Netflix and Amazon Aren’t Buying Documentaries, But the Non-Fiction Market Is Booming Anyway

The digital disruptors aren’t buying documentaries the way they were a year ago, but that doesn’t mean the marketplace has gone stagnant.

Documentaries are hotter than ever, but their production and distribution is in constant flux. In 2017, major companies were shelling out huge dollars to acquire documentaries, dramatically shifting the scales for the budgets and value of nonfiction. Then everything changed at Sundance 2018, when contrary to expectations, Netflix and Amazon deescalated the marketplace they had super-sized a year before.

At the Park City festival, Netflix acquired a single doc, “Shirkers”; Amazon hasn’t acquired a completed documentary since Matthew Heineman’s “City of Ghosts” from 2017. “It’s like night and day,” said one documentary producer. While Amazon’s strategy remains unclear, Netflix has refocused its resources on producing documentaries in-house.

Both companies declined to comment for this article. But it’s clear that their recent absence from the market has had impact — deals have taken longer to close and the price-tags have been reduced.

“We’re having to educate producers and financiers not to expect the bigger deals of two years ago,” said Josh Braun of Submarine Entertainment, who is entering the Tribeca Film Festival this week with seven documentaries up for sale. “There are still seven-figure deals,” he said, “but with the SVOD platforms buying less, it’s not always as competitive.”

But that’s not to say that documentaries are losing their heat. On the contrary, the appetite for documentaries is growing, with major players turning to the nonfiction space in larger numbers.

“The documentary film and series market is experiencing a revival,” said Blumhouse Television co-president Marci Wiseman. “It’s becoming general, not specialty entertainment.”

Blumhouse’s Tribeca premiere “Bathtubs Over Broadway,” an amusing look at the secret history of corporate “industrial musicals,” is one of many new documentaries trying to capitalize on what Wiseman called “exciting opportunities in the TV space.”

“We are having conversations with buyers who were never interested in docs before,” she said.

What’s Hot in Docs?

Such excitement around nonfiction, however, is putting increased pressure on documentary filmmakers to make their projects commercial “character-driven narratives or very high concept,” according to Endeavor Content agent Kevin Iwashina, who is also representing several new documentaries at the Tribeca Film Festival, including ones about professional surfers and Air Jordan sneakers. “One can no longer focus on just an ‘issue,’” he said.

Many of the buzzed-about new films, arriving at festivals like Tribeca and Hot Docs, appear to offer some combination of the two. For example, Iwashina is also representing “United Skates,” Dyana Winkler and Tina Brown’s equally kinetic and stirring look at roller-skating culture in the African American community—and their fight to retain it, despite economic and racist policies working against them.

Veteran sales agent John Sloss’ Cinetic Media has eight new documentaries up for acquisition at Tribeca, including “American Meme,” an easily-pitchable profile of online influencers, which, according to Sloss, is “very commercial,” as well as potential breakout “Roll Red Roll,” a compelling true-crime story of rape and social media in a small football town, which eventually spirals into a major international event and iconic story for the #MeToo movement.

“Roll Red Roll” producer Jessica Devaney, who is also a producer on two other documentaries premiering at Tribeca and Hot Docs that combine the personal and the political (“The Feeling of Being Watched” and “Call Her Ganda”), agrees there’s “a tremendous amount of pressure” and “negotiating expectations” right now. But Devaney is confident that her doc slate taps into the current cultural moment—where audiences are responding to stories made by and about under-represented groups (like “Black Panther” or “Strong Island”).

According to Iwashina, “premium documentaries” have the unique ability to satisfy the public’s need right now for both entertainment and knowledge: to “allow us to escape as well as to make us think,” he said.

This rise in the social currency of documentaries is also what’s driving Netflix and other streamers and broadcasters to ramp up their own funding and production of nonfiction content.

“The marketplace is growing which is increasing demand,” said Iwashina. “Distributors understand they have to participate in the process as early as possible.”

A film still from THE RACHEL DIVIDE. Courtesy of Netflix.

“The Rachel Divide”

At Tribeca, for instance, Netflix will unveil its own documentary slate, Laura Brownson’s “The Rachel Divide,” Kirby Dick’s “The Bleeding Edge,” and Dawn Porter’s docu-series “Bobby Kennedy for President,” while other major small-screen companies are also following suit: CNN Films has this year’s opening night film, “Love, Gilda,” a poignant chronicle of comedienne Gilda Radner’s career, while Showtime has Liz Garbus’ closing night docu-series, “The Fourth Estate.” Other familiar players include A&E Indie (“No Greater Law,” about a Christian sect) and HBO (“Say Her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland”), as well as newcomer Hulu (“Tiny Shoulders: Rethinking Barbie”).

Hulu is also frequently mentioned as a viable new distribution outlet. The company’s presence also helps drive distribution sales due to its output deals with such theatrical distributors as Magnolia Pictures and Neon, who’ve remained committed to docs.

No Longer a Skewed Market

Indeed, with more small-screen companies going into production, a range of theatrical distributors have continued to stake a claim on completed documentaries for sale. “In terms of acquisitions, the current situation may give the traditional distributors an advantage, at least in the short term,” said Braun.

According to Oscilloscope Laboratories president Dan Berger, “because of players like Amazon and Netflix stepping back, it skews the whole market. But I think it’s in a good way, because the pool of films is a little more open. At Sundance this year, it enabled us to get films [documentaries ‘On Her Shoulders’ and ‘The King’] that we may not have otherwise had access to.”

However, theatrical distributors are in a tricky situation, because the theatrical market for documentaries hasn’t been as robust as in the past. “For some reason, there’s a hesitancy in the moviegoing marketplace to see docs in movie theaters,” said Sloss, “but there doesn’t seem to be hesitancy in watching them at home.”

