HOLLYWOOD — Rarely do documentary features make the Cannes film festival’s final cut. Only one, Louis Malle and Jacques Cousteau’s “Silent World” (1956), has ever won the Palme d’Or. But in 2002, the festival not only invited Michael Moore’s “Bowling for Columbine” to compete, jurors awarded it a special prize.
That notable launch helped propel the non-fiction upstart into the world’s cineplexes, going on to gross $ 44 million-plus in 239 territories. But does “Bowling for Columbine’s” success herald new potential in four-walling documentaries around the world?
“I think that the success of ‘Bowling for Columbine’ made countries that weren’t as receptive to feature docs more interested,” says Alliance Atlantis’ managing director of intl. film sales Charlotte Mickie, who handled foreign sales on the film. “If there are documentaries out there that are truly entertaining and have that little extra zing, they are more likely to get theatrical distribution and a push from theatrical distribs than perhaps in the past.”
Mickie notes that the Cannes imprimatur solidifies a buyers’ interest. “It’s a very good sign if the festival accepts a movie. It shows they have confidence that it will be entertaining, and as all the buyers are there, it’s perfect time to get their attention.”
At Cannes market this year Mickie will be repping “Game Over: Kasparov and the Machine,” a thriller-like docu about the chess champ and his controversial game with a computer.
However, veteran niche distribber Sony Pictures Classics’ Tom Bernard doubts if current events will once again amplify a docu’s message as they did with “Bowling for Columbine.” The feature’s domestic release coincided with the D.C. sniper incidents, and anxiety over the U.S. and Iraq helped fuel international box office. “Lightning striking twice is difficult,” muses the exec.
But Bernard hopes the success of “Columbine” will encourage fest programmers to up their documentary quotients. “I would like to see them take at least one or two a year, because the higher the profile you get on docs the better the shot you have on getting theatrical release and educating audiences to appreciate docs,” says Bernard.
SPC garnered its most recent niche success stateside with “Dogtown and Z Boys,” grossing $ 2 million theatrically and selling more than 200,000 video/DVD units. Next docu feature on the distrib’s slate: Errol Morris’ “The Fog of War,” an official selection at Cannes this year.
“You try and find movies out of the culture,” says Bernard. “You need it to mirror part of the culture that people want to embrace.”
Aussie writer-director Mark Neale is predicting his docu feature, “Faster,” will do just that. Pic, narrated by Ewan McGregor, focuses on the world of high-speed motorcycle sports phenom Moto GP.
“Cannes is the place where we can combine our movie, the stars of the sport and Ewan McGregor, and get them noticed in the most glamorous situation,” says the helmer, adding that bikini-clad girls will also be in the mix on the Croisette.
Peppermint Intl. will be handling theatrical sales on Greenlight Media/BBC’s “Deep Blue,” a tour of the world’s oceans culled from 7,000-plus hours of footage shot for BBC series “Big Blue.”
Greenlight’s VP of production, Sophokles Tasioulis points to the theatrical success of nature docus such as “Microcosmos” and “Winged Migration” – both scored 5 million admissions in continental Europe and a healthy intl. life.
Broad appeal is integral to a doc’s theatrical run. “You go to the cinema for big emotions,” reminds Tasioulis.