As summer gives way to fall, once again Realscreen‘s editorial team has immersed itself in clips from content heading to Cannes for this October’s market. From lifestyle programming to natural history, from true crime to science and several points between, here are our picks for non-fiction and unscripted content to seek out during MIPCOM. Congrats to the submitting company for our Best in Show, which receives a free pass to the upcoming Realscreen Summit in New Orleans. Look for part two of our Picks on Monday, September 30.
BEST IN SHOW: XY CHELSEA
Partners: The British Film Institute, Field of Vision, Pulse Films, in Association with Faliro House, 19340 Productions, Showtime Documentary Films. International Sales: Dogwoof.
Length: 1 x 92 minutes
Premiere: May 2019, Tribeca
Rights available: World excluding North America, Sweden, Norway, Spain, and Israel
Directed by Tim Travers Hawkins (1000 Voices), this is a portrait of former U.S. Army soldier turned whistleblower Chelsea Manning as she leaves prison after serving seven years of what was to be a 35-year sentence, commuted by then-president Barack Obama in 2017. Manning gained notoriety in 2010, after being found to have leaked close to 750,000 documents to Julian Assange’s Wikileaks. A hero to some, a traitor to others, a day after receiving her 2013 prison sentence she released a statement announcing that she is a transgender woman. This access-driven doc illustrates the complexities, triumphs and challenges of a subject whose story continues to unfold in unpredictable ways.
THE AMAZING JOHNATHAN DOCUMENTARY
Partners: Cold Iron Pictures, Anonymous Content, Horse Horse Horse; distributed by Kew Media Distribution, Dogwoof (theatrical, UK)
Length: 1 x 91 minutes
Premiered: August 2019 (Hulu)
Rights available: All rights worldwide excluding Canada and the U.S.
John Edward Szeles, aka The Amazing Johnathan, began to cement his reputation as an unpredictable and provocative entertainer in the 1980s, as his mix of eye-popping magic and gut-churning gore caught on. But after announcing he was diagnosed with a dangerous heart condition in 2014, he effectively retired from performing, claiming that he had only a year left to live. Years later, the comedian is still alive, mounting a comeback tour and starring as the subject of two documentaries — the latter being a surprise to at least one of the filmmakers. Ben Berman’s The Amazing Johnathan Documentary is a multi-layered look at both an infuriatingly, entrancing yet elusive subject and the perils and pitfalls inherent in searching for the “truth.”
Partners: Primate Legacy for CBC’s ‘The Nature of Things’; distributed by CBC & Radio-Canada Distribution
Length/volume: 2 x 52 minutes, 2 x 44 minutes
Premiered: September 2019 (CBC)
Rights available: Worldwide
Their stories have been told before through archive-rich documentary (Jane) and acclaimed dramatic features (Gorillas in the Mist), but their impact on science, culture and nature conservation cannot be overstated. The trio of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey and Biruté Galdikas, dubbed the “Trimates,” ushered in a new era of primatology through their studies of the Great Apes in their natural habitats. Importantly, their work has inspired a generation of women to both follow their footsteps and blaze their own trails in science. Narrated by Grey’s Anatomy‘s Sandra Oh, this project spotlights both the amazing achievements of the original Trimates, and the efforts of those who have come after.
WAR ON PLASTIC WITH HUGH AND ANITA
Partners: Keo Films; distributed by Hat Trick International
Length/volume: 4 x 60 minutes
Premiered: June 2019 (BBC1)
Rights available: Worldwide
Never one to shy away from a big gesture that makes a point, chef/TV presenter/activist Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall declared his own personal “war on plastic” by pretending to dump truckloads of the stuff into the sea while onlookers gasped. It makes good TV while also driving home a horrifying truth: every minute of each day, the equivalent of a truckload of plastic is dumped into the world’s oceans. In what’s been called “the Blue Planet effect,” a wave of awareness about the issue has swept through culture. This series, co-presented with Anita Rani from the BBC’s Countryfile, combines the “stunt activism” that Fearnley-Whittingstall has employed in past specials with footage from some of the world’s most affected areas with hard hitting results.
WARRIOR WOMEN – THE TRUTH WITH LUPITA NYONG’O
Partners: SandStone Global Productions for Channel 4; distributed by Cineflix Rights
Length: 1 x 60 minutes
Airing: October 2019, Channel 4 (UK)
Rights available: All rights, excluding format — worldwide excluding UK and Ireland
This engaging doc follows Academy Award-winning actor, author and producer Lupita Nyong’o on an illuminating voyage of discovery to Benin, West Africa, where she immerses herself in the story of the real-life warrior women who inspired the Dora Milaje special forces of the massive Marvel hit film and comic series Black Panther. Through her travels she learns of armies of African women, known as the Agoji, who were based in what was the Kingdom of Dahomey and fought neighboring kingdoms as well as European powers.