In fact, this time next year, the overall documentary marketplace could shift back to streamers in a big way. Nascent digital platforms such as Apple, Facebook, and YouTube Red are all currently in the mix, say sales agents, and are likely to emerge in a larger way in the coming months.

And, as Sloss noted, “Netflix is still very much in the doc business.”

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Warren Miller, Skiing Documentary Pioneer, Dies at 93

Warren Miller, the adventure filmmaker who was one of the first make skiing movies, died at the age of 93 at his home on Orcas Island, Wash., according to a statement issued late Wednesday on his official Facebook page.

A self-taught filmmaker, Miller made over 500 films that focused on his passion for the outdoors, and snow sports in particular.

Miller’s films were a staple among the adventure set, with his annual ski feature film, which he narrated, was for many skiers was the unofficial beginning of ski season. A staple for 60 years, Miller’s films contained what he described as a “first taste of total freedom.”

Also Read: Olivia Cole, Emmy-Winning ‘Roots’ Actress, Dies at 75

Mixing humor and breathtaking cinematography that gave birth to the “big air” movement in the 1980s and 1990s, Miller’s films were family-friendly endeavors shown by ski resorts all over the world.

Miller sold his company, Warren Miller Entertainment, in 2007 to Bonnier Corporation, and hadn’t been involved in its content since 2004.

Miller, a World War II veteran, was also an avid surfer and sailor, according to a statement on his website.

“While this is a time of profound loss, we are comforted that Warren’s life touched so many. Warren made the extraordinary seem accessible, and his legacy of freedom, humor, and adventure endures through all of you,” a statement on Miller’s Facebook said, confirming his death.

Here’s the statement in full.

Related stories from TheWrap:

Tim Daly Skiing Injury May Require ‘Madam Secretary’ Rewrites

Conan’s First Stop After ‘Tonight’: Heli-Skiing?

Tom Petty Cause of Death Released

Cranberries Singer Dolores O’Riordan’s Death Not ‘Suspicious,’ Police Say

Warren Miller, the adventure filmmaker who was one of the first make skiing movies, died at the age of 93 at his home on Orcas Island, Wash., according to a statement issued late Wednesday on his official Facebook page.

A self-taught filmmaker, Miller made over 500 films that focused on his passion for the outdoors, and snow sports in particular.

Miller’s films were a staple among the adventure set, with his annual ski feature film, which he narrated, was for many skiers was the unofficial beginning of ski season. A staple for 60 years, Miller’s films contained what he described as a “first taste of total freedom.”

Mixing humor and breathtaking cinematography that gave birth to the “big air” movement in the 1980s and 1990s, Miller’s films were family-friendly endeavors shown by ski resorts all over the world.

Miller sold his company, Warren Miller Entertainment, in 2007 to Bonnier Corporation, and hadn’t been involved in its content since 2004.

Miller, a World War II veteran, was also an avid surfer and sailor, according to a statement on his website.

“While this is a time of profound loss, we are comforted that Warren’s life touched so many. Warren made the extraordinary seem accessible, and his legacy of freedom, humor, and adventure endures through all of you,” a statement on Miller’s Facebook said, confirming his death.

Here’s the statement in full.

Related stories from TheWrap:

Tim Daly Skiing Injury May Require 'Madam Secretary' Rewrites

Conan's First Stop After 'Tonight': Heli-Skiing?

Tom Petty Cause of Death Released

Cranberries Singer Dolores O'Riordan's Death Not 'Suspicious,' Police Say

2018 Cinema Eye Honors Bet On New Generation of Filmmakers, As Yance Ford’s ‘Strong Island’ Makes History

The first-time filmmaker’s Outstanding Direction win made him the first debut director to pick up the prize.

When host — and living documentary legend — Steve James took the stage on Thursday night to kick off the start of the 11th Annual Cinema Eye Honors Awards at Queens’ own Museum of the Moving Image, he might have enjoyed the benefit of being tipped off as to who would dominate the ceremony. For James, the night was all about a “new generation” of filmmakers, and bringing them further into a tight-knit community that could support them for the rest of their lives.

No surprise then that Yance Ford and his debut feature, the deeply personal and long-gestating “Strong Island,” emerged as the night’s biggest winner, pulling in wins for Outstanding Direction, Outstanding Debut, and Outstanding Nonfiction Feature Film. Ford’s win for Outstanding Direction was also a history-maker: the filmmaker is the first to ever win the award for a debut film.

At the free-wheeling and refreshingly laidback ceremony, James happily lobbied for a “campaign-free zone,” though even he couldn’t resist plugging his own “Abacus: Small Enough to Jail” (nominated for the Audience Choice prize) when the time allowed. And the time allowed a lot, as the typically wry and deceptively straight-laced James reveled in delivering self-professed “dad humor” at every turn (in short, he killed).

But despite the informal feeling of the Cinema Eye Honors — easily the only awards ceremony where a live band is installed on stage to play in the winners — the concerns of the real world (and the awards world) couldn’t help but creep in. Some attendees sported #TimesUp stickers and pins, and “Cameraperson” filmmaker Kirsten Johnson joked that wearing one “worked out pretty well for James Franco.”

The Keepers

“The Keepers”

Netflix

Joking aside, Johnson also used part of her awards presentation time to call attention to the gender and race disparity endemic even to documentary film, reading out breakdowns of each category’s nominees from a small pink notebook (one of the categories she presented, Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography, which she won last year, included no women). As she reminded the audience, “we’ve got work to do.”

Other filmmakers, like “The Keepers” filmmaker Ryan White, opted to stay positive about what’s been done and what’s to come, using his acceptance speech for Outstanding Achievement in Broadcast Nonfiction Filmmaking to speak to the “watershed moment” of the past few months, one that makes the story his film tells — about an unsolved murder and sexual abuse in the Catholic Church — all the more powerful. It’s the first award the film has won this season, and he dedicated it to his long-time producer Jessica Hargrave, who he said would be the one taking the actual statue home.

