By Gregory Crofton
SundanceNow Doc Club, the high bar for streaming critically acclaimed and festival-winning documentaries online, recently opened its gate to fiction films. What does this mean for the genre? Is it a slight tip of the scale that says documentary films cannot draw enough of a crowd to make it on their own?
HBO, Netflix, Showtime, CNN and other big networks all mix documentaries delicately in between the shows they air, often in primetime but only every so often. We asked Thom Powers, a film festival documentary programmer who picks the titles that make the cut for the SundanceNow Doc Club, what that change means.
“At Doc Club, we’re constantly exploring new content that we think will connect with our audience,” Powers said in an email. “We recognize that our viewers appreciate variety, so we introduced some acclaimed fiction films to celebrate the Sundance Film Festival this year that uphold the same high standards of storytelling that we apply to choosing all our films.”
It’s definitely a smart move to include films that tap the broad pool of independent films shown at the Sundance Film Festival to increase the “variety” offered by the club. It added eight fiction films from the festival within the last decade. They are: HOWL,THE MESSENGER, IN THE LOOP, MEEK’S CUTOFF, ME YOU AND EVERYONE WE KNOW, FACTOTUM, SLEEP WALK WITH ME, and THE MAID.
But it’s also a disappointing move. True fans of documentaries want them to consistently make millions at the theatre and attract enough of an audience to support a streaming platform like the Doc Club. Sadly it seems the three types of docs that truly draw crowds and make a lot of money at the U.S. box office are wildlife docs like MARCH OF THE PENGUINS ($77 million), live concert docs like JUSTIN BIEBER: NEVER SAY NEVER ($73 million) and political docs like FAHRENHEIT 9/11 ($119 million).
Editor’s Note: The SundanceNow DocClub has changed its name to Sundance Now.