In a major bid to raise its profile in the documentary world, Bethesda, U.S.-based Discovery Communications has joined forces with New York-based prodco CameraPlanet to commission and release feature-length theatrical films.
The initiative, called Discovery Docs and announced on March 4, will see CameraPlanet coproduce and distribute an as-yet-undetermined number of docs to cinemas in at least five U.S. cities. A TV premiere in a two-hour Discovery Channel strand will follow the theater tour roughly six months later.
Discovery Networks president Billy Campbell says the project approval phase will begin soon, with the finished films starting to hit theaters by early 2004. The partners are open to submissions, with CameraPlanet fielding the proposals.
‘We will be greenlighting significantly budgeted docs with A-list filmmakers,’ notes CameraPlanet copresident Steve Rosenbaum. Six of the factual filmmakers who have put forward proposals are: Barbara Kopple, Michael Apted, Peter Gilbert, Nanette Burstein, Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker. Says Apted, ‘There is such a struggle to get theatrical distribution for our films that to have this whole organization behind us is just thrilling.’
In unveiling Discovery Docs, Campbell emphasized that there are few preset budgetary or creative constraints. ‘We’ve just basically said…let’s do as many [docs] as we possibly can to maximize the reach and vision for the filmmakers,’ he says, adding, ‘We’ll spend whatever it takes to do it the right way.’ Discovery Networks will be the primary financier of the projects.
Steve Carlis, the copresident of CameraPlanet, feels that there is pent-up demand for docs to be screened in movie houses. ‘Commercial documentaries should be seen by a much larger audience than has been seen traditionally, and I think through a really strong theatrical release, combined with a broadcast premiere on Discovery Channel, people will get to see these great filmmakers’ work across the country, and across the world.’ The exact theatrical rollout will be determined on a picture-by-picture basis, he noted.
Rosenbaum adds that their agenda includes developing a DVD/video line around the partnership.