By the end of what became an increasingly more emotional evening (albeit one punctuated by still more James humor, including the introduction of an actual abacus prop, in a nod to his film), “Strong Island” had proven itself a rare beast with its historic directing win one of the few docs to ever win three awards at one ceremony. Ford ceded the stage to his producer Joslyn Barnes, who paused after being too choked up to speak, before expressing her joy: that she was in a room of her peers and, for once, no longer “set against each other in all this awards season fuckery.”

Check out the full list of Cinema Eye Honors nominees below, with winners noted in bold.

Outstanding Achievement in Nonfiction Feature Filmmaking

“City of Ghosts,” Directed and Produced by Matthew Heineman
“Ex Libris: The New York Public Library,” Directed and Produced by Frederick Wiseman
“Faces Places,” Directed by Agnès Varda and JR (Director), Produced by Rosalie Varda
“Last Men in Aleppo,” Directed by Feras Fayyad, Produced by Kareem Abeed, Stefan Kloos and Søren Steen Jespersen
“Quest,” Directed by Jonathan Olshefski, Produced by Sabrina Schmidt Gordon
“Strong Island,” Directed by Yance Ford, Produced by Joslyn Barnes and Yance Ford

Casting JonBenet

“Casting JonBenet”

Netflix

Outstanding Achievement in Direction

Kitty Green, “Casting JonBenet”
Matthew Heineman, “City of Ghosts”
Yuri Ancarani, “The Challenge”
Frederick Wiseman, “Ex Libris: The New York Public Library”
Agnès Varda and JR, “Faces Places”
Yance Ford, “Strong Island”

Outstanding Achievement in Editing

Bill Morrison, “Dawson City: Frozen Time”
Joe Beshenkovsky, “Jane
TJ Martin, “LA92”
Keith Fraase and John Walter, “Long Strange Trip”
Lindsay Utz, “Quest”
Francisco Bello, Daniel Garber and David Barker, “The Reagan Show”

“Quest”

Outstanding Achievement in Production

Nominees to be Determined, “Brimstone and Glory”
Matthew Heineman, “City of Ghosts”
Heino Deckert, Ai Weiwei and Chin-Chin Yap, “Human Flow”
Kareem Abeed, Stefan Kloos and Søren Steen Jespersen, “Last Men in Aleppo”
Brenda Coughlin, Yoni Golijov and Laura Poitras, “Risk”

Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography

Tobias von dem Borne, “Brimstone and Glory”
Yuri Ancarani, Luca Nervegna and Jonathan Ricquebourg, “The Challenge”
Andrew Ackerman and Jeff Orlowski, “Chasing Coral”
TBD, “Human Flow”
Rodrigo Trejo Villanueva, “Machines”

Outstanding Achievement in Original Music Score

Dan Romer and Benh Zeitlin, “Brimstone and Glory”
Francesco Fantini and Lorenzo Senni, “The Challenge”
Alex Somers, “Dawson City: Frozen Time”
Philip Glass, “Jane”
Dan Deacon, “Rat Film”
Hildur Gudnadóttir and Craig Sutherland, “Strong Island”

Outstanding Achievement in Graphic Design or Animation

Chad Herschberger, “78/52: Hitchcock’s Shower Scene”
Matt Schultz and Shawna Schultz, “Chasing Coral”
Grant Nellessen, “Citizen Jane: Battle for the City”
Daniel Gies and Emily Paige, “Let There Be Light”
Stefan Nadelman, “Long Strange Trip”

Brimstone & Glory

“Brimstone & Glory”

Oscilloscope Laboratories

Audience Choice Prize

“Abacus: Small Enough to Jail,” Directed by Steve James
“City of Ghosts,” Directed by Matthew Heineman
“Chasing Coral,” Directed by Jeff Orlowski
“Faces Places,” Directed by Agnès Varda and JR
“Jane,” Directed by Brett Morgen
“Kedi,” Directed by Ceyda Torun
“Quest,” Directed by Jonathan Olshefski
“Step,” Directed by Amanda Lipitz
“Whose Streets?,” Directed by Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis
“The Work,” Directed by Gethin Aldous and Jairus McLeary

Outstanding Achievement in a Debut Feature Film

Viktor Jakovleski, “Brimstone and Glory”
Anna Zamecka, “Communion”
Rahul Jain, “Machines”
Theo Anthony, “Rat Film”
Yance Ford, “Strong Island”

Angela Davis in “13TH”

Netflix

Outstanding Achievement in Broadcast Nonfiction Filmmaking

“13th,” Directed by Ava DuVernay, Produced by Ava DuVernay & Howard Barish, For Netflix: Executive Producers Ben Cotner, Adam Del Deo and Lisa Nishimura
“Abortion: Stories Women Tell,” Directed and Produced by Tracy Droz Tragos, For HBO Documentary Films: Executive Producer Sheila Nevins, Senior Producer Sara Bernstein
“Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds,” Directed by Alexis Bloom & Fisher Stevens, Produced by Alexis Bloom, Fisher Stevens, Julie Nives & Todd Fisher, For HBO Documentary Films: Executive Producer Sheila Nevins, Senior Producer Nancy Abraham
“Five Came Back,” Directed by Laurent Bouzereau, Produced by John Battsek & Laurent Bouzereau, For Netflix: Executive Producers Ben Cotner, Adam Del Deo and Lisa Nishimura
“The Keepers,” Directed by Ryan White, For Netflix: Executive Producers Ben Cotner, Jason Springarn-Koff and Lisa Nishimura
“Solitary: Inside Red Onion State Prison,” Directed and Produced by Kristi Jacobson, Produced by Katie Mitchell and Julie Goldman, For HBO Documentary Films: Executive Producer Sheila Nevins, Senior Producer Nancy Abraham

