Discovery Communications Inc. has forged an unusual partnership with award-winning filmmakers to create documentaries that will be released theatrically and then air on the programmer's networks, mainly Discovery Channel.
Officials at DCI and CameraPlanet, a veteran film producer and distributor, last week unveiled details of their joint venture for "Discovery Docs," including a potential project on Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.
The feature-length films will be created by a group of documentarians whom Billy Campbell, president of Discovery Networks U.S., dubbed a "dream team."
They include: Barbara Kopple, the two-time Academy Award winner for Harlan County USA
and American Dream; Michael Apted, director of 7 Up
and Coal Miner's Daughter; Peter Gilbert, producer of Hoop Dreams; Nanette Burstein, director of The Kids Stays in the Picture
and On the Ropes; and the team of Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker, the producers and directors of Startup.com
and The War Room.
CameraPlanet will distribute the Discovery Docs theatrically in at least five cities before they premiere on a Discovery network.
"This is unprecedented in television," Campbell said. "We're excited to work with these top filmmakers and sort of get back to the roots of what Discovery has always been about."
The filmmakers are eager for their documentaries to hit theaters and then gain even wider exposure via television. They also hope some movies will break out and gain fairly wide distribution, like Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine.
"The vision at Discovery is that success in the theaters [will] only make the film more valuable for the television audience," CameraPlanet co-president Steven Rosenbaum said.
DCI expects to soon give the green light to several films and the first could reach theaters early next year. Films would likely appear on an appropriate Discovery service roughly six months after their theatrical debut.
"We will do as many as we possibly [can] and we feel, as a group, merit green-lighting," Campbell said, adding that his "intention is for as many things as possible to premiere on Discovery Channel."
DCI has yet to approve any projects yet, but the filmmakers are full of ideas.
Kopple wants to do a film that would be "the Hoop Dreams
of hockey." Apted and Gilbert want to pursue a project that looks at the death penalty and wrongful convictions, while Burstein is eyeing a "fly-on-the-wall" documentary on Gadhafi.
"We've gotten permission to film someone who is considered the mad dog of the Middle East," she said.