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Genuine Stories in Their Language: The Radio 1/1Xtra Docs Festival 2011

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Radio 1/1Xtra Documentaries Festival Part 1

This year’s Radio 1 and 1Xtra Documentaries Commissioning Round launch was preceded by an afternoon of talks from inspirational documentary makers. The documentaries festival was a fantastic opportunity to hear how Jess Search (BritDoc), Izzy Fairbairn (BBC 1Xtra), Sam Anthony (BBC 3), Simon Elmes (BBC) and Manish Pandey (Senna) have all skewed expectations to repackage the documentary genre and challenge its somewhat dusty reputation. The event, which took place on Thursday 13th October in the famous Maida Vale studios, was attended by a range of directors and producers from the BBC and independent companies. Piers Bradford, Commissioning Editor for Radio 1, followed a thought-provoking afternoon with the 2012/13 commissioning round and revealed what the stations are looking for - documentaries that tell the real story of young people in the UK. Read the new Radio 1 & 1Xtra Stories brief.  


(Piers Bradford, Izzy Fairbairn, Simon Elmes & Sam Anthony; BBC staff shared their experiences at the Docs Festival 2011)


Producing a documentary for BBC Radio 1 and 1Xtra is about holding the attention of a young adult for 60 minutes at nine in the evening. During the course of the afternoon, a whole variety of ways to shake up the traditionally ‘boring’ image of the documentary were revealed. Sam Anthony, BBC Commissioning Executive, explained how BBC 3 has successfully achieved this by grabbing the attention of a whole host of under 25s because they tell ‘compelling stories’ in the right language for a young adult audience. Rough cut videos compiled to make hit documentary Our War, captured the imagination of a YouTube generation whilst pushing the boundaries of conventional production. Contrary to popular belief, a ‘young audience’ is not primarily teenagers, nor is it interested only in youth culture and sex.

Bored, Broke & Bedless illustrated this, receiving the best response to a documentary on BBC Radio 1Xtra this year; a hard hitting, genuine story told by young people, about young people. Youth is the unique selling point of Radio 1 and 1Xtra explained Producer Izzy Fairbairn, and it should be used to its full potential as a platform to get the young British voice heard. Manish Pandey, writer and Executive Producer of the award winning Senna, agreed that regardless of the platform, an intimate voice and a genuine testimony are key qualities to ensure a documentary is not only informative, but it entertains and grips. A powerful documentary is ‘one that makes you feel, that’s it.’ As Radio documentary producers you can gain the special kind of intimacy that may be lost when a camera is in sight.

Jess_Search.jpg(Jess Search, Chief Executive of BritDoc Foundation gave the audience an insight into producing award winning documentaries like Hell & Back Again)


Powerful story telling is at the heart of documentary making, regardless of the platform. To capture the young audience at the core of Radio 1’s remit it should also evoke the zeitgeist and tell a story that they genuinely care about. As Piers put it; can your documentary idea pass ‘the Moyles test’? If it will grab the attention of Radio 1’s most popular DJ, then you’ve probably got your audience hooked.

‘Nuggets’ from the Doc’s Festival experts:

  • Tell a good story
  • Include testimony that is genuine and intimate
  • Documentaries are a powerful platform to communicate a message and make an impact
  • Music allows the audience time to reflect, it emphasises and it builds pictures
  • Consider telling a story that can be broadcast across both stations
  • Pick the period with the most change or conflict in someone’s life, it is then that you see the most of someone’s character

Listen to the Radio 1/1Xtra Documentaries Festival:

You can listen to the first part of the Radio 1/1Xtra Documentaries Festival at the top of this page and hear the second part and more on the BBC Commissioning clips and content page.

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