Spotlight Award

“Donkeyote,” Directed by Chico Pereira
“An Insignificant Man,” Directed by Khushboo Ranka and Vinay Shukla
“Lots of Kids, a Monkey and a Castle,” Directed by Gustavo Salmerón
“Plastic China,” Directed by Jiuliang Wang
“Stranger in Paradise,” Directed by Guido Hendrikx
“Taste of Cement,” Directed by Ziad Kalthoum

Outstanding Achievement in Nonfiction Short Filmmaking

“Edith+Eddie,” Directed by Laura Checkoway
“Heroin(e),” Directed by Elaine McMillion Sheldon
“Little Potato,” Directed by Wes Hurley and Nathan M. Miller
“Polonaise,” Directed by Agnieszka Elbanowska
“The Rabbit Hunt,” Directed by Patrick Bresnan
“Ten Meter Tower,” Directed by Maximilien Van Aertryck & Axel Danielson

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Netflix Aims to Go Back-to-Back as ‘Heroin(e)’ Makes Oscars Short-Doc Shortlist

Nine months after winning its first Academy Award for the short documentary “The White Helmets,” Netflix is back in the running with its short-doc “Heroin(e)” landing on the Oscars shortlist in the Best Documentary Short Subject category.

That film, about three women fighting the opioid epidemic in West Virginia, will be going up against a field that also includes “Edith + Eddie,” a film about the oldest interracial newlyweds in the U.S. that was previously nominated for both the IDA Documentary Awards and the Cinema Eye Honors.

The shortlisted films, with production companies:

“Alone,” The New York Times
“Edith+Eddie,” Heart is Red and Kartemquin Films
“Heaven Is a Traffic Jam on the 405,” Stiefel & Co.
“Heroin(e),” A Netflix Original Documentary in association with The Center for Investigative Reporting, A Requisite Media Production
“Kayayo – The Living Shopping Baskets,” Integral Film
“Knife Skills,” TFL Films
“116 Cameras,” Birdling Films
“Ram Dass, Going Home,” Further Pictures
“Ten Meter Tower,” Plattform Produktion
“Traffic Stop,” Q-Ball Productions

Also Read: 170 Films Enter Oscars Documentary Category, Setting New Record

The films were chosen by volunteer members from the Academy’s Documentary Branch from among the 77 eligible films. (Last year, 61 films qualified; the year before, 74 did.)

The shortlisted films are now available to all members of the Academy’s Documentary Branch, who will vote to choose the five nominees beginning on January 5.

Nominations will be announced on January 23.

Related stories from TheWrap:

Producers Guild Documentary Nominees Include ‘Jane,’ ‘City of Ghosts,’ ‘Cries From Syria’

‘Jane’ Wins Top Prize at Critics’ Choice Documentary Awards

‘Hunting Ground’ Filmmakers to Make Hollywood Sexual Assault Documentary

Nine months after winning its first Academy Award for the short documentary “The White Helmets,” Netflix is back in the running with its short-doc “Heroin(e)” landing on the Oscars shortlist in the Best Documentary Short Subject category.

That film, about three women fighting the opioid epidemic in West Virginia, will be going up against a field that also includes “Edith + Eddie,” a film about the oldest interracial newlyweds in the U.S. that was previously nominated for both the IDA Documentary Awards and the Cinema Eye Honors.

The shortlisted films, with production companies:

“Alone,” The New York Times
“Edith+Eddie,” Heart is Red and Kartemquin Films
“Heaven Is a Traffic Jam on the 405,” Stiefel & Co.
“Heroin(e),” A Netflix Original Documentary in association with The Center for Investigative Reporting, A Requisite Media Production
“Kayayo – The Living Shopping Baskets,” Integral Film
“Knife Skills,” TFL Films
“116 Cameras,” Birdling Films
“Ram Dass, Going Home,” Further Pictures
“Ten Meter Tower,” Plattform Produktion
“Traffic Stop,” Q-Ball Productions

The films were chosen by volunteer members from the Academy’s Documentary Branch from among the 77 eligible films. (Last year, 61 films qualified; the year before, 74 did.)

The shortlisted films are now available to all members of the Academy’s Documentary Branch, who will vote to choose the five nominees beginning on January 5.

Nominations will be announced on January 23.

Related stories from TheWrap:

Producers Guild Documentary Nominees Include 'Jane,' 'City of Ghosts,' 'Cries From Syria'

'Jane' Wins Top Prize at Critics' Choice Documentary Awards

'Hunting Ground' Filmmakers to Make Hollywood Sexual Assault Documentary

How Internet Cat Videos Paved the Way for Oscar Contender ‘Kedi’

This interview about “Kedi” first appeared in the Race Begins issue of TheWrap’s Oscar magazine.

Some of the most fascinating characters in this year’s Oscar-contending documentaries aren’t even human. Ceyda Torun’s “Kedi,” for instance, is a look at some of the street cats who roam free in Istanbul, a phenomenon that has been taking place for centuries – and its feline stars Bengu, Deniz, Duman and more are as indelible as any people you’ll meet in 2017’s non-fiction films.

“Growing up in Turkey, we had two TV channels when I was a kid,” Torun told TheWrap. “On Sundays they would show a documentary and a Disney movie.” “Kedi,”in a way, is her version of a mixture of both.

Also Read: Cat Movie ‘Kedi’ Leads Critics’ Choice Documentary Award Nominees

Why did you want to make a movie on this subject?
I never really lost touch with Turkey. I lived there until I was 11, until we moved because my stepfather was the director of UNICEF in the Middle East. But when we first moved and I was a kid, it was an important thing to my mom that we always returned at least twice a year.

