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January’s Sundance Film Festival is the most effective launchpad for any documentary Oscar hopeful. With a field overloaded by competitive non-fiction, it’s essential to get a head start, a distributor, an early release date and build a profile before narrative features grab the media attention in an overcrowded fall.
Some high-profile non-fiction features, like Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi’s box-office star and eventual Oscar-winner “Free Solo,” break out of fall festivals like Telluride, Toronto, and New York. However, titles like those are the outliers.
Sundance - Oscar - Nominees - Ruth - Bader
Sundance 2018 yielded four out of the five 2019 Oscar nominees: $14 million-grossing Ruth Bader Ginsburg doc “RBG,” Sundance breakthrough filmmaker prize-winner Bing Liu’s “Minding the Gap,” which follows three young skateboarders in the Rust Belt, photographer RaMell Ross’ languorous poetic portrait of a time and place, “Hale County: This Morning, This Evening,” and Talal Derki’s Sundance World Documentary Grand Jury Prize-winner “Of Fathers and Sons.”
Inspired by the 2018 box-office bonanza, buyers are chasing documentaries with a single-minded fervor: Currently, there’s 23 documentary contenders in the 2020 Oscar field.
Mike - Wallace
“Mike Wallace Is Here”
Ace non-fiction distributor Magnolia is releasing six Sundance debuts, including three from Hulu: Penny Lane’s “Hail Satan?,” an hilarious look at an anti-religion group that isn’t what you expect; Mads Brügger’s mystery-solving “Cold Case: Hammarskjold” (August 16), which won the Sundance World Documentary directing prize; and Avi Belkin’s journalist profile “Mike Wallace Is Here” (July 26).
Hulu - Brink - Alison - Klayman - Examination
From Hulu there’s “The Brink,” Alison Klayman’s examination of the Steve Bannon phenomenon; Ryan White’s look at a celebrity sex doctor, “Ask Dr. Ruth;” and Ben Berman’s “The Amazing Johnathan Documentary” (August 16), a truth-is-stranger-than-fiction tale about a dying magician.
“Knock Down the House”
Netflix - Marketing - Muscle - Slate - Sundance
Netflix will put its marketing muscle behind a strong documentary slate that includes four Sundance debuts. “American Factory” is an eye-popping look at the differences between American and Chinese...
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