your work and what avenues are you exploring to ensure as many documentary productions as possible go ahead during this unprecedented crisis?

I can’t speak for producers or distributors. The situation is certainly very complex, even extremely brutal for some. As far as we are concerned, the impact was immediate. We had to ensure continuity on air even though lots of films that had gone into production over the past few months suddenly saw their filming stopped.

With this in mind, we have shared interests with the rest of the industry (writers, directors, producers and distributors), and it was absolutely necessary to carry on working. Our commitment to making programmes had to – and must – continue, we mustn’t stop green-lighting co-productions and pre-purchases. This is what Arte has managed to do: projects are assessed, meetings are taking place, contracts are being signed and films are launched – exactly at the same pace as in previous years.

Practically speaking, it has been rather difficult to adapt to this “new” world we’re living in, one where everything is “at a distance” and with a few setbacks, but the projects we’ve invested in haven’t been put on hold. On top of this, we have in fact decided to develop further the ensemble of the department’s slots, and thus take on more projects than usual. And of course, our commitment to international co-productions continues.


Have you identified any new opportunities – such as online solutions – for pioneering and creating new factual content during this ever-changing time?

We’re already seeing many articles popping up detailing what films of the future and “new forms” will be like. We receive projects which focus on very nice storytelling – this is the new writing style for documentaries and factual content….But seriously, are they for real? This is simply what sales agents are telling us… Those who are very agile push projects that ultimately we’ve all seen before, on the grounds that interviews are done via Skype or FaceTime, and that the film crew will be “managed” remotely (and sometimes they’ll even tell you that this is a new kind of collaborative writing…. I mean, seriously!?!?). I find it hard to believe in this marketing of confinement audiovisual media. We’re also going to see UGC-based projects popping up again… and why not? So nothing really new then.

But yes, we’ve had to and we’ll have to adapt. Of course interviews are being conducted via Skype rather than filming them abroad. Collaborations will increasingly take place locally, in the hope that these local collaborations shall bring “decentred” points of views and complexify our vision on the world – which is always beneficial. Obviously we’re going to see films made by two people (or more) appear more often. This change might bring about new styles. But it’s definitely too early to analyse these trends and come up with the slightest model. In this instance, the models will only be marketing. Just because you have to adapt technically shouldn’t mean it’s the new way of doing things in the future. It’s too early to tell, but we’ll see.

I’m also concerned by a sort of negative effect… seeing as though you can conduct an interview by Skype, why bother filming abroad? It’s as if being there in person, the presence between the person filming and what or who is being filmed has zero importance. It’s as if that moment when you capture reality on film rather than simply using a simple electronic signal for communicating is insignificant. I’m concerned about the economic backlash: what’s the point of taking the financial risk for the inherent tension that comes when people meet when you can simply make do with a digital trace? We could be dealing with a world full of flatlines and communication signals, and not one with people-led forms.

I simply urge a certain amount of vigilance, because there will be intense pressure on production costs in the future. In all likelihood, are we going to have to control these sound and image broadcasting methods, and improve them, distort them, bend them to exploit their creative potential. It’s a learning process to be had. Perhaps it’s an opportunity to enrich style and new possibilities for documentary narratives. In any case, nothing will play out in the short term of these few months, but indeed rather as a sum of the experiences to come.

In what ways have your international acquisitions and/or co-production strategies evolved in light of the current situation?
How can Sunny Side of the Doc international marketplace help make you even stronger after this crisis?

Sunny Side of the Doc is essential for meeting people, exchanging, sharing, and sometimes confronting ideas. This time round it will take place remotely, more often than not from where we are teleworking. It’s such a shame because La Rochelle is beautiful in June with its mild summer evenings. However, these meetings will be the opportunity to take stock – not only of our adaptation strategies and methods, and not only to discuss projects, but also, why not ask questions about the relevance of our stories.

What shall become of the documentary narrative – should it reflect reality or bear a message? What place do international co-productions hold in a world “withdrawn” into itself? Sharing our experiences of international co-productions and perhaps highlighting just how essential they can be in a world where multilateralism and openness are under attack.

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