Sensing a new-found hunger fortruth in light of everything that has happened in the world since September11th, Robert Redford is stepping up his involvement in the non-fiction sphereby launching both a new US documentary network and also assuming control of afund that has until now seeded as many 50 international documentary features ayear.
"There's goingto be a search for a kind of truth that doesn't currently exist and thatis different to what is coming out of the propaganda machines worldwide"explained Redford yesterday. Documentaries, he says, can satisfy that need andhelp widen the range of editorial viewpoints in an era where media mergers are rapidlynarrowing the scope for media diversity.
But despite the enduring popularityof documentary features at his own Sundance Film Festival, and the occasionaltheatrical success of films like Hoop Dreams and last year's Startup.com, Redford said that makers of documentaries faced anuphill struggle in getting their stories told.
"There's a weirdparadox at play here," continued Redford. "Nobody wants to funddocumentaries or show them; but all those people who say 'no' thentell them that they have to got to get their documentaries made because theyare so important and noble. Well, nobility doesn't have a huge place in anindustry that is just about business."
The new documentary networkwill be launched in the second half of this year as a digital spin-off of theSundance Channel, the network that is operated as a partnership between Redfordhimself, Viacom's Showtime Networks and Vivendi Universal'sUniversal Studios. Sundance Channel president and CEO Larry Aidem said severalprogramming expansions had been explored including Sundance-branded networksdevoted entirely to short films and also to world cinema - but an all-documentarychannel was the one that seemed most immediately viable.
Although no US cable orsatellite operators have publicly signed on to carry the new network, Aidem suggestedthat both EchoStar and AT&T Broadband had embraced the ideaenthusiastically enough to lend their names to the accompanying press release. However,negotiations with both those companies will have been complicated by the recentwave of mergers that has seen AT&T Broadband taken over by Comcast andEchoStar attempting to combine forces with DirecTV.
At the same time, Redford announcedthe establishment of the Sundance International Documentary Fund. To be run by DianeWeyerman, previously in charge of the Soros Documentary Fund, the Sundance fundhas been made possible by a three-year grant worth $4.6m from New York'sOpen Society Institute, with the hope that this sum will be topped up byadditional backers.
Previously that OSI moneyhas been funneled through the Soros Documentary Fund, which now essentiallytransfers its activities with Weyeman to Sundance, helping such films as lastyear's Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize-winnner, SouthernComfort, to get off the ground.
Weyerman said that as manyas fifty features a year received money from Soros, a volume that might drop atSundance since the intention is to provide larger grants to fewer individualfilms.
Although the new Sundance documentarynetwork hopes to be able play films that have benefited from the fund, there isno license obligation that comes attached with any grant awards. Redford made apoint of saying that the fund would be administered on a non-exclusive basis,meaning that some of its beneficiaries may well end up on rival networks suchas HBO or the Independent Film Channel.