“We are the new kids on the block on the sales agent documentary landscape,” Anna Berthollet says of Sweet Spot Docs, the company she and her colleagues Bojana Maric and Nevena Milasinovic set up in Switzerland 18 months ago.
Sweet Spot is attending the Cannes Marché for the first time with a slate which includes Ulrike Ottinger’s Paris Calligrammes, her subjective, archive-based look at Paris, its artists, intellectuals, cafes and bookstores. The film is screening in the market having won a Golden Camera for its director at the Berlinale earlier in the year.
Also on the slate is Michele Pennetta’s Il Mio Corpo, a Sicilian-set documentary with an epic sweep whose characters include a kid scavenging for scrap metals in the landfill sites and a Nigerian immigrant. This has been chosen for the Cannes “ACID” programme.
Berthollet discovered the film at Visions du Réel in the spring. It helped that she knew the film’s Swiss-French producers Close Up Films and had long been looking to work with them.
Meanwhile, Sweet Spot is beginning sales on crowd-pleaser Citizen Nobel from director Stéphane Goël. This profiles Jacques Dubochet, a Swiss scientist whose humdrum life is changed overnight in 2017 when he wins the Nobel Prize for chemistry.
Another title due to be unveiled later in the year is Arica from Lars Edman and William Johansson. This tells the grim story of how Swedish mining company Boliden shipped toxic waste to Chile in the mid 1980s with devastating consequences. This is produced by Andreas Rocksén, Laika Film & Television (the outfit behind Cold Case Hammarskjöld).
Berthollet and her colleagues had previously been working for another sales company but had a yearning to strike out on their own. The new agency is small but highly selective. When Sweet Spot picks up a film, the promise from Berthollet is that the company will work it “deeper, longer and harder” than other sales agencies. They promise full co-operation and transparency with their producer clients.
Since launching in 2019, Sweet Spot has had strong feedback. Producers with whom it has worked on one film have invariably brought their subsequent projects to the company, Berthollet says.
Various other independent doc sales outfits, companies like Autlook, First Hand, Taskovski, Dogwoof and Reservoir Docs (formerly Wide House), are already long established. One question Berthollet had to ask herself was just where Sweet Spot would find its niche in a crowded marketplace.
The intention is to build uo the company slowly. “In the beginning, of course, we are not targeting big titles that would be premiered at Sundance or in the Berlinale Panorama and the big festivals. But at the same time, we notice there are lot of documentaries which, until they are premieres, remain completely off the radar for the industry in general.”
In other words, Sweet Spot is looking for hidden gems, films which may not yet have a high profile but which are likely to enrapture festival programmers and distributors when they are finally seen. These are “the kind of films which really need a bit of a push from someone who really knows how the market works.”
One ambition expected to be realised soon is for the company to move into theatrical distribution as well as sales in both Switzerland and France.
“The Swiss market for theatrical distribution is very tough so we need really to be sure we have the right title in order to make the strategy viable,” the Sweet Spot boss acknowledges. Plans are already in place for the company’s first French theatrical release, Our Lucky Hours by Martine Deyres, which explores how a small village in the centre of France managed to avoid the wartime devastation that saw more than 40,000 internees die of hunger in French psychiatric hospitals between 1939 and 1945.
As they contemplate the future, Sweet Spot are unashamedly idealistic about the business. As they declare on their website, “we wake up every morning to build the Golden Age of Documentary.”
“What we are looking for is really strong stories which create emotion and make people think. I wouldn’t say we have a particular style,” Berthollet says of the wide range of films the company represents.