Every time I went back for the summer, so much would have changed – big street changes, structural changes. The only thing that remained constant and familiar to me were the street cats. When we put together a film production company for a slate of films, we thought we’d like to do a documentary set in Istanbul with cats, but we didn’t quite know what it was. It wasn’t until we had this amazing online cat renaissance, all the cat videos that people watched online, when I was able to even conceive that it could work.

And when we were shooting the movie, every film crew that we bumped into in Istanbul said, “We always wanted to do something with cats!”

Also Read: 170 Films Enter Oscars Documentary Category, Setting New Record

How did you get from “let’s make a movie about the cats of Istanbul” to figuring out exactly what that movie would be?
It was an ongoing process of discovery. We had an idea of interviewing reputable people who had special relationships to cats, so we went out in the summer of 2013. And amidst the tear gas clouds of the Gezi Park protests, we filmed the cats, talked to people and randomly struck up conversations thinking we could do a straightforward nature documentary.

Then we realized that what people had to say about cats was profound and poetic and philosophical. I realized that was the fastest way to strike up intimate conversations with strangers — cats were the real icebreaker.

When we came back, we edited together an online teaser, which also went viral and proved we were on the right track. We were able to get funding because of that video.

And before we went back the following summer, we had researchers who did a kind of street casting. They had leads on 35 cats, but when we were able to start filming we were only able to find 19 of them.

I imagine that cats don’t care what time it says on the call sheet.
Absolutely. There were plenty of times that we would show up in a location and have to sit and drink tea for an hour and wait for the cats. The humans of the cats were our informants — we would call and visit on a regular basis to check on the cat characters, or they would show up and do nothing, or they wouldn’t show up at all. But it was nice that I could take that time to bond with the humans.

Also Read: ‘Hunting Ground’ Filmmakers to Make Hollywood Sexual Assault Documentary

So how’d you decide which cats made the cut?
We had 10 or 11 different stories that seemed to highlight different themes about how we live together. It was very much created in the edit. We wanted to convey a sense of place, the emotion of being with these cats, and the ordering of the cat stories was the most challenging part.

Following the cats with your cameras must have been an additional challenge.
My producing partner and cinematographer, Charlie Wuppermann, said, “I would love to be at their level and shoot them like we shoot humans.” And he devised this rig where he could place the camera on a stick and have focus control on a handle, and it would be at shoulder height of the cats. The cats seemed to like us following them, and we would do an elaborate dance around them.

We tried to think, “How would National Geographic do this?” And, “How can we do that on a budget?”

Related stories from TheWrap:

Fans Outraged at ‘Get Out’ Golden Globes Comedy Category, Jordan Peele Jokes: It’s a ‘Documentary’

‘Jane’ Wins Top Prize at Critics’ Choice Documentary Awards

‘Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold’ Review: Incisive Writer Gets Equally Perceptive Documentary

This interview about “Kedi” first appeared in the Race Begins issue of TheWrap’s Oscar magazine.

Some of the most fascinating characters in this year’s Oscar-contending documentaries aren’t even human. Ceyda Torun’s “Kedi,” for instance, is a look at some of the street cats who roam free in Istanbul, a phenomenon that has been taking place for centuries – and its feline stars Bengu, Deniz, Duman and more are as indelible as any people you’ll meet in 2017’s non-fiction films.

“Growing up in Turkey, we had two TV channels when I was a kid,” Torun told TheWrap. “On Sundays they would show a documentary and a Disney movie.” “Kedi,”in a way, is her version of a mixture of both.

Why did you want to make a movie on this subject?
I never really lost touch with Turkey. I lived there until I was 11, until we moved because my stepfather was the director of UNICEF in the Middle East. But when we first moved and I was a kid, it was an important thing to my mom that we always returned at least twice a year.

Every time I went back for the summer, so much would have changed – big street changes, structural changes. The only thing that remained constant and familiar to me were the street cats. When we put together a film production company for a slate of films, we thought we’d like to do a documentary set in Istanbul with cats, but we didn’t quite know what it was. It wasn’t until we had this amazing online cat renaissance, all the cat videos that people watched online, when I was able to even conceive that it could work.

And when we were shooting the movie, every film crew that we bumped into in Istanbul said, “We always wanted to do something with cats!”

How did you get from “let’s make a movie about the cats of Istanbul” to figuring out exactly what that movie would be?
It was an ongoing process of discovery. We had an idea of interviewing reputable people who had special relationships to cats, so we went out in the summer of 2013. And amidst the tear gas clouds of the Gezi Park protests, we filmed the cats, talked to people and randomly struck up conversations thinking we could do a straightforward nature documentary.

Then we realized that what people had to say about cats was profound and poetic and philosophical. I realized that was the fastest way to strike up intimate conversations with strangers — cats were the real icebreaker.

When we came back, we edited together an online teaser, which also went viral and proved we were on the right track. We were able to get funding because of that video.

And before we went back the following summer, we had researchers who did a kind of street casting. They had leads on 35 cats, but when we were able to start filming we were only able to find 19 of them.

I imagine that cats don’t care what time it says on the call sheet.
Absolutely. There were plenty of times that we would show up in a location and have to sit and drink tea for an hour and wait for the cats. The humans of the cats were our informants — we would call and visit on a regular basis to check on the cat characters, or they would show up and do nothing, or they wouldn’t show up at all. But it was nice that I could take that time to bond with the humans.

So how’d you decide which cats made the cut?
We had 10 or 11 different stories that seemed to highlight different themes about how we live together. It was very much created in the edit. We wanted to convey a sense of place, the emotion of being with these cats, and the ordering of the cat stories was the most challenging part.

