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Booming docus still need support, careful positioning – Clooney to narrate Peres documentary

LOS ANGELES, March 21, (RTRS): The growing demand for diversity of stories and content on digital and mobile platforms has given a new boost to documentary films. But reaching audiences increasingly requires a combination of creativity and smart use of technology, industry experts said at a panel discussion at Hong Kong FilMart on Tuesday.

Documentary films are among the most sought-after content at this year’s FilMart. Recognizing that, market organizers put on the thematic section, Doc World, for the first time. It features over 200 exhibitors showcasing new productions.

Speaking at the panel debate, executives form the US and China agreed that traditional ways of distribution and advertising are no longer as effective as they used to be. Connecting with the younger generation is harder still.

Patrick Connolly, VP of programming at AMC Networks, Sundance TV Global, said video-on-demand is important for future growth of the documentary segment, but appropriate marketing and promotion are key to success. “We buy films that have shown at some film festivals. Films that have ‘film festival pedigree’,” Connolly said.

Summer Song, director of copyright operations at Beijing-based China Visible Influence Pictures, said the company’s mobile app DOCO, an online platform specializing in documentaries, already has 2 million registered users. And to engage people born after 1990, the company runs both online and offline events, with the aim of establishing a community.

The app records and predicts users’ behavior by analyzing their choice of titles, the amount of time they spent on each title, and whether they watched each episode all the way through.

Chinese audiences have diverse taste in documentary titles, but are particularly interested in culture, heritage and history shows. She said some titles have achieved more than 23 million views and earned profits exceeding $160,000 (RMB1 million) from paying viewers. “People actively search out what they want to see. Many also take the initiative to share titles that they think are great, or give them high ratings on [Chinese movie website] Douban,” said Song.

Digital and mobile platforms also play a major role for Daniel Braun, co-president of Submarine Entertainment, which has recently released “Wild Wild Country” on Netflix and will soon be releasing “Evil Genius” in June. He said that, although streaming releases are key, timely theatrical releases can still be important for certain titles.

“Theatrical gives the perception that a film has value,” said Braun. “Chasing Ice,” by the company’s boutique distribution label Submarine Deluxe, had a what he called an “opportunistic release” as the weekend of the film’s release was also the weekend when Hurricane Sandy hit the US.


“We had lots of press bringing up the whole issue of environment and climate change, that global warming is real. We sold a lot of group tickets to non-profits and companies. We had close to $2 million box office, which was very successful,” he said.

But despite FilMart’s efforts in boosting the trading of documentary films, Hong Kong-based Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker Ruby Yang (“The Blood of Yingzhou District”) accused the Hong Kong government of not providing enough support for documentary filmmaking.


LOS ANGELES: George Clooney has come on board to narrate Moriah Films’ documentary “Never Stop Dreaming: The Life and Legacy of Shimon Peres,” Variety has learned.

It’s the 16th film produced by Moriah, the film division of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles. The production company generates documentaries focused on the Jewish experience as well as contemporary human rights. Two of its films, “Genocide” and “The Long Way Home,” have won the Academy Award for best documentary feature.

Nine months before he died last year, the 92-year-old Peres asked Moriah Films to create a documentary on his life story. “Never Stop Dreaming” includes interviews with president Clinton, president George W. Bush, president Obama, British prime minister Tony Blair, and Barbra Streisand. The film will be released later this year.

 LOS ANGELES: With the country feeling more divided than ever, everyone’s heartstrings could use a good tug, and that’s exactly what the trailer for the upcoming “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” promises.

The trailer, hailed on social media as a tearjerker itself, shows footage from the set of “Mister Rogers,” as well as clips of Fred Rogers off-screen.

The documentary will feature interviews with those involved in the creation of the children’s television series, including producer Margy Whitmer, who quips, “You take all of the elements that make good television, and do the exact opposite — you have ‘Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood’….yet, it worked.” Others interviewed in the trailer are Elizabeth Seamans, who played McFeely, and Francois Clemmons, who played Clemmons.

The trailer touches on how the film will explore “Mister Rogers’” radical nature — the show covered topics like death, divorce, and racism.

“The greatest thing that we can do is to help somebody know that they’re loved and capable of loving,” Rogers says in a voiceover.

“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?,” from Focus Features, premieres June 8. Variety critic Amy Nicholson wrote that though the film, which premiered at Sundance, is “not a complex portrait,” it serves as “comfort food in an uncertain era.”


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