By Elsa Keslassy – Published on Variety.com – April 14, 2021
Mediawan Rights, the commercial division of French independent media powerhouse Mediawan founded by Pierre-Antoine Capton, Xavier Niel and Matthieu Pigasse in 2015, is poised to step up its premium documentary clout through its dedicated sales unit.
Presided by veteran sales executive Valerie Vleeschhouwer, Mediawan Rights has signed an exclusive partnership deal with Forbidden Stories, the production banner behind many critically-acclaimed investigative documentaries, such as “Green Blood.” The outfit was founded by Laurent Richard, an award-winning French documentary filmmaker and producer who won the Prix Europa Award for the European Journalist of the Year in 2018.
Mediawan is already a leader in the docu landscape with outfits such as CC&C (Clarke Costelle & Co), Black Dynamite and Troisième Œil, and the recent acquisition of Lagardere Studios, which comprises key documentary producers such as Imagissime (“Who Killed Little Gregory?”), Maximal Productions, 909 productions, Electron Libre productions and Réservoir Prod, as well as Aito Media in Finland, and Skyhigh TV in the Netherlands.
“We’re representing a catalogue of 1000 hours of quality documentaries, including 50 fresh hours per year, and our strategy is to pursue documentaries that provide an exclusive access, and/or are cinematic and innovative in their storytelling approach,” said Vleeschhouwer, who cited “Green Blood,” and two other documentaries repped by Mediawan Rights, “Kubrick by Kubrick” and “Bansky Most Wanted.”
The executive said the demand for all types of premium content, and in particular event documentaries, surged during the pandemic. “The competition for content is very high right now, and channels and platforms are mainly looking for prestige documentaries that have played at festivals, and strong titles that have been well financed and marketed,” pointed out Vleeschhouwer. The banner is for instance repping “Tony Parker : The Final Shot,” a documentary giving an exclusive inside look at the background and career of the French basketball star that Netflix has acquired. The docu is produced by Black Dynamite Production, Max Motion and Infinity Nine Media.
The exclusive partnership between Mediawan Rights and Forbidden Stories has kicked off with the four-part documentary “Green Blood” which Mediawan Rights just sold to Amazon Prime Video for Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, Spain, Portugal, Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland.
A co-production between Forbidden Stories and Mediawan-owned banner FrenchKiss Pictures, “Green Blood” unveils the practices of three mining companies operating in Tanzania, India and Guatemala, and explains the environmental and human cost of the mining industry. The investigation was carried on during eight months by forty journalists from fifteen countries who continued the work of local journalists who were threatened, jailed or killed as the result of their work.
Vleeschhouwer said Mediawan Rights was going to help finance Forbidden Stories’s documentaries and sell them internationally. Richard, meanwhile, said joining forces with Mediawan Rights will give his vehicle the financial and marketing muscle to produce even more ambitious documentaries in terms of scope and scale, partner with international talents, and collaborate with other Mediawan players working in fiction. “As the boundaries between fiction and documentaries are getting more and more blurred, we’ll benefit from being able to work with people with a track record in drama,” said Richard.
Forbidden Stories already has four projects slated for this year, notably “The Cartel Project” (commissioned by France Télévisions), an investigation into Mexican cartels and the global ramifications of their trafficking; and “The Caviar Connection” (commissioned by Arte), which looks at the systemic corruption within Caucasian and Central Asian countries, including in Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan, and the limits of European institutions who turn a blind eye on human rights abuses occurring in these countries in order to serve their own interests.
Another anticipated documentary produced by Forbidden Stories and slated for 2021 is “The Daphne Project,” commissioned by France Télévisions, about the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia in October 2017. This heinous murder led two years later to the fall of the Maltese government.
The acquisition of Lagardere Studios is also “strengthening Mediawan’s footprint in the documentary world with the integration of talented producers and Mediawan Rights will be building more synergies within companies, for instance through co-productions of ambitious documentaries,” said Vleeschhouwer.
A recent example of synergy is the documentary “Cinecittà: Making of History”, a co-production between Temps Noir and Palomar Doc, which is owned by Mediawan. Vleeschhouwer said the film “will show exclusive material on Cinecittà, including archive footage we’ve never seen before and very glamorous images.”
Mediawan Rights has also scored a raft of deals on a pair of documentaries that world premiered at Tribeca: “Banksy Most Wanted,” a portrayal of the mysterious artist directed by Seamus Haley and Aurélia Rouvier; and “Kubrick by Kubrick,” a biopic docu helmed by Gregory Monro. These two films sold across more than 45 and 20 territories, respectively. “Bansky” was bought by Sweden’s SVT, Saudi Arabia’s Asharq News, The Netherlands’ AVRO, PTS Taiwan, Israel’s Yes DBS, Brazil’s Globosat and Japan’s NHK, among others. “Kubrick by Kubrick,” meanwhile, was bought by Japan’s NHK, Australia’s SBS, the U.K.’s Sky, Spain’s Movistar, Belgium’s RTVE, Sweden’s SVT and Switzerland’s SRF.
“Bansky Most Wanted,” which was produced by Cross Borders Films and Scarlett Production, sheds light on Banksy’s commitment to environmental causes or political refugees, his links with the music scene and his entrepreneurial side. “Kubrick by Kubrick,” produced by Arte France, Telemark and Temps Noir, delivers an intimate portrait of the iconic filmmaker with previously unheard audiotaped interviews with him.
Amazon Prime Video has also bought from Mediawan Rights the documentary “Tiger Mafia” for Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, France, including overseas territories and departments, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, Spain, Portugal, Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary and Romania, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland.
Produced by Hook Films, “Tiger Mafia” is a ten-year undercover investigation led by photo journalist Karl Ammann into the smuggling of South East Asian tigers. Set to world premiere at CPH DOX Festival, “Tiger Mafia” shows how body parts of both live and butchered tigers are harvested and traded for sale in China’s underground pharmaceutical and jewelry industries.
The streaming service also picked Mediawan Rights’ docu title “Heroes” for German-speaking territories and Italy. “Green Blood,” “Tiger Mafia” and “Heroes” will be available on Amazon Prime Video later this year.
“Heroes,” produced by Motorsport Network, brings together legendary drivers, including two-time Formula 1 world champion Mika Hakkinen, former Ferrari grand prix ace Felipe Massa, nine-time Le Mans winner Tom Kristensen, and Michele Mouton, the only woman to have won World Championship rallies.
Just last month, Mediawan scored Apple TV’s first partnership in France with the launch of Explore, a streaming service dedicated to documentaries. It’s the first French channel accessible on Apple TV in France, Switzerland, Belgium and Luxembourg. Boasting more than 500 hours of documentaries, Explore launched with “Coronation,” a compelling documentary directed by the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei about life under lockdown in Wuhan during winter time last year.