Following the cats with your cameras must have been an additional challenge.
My producing partner and cinematographer, Charlie Wuppermann, said, “I would love to be at their level and shoot them like we shoot humans.” And he devised this rig where he could place the camera on a stick and have focus control on a handle, and it would be at shoulder height of the cats. The cats seemed to like us following them, and we would do an elaborate dance around them.

We tried to think, “How would National Geographic do this?” And, “How can we do that on a budget?”

Related stories from TheWrap:

Fans Outraged at 'Get Out' Golden Globes Comedy Category, Jordan Peele Jokes: It's a 'Documentary'

'Jane' Wins Top Prize at Critics' Choice Documentary Awards

'Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold' Review: Incisive Writer Gets Equally Perceptive Documentary

Producers Guild Documentary Nominees Include ‘Jane,’ ‘City of Ghosts,’ ‘Cries From Syria’

“Jane,” “Chasing Coral,” “City of Ghosts” and “Cries From Syria” have been nominated as the best nonfiction film of 2017 by the Producers Guild of America, the PGA announced on Monday.

“Earth: One Amazing Day,” “Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower” and “The Newspaperman: The Life and Times of Ben Bradlee” were also nominated in the Outstanding Producer of Documentary Theatrical Motion Pictures category.

For the first time, the category was expanded from five to seven nominees.

The winner will be revealed at the Producers Guild Awards ceremony on Jan. 20, 2018 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.

Also Read: 170 Films Enter Oscars Documentary Category, Setting New Record

The Producers Guild documentary category is among the most idiosyncratic of the documentary awards — and while the PGA’s best-picture nominations are typically a reliable Oscar indicator, its doc nominations are not.

Over the last five years, only seven of the 25 PGA doc nominees have gone on to receive Oscar nominations, without a single year in which more than two films were honored by both organizations.

In that time, though, three of the Producers Guild winners — “Searching for Sugar Man,” “Amy” and “O.J.: Made in America” — did go on to win the documentary-feature Oscar.

Of this year’s nominees, Matthew Heineman’s “City of Ghosts” and Evgeny Afineevsky’s “Cries From Syria,” both of which deal with the aftermath of the civil war in Syria, have done well in the year’s previous documentary awards and nominations. So has Brett Morgen’s Jane Goodall doc “Jane” and Jeff Orlowski’s climate-change film “Chasing Coral.”

The other nominees — “Earth: One Amazing Day,” “Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower” and “The Newspaperman: The Life and Times of Ben Bradlee” (which was not submitted to the Oscar race) — are unique to the Producers Guild in awards voting so far.

A record 170 nonfiction films were entered in the Oscar doc category this year.

Nominees in the PGA’s feature film and television categories will be announced on Jan. 5.

The nominees:
“Chasing Coral”
“City of Ghosts”
“Cries from Syria”
“Earth: One Amazing Day”
“Jane”
“Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower”
“The Newspaperman: The Life and Times of Ben Bradlee”

Related stories from TheWrap:

‘Jane’ Wins Top Prize at Critics’ Choice Documentary Awards

‘City of Ghosts,’ ‘Strong Island’ Lead Cinema Eye Honors Nominations

Syria, LA Riots in the Spotlight With IDA Awards Nominations

“Jane,” “Chasing Coral,” “City of Ghosts” and “Cries From Syria” have been nominated as the best nonfiction film of 2017 by the Producers Guild of America, the PGA announced on Monday.

“Earth: One Amazing Day,” “Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower” and “The Newspaperman: The Life and Times of Ben Bradlee” were also nominated in the Outstanding Producer of Documentary Theatrical Motion Pictures category.

For the first time, the category was expanded from five to seven nominees.

The winner will be revealed at the Producers Guild Awards ceremony on Jan. 20, 2018 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.

The Producers Guild documentary category is among the most idiosyncratic of the documentary awards — and while the PGA’s best-picture nominations are typically a reliable Oscar indicator, its doc nominations are not.

Over the last five years, only seven of the 25 PGA doc nominees have gone on to receive Oscar nominations, without a single year in which more than two films were honored by both organizations.

In that time, though, three of the Producers Guild winners — “Searching for Sugar Man,” “Amy” and “O.J.: Made in America” — did go on to win the documentary-feature Oscar.

Of this year’s nominees, Matthew Heineman’s “City of Ghosts” and Evgeny Afineevsky’s “Cries From Syria,” both of which deal with the aftermath of the civil war in Syria, have done well in the year’s previous documentary awards and nominations. So has Brett Morgen’s Jane Goodall doc “Jane” and Jeff Orlowski’s climate-change film “Chasing Coral.”

The other nominees — “Earth: One Amazing Day,” “Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower” and “The Newspaperman: The Life and Times of Ben Bradlee” (which was not submitted to the Oscar race) — are unique to the Producers Guild in awards voting so far.

A record 170 nonfiction films were entered in the Oscar doc category this year.

Nominees in the PGA’s feature film and television categories will be announced on Jan. 5.

The nominees:
“Chasing Coral”
“City of Ghosts”
“Cries from Syria”
“Earth: One Amazing Day”
“Jane”
“Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower”
“The Newspaperman: The Life and Times of Ben Bradlee”

Related stories from TheWrap:

'Jane' Wins Top Prize at Critics' Choice Documentary Awards

'City of Ghosts,' 'Strong Island' Lead Cinema Eye Honors Nominations

Syria, LA Riots in the Spotlight With IDA Awards Nominations

‘Faces Places’ Directors Agnès Varda and JR Look for Fun in a ‘Disgusting’ World

This interview with Agnès Varda and JR about “Faces Places” was conducted for the Race Begins issue of TheWrap’s Oscar magazine.

