The Guardian newspaper is eyeing its first move into long-form feature docs following its success in short-to-medium length online films.
Charlie Phillips, Head of Documentaries at the Guardian, told Deadline that it is in the early stages of plotting a move to become a funder and partner for longer form films and documentaries.
“That’s definitely something that we are wanting to do and are figuring out the best model for, especially when it comes to in-house Guardian ideas. There’s a ton of great investigative journalism going on and big stories that people are working on and there’s definitely a space in which that IP could be matched up with a really great doc filmmaker and we could have an incubation lab for those kinds of ideas. It takes time to put together that kind of thing but we are definitely interested in that,” he said.
The move comes as a number of top-tier news organizations look to broaden their scope; in May, the New York Times struck a deal with FX, Hulu and The Circus producer Left/Right to produce narrative documentary news program The Weekly, while Scott Rudin and Netflix are turning a feature from its magazine section into doc series The Diagnosis. Similarly, Pierre Omidyar-backed First Look Media has launched a number of film division including Field of Vision and Topic Studios.
Phillips joined the Guardian in 2014 from the Sheffield Doc/Fest, where he was the Deputy Director, and has commissioned a raft of films including Simon Chinn-produced, Oscar-shortlisted racism doc Black Sheep, Fish Story from Fear Itself and Beyond Clueless filmmaker Charlie Lyne and Roxy Rezvany’s North Korean doc Little Pyongyang.
He said that the films cover a broad spectrum of genres. “We don’t want something that is a documentary that has no sense of journalism, nor do we want a news video, we want something that has the best of the heritage of the Guardian and draws from the best of doc storytelling.”
Initially, Guardian-backed docs were around ten minutes or less but over the last two years films are generally between 15 and 30 minutes. Phillips said this allowed them to be more in-depth, fully immersive and made them stand out from mobile-led videos made by the paper’s social media team.
“In depth documentaries seemed to have worked; when we made them a little longer, the average attention times was getting longer with better engagement. It’s not true of every film but many documentaries would be better if they were 20 to 30 minutes, that’s such a great format in the online environment.”
The Guardian is also relatively platform agnostic with the videos available via its own site, YouTube, Vimeo and Facebook. “We’ve got an ever-growing audience on the Guardian but I’m not naïve enough to think that when people want to watch video they immediately go to the Guardian. So as long as our logo is at the start, people will know it’s a Guardian doc and then it’s not a major issue where they’re watching it.”
Last month, it debuted Skip Day, which won the Illy prize for best short film at Directors’ Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival. The doc, which was directed by Ivete Lucas and Patrick Bresnan, tells the story of a group of young people from an industrial corner of the Florida Everglades who are having a final day at the beach after their prom.
Its latest film, which debuts today, is Crisanto Street, which is directed by Paloma Martinez. The film is set in Silicon Valley, where a hidden community in the shadow on the billionaire dollar tech companies, thrives despite difficult circumstances. It follows eight-year-old Geovany Cesario, who is moving from his mobile RV into permanent housing and much of the film is documented by him.
“It says a lot about gentrification in the Bay area but it is uplifting,” added Phillips.
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