Realscreen’s MIPTV Picks 2019, part 1

From naked mole rats to American and Russian presidents, this year’s assortment of MIPTV Picks has something for every discerning factual buyer. Once again, our call for entries brought in ...
March 25, 2019

From naked mole rats to American and Russian presidents, this year’s assortment of MIPTV Picks has something for every discerning factual buyer. Once again, our call for entries brought in scores of projects from across the non-fiction spectrum, with a noticeable uptick in family-friendly formats and, on the other side of the coin, examinations of the environmental crisis created by our use of plastics, most likely spurred on by the troubling revelations in Blue Planet II. And for whatever reason, volcanoes seem to be hot this year, pardon the pun.
Congrats to our Best in Show (The Bit Player, pictured), and for the rest of our picks, selected by the Realscreen editorial staff, read on.


Partners: Mark Levinson & The Institute of Electrical & Electronics Engineers Incorporated (IEEE); distributed by Off the Fence
Length: 1 x 90 minutes
Rights available: All rights worldwide

Through his paper published in 1948, “A Mathematical Theory of Communication”, mathematician/engineer/cryptographer Claude Shannon cemented his status as the “father of information theory” by introducing the world to the “bit”, which Shannon defined as “a unit for measuring information.” The impact would be incredibly far reaching — as author James Gleick frames it in The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood, “It led to compact discs and fax machines, computers and cyberspace, Moore’s law and all the world’s Silicon Alleys.” Yet, Shannon remains relatively obscure compared to other great minds such as Einstein or Turing. This doc, directed by Mark Levinson (Particle Fever) aims to do its part to correct that, collecting interviews with various leading scientists as well as compelling commentary from Shannon himself. Next time you sneak a glance at your smartphone, give a nod to this enigmatic, inspiring thinker.

System Shock: How the MP3 Changed Music

Partners: Bloomberg; distributed by TVF International
Length: 1 x 74 minutes; 1 x 50 minutes
Premiering: TBD
Rights available: All rights excluding In-flight & Shipping and clip rights in all territories excluding U.S.

Just in time for the 20th anniversary of the launch of Napster, this doc tracks the rise of what came to be known as a giant killer — the MP3 file format. In 1995, a German PhD student discovered a way to compress audio without losing fidelity (although some vinyl aficionados may take issue with that assertion), and as word spread among tech geeks the world over, so too did the use, and sharing, of MP3s. Meanwhile, the global music industry, seemingly unaware of a fledgling digital music business developing under its radar, made several attempts at stuffing the genie back in the bottle, to no avail. This film is an enlightening document of the tornado that leveled an industry while simultaneously creating a new one.

Presidents at War

Partners: Raw TV for History; distributed by A+E Networks
Length: 2 x 120 minutes
Premiered: February 2019
Rights available: All rights worldwide

John F. Kennedy, Dwight Eisenhower, George H.W. Bush, Gerald Ford, and Richard Nixon are among the American presidents who have served their country’s armed forces, and whose time in the Oval Office was undoubtedly shaped by that experience. This series from Three Identical Strangers prodco Raw TV marries rare archive with gripping and innovative dramatic recreation to examine how each Commander in Chief fared during their service time, and how experiencing war in that capacity turned them into the leaders they became.

Meeting Gorbachev
Partners: Spring Films, History Films; distributed by Dogwoof (international) and The Orchard (U.S.); broadcast on History, Arte, MDR
Length: 1 x 90 minutes
Premiered: September 2018 (Telluride)
Rights available: World excluding U.S., UK, Germany, France, Italy, CIS, Russia

Mikhail Gorbachev, the architect of such massive Soviet political reform movements as glasnost (meaning “openness”) and perestroika (“restructuring”) is frequently hailed as the man who ended the Cold War. Still, in his home country, he is often regarded as the instigator of the demise of Soviet Russia. This feature, helmed by Werner Herzog and Andre Singer, sees the 87-year-old engage in a series of interviews with fellow iconoclast Herzog, in which they discuss the tumultuous period that transformed Russia and the world, and its ultimate impact on history and upon Gorbachev, the politician and the person.

Planet of Volcanoes

Partners: True to Nature in association with ZDF Enterprises, Thirteen Productions for WNET, ZDF and Arte; distributed by ZDF Enterprises
Length: 1 x 50 minutes
Premiered: February 2019 (U.S. premiere, PBS)
Rights available: Worldwide except U.S. and Germany

Volcanoes are seen by many of us as rare displays of nature at its most violent. In truth, volcanic eruptions are relatively frequent, with 30 happening around the world on any given
day, and while the power unleashed by them is destructive, it is also part of the process through which life on Earth is nourished and flourishes. This film follows biologist Jena Kallmeyer as he and his team head to one of the planet’s most active lava lakes in search of rock samples that may shed light on how some life forms, dubbed “extremophiles”, can adapt to the most
inhospitable conditions. Their findings could reveal more about the origins of life on Earth, and the possibilities for life on other planets.

