Sundance: Nat Geo Sets Docs on Jane Goodall, Water Crisis, L.A. Riots (Exclusive)

Brett Morgen and Jane Goodall  - H 2016
Gabriel Olsen/FilmMagic; Michael Kovac/Getty Images for Vanity Fair

National Geographic Channel is developing a trio of feature documentaries, hiring top doc filmmakers to helm stories centered on Jane Goodall, the global water crisis and the Los Angeles Riots.

Brett Morgen, the documentarian behind Cobain: Montage of Heck, will write, direct and produce an untitled project about world-famous primatologist Dr. Jane Goodall. He will use recently rediscovered archived film from Goodall’s early research at Gombe National Park in Tanzania during the 1960s.

“Brett Morgen has an uncanny ability to completely immerse viewers into his subject matter with his signature style,” said Tim Pastore, president of original programming & production, National Geographic Channel. “I can’t think of anyone better suited to transform this classic National Geographic footage of Dr. Goodall into a modern-day masterpiece that will celebrate her life and contributions to wildlife conservation.”

The doc will have a theatrical release followed by a global television premiere on the National Geographic Channel. It is being produced by National Geographic Studios in association with Public Road Productions. For National Geographic Studios, Jeff Hasler and Jared Lipworth are executive producers. For Public Road Productions, Morgen is producer, director and writer.

Marina Zenovich, who directed both Richard Pryor: Omit the Logic and Roman Polanski: Odd Man Out, will helm and executive produce Parched, a doc about the global water crisis. Alex Gibney, the prolific filmmaker behind such docs as Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief and Taxi to the Dark Side, will produce through his Jigsaw Productions.

Simon Chinn, who produced the Oscar-winning doc Searching for Sugar Man, and his Emmy Award-winning cousin Jonathan Chinn have signed on to executive produce a doc examining the 1992 L.A. Riots, which is working under the title LA 92. Lightbox will produce.

The projects are part of an evolving strategy at Nat Geo, which is a major growth priority for new 21st Century Fox CEOs James and Lachlan Murdoch. Nat Geo global networks CEO Courteney Monroe first outlined her plans in a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter, revealing how her focus now will be on bigger budgets, higher production quality and name talent behind the camera. Other recent examples include scripted effort Saints & Strangers as well as upcoming series Last Men Out from Tom Fontana and Barry Levinson and In Harm's Way from Mark Gordon. Further illustrating the strategy is Darren Aronofsky’s One Strange Rock, which will film in space.

The news of the three projects comes ahead of Nat Geo's first big presence at the Sundance Film Festival on Saturday. Simon Chinn, Sebastian Junger, Morgen and Zenovich will all participate.