Digital Innovation Meets Old Fashioned Storytelling at Unifrance TV Doc Pitch
If the six projects presented at a recent TV documentary pitch session held at the Unifrance Rendez-Vous in Paris share relatively few thematic or stylistic points in common, when taken as a whole, the diverse titles relay two incontrovertible truths: While advances in filmmaking technology now offer industry creatives unprecedented freedoms, when it comes to hooking the audience, nothing beats a good story well told.
Three of the six projects presented at the Rendez-Vous forum reflect the format’s growing technological trends. To offer competing visions of the future, Mad Films/Camera Subjective’s speculative science-fiction project “2080” will use CGI, motion capture and some of the digital production techniques pioneered by Disney’s “The Mandalorian,” whereas to open a window into the past, France Televisions/Program33’s historical doc “The Joan of Arc Case” will use detailed digital recreations of 15th-century France.
On a similar front, the four-episode edutainment project “Science in Archeology 3.0,” directed by Alexandra Barbot and Stéphane Jacques, produced by Roche Productions, and handled internationally by Lucky You, looks to employ recent advances in digital mapping, photogrammetry, and scanning techniques to recreate digital models of the ancient world. At the pitch presentation, co-director Alexandra Barbot likened the digital recreations to “entering Ali Baba’s cave,” arguing that these new model could rekindle that same spark of discovery that lit up so many young imaginations.
Due for delivery in 2023, the four-part series will use these new technological assets to track shipwrecks embedded deep on the ocean’s floor, recreate the Cro-Magnon diet and explore daily life in Pompeii and Herculaneum.
Introducing the next pitch project, the dual-installment doc “For the Love of Sharks” (pictured up top), France TV sales chief Julia Schulte argued that in some cases, spectacle wasn’t enough. “More than ever we need emotional stories [alongside] fantastic images to make people aware of environmental issues,” Schulte said.
As the project’s title would suggest, the two-part wildlife doc, produced by Bonne Pioche (“March of the Penguins”), directed by Pauline Lietar and Frédéric Febvre, and sold by France TV, aims to break the global indifference to the 100,000 sharks killed every year. When it came to assigning blame, Bonne Pioche producer Alexadre Soullier had a single culprit in mind.
“In 1975 a single film changed everything in our relationship with this animal,” said Soullier. “Since [‘Jaws’], we’ve been taught to fear sharks. So our idea with this film is to use the same weapon, to use the great power and emotion of cinema to destroy this misunderstanding between two species and to build a new relationship for the future.”
To do so, the film will center around three specific “characters” – one a hammerhead, one a great white, and one a whale shark – emphasizing their roles as mothers and caregivers as they migrate across the Galapagos. “These ladies are not killing machines,” said Soullier. “We think that maternity is the most powerful tool, the most universal, to create bonds and emotions with the viewers.”
Directed by Eric Michel, produced by French Connection Films and Climage Audiovisual, and sold by Beliane, the historical doc “The Roessler Mystery” will also employ certain Hollywood tools, charging forward as a slick and fast paced spy thriller that tells the story of the Red Three – a Switzerland-based Soviet intelligence ring that helped topple the Third Reich.
As the film tracks the various players – including a devout German Christian, a Jewish-Hungarian Communist, two Nazi secretaries and a Milanese train conductor – that helped supply Moscow with a steady stream of classified Wehrmacht intelligence, it will do so with a “modern visual style and fast paced storyline” to appeal to younger sensibilities.
“It’s a suspenseful, emotional story,” said French Connection’s Jake Day, who touted the project’s access to “incredible archives” and “the best graphic artists capable of creating the most incredible maps and designs, which we will dutifully illustrate and animate.”
Last but not least was “Nature’s Table,” an eight episode series created by Benjamin G. Hewett and Candice Odgers and produced by Trace Studios that will offer a spin on the culinary, nature and travel doc format as it takes viewers into the kitchens of eight African chefs living and working in remote locations.
As the program explores modern gastronomy through the likes of chefs Jan Hendrik Van Der Westhuizen, Siya Kobo and Kobus van der Merwe, it will also evoke the natural landscapes that inspire each chef and cuisine. Proposed locations include the coast, the desert, the savannah, the wetlands and the jungle.
Touting the “magnificent wildlife, world-class cuisine and cultural diversity” that inspire each episode, Trace’s Solene Mbango underscored the project’s narrative ambitions. “Viewers will have the opportunity to travel,” Mbango said. “Whether elephants wade into food stores or annual rains flood the camp or restaurant site, guests expect a five-star service. So these chefs have learned to adapt and to live off the land – all while protecting nature.”
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