Production house to focus on documentaries

The Mouse House kicked off Earth Day by unveiling Disneynature, a shingle focused on producing documentaries about the environment.

First pic to be released in the U.S. through the banner is “Earth,” from British producer-director Alastair Fothergill, who produced the “Planet Earth” series for the BBC and the Discovery Channel. James Earl Jones narrates the docu that bows one year from today, April 22, 2009. The film will also be released under the Disneynature banner in Latin America.

Internationally, the first title to go out will be December’s “The Crimson Wing: Mystery of the Flamingos,” by Matthew Aeberhard and Leander Ward.

Jean-Francois Camilleri, who has long served as senior VP-general manager for Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures France, heads up the new unit (Variety, May 26, 2007).

Disneynature will be based in France, where Camilleri will oversee the development and acquisition of theatrical releases. Through Buena Vista France, he was one of the first backers of hit docu “March of the Penguins.”

Productions will be supported across Disney’s various businesses, including its theme parks, publications and licensing.

“Disneynature is a concept we look forward to building across the company and across the globe for years to come, and we hope these films will contribute to a greater understanding and appreciation of the beauty and fragility of our natural world,” Disney prexy-CEO Robert Iger said.

For 2010, the shingle has skedded “Oceans,” by Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud, and “Orangutans,” by Charlie Hamilton James. They will be followed by “Big Cats,” co-directed by Keith Scholey and Fothergill, and Louie Schwartzberg’s “Naked Beauty: A Love Story That Feeds the Earth,” about a hummingbird, a butterfly and a bumblebee, both for 2011, and “Chimpanzee,” from Fothergill and Mark Linfield, for 2012.

For Disney, the push into nature docus is a throwback to the era when Walt Disney was running the studio. Disney produced 13 nature pics from 1948-1960 under the Walt Disney True-Life Adventures banner. True-Life Adventures series collected eight Oscars during its 13-year run, including best feature docu honors for the first release, 1953′s “The Living Desert.”

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more