The Brian Knappenberger-directed documentary focuses on a case that created a chill effect for media. A sex tape of wrestler Hulk Hogan in the clinches with a friend’s wife was depicted and ridiculed on the Gawker website. Hogan waged a pricey legal campaign against Nick Denton’s tawdry tabloid site. After a Florida jury ruled in favor of Hogan (real name Terry Bollea) for $115 million, it was revealed that the secret financier of Hogan’s lawsuit was PayPal co-founder and billionaire Silicon Valley investor Peter Thiel, who was rather crudely outed as gay by Gawker in 2007.
Denton subsequently put his company into Chapter 11, selling off some assets to Univision and paying Hogan a $32 million settlement as Gawker became extinct. The docu covers all sides of this: Gawker was a reckless, insulting site by nature, with a take-no-prisoners attitude. At the same time, the film examines the dwindling fortunes of traditional media and the possibility that real news could be censored by news organizations that fear pricey litigation waged by deep-pocketed litigants or those behind the scenes trying to settle scores. The docu seems especially timely, given the acrimony toward media outlets like CNN by the incoming Trump administration, and five buyers sparked to the dissection before Netflix took it off the table.
The film premieres Tuesday, but it was shown to prospective buyers early because so many of them leave Sundance before the premiere. Submarine brokered the deal. This marks the third deal on a Sundance docu for Netflix, after the pre-buy of Casting JonBenet, and the environmental docu Chasing Coral.