Netflix Enters Oscar Race with Documentary Acquisition ‘The Square’

Egypt protest violence
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Streaming service announced intent in July to expand beyond original series

First Netflix crashed the Emmy party. Now the streaming service is poised to do same at the Oscars.

Weeks after picking up its first statuette for original series “House of Cards,” Netflix is set to join the awards hunt on the film front with its first documentary acquisition in several years: “The Square,” the Jehane Noujaim documentary about the unrest in Egypt.

“Square” has drawn the kind of buzz from critical acclaim and awards at the Sundance and Toronto film festivals that could give it a shot in the documentary category.

The acquisition is in keeping with the announcement Netflix made along with its second-quarter earnings in July of its intent to expand beyond series into original documentaries and stand-up comedy specials. The company got an earlier start on the comedy side, having already launched specials featuring Aziz Ansari and Russell Peters.

Netflix co-produced and co-financed and partnered to distribute several docus including “This Film is Not Yet Rated” and “Born Into Brothels” through its earlier indie label, Red Envelope, which was active until 2008 when the service was still DVD-by-mail only. It also released the Duplass brothers’ first film “The Puffy Chair.”

“Square” doesn’t figure into plans Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos hinted at last month to seek out rights to theatricals that could bow simultaneously in cinemas and on Netflix. While “Square” is already embarking on a brief theatrical run in New York and Los Angeles to qualify for the Oscars as opposed to being restricted to the streaming service itself, this is likely just a prelude to what Sarandos is aiming to do with more commercial titles with bigger budgets.

The Los Angeles Times reported Friday that the streaming service is in final negotiations to acquire exclusive rights to the film.

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