Brian Fogel’s first documentary, “Icarus,” Helped to uncover the Russian doping scandal, which led to the country’s expulsion from the 2018 Winter Olympics. It also won Oscars for her and Netflix, which released the film.
For his second project, he chose another topic with global interest: the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi, Saudi Arabia dissident and Washington Post columnist, and the role played by the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman.
A film by an Oscar-winning filmmaker will typically receive a lot of attention from streaming services, which have used documentaries and niche films to attract customers and earn awards. Instead, when Mr. Fogel’s film, “The President,” Finally after eight months was able to find a distributor, this with an independent company that had no streaming platform and much more narrow reach.
“Fogel said,” These global media companies are no longer just thinking, ‘how is this going for American audiences.’ “They are asking, ‘What if I exclude this film in Egypt? What if I release it in China, Russia, Pakistan, India?’ All these factors are coming into play and it goes like this Is happening in the form of stories. “
“The dissident” Now on Christmas day, 150 to 200 theaters across the country will open and then become available for purchase on premium video-on-demand channels. 8. (The original release plans were called for an 800-theater release in October, but they were scaled back due to an epidemic.) Internationally, it was launched in the UK, Australia, Italy, Turkey through a network of film distributors And will be released in other European countries.
It is far from a potential audience reached via a service like Netflix or Amazon Prime Video, and Mr Fogel said he believes it is also a sign that these platforms – increasingly powerful in the documentary world Film – is in the business of increasing the bases of its customers, not necessarily in view of the excesses of the powerful.
For his film, Mr. Fogel interviewed Mr. Khashogi’s fiancé, Hattis Kengiz, who waited outside Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul in 2018, while the murder occurred; Washington Post publisher, Fred Ryan; And several members of the Turkish police force. He acquired a 37-page transcript made from a recording of what happened in Sri-Khashoggi’s room and suffocated him. He spent an important time with Omar Abdulaziz, a young dissident deported in Montreal, who worked with Mr. Khashogi to counter the way the Saudi Arabian government used Twitter. Opposing voices And criticism of the state.
“The Resident” landed a prestigious spot at the Sundance Film Festival in January. Hollywood reporter It is called “loud, deep and broad”, while Variety said It was “a documentary thriller of staggering relevance.” Hillary Clinton, who was at Sundance for a documentary about him, urged people to watch the film, one said Stage interview This “social media can be an effective function of herd performance.”
The only thing left was for Mr. Fogel to secure sales on a major streaming platform, one that could increase the film’s conclusions, such as Netflix did with “Icarus”. When “Dissident” finally found a distributor in September, it was with independent company Briarcliff Entertainment.
Mr. Fogel said that he made Netflix aware of his film while it was in production and then months later when it was accepted at Sundance. “I told him how excited I am to see it,” he said. “I didn’t hear anything.”
Netflix chief executive Reed Hastings was at the film’s Sundance premiere, but the company did not bid on the film. “While frustrated, I didn’t get a shock,” Mr. Fogel said. Netflix declined to comment, although a spokesperson, Emily Fingold, cited several political documentaries, including 2019, that produced the service. “Age of Democracy,” About the rise of authoritarian leader Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil.
Amazon Studios also declined to bid. The film features Jeff Bezos, the Washington Post owner of Amazon chief executive. Amazon did not respond to a request for comment. Fox Searchlight, now owned by Disney, did not bid. Neither was independent distributor Neon behind last year’s Oscar-winning “Parasite”, and which often receives challenging content.
“I noticed that the desire for corporate profits has undermined the integrity of America’s film culture,” said Thor Halvorsen, founder and chief executive of the nonprofit Human Rights Foundation, who financed the film and worked as a producer .
Documentaries are not usually big box office draws, so they have traditionally found their audiences elsewhere. PBS has long been a platform for major documentaries, but the rise of streaming has made companies like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu very important to the genre. But as those companies have grown, their business needs have changed.
“It is undeniably political. It is disappointing, but they are huge companies in a death race to survive, ”said Stephen Galloway, dean of the film school at Chapman University. “Do you think Disney will do anything different with Disney +? Will there be Apple or any megacorporations? They have economic imperatives that are hard to ignore and have to balance with free speech issues.”
“The President” is not the only political documentary that has failed to secure a home on the streaming service. Earlier this year, Magnolia Pictures, which has a streaming deal with the Disney-owned Hulu streaming service, pulled out of a deal with the makers of the documentary “The Assassins,” a story of Kim Jong-nam’s poison Says North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s half-brother. The film’s director Ryan White referred to Sony Hack in an interview Variety, And after pushing corporations’ “bumpy road of distribution” to corporations, felt they could be “hacked in a way that could be disastrous for them or their bottom line.”
Netflix longed for “Icarus” several years ago, purchasing the film for $ 5 million after debuting at Sundance in 2017. “Fogel’s incredible risk taking has given a real-life thriller that continues to make global adaptations,” Lisa Nishimura, who was Netflix’s vice president of original documentaries at the time, said in a statement. But Mr. Fogel wondered if the company would now be excited about that film.
“When Icarus’ came out they had 100 million customers,” he said. (Netflix currently has 195 million subscribers worldwide.) “And they hunt to get David Fincher to do films with him, Martin Scorsese to do movies with him, Alfonso Quarone to do movies with him. So it was so important that he had a film with which he could win an award. “
In January 2019, Netflix pulled an episode of comedian Hassan Minhaj’s series “Patriot Act” when he criticized Prince Mohammed after Mr. Khashogi’s death. Mr. Hastings later defended the move, saying, “We are not trying to do ‘truth’ for power.” We are trying to entertain. “
In November, Netflix signed an eight-picture film deal with Saudi Arabia’s studio Telfaz11 to produce the films, stating it would “aim for a wider appeal both in Arab and global audiences.”
The result of “The Dissident” has not been the norm, but Mr. Fogel is still hoping that people will see the film.
He said, “I love Netflix and consider myself a part of the Netflix family after my wonderful experience with ‘Icarus’.” “Sadly, they are not the same company they were a few years ago when they were Russian and Putin fans.”