‘The Caravan,’ ‘Prison Project ‘Little Scandinavia’’ Win the MipDoc International Buyer Screenings

CANNES —  Two personal stories, one of immigration, another of sheer human decency, won out against some stiff competition at MipTV on Sunday, sharing in a dead heat the Buyers Coup de Coeur at the first MipDoc International Buyer Screenings. 

A bold experiment, the Screenings saw MipTV allocate he prime market real estate of mid Sunday afternoon traditionally reserved for a drama showcase to documentaries, taking in features, TV specials and series. 

In industrial terms the winners could hardly be more different. “The Caravan” is made by Cabal Films, a small Barcelona independent; the three-episode “Prison Project” is produced by Sweden’s SVT in co-production with other public broadcasters in Finland (Yle), Norway (NRK) and Denmark (DR).

Turning on a young mother in a human caravan of 7,000 emigrants from Central America and a prison experiment in Pensylvannia, the two documentaries also underscored how documentaries know no geographic boundaries in focus.  

MipDoc buyers watched on in quiet amazement at excerpts from “The Caravan,” directed by Spaniards Nuria Clavero and Aitor Palacios, in which Yuri, 18, eight months and 21 days pregnant sets out towards Tijuana with her two year son and Mike, 20, her partner, believing that her child could be born  in the U.S. 

In “Prison Project,” helmed by Tomás Lynch and John Stark, inmates at SCI Chester, were brought close to tears as they inspected their new simple but spic-and-span cells, designed according rehabilitating methods used in Scandinavia. 

Later they are caught experiencing the unthinkable: a dinner with their prison guards. Some choke with emotion as they eat.

The Buyer Screenings were prefaced by a detailed drill down by Tape’s Beatrice Rossmanith into key doc & factual commissioning trends, in terms of both storytelling and business model. The overview also allowed her to highlight current standouts, and sales hits.

Some sub-genre are building: Sports docs, for example, are up 25% in volume last year compared to 2020.”They have become a cornerstone of Netflix and Amazon strategy,” she said. Global streamers are prepared to buy for single territories: the cash-for-babies themed “Three Mothers, Two Babies and a Scandal,” premiered on Amazon’s Prime Vide in the .K. Last November.  

There has been a 70% increase in the number of documentary co-productions from 2021 to 22. “It is a strategy that pays off, as we can see from the ratings of a few examples from last year,” said Rossmanith. 

Large doc focuses include, inevitably, Russia and Ukraine, social activism of all stripes, gender abuse and, still, the British royal family. 

“Documentaries are first and foremost stories.” Those which succeed are often about “big characters with a unique story.” One thing’s for certain, Rossaminth concluded: “The world is supplying us with enough real drama for many years to come.”  

The Buyers’ Screenings climaxed with a MipDoc Spotlight on Showtime Original “Catching Lightning,” a true crime docuseries presented at Cannes by Paramount and directed by Emmy Award winning Pat Kondells about an MMA fighter “Lighting” Lee Murray who pulled off the biggest cash heist in history. 

The other eight docs at the Buyer Screenings:

“Blue Carbon,” (Off the Fence, Netherlands)

A “hopeful environmental documentary” would seem an oxymoron, but “Blue Carbon” explores the idea that the oceans, especially salt-marshes, sea-grasses and mangroves, can absorb more carbon than trees. Lushly shot in Colombia, Brazil, Vietnam, the U.S. and Senegal, presented by Grammy-nominated DJ and marine biologist Dayda J and with a strong music edge, “Blue Carbon” is directed by Emmy-winning Nicolas Brown (“The Serengeti Rules”) with “City of God” director Fernando Meirelles taking an exec producer credit. Pre-sold to CNN, Canal+ Docs and NDR.

“Cactus Hotel,” (Albatross World Sales, Germany)

Sold by Albatross, and produced by Germany’s Altayfilm, in co-production with WDR, Arte and SVT, a prestige 52-minute ripping yarn told by an enormous old Sagauro cactus, of the many wild guests which live in its “hotel,” from ants in its roots to owls nestling in its bark and unlikely co-habitants such as a rattle snake and next door, protected by a barrier of thorn balls, a desert rat. A hit at the Doc Screenings.   

“A Cold War of Spies,” (Authentic, Go-Button Media, Germany, Canada)

A four-part doc series on the WWII espionage industry which grew up around the race between the U.S., Britain and Russia to create the first atomic bomb: a world of defectors, turncoats, double agents and moles which engendered the first conflicts of the Cold War – and the deep paranoia and distrust which would shape the world for the next half century. Daniel Oron (“No Roses on a Sailor’s Grave”) directs. 

“The First Inventors,” (Abacus Media Rights, U.K.)    

One of the highlights of the Doc Screenings, though it didn’t walk off with a prize, the story of the world’s oldest living culture, over 65,000 years in existence. In a sequences shown at Cannes, a team of First Nation investigators in Australia discovers human artefacts, sharpened stones, on an off-shore seabed – proof that legends passed on down millennia that the area was once part of land were totally accurate. The story of an ancient civilisation whose extraordinary achievements stuns. 

“Nicole Kidman: Eyes Wide Open,” (Arte Distribution, France)

Generating “significant buzz” at January’s Unifrance Rendez-Vous in Paris, a sensitive deep dive by director Patrick Boudet (“La Vie de Brian Jones”) into Kidman’s work as “not just an actor, but also an auteur, and creator. She has no ambition to write or direct, but through her films she expresses something that touches her and conveys her view of the world,” Boudet told Variety.  

“The Rise of Wagner,” (Mediawan Rights, France)

Set for a world premiere at Toronto’s Hot Docs, a two-part doc mini-series tracking Russian journalists as they seek to learn the truth of the death of three colleagues in Central African Republic while making a film about Wagner, Vladimir Putin’s covert ops unit. “Terrifying and urgent in light of Wagner’s current presence in Ukraine, this investigative film sheds important light on the big business behind dirty wars,” Arianna Castoldi, Mediawan Rights’ head of documentary sales, told Variety. A “chilling exposé,” says Variety, directed by Benoît Bringer (“The Caviar Connection”)  and co-produced by Arte and Mediawan Rights, a powerful combo.   

“The Singh Case: A Long Journey to the Truth,” (About Premium Content, France)

A five-episode true crime doc series plumbing the incarceration of Jaitsen Singh for the brutal murder of his wife and daughter in California in 1983. “Exclusive access to police and court documents reveal a dramatic case involving racial bias, corrupt prosecution, a mistress and a dubious crown witness,” the synopsis says. Yet “if innocent of the crime, how innocent is Singh really?” it goes on to ask. Hans Pool directs what looks like the story of a compellingly complex case, produced by Submarine, just bought by Mediawan. 

“The Vatican,” (Federation, France)

A six-part investigative documentary series lifting the lid on the Vatican and it struggles to modernise, as it battles incessant scandals and modern-day irrelevance. Kat Steppe (“Cheers & Cheerio”) directs; Belgian outfit Panenka produces with Flemish public broadcaster VRT.

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