Partners: Florentine Films, WETA for PBS; distributed by PBS International
Length/volume: 9 x 60 minutes, 7 x 120 minutes, 1 x 150 minutes
Premiered: September 2019 (PBS)
Rights available: Worldwide, all media
When Ken Burns casts his lens upon a topic, he dives deep, and his latest — a 16-hour exploration of the uniquely American art form of country music — is certainly no exception. From its Appalachian beginnings, to its various incarnations and evolutions — Texas Swing, honky-tonk and “new country” among them — Burns and his team explore the genre’s origins through meticulously researched archive and interviews with its most revered singers and songwriters. Legendary performers such as Willie Nelson, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Charley Pride, and Garth Brooks are featured, as are such icons as Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline and Hank Williams.
BIG CAT COUNTRY
Partners: Plimsoll Productions for Love Nature 4K and Smithsonian Channel; distributed by Blue Ant International
Length/volume: 6 x 60 minutes, 4K and HDR
Aired: June 2019 (Love Nature Asia and Canada, Smithsonian Channel UK)
Rights available: One year holdback in UK/ LatAm (available April 2020)
Billed as a “lion docusoap,” this natural history series charts the intersecting destinies of three prides of big cats — the Mwamba, Hollywood and Kaingo — as they fight for territory among each other while negotiating internal power plays. The action features the arrival of the Nomads — four young males out to dethrone the current, aging alpha males of the Mwamba pride while vying for the affections of the lionesses in the Hollywood pride. Through captivating visuals, courtesy of Zambian cinematographer Nathan Pilcher and second camera Sam Davies, audiences will be immersed in dramatic, real-life stakes that rival any unscripted projects set in the concrete jungle.
UNMASKING JIHADI JOHN: ANATOMY OF A TERRORIST
Partners: Nutopia in association with Livedrop Media for HBO and Channel 4; distributed by eOne International
Length: 1 x 98 minutes, 1 x 68 minutes
Premiered: May 2019 (Channel 4, UK); June 2019 (HBO, U.S.)
Rights available: Global, excluding U.S., Canada and the UK
Through a series of video missives, the radical terrorist group ISIS broadcast their intentions to a horrified world, with several of the clips featuring gruesome executions of journalists or aid workers held captive by the extremists. Featured in many of the videos as the executioner was a masked ISIS member with a British accent, nicknamed “Jihadi John” by the press. This comprehensive doc examines the radicalization of a young man, his transformation from a quiet and awkward teenager into the “poster boy” of one of the most fearsome terrorist groups of recent times, and the efforts of UK and U.S. intelligence to find, and ultimately stop him.
BEST ROOM WINS
Partners: Shed Media US for Bravo; distributed by NBCUniversal International Formats
Length/volume: 10 x 60 minutes
Premiered: May 2019 (Bravo, U.S.)
Rights available: Format rights outside of the U.S.
First airing on NBCU cable net Bravo in the U.S., this design competition series takes the “make over a room” aspect of other shows in the genre and adds an aspirational luxury element into the mix. Hosted by Genevieve Gorder (TLC’s Trading Spaces, Netflix’s Stay Here), a team of designers is tasked with making over a room for clients, using multi-million dollar estates for inspiration but working within a US$25,000 budget. The winning designer gets a spread on ElleDecor.com and bragging rights, and the clients receive a champagne living space created with a beer budget.
THE REAL PRIME SUSPECT
Partners: Monster Films for CBS Reality (UK); distributed by Orange Smarty
Length/volume: 10 x 60 minutes
Premiered: September 2019 (CBS Reality, UK)
Rights available: Worldwide excluding UK, Republic of Ireland, Africa and Poland
Prime Suspect, a hugely successful crime drama starring Helen Mirren, was largely inspired by the work of Jackie Malton, a former Metropolitan Police officer and one of the first female officers at Scotland Yard. Here, the inspiration for Detective Chief Inspector Jane Tennison, Mirren’s character in the series, returns to the crime scene to illustrate how detectives painstakingly determine their prime suspects. Examining some of the most notorious cases in the U.S. and UK, with the help of police, detectives and other experts who were part of the original investigations, Malton provides the audience with insight about the sleuthing process, and captivating explorations of baffling criminal cases.