*Oprah Winfrey has promised to bring documentary movies into homes across the United States on her new OWN television network in an effort she likened to her hugely successful book club.
At a Saturday launch party at the Sundance Film Festival, which has long championed documentary movies, Winfrey told a crowd that outspoken celebrity Rosie O’Donnell will be OWN’s “curator” of non-fiction films. O’Donnell will host specials in which the films’ makers and subjects are featured when the OWN Documentary Film Club launches this spring.
“It is my intention to do for documentaries what we have been able to do for books,” Winfrey said, according to the AP. “My goal, my dream, my intention is to bring documentaries into the mainstream, to have them stimulate new ways of thinking.”
Non-fiction films have long been the stepchildren to their far more popular siblings, narrative feature films, and it is rare when a documentary gets the necessary marketing and promotion to bring in big bucks at box offices.
In her book club, launched on her daytime talk program “The Oprah Winfrey Show” during the mid-1990s, Winfrey would pick a title, audiences would read it, and then she would host shows to discuss the books with authors and experts.
The effort, which generated a few controversies among its selections, nevertheless kept her millions of fans tuned-in and made many of the chosen titles instant bestsellers.
So, documentary makers are welcoming OWN’s entry into the documentary marketplace with open arms and big smiles.
Fenton Bailey, who with his filmmaking partner Randy Barbato made the highly-praised “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” said when he first heard of OWN’s plans, it was “like Christmas.” His and Barbato’s new “Becoming Chaz,” about the sex change of Chaz Bono, was OWN’s first acquisition.
Already, directors Forrest Whitaker and Barbara Kopple have begun working on documentaries for OWN. Other of the network’s titles being promoted at Sundance include “Family Affair,” “No Woman, No Cry,” “One Lucky Elephant” and “Louder Than a Bomb.”