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What's the climate like for docs?

05 August 2010

Four documentary commissioning editors gave their verdict on the state of docs at Televisual’s Intelligent Factual Festival last month. Surprisingly, they were uniformly upbeat, despite the downturn. Here's what they had to say:

Simon Dickson
Channel 4, deputy head of documentaries
We’re feeling incredibly buoyant about docs at Channel 4 and I think the BBC has got every right to feel pretty buoyant as well in many ways. It’s a golden age for docs. There are different ways of making them, there are different ways of getting them to the audience and there are different ways of funding them. As well as the special BAFTA winning singles that everybody loves that make a splash, we’re doing bigger, longer runs of more dynamic and innovative series than I can ever remember doing before. I would say that there’s no need for doom or gloom.  I think quite the opposite is true and docs are in rude health.

Emma Willis
BBC, commissioning executive for documentaries
I genuinely believe that this is a really amazing time for docs and it’s no coincidence, because we are probably living in the most interesting time in Britain since Thatcher. Frankly, it would be pretty grim if we couldn't attend to it and interrogate it. There’s so much to interrogate – the welfare state’s collapsing and the reason people are coming to real stories, unmediated, is that they’re living it, and they want to know a little bit more about it and put it in context. There are two things going on: people want to see themselves, like in C4’s One Born Every Minute, and they want to see other worlds like BBC2’s Welcome to Lagos. You can have both.

Anna Miralis
More 4 / True Stories, commissioning editor
True Stories is a strand that showcases the best films from around the world. I think digital television has provided a platform for those films to exist. We commission 40 films a year for True Stories and I think it would be difficult to imagine that they would exist on a terrestrial broadcaster, so I think digital has grown that opportunity. The platforms have created a new market. In terms of the content, it’s fantastic. I’m extremely optimistic. We can find those 40 films quite easily. There are just so many films out there, and we can give viewers a chance to experience those documentaries.

Lina Prestwood
Current TV, director of content
We’ve basically opened up the whole channel to new filmmakers. As well as the very esoteric passion projects that are normally associated with first time filmmakers, we’re encouraging people to come to us with format ideas and series. I would love to have a returnable format on the channel. I see Current as a real stepping stone. I don’t see our channel necessarily as a massive contender for the larger channels. It would be foolish to think that, but I strongly believe we exist to kind of give new television producers a slice of the broadcast pie that they may not have had before. That’s important for creating diversity within the industry.

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