Docs ‘Pizza, A Love Story’ and ‘Seniors: A Dogumentary’ Due on DVD Sept. 29 From MVD

Two documentaries, Pizza, A Love Story and Seniors: A Dogumentary, are coming out on DVD and VOD Sept. 29 from MVD Entertainment Group and What Were We Thinking Films.

Pizza, A Love Story explores three pizza places in New Haven, Conn., Sally’s, Pepe’s and Modern. They are not only a cornerstone of New Haven’s Italian-American heritage but also the establishments that set the bar for this immediately recognizable comfort food.

Filmmaker Gorman Bechard tells the story of the evolution of this modern day food staple from the landing of Italian immigrants on our shores to the rusted wheels of Frank Pepe’s bread cart, taking a journey from old world Italy into present-day New Haven.

Pizza, A Love Story is not just a tale of three restaurants but of three families. Extras include commentary from director Gorman Bechard and co-producers Dean Falcone and Colin M. Caplan; Lyle Lovett on Pepe’s Pizzeria; Michael Bolton on Wooster Street; Making Pizza with Modern’s Bill Pustari; “Italian American culture in New Haven”; “Urban Renewal in New Haven”; “Hy Katz Explains the Pizza Boy Song”; “There Can Be No Favorites”; Q&A with director Gorman Bechard and co-producers Dean Falcone and Colin M. Caplan on opening night in New Haven; the original opening; and original trailers.

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Seniors: A Dogumentary is a portrayal of the vitality of senior dogs and features Old Friends Senior Dog Sanctuary, the celebrated forever-foster home-based sanctuary in Mount Juliet, Tenn., and Chaser the Border Collie, known as the smartest dog in the world.

Their stories are brought together through the lens of famed photographer Jane Sobel Klonsky. Klonsky is the author of the book Unconditional: Older Dogs, Deeper Love. She specializes in capturing the cherished relationship between senior dogs and their owners.

The film follows Zina and Michael Goodin, the Old Friends founders, as they relocate into their current facilities, and introduces viewers to Leo, a social media phenom who became the most popular dog in the sanctuary’s history. Viewers also meet Dr. John W. Pilley Jr. and his beloved Chaser. Not only had Chaser learned the names of over 1,000 toys, she could also differentiate between nouns and verbs, understand full sentences, and mimic Dr. Pilley’s actions after just observing them once. Director Bechard also made A Dog Named Gucci (winner of the 2015 ASPCA Media Excellence Award).

Extras include a Q&A at the world premiere in Nashville; watching the total solar eclipse at Old Friends Senior Dogs Sanctuary; “Jane photographs Leo and Friends”; “Michael’s Thoughts on Senior Dogs”; “More about Leo”; “Springsteen vs. the Paper Towel Roll”; Jane’s photographs of the dogs at Old Friends Senior Dogs Sanctuary; behind-the-scenes photographs; director’s commentary; and trailers.

Doc ‘The Blech Effect’ Coming to VOD and EST Aug. 25 From Virgil

The documentary The Blech Effect: The Rise and Fall of the King of Biotech will come out on VOD and electronic sellthrough Aug. 25 from Virgil Films.

The film chronicles the life of David Blech, who would be a multi-billionaire — if only he were in a coma for the last 15 years. In his early 20s, David was a pioneer investor in biotech companies and helped create an industry that has grown to be on the cutting edge of the world’s greatest medical cures, saving countless lives. Blech’s wealth grew with the industry. According to Forbes Magazine, he was once worth more than $300 million, and he was on the Fortune 400 list. He became known as the “King of Biotech” and his influence on the market coined the term “The Blech Effect.” But Blech struggled with bipolar disorder and a gambling addiction. He once hoped to be remembered for helping to create an industry that saves lives; instead he ended up $11 million in debt, struggling to keep his family afloat and awaiting a jail sentence.

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The Blech Effect follows a protagonist all too self-aware yet still unable to control his worst impulses, a wife and mother who is both a saint and enabler, and a beloved child heartbreaking in his beauty and disability.

PBS Launches PBS Documentaries Prime Video Channel

PBS Distribution Aug. 4 will launch a new documentary-focused Prime Video Channel called PBS Documentaries.

