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Documentary features have increasingly been earning big praise and even bigger price tags out of the Sundance Film Festival, and nonfiction studio XTR Films is hoping to ride the fest’s doc boom.
The Echo Park-based company, led by Bryn Mooser — the Oscar-nominated co-founder of documentary-focused media company RYOT — is heading to its first Sundance following its September launch and has announced its feature slate that will be debuting in Park City.
Mucho Mucho Amor, The Fight, Us Kids and Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets, all competition titles, partially make up XTR’s slate of features, along with the previously announced David Arquette wrestling doc You Cannot Kill David Arquette. Says Mooser of the choice to back the titles, “For us, we want to be representative of what the spectrum of documentary filmmaking means today.”
The rest of XTR’s slate includes God Said Give ‘Em Drum Machines: The Story of Detroit Techno, a feature about the history of techno music; Age of Audio, an in-depth look at the podcast industry; and Miracle Fishing, a diary-turned-documentary from Miles Hargrove, the son of a kidnapped journalist who had to negotiate his father’s release.
The slate is rounded out with Lazarus, a short from Oscar nominee David Darg about street musician turned superstar Lazarus Chigwandali; Girls Section, which focuses on the fight in Northern Pakistan for young girls to go to school; and The Plutonium Dome, which follows a group of nomadic explorers known as the Sea Gypsies.
All four of the Sundance docs were partially financed through XTR’s newly established Fast Forward investment fund, which doles out investments and grants in the $25,000-$1 million range to nonfiction features that are in various stages of production. Along with Fast Forward, which offers traditional equity deals, XTR has also announced XTR Film Society, a non-profit arm that will offer grants to impact-based projects with less traditional commercial value.
Explains Mooser, “With [Fast Forward] we can say, ‘This is a great business opportunity. This is a crowd-pleaser and the streamers are going to buy it.’ That project will then go through our investment arm. [Film Society projects] are films that needs to get made and, if the filmmakers don’t get resources to make it, they aren’t going to tell this story. And we are not looking for a recoupment.”
At last year’s Sundance, the political documentary Knock Down the House sold for $10 million to Netflix, with the streamer also paying a million dollar-plus price tag for American Factory, which would later act as the first release for Barack and Michelle Obama’s Netflix-based Higher Ground Productions banner.
Earlier this week, it was announced that Oscar-winning filmmaker Davis Guggenheim (The Inconvenient Truth, He Named Me Malala) would head the nonfiction arm of Concordia Studio, a new banner that also includes a fiction arm run by former Participant Media president of production Jonathan King. For its part, Concordia announced a first documentary feature slate that is also made up of four Sundance titles.
“What is incredible about this moment in the industry is that there is real distribution for the first time,” says Mooser of the current state of the nonfiction business. Ahead of this year’s fest, U.S. Documentary competition title Welcome to Chechnya has already been picked up by HBO Doc Films, while Mucho Mucho Amor was nabbed by Netflix.
“We want to create something that is a part of the cultural zeitgeist,” says Mooser. “We want to build the A24 of documentaries.”
A version of this story appears in the Jan. 22 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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