TVF Tackles the Coronavirus Pandemic

Chelsea Regan, 8 April 2020

The independent factual distributor TVF International has added to its catalog documentaries about COVID-19—including the current affairs special Coronavirus: The Silent Killer and the science-focused Coronavirus: Race Against the Pandemic from Channel NewsAsia. While the former investigates the origins and global spread of the virus, the latter, featuring health experts and first-hand testimony of those affected by the pandemic, breaks down the latest scientific developments in the fight against COVID-19. Julian Chou-Lambert, acquisitions manager at TVF International, talks to TV Real Weekly about the unique challenges presented with fast-turnaround documentaries and the role that documentaries play in increasing awareness and empathy about global matters like the coronavirus, as the company hopes to add more positive content on the topic in the near future.


Mere weeks after the coronavirus sent countries the world over into virtual lockdown with stay-at-home orders and self-quarantines, TVF had already added documentaries that explored the pandemic—and its ongoing developments—to its catalog. “Creating a topical quick-turnaround doc can be risky because the subject matter develops, and the program can quickly go out of date,” admits Chou-Lambert. “To counteract this, we look for programs in a style that can be easily updated with the latest statistics, by us or by our broadcaster clients, should the situation change, as it is every day with the spread of COVID-19.”


Getting broadcasters to prebuy quick-turnaround programs—and then delivering them—can provide its own challenges, but ones that can be mitigated with the right topic, creative team and planning. “If the subject is really topical and the producer has a good track record, they can become ‘must-haves’ for broadcasters in each territory,” says Chou-Lambert, who adds, “Delivering fast-turnaround docs to clients has to be carefully planned to ensure that broadcasters have everything they need to be able to get the show in front of their viewers on schedule. With Stronger: The Battle Against COVID-19, we received the masters from the producers on the same day that we delivered to a number of broadcaster clients across the globe, which set our technical teams’ hearts racing!”


These fast-turnaround documentaries can help fill in the depth of coverage that daily newscasts, which are forever tasked with tackling the very latest on the pandemic, can do little more than graze. “There often isn’t a lot of in-depth international reporting available on screen,” says Chou-Lambert. The titles TVF added to its slate can delve into “the causes, the health risks, the science, and preventative measures people can and should take. All of these issues are of course developing, but with the widespread dissemination of ‘fake news’, it’s ever more important to have fact-checked, in-depth reporting. Seeing how Singapore, for instance, is successfully controlling the spread of the virus through contact-tracing and testing, or else covering global developments in the race towards a vaccine, is highly relevant to viewers in any country.”


All of the current coronavirus documentaries TVF is distributing are produced out of Singapore, and several of the experts featured in them experienced the SARS outbreak in 2003, according to Chou-Lambert. “In fact, one of our experts actually caught SARS and recovered, which certainly gives him a unique perspective,” he says. “The medical staff on the ground in China, as they are around the world, are absolute heroes, and are really on the frontline of the fight against this pandemic, and their voices and stories are very important for viewers to see.”


Documentaries can play a vital role in increasing awareness and empathy about global matters, including crises like COVID-19. They “are very important in humanizing the experiences of other people, at home and abroad, and they can definitely help us learn from other countries’ and cultures’ responses to global issues like the coronavirus,” says Chou-Lambert. “On this topic, for example, it’s particularly important to be looking empathetically to certain Asian countries, as they have experienced the virus first, have suffered a lot, and we can learn a lot from their national and personal responses to the pandemic.”


As the virus and its wide-ranging implications on public health, socializing and the economy are likely to be relevant for quite some time, more documentaries on the subject are set to be added to TVF’s library. “We do have some other coronavirus programs in the pipeline, but I’m hoping that these will be filled with more uplifting and positive stories,” says Chou-Lambert. “Like the incredible individual and community reactions and creative responses that we are already seeing across the world, as people come together to fight the virus.”