The subscription rate for the PBS Documentaries Prime Video Channel, which allows access to PBS content outside the PBS Video App, is $3.99 per month with an Amazon Prime or Prime Video subscription via Prime Video Channels and is available in the United States only.

The PBS Documentaries Prime Video Channel library will include the entire Ken Burns collection as well as programs from “Nova,” “Frontline,” “American Masters,” “Nature,” “American Experience,” “Independent Lens,” “POV” and many independent producers.

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“PBS is the leader of high-quality, compelling nonfiction entertainment, and the PBS Documentaries Prime Video Channel is a natural addition to our current streaming offering on Prime Video Channels — PBS Masterpiece, PBS Living and PBS Kids,” Andrea Downing, co-president of PBS Distribution, said in a statement. “This channel will not only help bring engaging stories about life in all corners of our country to a new audience, it will provide needed revenues to sustain public broadcasting’s public-private partnership model for the benefit of all stations and the communities they serve.”

The entire Ken Burns collection will also be available via PBS Passport, a member benefit available within the PBS Video App.

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“We had long hoped to be able to have all of our films available in one place so the public would have access to the body of work,” added Ken Burns in a statement. “We’re thrilled that this is now possible thanks to the efforts of PBS Distribution and Amazon to launch the PBS Documentaries Prime Video Channel and also through PBS’s Passport initiative that allows viewers to support their public television stations. Both will also contribute to the larger mission of PBS.”

“’Frontline’ was founded on the belief that long-form documentaries could inform, educate and inspire public television’s audiences — and during these historic times, deeply reported and easily accessible journalism is invaluable,” “Frontline” executive producer Raney Aronson-Rath said in a statement. “Through this new channel, we’re excited to see our documentaries reach new and existing streaming audiences.”

At launch, the channel will feature nearly 1,000 hours of programming, including Ken Burns’ series The Civil War and Country Music, Stanley Nelson’s The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution and Academy Award-Nominated films such as “Frontline’s” For Sama and American Experiences Last Days in Vietnam.

“I’m thrilled to see that my work will find a new home on this channel,” Nelson said in a statement. “PBS has become a premier destination for documentary programming in the U.S. and has been hugely invested in giving films by diverse storytellers and emerging filmmakers much-needed national exposure. I’m so glad that my film on the Black Panther Party, which can inform communities in our current historical moment, will be able to reach different audiences on this new service.”

Docs ‘Secrets of Highclere Castle,’ ‘Hudson River School’ Coming to PBS Living in July

The documentaries Secrets of Highclere Castle and The Hudson River School: Artistic Pioneers begin streaming on PBS Living in July from PBS Distribution.

The subscription rate for the PBS Living Channel is $2.99 per month with an Amazon Prime or Prime Video subscription. PBS Living is also available on Apple TV Channels in the Apple TV app at a subscription rate of $2.99 per month with no additional annual fees.

In Secrets of Highclere Castle, viewers get the insider story about the famous mansion from the multi Emmy award-winning series “Downton Abbey.” Viewers step inside one of Britain’s best-known manor houses. It may be more famous now than any time in its 1,300-year history as the setting of “Downton Abbey,” but England’s Highclere Castle has its own stories to tell. In its heyday, Highclere was the social epicenter of Edwardian England. Viewers see how all the inhabitants of Highclere lived, from the aristocrats who enjoyed a life of luxury to the army of servants toiling “below stairs.” They also find out how the current inhabitants, Lord and Lady Carnarvon, spend their $1 million in annual upkeep funds, and what life in the castle is like today.

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In The Hudson River School: Artistic Pioneers, viewers learn about a group of artists who captured images of 19th century America in their lifelike landscape paintings.

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In the vicinity of New York’s Hudson River Valley, the Adirondack Mountains, Catskill Mountains and the White Mountains of New Hampshire, a group of American painters led by British born artist Thomas Cole forged an artistic vision of the American wilderness. This was the first American school of landscape painting that emerged between 1825 and 1880. In addition to Cole, men with the names of Asher Durand, Jasper Cropsey, Albert Bierstadt and Frederic Church would impress the world with their creative brilliance and wondrous vision. On canvas they would bring to life 19th century America through imagination, interpretation, color and conviction. The Hudson River School: Artistic Pioneers focuses on the story of these men and their message, its founder Cole, and other influential celebrants of this movement.

