Japan’s NHK looks to diversify co-pro partners with independent filmmakers

NHK wants to further diversify its international co-production partners to more independent filmmakers, it revealed at Sunny Side of the Doc in France.

Yuko Fukuyama, producer and Shin Yassuda, senior producer, managed to make the trip from Japan – where traveling is still restricted – and discussed the Japanese broadcaster’s strategy in international documentary co-productions, which they oversee.

The broadcaster started working in co-productions in the 1980s with China’s CCTV on The Silk Road, before partnering with European pubcasters with The Miracle Planet in 1987, before gradually working with others through the 2000’s.

“We have diversified partners and are now working more and more with independent filmmakers,” they said. Producers must be patient, though, as the process can be long, they said.

NHK is interested in both third-party projects and to find co-producers for its own projects. In 2021, it got involved in 42 international co-pros, including I Am Wolverine with the US’s Red Rock Films, Life Of A Rhino with Germany’s Doclights and Hidden India with India’s Seance Entertainment.

It has also struck deals with numerous French partners, including on shows such as Climate Justice with Yami2, Rivers Above The Canopy with ZED, The Mystery Of Casquer Cave with Gedeon Programmes, Science And Sports with Bonne Pioche.

The various strands for which NHK is looking for pre-buys or co-productions include World Documentaries (15 documentaries per year), Cosmic Front (about five docs per year), and The Wildlife. It is looking for exclusive access, news discoveries, well researched, innovative styles and relevance.

Among NHK-initiated docs, the duo highlighted Satoyama, Living With Snow and The Volcano, with Arte France, as well as Radioactive Forest Ten Years After, about the Fukushima nuclear disaster that was created with CuriosityStream for which two additional versions were produced – a 65-minute cut for Curiosity and a 52-minute one for international.

“The point really is co-creation,” the duo said, with an ambition to get involved, or have partners involved, as early as possible for better creative input. “The earlier is the best,” the NHK pair added.

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