'9/11' moves BBC to develop fact-based pix

LONDON — The box office success of documentaries like Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11″ is encouraging the BBC to develop factual films for theatrical release before TV screening.

The BBC’s director of factual and learning, Peter Willis, who joined the BBC 18 months ago after a brief stint at WGBH Boston, outlined the new strategy at a lunch with media scribes on Tuesday.

Willis will meet execs at BBC Films for more discussions about the initiative later this week.

He said: “There is a way of making documentaries that can work in the cinema, but that also have a life on TV. BBC Films makes fiction, but they can see that nonfiction is doing well.

“I want to widen the range of documentaries we make. This is one way of doing that and tapping into the public appetite for documentaries that is clearly there, as the success of ‘Fahrenheit 9/11′ shows.”

BBC Films head David Thomson added: “This is an opportunity to unlock the barriers between departments. As someone with a background in documentary, I’ve always been interested in documentary as a form of drama.

“It’s also possible that some of the subjects that we research for documentaries could be developed into projects aimed at cinema audiences. At the moment we’re doing something on embedded journalists that might have that potential.”

Budgets would be around £1.5 million ($2.55 million) with the BBC investing up to a quarter of the cost.

A theatrical version of BBC natural history skein “Blue Planet,” released under the title “Deep Blue,” performed well in European cinemas.

Willis said the pubcaster’s latest natural history blockbuster, “Planet Earth,” could follow the same route.

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