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"--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.
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."