Docs

Realscreen’s 2021 MIPTV Picks pt. 2

Yes, we all wish it could have been different. We would all rather see Cannes’ Palais des Festivals once again bustling and buzzing with buyers and sellers frantically flocking to ...
April 9, 2021

Yes, we all wish it could have been different. We would all rather see Cannes’ Palais des Festivals once again bustling and buzzing with buyers and sellers frantically flocking to their next meetings as the promise of a lunch along the Croisette beckoned. But for all of that, we will have to wait.

Thankfully, while the mode of conducting business has temporarily shifted, there is still a wealth of great content being shopped in time for the virtual edition of MIPTV. True, many distributors featured here have established their own showcases to feature their wares, but judging from the submissions for our annual MIPTV Picks feature, there is a wide range of projects worth investigating — from sumptuous natural history to provocative current affairs and science titles, to family-friendly, light entertainment. Here, over two parts, you’ll see a sampling of what the Realscreen editorial team considers the “can’t miss” content coming to the market this spring, with the clip rated highest by the team named as “Best in Show.” And of course, we’ll hope to hit the hallways of the Palais again in October. For part one of this year’s picks, click here. – Barry Walsh, editor

Father of the Cyborgs (pictured)
Partners: Directed and produced by David Burke; funded by Screen Ireland, RTÉ, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation
Length: 1 x 75 minutes, 1 x 52 minutes
Premiered: March 2021 (Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival)
Rights available: Worldwide
Irish-born neurologist Phil Kennedy made medical history by inventing the neurotrophic electrode, first designed to help patients with locked in syndrome and similar conditions to be able to once again communicate to the world around them. His groundbreaking invention was first implanted into a patient in the 1990s, who was subsequently referred to as “the first cyborg.” This film explores Kennedy’s triumphs, his processes, and the extreme lengths his passion for his work led him to in 2014, when, facing a lack of funding for his research, he made himself the test subject and had his implants inserted into his own brain.

Framing Britney Spears
Partners: The New York Times & Left/Right for FX and Hulu; distributed by Red Arrow Studios International
Length: 1 x 75 minutes
Premiered: February 2021
Rights available: All rights worldwide excluding U.S.
Pop icon Britney Spears has been, for the past 13 years, living under a court-appointed conservatorship, with her father as the sole conservator of her estate. Recently, she has begun to fight back against the situation, saying she would not perform again while her father had control over her assets. This special, part of the New York Times and Left/Right’s The Weekly current affairs program, follows the fervent fan-led “Free Britney” movement while also sharing the perspectives of several individuals close to the star, and the situation.

In Search of Monsters
Partners: Hoferichter & Jacobs for ARD and ARTE; distributed by Autentic Distribution
Length: 1 x 52 minutes; 1 x 90 minutes
Premiering: September, ARTE
Rights available: Worldwide excluding Denmark, Sweden
Mohamedou Ould Salahi was imprisoned in Guanatanamo Bay for 15 years and in that entire time, never charged with a crime by American authorities. While there, he penned Guantanamo Diary, detailing horrific accounts of torture and abuse. The book became a best-seller and is the basis for the current narrative feature The Mauritanian. This doc follows Salahi as he reaches out to his former captors in a spirit of forgiveness. We also see the toll that the experience has taken on all involved.

See the trailer here.

Hemingway
Partners: Florentine Films for PBS; distributed by PBS International
Length: 6 x 60 minutes; 3 x 120 minutes
Premiered: April, 2021 (PBS)
Rights available: Worldwide, all media
Master documentarians Ken Burns and Lynn Novick (The Vietnam War) return with another deep dive into a complex subject — literary icon Ernest Hemingway. Both venerated and reviled for the “macho” sensibility he brought to both his work and his life, this multi-part series explores both the flawed man behind the myth, and his considerable contribution to American literature.

Impossible Repairs
Partners: CMJ Productions for Smithsonian (U.S.) & Canal D (Canada); distributed by Beyond Rights
Length: 6 x 60 minutes
Premiered: Fall 2020
Rights available: Worldwide excluding North America
Engineering feats and mechanical marvels make for popular factual content around the world, and this series, hosted by filmmaker and world traveler Mike Davidson, should satiate fans of such programming, as Davidson embeds himself with the crews tasked with repairing some of the biggest machines operating on land, air and sea.

Billy Connolly: It’s Been a Pleasure
Partners: Indigo Films and Television for ITV; distributed by ITV Studios
Length: 1 x 75 minutes
Premiered: December 2020 (ITV)
Rights available: Worldwide excluding UK
Comedy legend Billy Connolly gave his last public performance in 2017, walking away from a decades-long career due to the onset of Parkinson’s disease. He revealed his diagnosis in 2013 with characteristic wit: “I have Parkinson’s disease. I wish he had kept it.” In this emotional and eye-opening doc, he looks back on his lifetime of performance through the lens of his last tour, and myriad high-profile fans — from Paul McCartney to Elton John to Whoopi Goldberg — take to the screen to salute and celebrate Connolly’s comedy and candor.

