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Saturday, February 19, 2005

WILL THEATRICAL AUDIENCES CONTINUE TO BUY DOCUMENTARY FILMS?


Born Into Brothels
Originally uploaded by Screenlabs.
Just look around and you might be surprised, documentaries continue to arrive at movie theaters with a line-up of new titles from GUNNER PALACE to BORN INTO BROTHELS to INSIDE DEEP THROAT. Was the 2004 documentary surge just a blip or has a shift really occurred in indie filmmaking?

Coming out of Berlin this week, a couple of riveting and unforgettable war documentaries COCA - THE DOVE FROM CHECHNYA: EUROPE IN DENIAL OF A WAR by French-born Eric Bergkraut and WHITE RAVENS -- NIGHTMARE IN CHECHNYA by Tamara Trampe and Johann Feindt bring to film audiences the unspeakable and brutal acts that have come to mark the early years of this millennium. Will these documentaries serve as a reminder of the harsh realities of war that the politicized mainstream media ignores or taints for favorable gains and, more importantly, will audiences buy tickets to sit in dark theaters with popcorn and candy, at the ready, to have brutal acts unreel before them?

After a year of art house theater owners living dangerously and running films like Michael Moore's FAHRENHEIT 911 on two and three screens simultaneously (like multiplexes run blockbusters) and the unlikely successes of films SUPERSIZE ME, THE CORPORATION, FOG OF WAR, and CONTROL ROOM a new documentary film market has emerged. Suddenly, non-profit venues like U Film Society's Bell auditorium dedicating itself to an "all-documentary all-the-time" schedule, cable channels like HBO, Learning and History Channels and DVD releases have invigorated revenue streams.

The challenge ahead for documentaries will be for this penetration of films to sustain itself with return of box office. The Oscars have long ignored the highest profile documentary films and audience favorites like A THIN BLUE LINE, ROGER AND ME, and HOOP DREAMS by refusing them nominations and awards. This year is no diffrerent with the people's choice films failing to appear on Oscar nomination lists.

The bigger question is whether the Oscar can bring audiences into see films like BORN INTO BROTHELS or the sublime STORY OF THE WEEPING CAMEL in theaters or on DVD?

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