This past weekend Wall to Wall and Red Box Films’ doc Man on Wire won the BAFTA for Outstanding British Film, beating dramas Slumdog Millionaire, Hunger, Mamma Mia! and In Bruges. Realscreen spoke with executive producer Jonathan Hewes about the win, what it means for docs and Man on Wire, in particular.
Hewes is of course quite pleased with the acknowledgement Man on Wire has received, but he feels that its larger context for documentary films is twofold. ‘It shows documentaries can compete with scripted. What’s great about it is Outstanding British Film is not a niche category, it’s everything,’ says Hewes. ‘That’s a heartening endorsement of documentary’s power to really strike a chord on the big screen.’
But in Hewes’ view this doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll be seeing more documentaries in cinemas. ‘We were just talking about this with Magnolia, who distributed the film in North America, and there was a period about five years ago [which lasted] for about two or three years where documentaries played pretty well in cinemas. The last couple of years it’s been much tougher to get people to go see them,’ he says. ‘I think Magnolia’s feeling is it’s a result of [the genre's] own success.’ What this means, according to Hewes, is that when one successful doc spawns more that just aren’t as good, it eats up the public’s appetite for non-fiction film.
‘The BAFTA does show that documentary does have the power to tell big stories on a big screen as powerfully as scripted,’ he summarizes, stating that 2004 Best British Film winner Touching the Void is the only other doc that has won in this category. As for what this win means for Man on Wire as it climbs towards the Oscars, the doc is being re-released in select cities starting tomorrow.