The Station: Trouble on the Tracks
Partners: Films of Record for ITV; distributed by TVF International
Length: 3 x 50 minutes
Premiered: March 2020 (ITV)
Rights available: Worldwide excluding UK
As we continue to cope with what life looks like in the midst of a pandemic, it’s interesting to recall all of the things we took for granted in the “before times.” This program highlights one of those aspects of our previous everyday lives — public transit and the crazed crush of humanity that would be shepherded daily, like clockwork, through the teeming hubs of our cities. Here, viewers get unprecedented access to London’s Birmingham and Euston rail stations, and are given a close-up look at the challenges that can occur at every twist and turn of the route.

The Lesson: Teaching the Holocaust to Germany’s Gen Z
Partners: Lupus Media, Open Citadel; distributed by Scorpion TV
Length: 1 x 60 minutes
Premiered: August 2020 (Flickers’ Rhode Island International Film Festival)
Rights available: Worldwide
In recent years, we have sadly had to bear witness to a rise in xenophobia, and the return of far-right ideologies that many had consigned to a darker past. But how are younger generations being equipped to effectively contend with this threat? This special, filmed over four years from 2015-2019, follows four kids as they experience education about the Holocaust via Germany’s public school system. What is being remembered, what is being forgotten, and why?

Stephen King: A Necessary Evil
Partners: ARTE France, Brainworks, Rockyrama; distributed by ARTE Distribution
Length: 1 x 52 minutes
Premiered: October 2020 (ARTE)
Rights available: Worldwide except DVD and theatrical
In the 1970s, a writer in Maine emerged from his bucolic New England surroundings and turned popular literature upside down with such spine-tingling works as The Shining, Carrie and Salem’s Lot. Over the span of the next five decades. King has written at least 81 novels, many of which have been turned into hugely successful horror films. Using substantial archive, including revealing interviews with the writer himself, this doc explores the popularity of King’s work, and the inner workings of this master of the macabre.

Ailey
Partners: Insignia Films, Dogwoof (International sales), Neon (U.S. distributor), PBS ‘American Masters’, ITVS, Impact Partners
Length: 1 x 95 minutes
Premiered: January 2021 (Sundance)
Rights available: World excluding North America, Sweden, Finland, Israel
One of the most buzzed about docs at Sundance, Jamila Wignot’s Ailey blends stunning performance and revealing archive to provide a deeper look at the life and work of choreographer Alvin Ailey. Audio interviews recorded in the last year of Ailey’s life are mixed with stunning passages from his works, and a look into new work coming out of his studio, via hip-hop choreographer Rennie Harris, adds context to his ongoing cultural resonance.
More info can be found here.

Wild Heart of Europe: The Return of an Ancient Forest
Partners: Lisa Eder Film for SWR, ARTE; distributed by Albatross World Sales
Length: 1 x 52 minutes, 1 x 90 minutes
Premiering: Fall 2021 (theatrical)
Rights available: Worldwide
Perhaps now more than ever, the preservation of natural habitats is of utmost importance — both for the myriad species contained within them, and for the wellbeing of our own. This special highlights the beauty and biodiversity of the Bavarian Forest National Park, and illustrates how nature, when free of human interference or intervention, can also nurture.

Search and Rescue: North Shore
Partners: Peg Leg Films for Knowledge Network; distributed by Blue Ant International
Length: 5 x 60 minutes
Premiered: Fall 2020
Rights available: Worldwide
The rugged yet breathtaking scenery of the Northwest Coast of North America is worthy of reverence, but also of respect. The mountains, forests and canyons within are not only sources of natural beauty but also, potential danger. This series follows an elite squad of volunteer rescuers as they find and save people in perilous situations, with cameras accompanying the volunteers on real rescues.

A Light in the Darkness
Partners: Gondola Films for Canal Sur Television; distributed by Off the Fence
Length: 1 x 90 minutes
Premiered: January 2021
Rights available: English Language version — Worldwide (excl. Japan, Spanish-speaking Andora and Spain) and Spanish Language version — Iberia (excl. Portugal)
Inspired by an assembly held at her high school in Spain and a school trip to Morocco, Marta and her friend Berta decide to learn more about the level of education in developing countries, and visit a school in Mozambique to find out how and why its system of sustainable education is working, in the face of some convention wisdom about how to best promote learning in the developing world.

Planet Defenders
Partners: BBC Studios Natural History Unit for CBBC; distributed by Fremantle
Length/volume: 6 x 30 minutes
Premiered: March 2021 (CBBC)
Rights available: All rights worldwide excluding UK & Ireland
The younger generation gets a bad rap these days, often depicted by their elders as shallow, materialistic and enslaved by social media. But those generalizations fall far short of the truth, as seen in this non-fiction series geared at kids, bringing together young filmmakers with a passion for wildlife. Here, each of the six filmmakers points their cameras at an endangered species, or towards an issue calling for attention. And who knows — somewhere within their ranks could be the next Attenborough or Goodall.

Climate Change: A Brain Paradox
Partners: Un film à la patte for ARTE France; distributed by Zed
Length: 1 x 52 minutes
Premiering: Summer 2021
Rights available: Worldwide
This documentary from Raphael Hitier explores the possibility that our collective inability to mobilize against the threat of climate change is less of an ideological matter and more of a neurological one. Through the lens of the latest advances in neuroscience, anthropology and behavioral psychology, the doc illuminates the cognitive biases and innate fears that might be somehow subconsciously preventing us from backing away from the brink.

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