This issue, we revisit our Global 100 – our annual list of the most influential independent prodcos in the industry. They get lots of ink, so I’m not going to mention any of them here. This space is reserved for the ones who generally get less kudos: their partners – the broadcasters and, in the case of features, distributors, that step up to commission, finance or otherwise offer their support for indie producers and filmmakers. The Global 100 doesn’t include them because we wanted a list that changed from year to year, one that reflected both the new and longstanding creative influences on non-fiction programming. The G100 wouldn’t be very interesting if it only revealed who finished after the BBC, Discovery, HBO and a few dozen other large corporations every year.
But, this year, we’ve added a small chart to recognize those who’ve supported the indies we’re acknowledging on the list. Each time a producer got a vote, we tallied one for their patron as well (if there was one). Obviously, the Beeb and Discovery are up there. Both manage to consistently balance such a mind-numbing amount of programming with a consistently high – often superlative – quality that it would be difficult to displace them from the head of the patrons list.
Nat Geo and HBO are also near the top of that chart. It’s unfortunate, but to some extent, I think both are a little cursed by their own success. Everyone has grown to expect brilliance from Nat Geo and HBO, so they really have to raise the roof to get any special recognition. That doesn’t seem all that fair for two of the greatest supporters of factual film and television in the industry. (For example, for me, it will be hard for hbo to top Jonathan Karsh’s 2003 flick, My Flesh and Blood.)
I do have to confess to being be a little surprised by one company that finished high on our patrons list: A&E. We’ve already dedicated tons of space to what A&E has recently done on its broadcast side, but A&E IndieFilms really deserves some special recognition. In its short history, the unit has already produced or had a hand in great films like Rock School, Bearing Witness, Murderball and, most recently, Jesus Camp. It’s an incredible record for a unit with only a few short years under its belt. (Though newer, Discovery Docs is also hinting at becoming a similar creative force. Time will tell.)
Like any other large corporation, it’s easy to beat up on broadcasters. The media, us included, do it all the time. It’s usually warranted (though occasionally it’s just plain fun) – broadcasters are lumbering bureaucracies that are prone to conservatism and ass-covering. But it also has to be acknowledged that they manage to say ‘yes’ to a prodigious number of projects each year, an increasing number of which are remarkable.