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Netflix Releases Groundbreaking Eco-doc 'Mission Blue,' Plus Other Potential Doc Oscar Contenders (TRAILER)

Thompson on Hollywood By Anne Thompson and Jacob Combs | Thompson on Hollywood July 31, 2014 at 3:37PM

The words 'Netflix' and 'original content' bring to mind shows like "House of Cards" and "Orange Is the New Black." But Netflix has been consistently seeking new types of programming to bring to viewers under its own banner, and it plans to do so significantly this year with a raft of new documentaries.
Dr. Sylvia Earle attends the world premiere of "Mission Blue" at the opening night of the Santa Barbara Film Festival.
Mark Davis/Getty Images for SBIFF Dr. Sylvia Earle attends the world premiere of "Mission Blue" at the opening night of the Santa Barbara Film Festival.

The words "Netflix" and "original content" bring to mind shows like "House of Cards" and "Orange Is the New Black"--Emmy-nominated smash hits that have garnered the streaming company viewers, subscribers and awards. Late in 2014 the company plans to release new original series "Marco Polo" with the Weinsteins producing and the "Kon-Tiki" directing duo taking the helm. As with "House of Cards" and "Orange," all episodes of "Marco Polo" will be available at once. 

But Netflix has been consistently seeking new types of programming to lure viewers, and it plans to continue its push into documentaries that began with Sundance opener "Mitt"--a four-year look at the failed 2012 presidential candidate that went straight to theaters after the fest--and "The Square," Jehane Noujaim's Oscar-nominated account of the Egyptian revolution viewed through the lens of events in Tahrir Square. Netflix made "The Square" available for streaming on January 17--the day after the Oscar nominations--followed by a theatrical release in some cities in March. They even bought billboards around Los Angeles for the film.

According to the New York Times, Netflix is putting $3 billion into original content this year--including its first push into animated, educational programming in the reboot of "The Magic School Bus"--as it seeks to bring new subscribers, especially in foreign markets.  On the documentary front, Lisa Nishimura, the company's VP of original documentary and comedy programming, told the Times, Netflix is particularly interested in cause-specific documentaries whose themes will appeal to a global audience. "We are really free from the constraints that other platforms have," Nishimura told the Times.

As we reported earlier this year, Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos has always been close to the indie film community

Netflix wants to buy about ten docs a year, Sarandos told me, preferring to acquire all rights for an upfront minimum guarantee. That way if the movie works out and is popular, all good, and if it doesn't, well, it's on Netflix for making a bad call. While he's been tempted by such commercial narrative films as "The Way Way Back" and "Bad Word," he's sticking to docs for now. 

Netflix has scooped up director Fisher Stevens' well-reviewed eco biodoc "Mission Blue," which documents the life work of pioneering oceanographer Sylvia Earle, which has been re-edited since playing the Berlin, Santa Barbara (review here) and Ashland festivals. The not-for-profit film will open August 15 backed by a massive outreach campaign to promote understanding and awareness about the threats faced by Earth's oceans. The film is both enlightening and entertaining, not unlike producer Stevens' Oscar-nominated indie hit "The Cove." 

Netflix has also acquired exclusive rights to "Virunga," a film about the effort made by park rangers at a national park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to save the site and its endangered wildlife from poachers and military forces.  The doc premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in April, where it received a nomination for Best Documentary Feature. The streaming service has also snapped up the rights to well-received Sundance entry "E-Team," which focuses on the work of human rights advocates.

Below, check out the trailer for "Mission Blue."


This article is related to: Netflix, Documentary, New Media & Technology, Awards, Awards, Academy Awards, Documentary, Documentaries, Oscars, Fisher Stevens, Trailers, Trailers

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.