“Influence on social and political debates should not be the only purpose of documentaries”
Industry Report: Documentary
Jean-Baptiste Fribourg • Producer, La Société des Apaches
Interview with Jean-Baptiste Fribourg, producer for French company La Société des Apaches and selected for the 2020 Emerging Producers programme
Why do you produce documentaries? Do you understand documentary film as an instrument of social and political change?
Jean-Baptiste Fribourg: I think documentary offers a priceless freedom for artists who want to absorb reality and suggest their own visions, both in terms of style and content. It is a very malleable genre, for example in my company La Société des Apaches, we are more and more curious about hybrid formats that can blur boundaries between fiction and/or the arts. Of course, a documentary can have an influence on social and political debates, but it should not be its only purpose. On this subject, I’m a bit worried to see that it starts to be an obligation now. What about filmmakers who consider that their films should not carry the (heavy) mission of changing the world? I have to confess that I am a bit doubtful about the new trend of “impact producing”. I have the feeling that it is actually the final victory of storytelling: it is not only required that your film is written with the storytelling ingredients (powerful dramaturgy, strong character…), but the production process too! Is there still space for documentaries that would free themselves from these narrative obligations?
What qualities should a documentary producer have these days?
I would say tenacity and daring. Tenacity because it is getting harder to produce documentaries, especially creative ones. Facing these difficulties, daring is the best way to keep doing this job with pleasure: daring in the artistic commitments of our films, daring in the set-ups we can imagine to produce them, daring in the ways we can organize ourselves, producers and directors, united in the same destiny.
What do you think is the future of distribution of documentary films?
Platforms definitely offer new opportunities, especially when they are well curated and involved in the pre-financing of new films (I am referring to TËNK, a France-based platform dedicated to creative documentaries, now expanding to new countries). However, from my perspective, I cannot forget the emotional and political richness of a collective experience such as a public screening. We should never give up this possibility for presenting our films.
What projects do you have under way (including in the area of fiction film and other projects)?
We are now finishing a documentary called After Work, about two old factories in France facing each other, whose different stories portray a world of work in a state of flux (one being restored for freelance workers, the other embodying an industrial world in dire straits). Our next films in 2020 will tell the VHS saga of a former utopian restaurant in San Francisco; how French police approaches law enforcement; the fate of a self-managed village in France; the portrait of an amazing illegal Mexican DJ in Los Angeles…
Emerging Producers is a promotional and educational project, which brings together talented European documentary film producers. The programme is organised and curated by the Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival.
Deadline for applications to the Emerging Producers 2021 edition is 15 March, 2020.
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