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Paul Pauwels • Director, European Documentary Network

"A good story is a good story, whether it's told in a factual form or as a fiction story"

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- European Documentary Network director Paul Pauwels talks to us about the organisation and its new Media & Society initiative

Paul Pauwels • Director, European Documentary Network

Now in full swing, the Media & Society: European Documentary in a Changing Media Landscape initiative sees the European Documentary Network (EDN) invite all professionals working in documentary and related fields to give their opinion on the current situation of the profession, in order to support and help develop the European documentary sector. EDN director Paul Pauwels told us more about it. 

(The article continues below - Commercial information)

Cineuropa: What made EDN start up the Media & Society initiative?
Paul Pauwels:
For 20 years, EDN has been supporting the European documentary sector, and I dare say that we have done this very successfully. However, digital technology has allowed new players to enter the market, and this has turned the power structures within the media environment around. The result is that the "old" business model has been disrupted; the model that for decades has allowed independent documentary producers and directors to contribute in a significant way to the European media landscape. Increasingly, we have noticed that the model that worked so well in the past is now being challenged, and the position of the independent creative documentary is under pressure. This is happening at a time when the media's influence on the audience's thoughts, values and behaviour is stronger than ever. We are experiencing a paradigm shift that forces us to reflect on how to protect the position of the independent documentary in a global, mediatised society. EDN is not impervious to this challenge: we, too, have to think about the needs of our community and how best to serve it. We are convinced that we can only successfully protect the interests of the independent European documentary community if we have accurate facts and figures at our disposal, something that our community has never been good at providing. Taking stock of the current situation of the European documentary environment and preparing to defend its position within the European audiovisual landscape are what made us decide to launch Media & Society.

What are the main objectives of the initiative?
We need transparency and solid industry data. Through fact-finding and information gathering, followed by an analysis and discussion phase that will result in formulating conclusions, recommendations and strategy proposals in a Policy Document (a White Book) that will be presented to the decision and policy makers on a European level, we aim to contribute to the development of a European media policy that also works at the national level and that acknowledges the important role that the independent documentary sector plays in informing, sensitising, entertaining and (yes, why not) educating the audience; to support the development of a policy that contributes to a healthy and open development, financing, producing, broadcasting and distribution system that will have a positive impact on the society it serves; and to be a key factor in enhancing the European independent production sector, enabling its development into a sustainable industry in which economic and cultural success go hand in hand with societal importance.

The documentary film industry has always been at a disadvantage in relation to the fiction film industry. Is this all in the past now?
I think it should be. The boundary between fiction and documentary is becoming blurry. Hybrid formats are on the rise, and digital technology is changing the rules of storytelling, production and distribution, both in fiction and documentary. Many fiction films use documentary techniques and styles, and many documentary budgets come close to those of fiction films. We should stop the competition between both genres and join forces in creating a European production output that has the potential to reach the audience and that has the potential to travel internationally. A good story is a good story, whether it's told in a factual form or as a fiction story. In the past, the documentary world has been too passive in defending its interests and in convincing the audience that factual content can be as strong and appealing as fiction. A new generation of filmmakers has understood this, and this is actually a very promising artistic development, as the audience is ready for new pathways. 

What are the unmissable events that a documentary professional should attend in Europe to fully connect with the industry?
That's a dangerous question, as when I see the answer published, I will definitely say: "How could I forget this or that event!" I can say in general that going to festivals is always a good thing. Automatically, one thinks of the IDFA, CPH:DOX, Sheffield Doc/fest, Dok Leipzig… But also ones like Jihlava, Thessaloniki, Visions du Réel and Doclisboa (and there are more) are worth the effort of attending. Seeing what one's colleagues have done and being able to talk to them is very inspiring. In my opinion, it is also necessary to visit industry events. Many festivals combine their screenings with a market event or (pitching) workshops, but more industry-focused events like the DocSalon (Berlinale), Sunny Side of the Doc (La Rochelle) and the Doc Corner during the Film Market (Cannes) provide excellent industry insights and opportunities.

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