Dis heeds call of wild with nature docu plan

Banner to produce feature films

Walt Disney Studios has launched a new production banner, Disneynature, to produce nature documentaries for theatrical release.

The worldwide initiative will involve several of its businesses, including publications, licensing, parks and educational outreach.

Disney veteran Jean-Francois Camilleri, who has served as senior vp and GM of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures France, will head the unit. Disneynature will be based in France, where Camilleri and his team will oversee the initiation, development and acquisition of feature projects.

Disney also is assembling a team of filmmakers.

Producer-director Alastair Fothergill, whose credits include the "Planet Earth" series for the BBC and Discovery Channel, has entered a multipicture deal with Disneynature. His first release under the new banner is "Earth," which is produced by BBC Worldwide and Greenlight Media and co-directed by Mark Linfield. Lensed while making "Planet Earth," the feature "Earth" will be narrated by James Earl Jones and premiere theatrically in the domestic market on Earth Day, April 22, 2009. The film also will be released under the Disneynature banner in Latin America.

A hope also is that the features would "encourage people of all ages to play a bigger role in protecting what we now have," Disney CEO Robert Iger said.

Disneynature projects currently in development or production include:

"The Crimsom Wing: Mystery of the Flamingos," co-directed by Matthew Aeberhard and Leander Ward and produced by Paul Webster. This film will take viewers to the isolated shores of Lake Natron in northern Tanzania for a bird's-eye view of the lives of flamingos. A worldwide rollout begins in France in December.

"Oceans," in which French co-directors Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud set out to capture the full expanse of the waters that have played a crucial and constant role in the history and sustenance of man. Is it set for domestic release in 2010.

"Orangutans: One Minute to Midnight," directed by Charlie Hamilton James and produced by Frederic Fougea, centers on a 6-year-old male orangutan and his little sister, who must take a journey to find a home and a family. Worldwide release is in 2010.

"Big Cats," co-directed by Keith Scholey and Fothergill and produced by Alix Tidmarsh. The film follow three mothers — a lioness, a leopard and a cheetah — as they explore their world on the African plains. Worldwide release is set for 2011.

"Naked Beauty: A Love Story That Feeds the Earth," from filmmaker Louie Schwartzberg and producers Blacklight Films and Tidmarsh, examines flowers and their pollinators — a bat, a hummingbird, a butterfly and a bumblebee. Worldwide release in 2011.

"Chimpanzee," co-directed by Fothergill and Linfield, offers a look at the world of chimpanzees, with Christophe Boesch, head of the Wild Chimpanzee Foundation, serving as principal consultant and Tidmarsh as producer. Worldwide release is 2012.

"We love balancing heritage and innovation, and Disneynature is a perfect example of this," Iger said, referencing Disney's "True-Life Adventures" series of documentary shorts produced between 1948-1960.

Disney chairman Dick Cook said that new state-of-the-art production technologies also are key to the titles, which will be lensed primarily using digital cameras but also will involve film.

Camilleri began his career working in France with Warner Bros. International, which distributed Disney films overseas. He came to Los Angeles in 1990 to work for Disney's Buena Vista International. When Disney took over its own overseas distribution, Camilleri returned to Paris to help develop BVI's European offices. BVI then opened an office dedicated solely to the French market in 2004, with Camilleri as senior vp and GM. In that position, he developed local co-productions and acquisitions including "The March of the Penguins."