×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Sundance: American Masters Launches Theatrical Label, Nabs TV Rights to Richard Linklater Doc (EXCLUSIVE)

American Masters,” the popular documentary series about the lives of artists and innovators, may move from the small screen to the big one.

WNET, parent company of New York’s public television stations Thirteen and WLIW21, is launching its first theatrical imprint, American Masters Pictures, and will encourage its filmmakers to find ways to have their films get released in cinemas, Variety has learned.

“There seems to be this great interest in having a limited theatrical run for the kind of films that we do,” said Michael Kantor, “American Masters” executive producer. “We’re all about reaching as many people as we can and building buzz.”

It has also picked up broadcasting rights to Louis Black and Karen Bernstein’’s “Richard Linklater : Dream is Destiny” out of the Sundance Film Festival. The documentary follows the career of the indie filmmaker behind “Dazed and Confused” and “Boyhood.” Cinetic Media negotiated the deal on behalf of the “Dream is Destiny” filmmakers. Theatrical and video-on-demand rights are still available.

The label will oversee documentaries that are co-produced by the “American Masters” series and the first two films to get released under the banner, Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady’s “Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You” and Bob Hercules and Rita Coburn Whack’s “Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise,” will premiere at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.Both documentaries will hit PBS next fall.

“We want to alert the indie film community that we value this form of distribution,” said Kantor. “We’re planting a flag because this is a natural fit with what we do well.”

American Masters Pictures is launching at a time when many other broadcasters are straddling the lines between television and film. CNN Films, Showtime and HBO routinely purchase documentaries or release them theatrically as a way of building buzz and qualifying them for awards.

“There’s a lot of excitement in the culture right now around documentaries,” said Stephen Segaller, vice president of programming at WNET. “There’s more now than at any other time I’ve seen in my career. Many of our fellow broadcasters have created sub brands and we don’t want to be left behind.”

Beyond the popularity of documentary programs such as HBO’s “The Jinx” and Netflix’s “Making a Murderer,” Segaller notes that there is a reason that non-fiction storytelling is in the spotlight again.

“There’s an advent of home movies and video on the era of rock ‘n’ roll and Vietnam and Watergate,” said Segaller. “A lot of those stories unfolded on TV and that means that there’s a lot of resources available to filmmakers to plunder.”

Upcoming projects include “Hedy: The Untold Story of Actress & Inventor Hedy Lamarr” directed by Alexandra Dean and “Sammy Davis, Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me” directed by Sam Pollard.
Since kicking off in 1986, “American Masters” has earned 28 Emmy Awards, 12 Peabodys, an Oscar, three Grammys, two Producers Guild Awards and many other honors.

More Film

  • Jim Jarmusch in 'Carmine Street Guitars'

    Film Review: 'Carmine Street Guitars'

    “Carmine Street Guitars” is a one-of-a-kind documentary that exudes a gentle, homespun magic. It’s a no-fuss, 80-minute-long portrait of Rick Kelly, who builds and sells custom guitars out of a modest storefront on Carmine Street in New York’s Greenwich Village, and the film touches on obsessions that have been popping up, like fragrant weeds, in [...]

  • Missing Link Laika Studios

    ‘Missing Link’ Again Tops Studios’ TV Ad Spending

    In this week’s edition of the Variety Movie Commercial Tracker, powered by the TV ad measurement and attribution company iSpot.tv, Annapurna Pictures claims the top spot in spending for the second week in a row with “Missing Link.” Ads placed for the animated film had an estimated media value of $5.91 million through Sunday for [...]

  • Little Woods

    Film Review: 'Little Woods'

    So much of the recent political debate has focused on the United States’ southern border, and on the threat of illegal drugs and criminals filtering up through Mexico. But what of the north, where Americans traffic opiates and prescription pills from Canada across a border that runs nearly three times as long? “Little Woods” opens [...]

  • Beyonce's Netflix Deal Worth a Whopping

    Beyonce's Netflix Deal Worth a Whopping $60 Million (EXCLUSIVE)

    Netflix has become a destination for television visionaries like Shonda Rhimes and Ryan Murphy, with deals worth $100 million and $250 million, respectively, and top comedians like Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle ($40 million and $60 million, respectively). The streaming giant, which just announced it’s added nearly 10 million subscribers in Q1, is honing in [...]

  • Roman Polanski extradition

    Academy Responds to Roman Polanski: 'Procedures Were Fair and Reasonable'

    UPDATE: The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has responded to a lawsuit from director Roman Polanski that claimed he was unfairly expelled from the organization behind the Oscars. “The procedures taken to expel Mr. Polanski were fair and reasonable. The Academy stands behind its decision as appropriate,” a spokesperson said. The Academy’s statement [...]

  • Lorraine Warren dead

    Lorraine Warren, Paranormal Investigator Who Inspired 'The Conjuring,' Dies at 92

    Lorraine Warren, paranormal investigator and demonologist whose life inspired franchises like “The Conjuring” and “The Amityville Horror,” has died. She was 92. Warren’s son-in-law Tony Spera confirmed the news. Spera said on Facebook, “She died peacefully in her sleep at home.” He continued, “She was a remarkable, loving, compassionate and giving soul. To quote Will [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content