Imax Documentaries Headed to Hulu

With most movie theaters, including Imax screens, still shuttered due to the coronavirus pandemic, Imax has reportedly inked a deal with Disney-owned Hulu to stream a slate of 16 theatrical documentaries on the SVOD platform beginning this summer.

Titles include Pandas, Into the Deep, Space Station and A Beautiful Planet, Superpower Dogs, the Oscar-nominated Fires of Kuwait, Galapagos, Hail Columbia! and Journey to the South Pacific, among others.

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“With people at home there is an immense and growing desire for discovery, particularly for students, families and children. For years Imax has helped share the power of the natural world and the potential of human existence, and now, together with Hulu, we can bring those incredible, enlightening experiences to millions more,” Megan Colligan, president of Imax Entertainment, said in a statement.

Since the first Imax film, Tiger Child, debuted at Expo ’70 in Osaka, Japan, Imax has helped transport audiences into realistic screen images across more than 75 documentaries using proprietary technology. Imax originals have been nominated for Academy Awards (Fires of Kuwait 1992), traveled to the depths of the sea (Journey to the South Pacific 2013), and ventured into space 24 times.

Hollywood’s stars lending their voices to Imax docs, include narrations from Tom Cruise (Space Station 2002), Jennifer Lawrence (A Beautiful Planet 2016), Kristen Bell (Pandas 2018), and more. The forthcoming Asteroid Hunters is narrated by Daisy Ridley.

Many of the Imax docs headed to Hulu have also been filmed or digitally remastered with brilliant, proprietary visual and audio technology.

Colligan says that despite Hulu featuring Imax’s coveted screen and sound features, it will still be able to convey to streamers specific world experiences and information about science and exploration, among other topics.

“[Hulu is] absolutely crafted for immersive sound and the immersive screen,” she said. “School has ended and many kids and families across the country are searching for co-viewing content.”

Doc ‘Laddie: The Man Behind the Movies’ Debuts on Digital HD July 7 From Virgil

The documentary Laddie: The Man Behind the Movies is coming to Digital HD July 7 from Virgil Films.

It explores the career of Alan Ladd Jr. — known to friends and colleagues as Laddie — the understated studio chief and Oscar-winning producer behind the films Star Wars, Alien, Blade Runner, Chariots of Fire, Police Academy, Braveheart, The Omen, Thelma and Louise, Young Frankenstein, Gone Baby Gone and a staggering 154 more. During his 50-plus year career, garnering more than 50 Academy Award wins and more then 150 nominations, he worked with world-famous filmmakers and actors — many of whom became household names on his watch — and brought to life some of the most influential films of our time.

In Laddie: The Man Behind the Movies, Amanda Ladd-Jones endeavors to better understand her father — to see him not just as “Dad,” the man who spent the majority of her childhood at the office — but the way his collaborators do, as a doyen of modern American cinema.

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The doc includes interviews with Ben Affleck, Mel Brooks, Richard Donner, Morgan Freeman, Mel Gibson, Ron Howard, George Lucas, Ridley Scott and Sigourney Weaver.

Netflix Offers Free Documentary Streaming to Teachers on Its YouTube Channel

Netflix has expanded it free documentary screening program for teachers, offing a selection of titles on the Netflix U.S. YouTube channel.

“For many years, Netflix has allowed teachers to screen documentaries in their classrooms. However, this isn’t possible with schools closed,” read the Netflix blog post. “So at their request, we have made a selection of our documentary features and series available on the Netflix U.S. YouTube Channel.

“Each title also has educational resources available, which can be used by both students and teachers — and we’ll be doing Q&As with some of the creators behind these projects so that students can hear from them firsthand.

“We hope this will, in a small way, help teachers around the world.”

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The documentaries are currently available in English, but subtitles in more than a dozen languages will be available later this week, according to the post. “Please check the ratings so that you can make informed choices for your students and children,” the post requested.

Offered on the channel is the film 13th, Ava DuVernay’s documentary with a title that refers to the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which reads, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States.” The progression from that second qualifying clause to the horrors of mass criminalization and the sprawling American prison industry is laid out by DuVernay, featuring a mixture of archival footage and testimony from a activists, politicians, historians, and formerly incarcerated women and men. Educational resources are here.

