May 18th, 2021 | by Mathieu Gayet

“Sunny Side of the Doc has always been an event where new projects are born” - Stephane Malagnac (PiXii Festival)

For the 5th edition of PiXii Festival, dedicated to new media, Sunny Side of the Doc in La Rochelle (France) is exploring new horizons in a future-oriented hybrid 2021 format: a professional market combined with an opening to the public, online conferences and (hopefully) a very physical presentation in partnership with a series of venues throughout the city.

We talked with Stephane Malagnac, curator of the PiXii Festival (June 19-24, 2021), in the midst of a tumultuous year in which the event emerges with many ideas - including a year-round incubator for immersive projects.

Cover: NEW AESTHETICS DISPLAYS by Thomas Cheneseau (France)

French Version

PiXii, a festival in the heart of a festival

Stéphane Malagnac - Originally, PiXii was created by Sunny Side of the Doc to meet a demand from professionals - both those in linear audiovisual in search of new formats for digital platforms, and those in new writing who wanted to participate in the event (which celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2019) to meet the installed players of culture. At Sunny Side of the Doc, we also welcome creative studios, institutions or museums that are always looking for new projects. Very French at its launch, Pixii is now a meeting place installed on the world scene of immersive meetings.

S. M. - After a half-hearted 2020 edition that only partially met the expectations of professionals, we had to come back with new proposals. Last year our online effort was praised by all, but we had to come back to what makes the strength of the real meetings in La Rochelle, except for the professional part (conferences, pitches...) which will take place online and will welcome speakers from all over the world - all in English. Our ambition with PiXii is to go beyond the walls and offer the public free access to immersive works in a series of cultural places in La Rochelle: Natural History Museum, La Rochelle Aquarium, Tour de la Chaîne (Centre des Monuments Nationaux), Musée du Nouveau Monde and La Rochelle train station. After having addressed broadcasting issues in our conferences in previous years, we are keen to prove that collaborations with museums and public spaces are conducive to XR exploitation. Heritage and cultural places like museums are more and more fond of innovation - and in France we have a network of such places in all small and medium-sized cities, and not only in Paris!


S. M. - In 2021, PiXii really wants to open the door of immersive experiences to the general public. And the city gives us full support, with a real desire to integrate innovative projects into the visitor experience. Until now, the festival has had a clear professional vocation, complementing the actions of Sunny Side of the Doc, and relying on a community of professionals who came to the festival. The notion of market implies meetings, pitch sessions, networking, etc. We hope to put everything in place as we imagine it, also to encourage the possibility of setting up new projects. Sunny Side of the Doc has always been a place where co-productions are set up, projects are realized.

Pixii 2021 selections

S. M. - The experiences will be offered through two distribution channels. On the one hand, professionals accredited to Sunny Side of the Doc will be able to access a selection of 8 XR films available on an online video library. On the other hand, it is in La Rochelle that they will be able to go from place to place to discover different immersive installations - some contents having been selected in different places! Each place has made its own program, with the PiXii team of course, so that each experience corresponds to the singularity of the place in which it is hosted - or on the contrary to think about more disruptive proposals. There are unexpected things! All this will be confirmed, specified during the press conference and of course depending on the sanitary conditions that will allow us to do it.

Sperm Whales: Dive In Another Consciousness (France)

S. M. - The 2021 edition of PiXii will host many French projects. This is probably a constraint born from the crisis we have been experiencing for more than a year; in the absence of international delegations, it is largely French productions that have proposed their films but we also have several projects from other countries and continents. "StorytellingMatters" is our common thread both at Sunny Side of the Doc and at PXii and the selection reflects this ambition. For the XR part there is a strong tendency towards social issues, especially around conflicts and the phenomenon of migrations which are one of the consequences. Diversity and inclusion and more widely the place of women in our societies are also present in the subjects treated.

XR Films Selection

Immersive Experiences Installations: Pixii Invests La Rochelle

Georges Méliès : Fantaisies Virtuelles (France)

S. M. – In a will to open up to all possible formats, PiXii Festival is no longer limited to 360 production and virtual reality. We will have projects based on social networks like Instagram, Twitch or others. The example of PUR is interesting in that; it is an audio series produced by France Télévisions Studio in partnership with France Inter, with 36 segments and a rather simple but successful immersion that combines images and sounds. There will also be a traveling exhibition in augmented reality from photos taken in each place where the festival will take place. Overall, we notice that the subjects evoked in these XR experiences were already in germ during the first edition in 2017. To address social and human issues, immersion always works better. The distance is not possible, as it can be the case via screens. And this ability of immersion to engage the spectator who becomes in some way "spect-actor" is a lever that allows to conquer the institutions, museums, which see an increased interest in a few years. And what I hope is that innovation will lead people to reinvest in physical places, not to stay behind their screen but to dive in.

S. M. - The next step, which has already been taken by some, is the distribution phase. In one of the conferences, we will talk about the question of profitability of immersive works within LBEs. Opposing creation to economy is no longer relevant; the ROI must be considered from the writing phase. You only have to see the exhibitions CARNE Y ARENA or THE INFINITE in Montreal, co-produced by the Phi Center, to see very concrete evolutionary paths. We have to prove that profitable systems can exist. Even if it means scratching some people.

Immersive Experiences Pitch

S. M. - On the conference side, we are organizing a meeting with all the producers of the Selection of Immersive Works presented in the City's venues to give them international visibility. We have also renewed our association with Europe Creative to organize Chapter 2 of the Bridging Culture conference. This conference will showcase a new series of immersive art projects while providing a progress report on the projects presented in 2020. This will be a great time to see how we are moving further and further away from traditional documentary production models. Universities and AI specialists are now collaborating on artistic projects, which is very interesting! We are also producing a double conference with the Marché international du Film d'Animation d'Annecy on the production of native content for mobile. The first part, broadcasted in Annecy, will have a double focus on animation creation; PiXii will be dedicated to cultural content and economic models for production and distribution.

Pixii is also a new co-production incubator


S. M. - PiXii Festival has launched PiXii Co-Creation (link), the European incubator for immersive projects coordinated by Sunny Side of the Doc, in partnership with Creatis, 2K Films, MOMUS and MUTEK, with the support of Creative Europe. This new European initiative aims to initiate synergies between innovative artists and studios, key digital actors and cultural institutions in order to develop international collaborative projects with immersive content. We want to accompany and help projects from their first step, hence the term co-creation. We will work on the concept of the project itself, which will evolve according to the meetings and the different stages with mentors. It is the concrete extension of an ambition that has existed since the creation of PiXii where several projects have been initiated, like LADY SAPIENS (see our interview with Jeanne Marchalot, France Télévisions) whose first broadcasts will take place this spring. It is in La Rochelle that the first contacts took place. And that's our ambition: to be a place where projects and co-productions can be incubated.


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