The Green Book: Guide to Freedom

Partners: Impossible Factual for Smithsonian Channel; distributed by Off the Fence
Length: 1 x 60 minutes
Premiered: February 2019 (Smithsonian Channel)
Rights available: Worldwide excluding North America

While the narrative feature based in part on the true story of Victor H. Green’s Negro Motorist Green Book may be garnering both awards (including a best picture Oscar) and controversy, the story itself, of how Green created a travel guide for African Americans during a time of pronounced institutionalized racism in the U.S., deserves to be told. This documentary from Yoruba Richen uses home movie archive footage and interviews with descendants of Green Book users to illustrate how important Victor Green’s guide was for those hoping to safely see, and enjoy, their country in the midst of segregation.

How the Other Kids Live

Partners: Firecracker Films for Channel 4; distributed by Passion Distribution
Length: 3 x 60 minutes
Premiered: February 2019 (Channel 4)
Rights available: Worldwide excluding UK

In the wake of several family-friendly factual programs racking up strong ratings in the UK (The Secret Life of 4 Year Olds and Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds among them), this three-part
series for Channel 4 also mines the innocence and unpredictability of children for moments that are both heart-tugging and eye-opening. The premise is a common unscripted trope: place people in an unfamiliar environment and see how they fare, and what they learn about themselves and others in the process. In this case the participants in the social experiment are young children, embarking on play dates with kids from other cultures and societal backgrounds. This trend of light and life-affirming fact ent is scoring with audiences and critics — The Guardian‘s Stuart Heritage raved, “It’s like taking a warm bath.”

The Heat: A Kitchen (R)evolution

Partners: Red Queen Productions with funding from TVO, documentary Channel, Canada Media Fund, Rogers Documentary Fund, Ted Rogers Hot Docs Fund; sales agent: Metfilm
Length: 1 x 72 minutes
Premiered: April 2018
Rights available: Worldwide, excluding North America, Spain, Israel, Poland, Sweden

Directed by Maya Gallus, this doc peeks behind the curtain, or behind the door of the restaurant kitchen, to depict the realities of life and work for female chefs. While the culinary world is known for long hours and short fuses, the recent swelling tide of activism against abuses in the workplace and for gender parity is impacting the restaurant scene as well, at long last. Here, you’ll meet several pioneers and next generation female chefs who are on the forefront of cooking up change for the restaurant industry.

Looking for Rembrandt

Partners: Matchlight Films for the BBC; distributed by Banijay Rights
Length: 3 x 60 minutes
Premiering: March 2019 (BBC)
Rights available: Worldwide excluding UK and Holland

2019 marks the 350th anniversary of the death of revered Dutch painter Rembrandt. Thus, the BBC and Matchlight Films in the UK have teamed for this three-part series, which attempts to unravel some of the mystery behind this most enigmatic of artists. Although he found success in his 30s, by the time of his death at 63, he was so destitute that he was buried in an unmarked grave. Utilizing a cast that runs the gamut from art collectors and restorers, to insolvency lawyers and graffiti artists, while also examining his range of work, Looking for Rembrandt is a captivating exploration of the mysterious master.

Gulag: A Life Under the Soviet System

Partners: TV Presse Productions for France Télévisions; distributed by Zed
Length: 1 x 60 minutes; 1 x 76 minutes
Premiering: TBD
Rights available: All rights worldwide

Directed by Michaël Prazan, this film follows the journey of a Soviet Gulag detainee’s granddaughter, as she endeavors to learn more about the forced labor camp system established during
the reign of Joseph Stalin. Approximately 18 million people were said to have been detained in prisons operated through the system, but little is known about life inside the Gulag. With a mix of archive and testimonies from former detainees, this doc goes some distance towards lifting the veil of secrecy surrounding a notoriously brutal era in Russian, and world, history.

Manhunting with My Mum

Partners: Summer Films for Channel 4; distributed by Hat Trick International
Length: 1 x 60 minutes
Premiered: August 2018 (UK)
Rights available: All rights worldwide

The hunt for true love can take you anywhere and everywhere, as UK celeb AJ Odudu finds out in this one-hour fact ent program. Single and searching for a partner, the TV presenter and radio host finds herself at a loss even with the aid of modern matchmaking tools, so, in accordance with ancestral tradition, she heads to her mother’s homeland, Nigeria, with Mum along for the trip and four suitors in the running. Part dating show, part travelogue, the program sees the charismatic Odudu meeting with princes and Nollywood actors among other potential partners, in search of her elusive one and only.

Look for part two of our MIPTV Picks for 2019 tomorrow on

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