An Honorary Academy Award is usually the kind of career-achievement honor given to artists who are no longer active, but that’s not the case with one of this year’s recipients, Agnès Varda. Not only did the pioneering director, a rare female filmmaker to come out of the French New Wave, win her Honorary Oscar on Saturday, but she is in the thick of this year’s Oscar documentary race with “Faces Places,” the open-hearted, utterly beguiling travelogue she made with French street artist JR.

Varda, 89, and JR, 34, roamed the country photographing and interviewing villagers and factory workers, putting their stories onscreen and blowing up their portraits into huge murals that covered the sides of buildings. There is impish wit, tenderness and love in this collaboration, which Varda and JR spoke about to TheWrap.

Also Read: ‘Faces Places’ Review: Agnès Varda Takes a Joyful Artist’s Journey Into Rural France

(But Varda did most of the talking: JR was late, and even when he was there he deferred to his legendary colleague and friend.)

How familiar were you with JR’s work before you made this movie?
AGNÈS VARDA I knew books. I saw a book where he took portraits of very old people. I was impressed that he made portraits of old Chinese women in Shanghai, old Cuban women in Havana. So I liked that very much.

We had never met. But my daughter Rosalie, who ended up producing the film, called him and said, “Why don’t you come say hello to Agnès?” So he came.

The first day, he took a picture of me. The next day, I went to his studio, I took a picture of him. The third day we were in my kitchen thinking about what we would do. Eating cakes. Eclair with chocolate. Drinking fruit juice.

It was sudden. We have used the sentence friendship at first sight, and it’s really what happened.

Also Read: 170 Films Enter Oscars Documentary Category, Setting New Record

“Friendship at first sight” is a good start, but that doesn’t make you collaborators.
VARDA That’s why we went in the kitchen. We said, “What could we do? Maybe a short, or an installation.” Building something with our two minds. It would be images and sound, like cinema. And we did that crowd-funding on the net. We said, “We’d like to do something together. We need 50,000 Euro. Could you give them to us?” And people sent 12 Euro, 20 Euro … They are all named at the beginning of the film. In the credits, we have 420 names.

How did you choose where you would go with your cameras?
VARDA We start in the South of France because we knew people there. Because I’m old and easily tired, we decide to work only one week a month, over 18 months.

Meanwhile we were starting to look at how it fits. “Hmm, something is missing. Let’s meet a farmer.” “Somebody spoke about the abandoned village, let’s do something.”

We wanted to have a sociologic point of view about people. We love people who have no power. Unknown people. We love to give them the light that they don’t have every day. We thought we should learn about these people, and share it with the audience, in a good mood. Because we are both in good mood. It’s obvious.

Also Read: Oscars’ Governors Awards Party in the Shadow of Hollywood’s Dark Times

Yes it is.
VARDA The main word is link. Link between us and these people. And now it is a link between those people and you. You feel like you know them.

That mood of playfulness, delight and happiness is very different from most documentaries these days.
VARDA We know the world is disgusting, the news are terrible. You open the TV news, it’s one bad news after another. So much tragedy, people dying. Plus the violence, plus the migrants everywhere trying to escape poverty to go to another poverty. And the people drown in the boats… We see the news, and we suffer to be in a century of so much tragedy. But should we add to the news of the bad times? We have been there. We saw the attack in the Bataclan club in Paris. We saw everything.

So we decided, “Let’s do it among peaceful people.” We never asked them their opinion in politics. We did not want to know. Just their life, their family, their thoughts.

I’ve been fighting in my life. I remember being in the streets as a feminist. Being in the streets as a leftist. I still believe, sometimes you do action like this. But then, as artists, our way of action is different with this film. As I say, we did not ask them about politics. We just decided to make them be in light.

Also Read: ‘Jane’ Wins Top Prize at Critics’ Choice Documentary Awards

Was it hard to figure out how to structure the film?
JR Yeah. But that was in the edit, and Agnes love editing. It’s really her master room, where day and night, in her sleep, she thinks about all those ideas.

VARDA I wake up in the middle of the night sometimes and think, “That shot could be better,” and then I go back to sleep. I do editing in my dreams. No, not my dreams. My half an hour awake in the middle of the night.

JR I’m sure you edit in your dreams.

VARDA In my dreams? No. I dream of nothing. No work, nothing special.

JR Do you have science-fiction dreams, or do you have dreams like me? My dreams are like, I pack my suitcase, I’m trying to go to the plane. I have very classic stress dreams. What are your dreams?

VARDA I have stupid dreams, I would say. They are nothing artistic, which disappoints me so much. I know people who work from their dreams – they have, like, artistic dreams, and they are telling me and I think, “Oh my God, I would just film what they say.” But I dream of putting things away, on ladders, in boxes. I would like to be an artist with dreams of images. And especially I would like to dream about surrealistic things. Because I love surrealism so much – the poetry at that time, the painting, the nonsense, the absurdity of surrealism got to me. But it didn’t come to my dreams. Sorry, sorry.

Also Read: ‘Hunting Ground’ Filmmakers to Make Hollywood Sexual Assault Documentary

Your old friend Jean-Luc Godard didn’t show up when he received his Honorary Academy Award, but you did.
VARDA It was nice, I think. I guess we get awards because we have worked for the cinema, but we didn’t make money so we get honorary  ones. We are in the margin, and proud to be there.

The honorary award makes clear that I’m not in the business game. But I am in the cinema game. I’ve been always interested in the language of cinema, in the way you can use the cinema to push the people to dream and think and open sometimes a window that they forgot to open. I love the idea that we slightly change their mentality, at least related to images and sound. We cannot change the life, but we can bring the fresh air sometimes.

