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Netflix is adding two new documentaries to its crowded 2017 roster: “Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold.” and “Voyeur,” both of which will premiere at the 55th New York Film Festival and launch globally on Netflix later this year.
Author Joan Didion’s nephew, actor-director-producer Griffin Dunne, has been laboring on this portrait of his aunt for years. The film spans more than 50 years of essays, novels, screenplays, and criticism, as Didion chronicled America’s cultural and political tides, from the literati scene of New York in the 1950s and early ’60s to her home state of California, where she wrote “Slouching Toward Bethlehem” and “The White Album” and such film scripts as “The Panic in Needle Park.”
Julian Wasser photographer
Dunne unearths a trove of archival footage and interviews his aunt at length about the many people she met and interviewed as well as her husband, writer John Gregory Dunne. She tells stories of partying with Janis Joplin, hanging out in a recording studio with Jim Morrison, and cooking dinner for one of Charles Manson’s women.
Dunne shot Didion in settings “to evoke the essays she’s writing,” he told me. “And she’s reading from her work to make sort of a visual tapestry with archival footage from her life.”
Dunne also interviewed Harrison Ford and many other Didion friends who knew her from the literary and art worlds as well as “students no one’s ever heard of whose lives were transformed by her essays that helped them become the people they become,” he said. “She has had such a profound effect on so many people. It covers all her life – it’s one of those things, many people remember their first Joan Didion story. And part of our presentation is interviews talking about writers and actors and directors from the ’70s and their houses in Broad Beach and Brentwood where they threw real dinner parties with an incredible collection of people: from the cinema world and journalism and cops and homicide detectives and D.A.s and movie stars.”
Directed by Dunne, and produced by Dunne, Mary Recine, and Annabelle Dunne, the Netflix original documentary will launch Oct. 27.
Another New York Film Festival debut is Myles Kane and Josh Koury’s “Voyeur,” which follows 84-year-old New Journalism exemplar Gay Talese as he reports his controversial portrait of Colorado motel owner, Gerald Foos, who for decades secretly watched his guests with through attic ceiling vents.
“Voyeur” is a Netflix original documentary, in association with Impact Partners, produced by Brooklyn Underground Films in association with Chicago Media Project and Public Record.
The streaming service continues to dominate the documentary world. Netflix is an astute buyer and producer of top-flight documentaries and knows how to campaign for them. Other notable Netflix documentaries in the awards conversation this year include “Chasing Coral,” “Icarus” and “Strong Island.” After nabbing Oscar nominations for five features and two shorts since 2013, the streaming site won its first Oscar in February for Syria short “White Helmets.”
At Sundance, Netflix scooped up U.S. Documentary audience-award-winner “Chasing Coral,” a heartrending, eye-popping follow-up to Jeff Orlowski’s “Chasing Ice,” similarly documenting the technological feats required to go underwater to film the process of vivid live coral reefs succumbing to warm-water temperatures. Netflix and the “Chasing Coral” team are also engaged in an all-out social action campaign.
Also building buzz out of Sundance was African-American transgender filmmaker Yance Ford’s “Strong Island,” which won a Special Jury Prize for Storytelling for this deeply emotional, in-your-face docu-memoir about the murder of his beloved brother by a Long Island white man. Ford walks us through his family history and dives into a procedural investigation into the homicide, trying to understand why his brother’s killer was never charged.
Netflix’s $5-million Sundance pickup “Icarus” is from marathon biker Bryan Fogel, who stumbled upon a riveting global scoop: the Russian Olympic doping scandal. The twisty documentary earned raves. Netflix is also releasing Kitty Green’s well-received Sundance beauty-contest expose “Casting JonBenet” and Brian Knappenberger’s chilling freedom of speech expose “Nobody Speak.”