CANNES: Blockbuster features that cost $100 million or more may grab the headlines, but the area of filmmaking that is growing fastest is documentaries, say industry sources at the Cannes Film Festival.

Driving the trend, they say, is a widening demand for films that go beyond fiction and instead touch on today’s realities.

Helping to meet it are the tools of cheap digital technology and video-on-demand, which are smashing the hegemony of big studios and TV channels on determining who gets to make a film and who gets to watch it, they add.

Then there is the Internet, which provides promotional buzz as well as financing through crowd-sourcing.

“Documentaries today account for 16 percent of the films being marketed in Cannes,” said Jerome Paillard, director of the Marche du Film, where thousands of film buyers and sellers congregate.

“Five years ago, it was eight percent.”

The big breakthrough for documentaries was arguably in 2004, when maverick US director Michael Moore picked up the Palme d’Or - usually earmarked for features - with “Fahrenheit 9/11,” a diatribe against George W. Bush’s war on terror.

No documentaries are included in the 20 titles running for this year’s top prize.

But plenty are featuring in other competition categories or out of competition - and some are being acclaimed.

They include Claude Lanzmann’s epic interviews with the last “Jewish Elder” to run the Nazi ghettos in eastern Europe; “Seduced and Abandoned,” a witty and thought-provoking work on the nature of movie-making by Hollywood insiders James Toback and Alec Baldwin; and “L’Escale,” or “Stop-Over,” by Iranian-Swiss Kaveh Bakhtiari, about illegal Iranian immigrants eking out a living in Athens.

A glimpse at the film market’s “doc corner,” where nearly 300 documentaries are being pushed, shows the potential for much more modest budgets, too.

Their focus ranges from aspects of history to a portrayal of a rundown neighbourhood, and themes touching on the environment or sport.–AFP