Related stories from TheWrap:

Donald Sutherland, Charles Burnett Lead Honorary 2017 Governors Awards

‘City of Ghosts,’ ‘Strong Island’ Lead Cinema Eye Honors Nominations

‘Human Flow’ Review: Ai Weiwei Turns a Compassionate Eye to Refugee Crisis

This interview with Agnès Varda and JR about “Faces Places” was conducted for the Race Begins issue of TheWrap’s Oscar magazine.

An Honorary Academy Award is usually the kind of career-achievement honor given to artists who are no longer active, but that’s not the case with one of this year’s recipients, Agnès Varda. Not only did the pioneering director, a rare female filmmaker to come out of the French New Wave, win her Honorary Oscar on Saturday, but she is in the thick of this year’s Oscar documentary race with “Faces Places,” the open-hearted, utterly beguiling travelogue she made with French street artist JR.

Varda, 89, and JR, 34, roamed the country photographing and interviewing villagers and factory workers, putting their stories onscreen and blowing up their portraits into huge murals that covered the sides of buildings. There is impish wit, tenderness and love in this collaboration, which Varda and JR spoke about to TheWrap.

(But Varda did most of the talking: JR was late, and even when he was there he deferred to his legendary colleague and friend.)

How familiar were you with JR’s work before you made this movie?
AGNÈS VARDA I knew books. I saw a book where he took portraits of very old people. I was impressed that he made portraits of old Chinese women in Shanghai, old Cuban women in Havana. So I liked that very much.

We had never met. But my daughter Rosalie, who ended up producing the film, called him and said, “Why don’t you come say hello to Agnès?” So he came.

The first day, he took a picture of me. The next day, I went to his studio, I took a picture of him. The third day we were in my kitchen thinking about what we would do. Eating cakes. Eclair with chocolate. Drinking fruit juice.

It was sudden. We have used the sentence friendship at first sight, and it’s really what happened.

“Friendship at first sight” is a good start, but that doesn’t make you collaborators.
VARDA That’s why we went in the kitchen. We said, “What could we do? Maybe a short, or an installation.” Building something with our two minds. It would be images and sound, like cinema. And we did that crowd-funding on the net. We said, “We’d like to do something together. We need 50,000 Euro. Could you give them to us?” And people sent 12 Euro, 20 Euro … They are all named at the beginning of the film. In the credits, we have 420 names.

How did you choose where you would go with your cameras?
VARDA We start in the South of France because we knew people there. Because I’m old and easily tired, we decide to work only one week a month, over 18 months.

Meanwhile we were starting to look at how it fits. “Hmm, something is missing. Let’s meet a farmer.” “Somebody spoke about the abandoned village, let’s do something.”

We wanted to have a sociologic point of view about people. We love people who have no power. Unknown people. We love to give them the light that they don’t have every day. We thought we should learn about these people, and share it with the audience, in a good mood. Because we are both in good mood. It’s obvious.

Yes it is.
VARDA The main word is link. Link between us and these people. And now it is a link between those people and you. You feel like you know them.

That mood of playfulness, delight and happiness is very different from most documentaries these days.
VARDA We know the world is disgusting, the news are terrible. You open the TV news, it’s one bad news after another. So much tragedy, people dying. Plus the violence, plus the migrants everywhere trying to escape poverty to go to another poverty. And the people drown in the boats… We see the news, and we suffer to be in a century of so much tragedy. But should we add to the news of the bad times? We have been there. We saw the attack in the Bataclan club in Paris. We saw everything.

So we decided, “Let’s do it among peaceful people.” We never asked them their opinion in politics. We did not want to know. Just their life, their family, their thoughts.

I’ve been fighting in my life. I remember being in the streets as a feminist. Being in the streets as a leftist. I still believe, sometimes you do action like this. But then, as artists, our way of action is different with this film. As I say, we did not ask them about politics. We just decided to make them be in light.

Was it hard to figure out how to structure the film?
JR Yeah. But that was in the edit, and Agnes love editing. It’s really her master room, where day and night, in her sleep, she thinks about all those ideas.

VARDA I wake up in the middle of the night sometimes and think, “That shot could be better,” and then I go back to sleep. I do editing in my dreams. No, not my dreams. My half an hour awake in the middle of the night.

JR I’m sure you edit in your dreams.

VARDA In my dreams? No. I dream of nothing. No work, nothing special.

JR Do you have science-fiction dreams, or do you have dreams like me? My dreams are like, I pack my suitcase, I’m trying to go to the plane. I have very classic stress dreams. What are your dreams?

VARDA I have stupid dreams, I would say. They are nothing artistic, which disappoints me so much. I know people who work from their dreams – they have, like, artistic dreams, and they are telling me and I think, “Oh my God, I would just film what they say.” But I dream of putting things away, on ladders, in boxes. I would like to be an artist with dreams of images. And especially I would like to dream about surrealistic things. Because I love surrealism so much – the poetry at that time, the painting, the nonsense, the absurdity of surrealism got to me. But it didn’t come to my dreams. Sorry, sorry.

Your old friend Jean-Luc Godard didn’t show up when he received his Honorary Academy Award, but you did.
VARDA It was nice, I think. I guess we get awards because we have worked for the cinema, but we didn’t make money so we get honorary  ones. We are in the margin, and proud to be there.

The honorary award makes clear that I’m not in the business game. But I am in the cinema game. I’ve been always interested in the language of cinema, in the way you can use the cinema to push the people to dream and think and open sometimes a window that they forgot to open. I love the idea that we slightly change their mentality, at least related to images and sound. We cannot change the life, but we can bring the fresh air sometimes.

Related stories from TheWrap:

Donald Sutherland, Charles Burnett Lead Honorary 2017 Governors Awards

'City of Ghosts,' 'Strong Island' Lead Cinema Eye Honors Nominations

'Human Flow' Review: Ai Weiwei Turns a Compassionate Eye to Refugee Crisis