Court TV on to Documentaries

Sep 12, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Emboldened by the success documentaries are having in theaters, Court TV has begun an initiative to produce feature-length documentaries and plans to develop four to six projects per year. Some of the films will also have theatrical releases.

The move, expected to be announced this week at the Toronto Film Festival, is the latest by a network into feature documentaries. Discovery and A&E recently established units dedicated to fund theatrical distribution of documentaries that will run later on the TV networks.

Court TV, owned by Time Warner and Liberty Media, has televised hour-long documentaries, but the new initiative marks its first formal effort to produce and finance feature-length documentaries, said Art Bell, president and chief operating officer of Court TV.

The network’s involvement will vary by project and might include producing a film from scratch, providing finishing money or licensing a film. As such, the cost for the project is a moving target, but such films on a per-hour basis do cost more than documentaries produced solely for TV, Mr. Bell said.

Court TV has already quietly begun nurturing the first films it will televise under this new strategy. In the first quarter of 2006, the network will show “Unknown White Male,” the story of a British man who at age 37 finds himself in New York with no memory of anything in his life.

The movie is slated for a December theatrical release by Wellspring, and the network plans to promote it during that month to prepare for the 2006 TV premiere. The network said it’s actively looking for additional distribution partners.

In addition, the network has “K-11: The Pink Cell” in production. The film looks at the relationships between inmates and guards in the section of the L.A. County Jail where gay, bisexual and transgender inmates are housed.

Films in development include “Liz Holtzman: Nazi Hunter” about a former New York congresswoman’s efforts to fight Nazis living in the U.S.; “Dryden, NY,” a look at a small town that has seen a string of tragedies; “Under Surveillance,” which tackles the idea that Big Brother might indeed be watching us; and “Street Legends,” covering modern urban gangsters.

“The connective tissue is these are feature length, they play for more than an hour and they are by an independent filmmaker, and they bring to our audience an independent point of view,” Mr. Bell said. He pointed to the success of recent theatrical documentaries such as “March of the Penguins” and “Supersize Me” as evidence of the appetite for such material.