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Factual Festival: doc commissioners call for authenticity

Factual Festival: doc commissioners call for authenticity
Tim Dams
25 October 2012

Britain’s leading documentary commissioners said today that the era of manipulation and heavily formatted shows is over, and that they are looking for authentic programmes that reflect peoples’ lives today.

Speaking at Televisual's Factual Festival, Celia Taylor, head of factual and features at Sky1HD, said that commissioners were looking to move the documentary genre on. She said she felt “slightly jaded” at any evidence of the “hand of the producer” to manipulate shows.

Charlotte Moore, head of documentaries at the BBC, said viewers no longer wanted to feel manipulated and that they are after storytelling that reflects back on their own lives. “People are quite hungry for authenticity and raw immediacy,” she said, citing docs like Our War and The Secret History of Our Streets.

ITV head of popular factual Jo Clinton-Davies picked out the Up series as an example of viewer appetite for truthful, quality documentaries that has been evident for over 50 years, most recently in 56 Up.  “The innovative thing about that programme was its internal truth. When you push the documentary form you have got to make sure it complements and enhances the content."

C4’s deputy head of documentaries Nick Mirsky said that advances in technology were helping to bring documentaries “closer to real life”, citing rig shows such as 24 Hours in A&E, The Family and One Born Every Minute. “Technology and imagination can take us closer and closer to human experience,” he said.

The commissioners said it was a good time for documentaries, with plenty of opportunities to push the form even further.

The BBC’s Charlotte Moore said documentaries on the BBC were about trying to “peel back layers of contemporary society and find new ways of telling how we live now. The really key thing for me is trying to find distinctive ways in.”

ITV’s Clinton-Davies said that is important for documentaries on ITV1 to be “stories of our time that have breadth, range and scale and crucially for ITV1 an emotional heart.” She cited Long Lost Family as a good example of a show that is working well for the broadcaster.

C4’s Mirsky said that tone was important for Channel 4, and that docs should be  “entertaining and immediate and make the audience feel like have been dropped into the experience.”

Sky’s Taylor pointed to the huge increase in Sky’s commissioning of documentaries, across Sky1, Sky Living, Sky Atlantic and Sky Arts.  After showing a reel of Sky’s recent documentary content, she said:  “Two or three years ago you wouldn’t have seen such an amazing reel. It’s a real step change. I can sit here comfortably with other terrestrial commissioners and have same level of content.”

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