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Venice: Participant Launches ‘Aquarela’ Sales; ‘Price of Free’ Goes to YouTube (EXCLUSIVE)

Participant Media has sealed deals for Endeavor and Lionsgate to handle U.S. and international sales, respectively, on high-profile ecological documentary “Aquarela,” which is world-premiering at the Venice Film Festival. The company also announced that documentary “The Price of Free “ (formerly titled “Kailash”), which won a prize at Sundance, has been acquired by YouTube.

The deals reflect the meticulous “collaboration and curation” aspect of Participant Media’s selective distribution strategy, which this year has encompassed working with IFC, Focus Features, Lionsgate, Netflix, HBO, Starz, YouTube and CNN, among other outlets, in an effort to “always find the right distributor for the movie in order to reach as wide an audience as possible and contribute to the greatest acceleration of positive social change,” said CEO David Linde.

“Distribution today is very much like curating the films for the audience,” Linde said. “It’s sort of the obligation of the producer to actually understand that — understand who is good at what, and then work collaboratively with them to achieve our goals.”

That approach is particularly evident on Participant’s documentary side. The decision to have “The Price of Free” — about Indian Nobel laureate Kailash Satyarthi’s crusade against child labor and slavery — go out as a YouTube Original had to do with the fact that “it’s a such global issue” and that YouTube is “where the young audiences are,” said Krista Wegener, Participant’s senior vice president of sales and distribution. “Price of Free” is co financed by Participant Media and Concordia.

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The ambitious “Aquarela” is described as both an ode and a wake-up call about water and was shot by director Victor Kossakovsky at a rare 96 frames-per-second in locations such as Russia’s Lake Baikal and Venezuela’s mighty Angels Falls. In contrast to “The Price of Free,” the goal for “Aquarela” is to receive theatrical play. “It’s really made for the big screen,” said Wegener, noting that “Aquarela” has Dolby Atmos Sound.

Other recent Participant Media docs and their rollouts include:

* “RBG”: the survey of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s impact on American law will air on CNN on Sept. 3, four months after grossing more than $14 million theatrically via Magnolia. It will also be going out via Hulu. 

* “America to Me”: Participant’s first TV documentary series premiered on Starz on Aug 26. “In the future, we will be doing more in the documentaries TV series space,” said Diane Weyermann, Participant’s president of documentary film and television.

* “Foster”: the documentary on the foster-care system by Oscar-winning writer-director Mark Jonathan Harris will air on HBO next year.

* “Far From the Tree”: the documentary based on the bestselling book by Andrew Solomon about the ways people deal with so-called difficult children was released theatrically in the U.S. this summer by IFC.

Linde said that Participant Media’s overall scale is expending, with Weyermann now shepherding four to five documentaries per year; Jonathan King, who is in charge of film and fiction TV production, churning out five to six features annually; and the Soul Pancakes unit making up to 35 hours of short-form content.

“We need scale, because it gives you more value in the distribution space,” Linde said.

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