Also available is season one of the series “Abstract.” “Abstract: The Art of Design” takes you beyond blueprints into the art, science, and philosophy of design. The series goes inside the minds of the world’s greatest designers, showcasing the most inspiring visionaries from a variety of disciplines whose work shapes our culture and future. Educational resources are here

Select episodes of the series “Babies” are available. Filmed over the course of three years, “Babies” explores the miracle of the first full year of life through the pioneering work of leading scientists from across the globe. The series examines the epic journey every person embarks on, from helpless newborn to independent toddler. The series follows the life-changing adventures of 15 international families and featuring the latest research from eminent scientists who share their personal journeys of discovery into the infant mind. Educational resources are here.

The film Chasing Coral  taps into the collective will and wisdom of an ad man, a self-proclaimed coral nerd, top-notch camera designers, and renowned marine biologists as they invent the first time-lapse camera to record bleaching events as they happen. Educational materials are here.

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Available are select episodes of the series “Explained.” In partnership with Vox Media Studios and Vox, this explainer series takes viewers deep inside a wide range of culturally relevant topics, questions and ideas. Each episode explores current events and social trends pulled from the zeitgeist, touching topics across politics, science, history and pop culture — featuring interviews with some of the most authoritative experts in their respective fields. Educational resources are coming soon.

The film Knock Down the House follows four women who mount grassroots campaigns against powerful incumbents in the 2018 midterm elections that tipped the balance of power. When tragedy struck her family in the middle of the financial crisis, Bronx-born Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez had to work double shifts as a bartender to save her home from foreclosure. After losing a loved one to a preventable medical condition, Amy Vilela didn’t know what to do with the anger she felt about America’s broken health care system. Cori Bush, a registered nurse and pastor, was drawn to the streets when the police shooting of an unarmed black man brought protests and tanks into her neighborhood. A coal miner’s daughter, Paula Jean Swearengin was fed up with watching her friends and family suffer from the environmental effects of the coal industry. Educational resources are here.

The series “Our Planet”  is available. Narrated by Sir David Attenborough, the eight-part series explores the wonders of our natural world from the creators of the award-winning series “Planet Earth.” Educational materials are here.

The short Period. End of Sentence. is available. The documentary short directed by Rayka Zehtabchi tells the story of women in a rural village outside Delhi, India, who fight against the deeply rooted stigma of menstruation. For generations, these women didn’t have access to pads, which lead to health problems and girls missing school or dropping out entirely. But when a sanitary pad machine is installed in the village, the women learn to manufacture and market their own pads, empowering the women of their community. Educational resources are here.

The short The White Helmets is available. The Netflix original short documentary, set in Aleppo, Syria and Turkey in early 2016 follows three volunteer rescue workers as they put everything on the line to save civilians affected by the war, all the while wracked with worry about the safety of their own loved ones. Educational materials are here

The short Zion is available. It’s the portrait of Zion Clark, a young wrestler born without legs who grew up in foster care. Educational materials are here.

 

Research: SVOD Wakes Up to Reality

Reality was the second-most commissioned genre for linear services and third-most commissioned genre for video on-demand (VOD) services, according to research from Ampere Analysis on commissions, renewals and cancellations in 2019.

Data from Ampere indicates that Netflix has ramped up production of reality content compared with previous years. While in January 2018 Netflix had four original reality TV shows available, by year-end 2019, the number had grown eightfold to 32 original reality titles, with dating show “Love Is Blind” among its top-performing shows in Q1 2020.

Other findings include:

  • The most commissioned genre in the United Kingdom and the United States in 2019 was documentary, with one-off commissions a frequent occurrence. Documentary represented 31% of all first-run series ordered in 2019.
  • The second most commissioned and renewed genre was reality — at 14% of all commissions in 2019.
  • In total, 337 reality shows were commissioned in the United Kingdom and the United States.
  • Comedy closely followed reality and was the third-most commissioned and renewed genre. Almost one quarter (23%) of shows are yet to begin series production, reflecting the longer production period required for scripted series. First-run commissions accounted for 67% of all series announced in 2019 — this means shows being ordered for a first season, including limited series.
  • Most renewals were reality (24%), with comedy (17%) and documentary (17%) following closely behind.

