When Sundance Film Festival founder Robert Redford launched the House of Docs a few years ago, he demonstrated a commitment to the factual form uncommon among Hollywood types. Redford reaffirmed his position this year with the announcement that his Sundance Channel would spin off a sibling station wholly devoted to docs. Branded the Sundance Documentary Channel, the 24-hour digital offering is being primed for launch in the latter half of this year.
Says Paola Freccero, senior vice president of programming for the Sundance Channel, ‘The main reason for launching the documentary channel is that there isn’t one destination on television that shows the entire range of documentary filmmaking. You have channels that are very specific about genres, but you don’t have a full complement of documentary filmmakers and filmmaking in any one place. That’s what we aim to be.’
Though it’s early days for planning, Freccero notes some general guidelines are taking shape. She says the doc channel will likely group films thematically according to the ideas they address, rather than by filmmaker or style. ‘That’s absolutely the best way to bring a broad and diverse range of films together on television and make it approachable to an audience.’
The core Sundance Channel will continue to air non-fiction films in the same proportion as it does currently – about 20% – and there will be some overlap between the channels, though Freccero claims it will be small.
In the long term, the Sundance Documentary Channel may attempt some original production, but acquisitions will be its mainstay in the foreseeable future. Freccero acknowledges that the Sundance Festival is a primary source for content, and now the Sundance Documentary Fund will be as well. But, she is quick to point out that the non-profit and for-profit entities do not have a formal business commitment. That being the case, she says she’ll be working the international film festival circuit to fill out the new channel’s lineup.
The Sundance Documentary Channel, like the core network, has no limit on the amount of non-U.S. programming it picks up, though Freccero points out she generally looks for English-language films.