Last week's Mifed film market will have brought financial cheer to a number of documentary producers who saw their works licensed for theatrical release. The annual market in Milan is normally focused of feature films and forthcoming projects, but this year also saw a growing emphasis on documentaries.
Although the market organisers did not quantify the number of films being sold by genre, many more sales companies were clearly sporting documentaries than at previous editions of Mifed. "The buzz created by Michael Moore's Bowling For Columbine and the surprise box office success of Etre Et Avoir have shown many doubters that documentaries can have viable theatrical careers in numerous territories," said one observer.
Few companies have sought to exploit this trend more than Fortissimo, the Amsterdam-based sales and production outfit, that also operates a major Hong Kong sales offshoot.
Fortissimo is handling sales on IDFA opening film Capturing The Friedmans and took the opportunity in Milan to introduce two other titles to international distributors. It is readying Gyspy Caravan, being directed by Jasmine Dellal, for a Spring 2004 release, and was selling last year's Academy Award nominee Spellbound, Jeff Blitz' examination of the "spelling bee" phenomenon in the US.
At Mifed Fortissimo closed distribution deals on Capturing with Noble Entertainment for release in Scandinavia and with Karma Films for Spain. On Spellbound it sold Japanese rights to Presidio, Israeli rights to United King, Iceland to the Icelandic Film Corporation and Australia/New Zealand to Hopscotch.
Fortissimo also sold Benelux rights to Mabel Cheung's Tears Of The Dragon: The Jackie Chan Story, a portrait of the martial art star's lost family in China, to A Film Distribution.
Fortissimo was not the only active seller of documentaries at the market. Los Angeles-based independent Menemsha Entertainment's Mifed deals included the sale of award-winning documentary Hitler's Secretary to Alfa in Argentina, Gil in Israel and Bergvik in Iceland.
Rome-based sales agent Adriana Chiesa Enterprises (ACE) bolstered its Mifed slate by picking up international distribution rights to a documentary about the last few hours in the life of Cuban revolutionary, Che Guevara. Directed by Italy's Romano Scavolini, the 60 minute documentary is entitled Che: The Last Hours - The Truth About His Assassination and is produced by Francesco Pape.
And Spain's Kevin Williams Associates (KWA) took over sales duties on Oliver Stone's controversial Fidel Castro documentary Comandante, which had previously been handled by MediaPro, one of the film's co-producers.
The title paints an amicable, grandfatherly portrait of the Cuban leader and premiered at last year's Sundance and screened in Berlin. But since then it has suffered a turbulent career. HBO cancelled its planned broadcast date last May following crackdowns on dissidents by the Castro government, and the Tribeca Film Festival pulled it from its line-up.
Company principal, Kevin Williams says this need not dent the film's sales prospects. "The fact that this is Oliver Stone and a contentious subject matter could make it more commercial in some territories and taboo in others," said Williams.
Comandante was sold to the UK (Optimum), Italy (Mikado), Scandinavia and the Baltic countries (NonStop Distribution).