Linear versus VOD findings include:

  • Renewals in 2019 are skewed towards linear commissions, with linear series representing 85% of all U.K. and U.S. renewals in 2019.
  • High-profile unscripted linear renewals included 19th and 20th season order for MTV’s U.K. Reality series “Geordie Shore,” and a 17th season order for NBC’s music competition show “The Voice.”
  • In 2019, linear channels cancelled 515 shows while VOD services cancelled 151. However, this is slightly skewed by the cancellations of series with a predetermined limit on the number of episodes. Once these shows are removed from the analysis, data shows that linear channels cancelled 178 shows, while VOD services cancelled 66.
  • 65% of linear renewals were unscripted series, in comparison with just 25% of all VOD renewals, with streamers preferring to focus on higher-budget, scripted fare.
  • Reality was relatively safe from cancellation on both linear and VOD platforms — only 8% of all cancellations were reality.

“While reality has been a staple for linear TV due to lower per-hour production costs and continued popularity among consumers, VOD services have been increasingly investing in the genre,” said Ampere analyst Olivia Deane in a statement. “With Netflix already commissioning two more seasons of top performing title ‘Love is Blind,’ reality looks like it will be the next battleground for linear and VOD services.”

Doc ‘Refugee’ Coming to Digital April 14 From Virgil

Virgil Films will release the documentary Refugee April 14 on digital and VOD.

From the executive producer of Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11, Refugee is a harrowing account of Europe’s migrant crisis. It follows a family of Syrian refugees separated by the borders of Europe who fight to be reunited as they migrate from Syria to Germany.

In 2015, at the height of the Syrian war, Raf’aa, a Syrian mother, was forced to make the ultimate sacrifice. With her husband Nazem in the hospital, and the bombs getting closer to Qamilshi, she fled Syria to find asylum for her family, leaving Nazem and their two children Ahmed and Hamoudi behind. They had hoped to reunite in Europe within a few weeks, but by the time Nazem and the children left, it was too late. The political climate had changed and the borders to Europe were closed. Safe in Germany, Raf’aa is traumatized by what she witnessed on her journey and prays her children have not endured the same. Meanwhile 2,000 miles away, Nazem and her children live through their own nightmare in one of the worst refugee camps in Europe. Over the next 18 months, viewers witness a testament to the human spirit as the family fights to be reunited and how a father shields his children from what it means to be a refugee.

Refugee from Virgil Films on Vimeo.

 

Disney+ to Stream ‘Elephant’ Nature Film Narrated by Meghan Markle for Earth Month

In recognition of Earth Month, Disney+ will stream the Disneynature film Elephant, narrated by Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, beginning April 3 alongside previously announced Dolphin Reef, with narration by actress Natalie Portman.

Following its theatrical release last year, the Disneynature film Penguins will also make its Disney+ debut April 3.

The Earth Month collection on Disney+ will also contain additional Disneynature titles premiering on the service April 3, including In the Footsteps of Elephant, A Life on the Edge and Diving with Dolphins, which give viewers behind-the-scenes access into the unique filmmaking process of all three films.

The films will join a collection of animal and nature titles highlighted throughout the month including National Geographic’s America’s National Parks, Wild Yellowstone, The Flood, JANE, Before the Floods, Planet of the Birds, Sea of Hope: America’s Underwater Treasures, Kingdom of the White Wolf, Tree Climbing Lions, Hostile Planet and Wild Russia.

Elephant follows African elephant Shani and her spirited son Jomo as their herd make an epic journey hundreds of miles across the vast Kalahari Desert. Led by their great matriarch, Gaia, the family faces brutal heat, dwindling resources and persistent predators, as they follow in their ancestor’s footsteps on a quest to reach a lush, green paradise.

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In recognition of Elephant, Disneynature and the Disney Conservation Fund are supporting Elephants Without Borders, an organization working in Botswana to ensure people and elephants thrive, according to the Disney release.  Elephants Without Borders is working on strategies to protect Botswana’s elephant haven, helping to reduce human-wildlife conflict through education, economic development, and solutions that either redirect elephant migration away from people, or provide communities with tools that help to protect themselves and their properties when elephants are nearby.

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Dolphin Reef introduces Echo, a young Pacific bottlenose dolphin who can’t quite decide if it’s time to grow up and take on new responsibilities. Dolphin society is tricky, and the coral reef that Echo and his family call home depends on all of its inhabitants to keep it healthy.