The documentary series Iraq, Destruction of a Nation, broadcast on France 5 in January, met with critical and audience acclaim. We take the opportunity to examine the reasons for the series’ success with Chloé Persyn-Preljocaj of ZED Head of Sales & Acquisitions at ZED, distributor of the series. Together we discuss the choices made for the company’s catalog, which often echoes current events. 

The Interview

Chloé Persyn-Preljocaj

TV France: 2021 has started very well with a great critical and audience success on France Télévisions

Chloé Persyn-Preljocaj: Indeed, the year has started well for us with the series Iraq, Destruction of a Nation, which we distribute. Made up of four 52-minute episodes, the series, which is produced by Tohubohu & Slug News, was broadcast in prime time January 31 on France 5. And this ambitious program found eager viewers – the channel was the prime time leader on TNT with 799,000 viewers, that’s 3.2% of audience share (Médiamétrie). The series’ success did not surprise us. From the very start of the project, we were aware of the potential of this four act saga and the resonance it would have today.

Firstly, due to the force of the subject: through the unique stories of its main characters, both famous and unknown people, for the first time Iraq’s story is exposed through images. The series explains how 40 years of dictatorship and war have turned Iraq from a promising country to completely ravaged land. Thanks to exclusive access and the use of previously classified documents, this geopolitical thriller sheds new light on a tragedy in which we all play a part – in one way or another.

In addition, the series is carried by the great reporter Jean-Pierre Canet (Winner of the Albert Londres Prix), whom I’d really like to congratulate for the exceptional and thorough investigative work done, to tell the story of the country’s slow and painful change.

We were completely blown away by the final result: the power of the story, the quality of the cinematography, and the strength of the narration keep the viewer as breathless as any a geopolitical thriller, even if we know how things will end right from the start. All the ingredients are there to create a gripping story.  

TV France: Why did you choose to add this series to your catalog?

Chloé Persyn-Preljocaj: I still remember Stéphanie Schorter and Romain Icard, two seasoned producers, pitching the project to us at Sunny Side 2018, shortly after they created their company, Tohubohu.

The ambition of the project, the team it brought together… we immediately wanted to go with them on this adventure.  

Particularly since the story of Iraq and the tragedies that the country has gone through over the last 40 years have had repercussions across the globe and impacted all of our lives. Who remembers that the first terrorist to commit suicide at the Stade de France on the evening of November 13, 2015, was an Iraqi, originally from Mosul? Why did this young Iraqi, along with others from his country, fall into the trap of the Islamic State?

Over 40 years, the Iraqi people have been subjected to two civil wars, an armed invasion, an embargo, a conflict with an international coalition and another with Iran, and they have lived under a dictator. From the first days of the Iran-Iraq War in 1980, to the fall of Islamic State in 2017, this documentary series offers a revealing historical fresco of the country and tells the story of the destruction of Iraq over the last 4 decades.

TV France: How have international buyers reacted to the series?

Chloé Persyn-Preljocaj: We received very enthusiastic feedback on the project very quickly. The series was selected at the Sheffied Doc/Fest where it was also pitched as part of the European Broadcasting Union presence. This gave us great exposure. But it wasn’t all plain sailing. There was a competitor project on the market. So it was a long-term endeavor, as we had to convince buyers that our project stood out by our exclusive access, timelines and the angle chosen.

Numerous channels pre-bought the series : Histoire TV (France), MBC-Al Arabiya (Middle East), ZDFinfo (Germany), ORF (Austria), SVT (Sweden), NRK (Norway), RTS (Switzerland), RSI (Italian-speaking Switzerland), RTBF (Belgium) and Radio Canada (Canada). I’d actually like to take this opportunity to thank them all sincerely for their support. International funding is essential to produce ambitious documentaries like this.  

Actually, NHK has just confirmed their purchase of the second episode for the commemoration of the end of the Gulf War.  

Other commemorations coming up are – the 10th anniversary of the end of the Iraq War, the 30th anniversary of the end of the Gulf War, and the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks – will allow channels to turn their broadcasts into TV events.

Some territories are still available , and we are actively looking for partners in the UK and the USA.

TV France: The documentaries promoted distribued by ZED are often linked to current events, and this year is no exception. What and how do you select the programs you present showcase on the international market?  

Chloé Persyn-Preljocaj: That’s true, although it isn’t our primary goal. When I start working on a project, I choose it first and foremost for its own qualities, its appeal for an international audience , and the fact that it responds to a demand, or to a market trend. So it’s inevitable that, thanks to a variety of genres, formats and approaches, our line-up tells the story of our world, both today’s world and our history, and that often resonates with our era and helps us understand it better.

For example, we recently launched The World According to Modi, a geopolitical documentary by Sophie Lepault for ARTE GEIE, SVT, RSI and Radio Canada. It spotlights the itinerary of Narenda Modi, the Indian Prime Minister, through which we discover a victorious India emerging on the world stage and which is frequently back in the news. The film is particularly interesting in light of current events, with the ferocious uprising of farmers against Modi’s agricultural reforms.

On an entirely different note, we are also distributing Tombs of Egypt, The Ultimate Mission (2×52’), produced by Label News for RMCD, VIASAT and SBS which discoveries were covered in the press recently. Thanks to exclusive access to the mission, and with the help of computer-generated imagery, 2D infographics, maps, animations, x-ray analyses, live scenes, and interviews with international experts in their labs and in the field, the series shows how the team was able to open each sarcophagus and investigate the mysteries of the necropolis to understand who was buried there more than 3,000 years ago. 

ZED now represents more than 100 producers, and handles distribution of a wide variety of programs covering almost every genre (history, science, nature, etc.). We get involved in projects at a early stage, so I have to know which channel or platform will be a good fit for each one. When I get involved in a project, I strive to offer our buyers quality content that meets their needs at that precise time. There is therefore a lot of market research to be done to catch the most current trends and find content that will really fulfill their expectations.

TV France: And I believe that in 2021, you have some more surprises in store for us!

Chloé Persyn-Preljocaj: That’s true, and to name but one we’re currently producing Never Alone (2×52’ +52’ science of), a blue-chip nature documentary by Pierre Stine looking at animal collaboration. ZED is producing it for France Télévisions and Blue Ant Media. There are others projects to be unveiled soon, but I won’t say any more. See you at Le Rendez-Vous Docs for more information!

Tombs of Egypt, The Ultimate Mission