That’s a very good question and one that has been asked of me more than a few times throughout the life of Virgil Films & Entertainment. After all we are a company that sells primarily documentaries. Not that we will turn down a good script driven narrative. We still have those on our roster but for the most part – we sell docs. So the question of “Why?” is a good one.
Within the industry they are the hardest genre to sell. Folks out there in movie-land tend to be drawn to box office hits, zombie flicks, super hero sagas or cast driven epics. I like those films too, but the consumer is also bombarded with so much news these days they tend to gravitate away from these films and try to find entertainment that doesn’t remind them of the day to day foibles that life brings us. They feel that documentaries are an extension of the news of the day, and they are partly right in that assumption.
As a young man and at the very beginning of opening up my passion for films to those that were not considered mainstream I saw a picture titled HARLAN COUNTY USA. It was a documentary about coal miners in Kentucky who were split over a union vote and go on strike. The film peeled back the emotions, fear and anger of the miners. It put on display the internal destruction of families who were caught right in the middle of the fight. I was mesmerized and knew at the end of watching it that my film loving passion had changed; and for the better. I saw firsthand the power a good documentary could have. I was not alone in this thought. The film went on to win the Academy Award that year for best documentary and established Barbara Kopple as a real force in the film world.
Many moons passed since that day and I found myself sitting in a screening room at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival watching a movie about this guy from West Virginia who decided to eat nothing but McDonald’s for thirty days in a row and track what it did to his body. That feeling I had upon seeing HARLAN COUNTY USA came back to me. I knew I was watching something different, something fun, something daring and controversial, and above all something life changing.
The fact that the company I had recently formed ended up acquiring the home entertainment rights to that film just added to the intrigue. The rest as they say is history. SUPER SIZE ME went on to become one of the biggest hits in doc history, won many awards and was nominated for Best Documentary at that year’s Oscars. It should have won.
The film also brought us in contact and up close with director Morgan Spurlock. Together we formed our MORGAN SPURLOCK PRESENTS line of documentaries that continues to this day with releases like MISDIRECTION: THE REAL MAGIC. It is a relationship based on friendship and respect that I cherish.
SUPER SIZE ME helped put us on the map in the industry and helped make the company into what it is today. A flood of documentary product started coming our way. We partnered with Oprah Winfrey’s new cable channel OWN and released a string of films under her label. We then picked up the rights to RESTREPO through a new partnership we shared with National Geographic. Nominated for best documentary the release of that film turned out to be one of our proudest accomplishments and helped bring the stories of our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan to the American public. Working with directors Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington brought focus to our attempts to reach out to our veterans and give them the chance to tell their stories. We began to acquire docs that reflect this subject and to date have released close to a dozen films that bring attention to our veterans and what happens to them when they come home from war. These releases could be our proudest legacy.
There have been so many others though throughout the years that have touched people from all walks of life. Films like FORKS OVER KNIVES, MISS REPRESENTATION, BRIDEGROOM, PATTERNS OF EVIDENCE, THE DROP BOX, KORENGAL, I AM CHRIS FARLEY, THE WINDING STREAM, BECOMING BULLETPROOF, MATTHEW SHEPARD IS A FRIEND OF MINE, and I KNOW A WOMAN LIKE THAT. There are many, many more but the one thing they have in common is, like SUPER SIZE ME, they educate but also entertain. They make you think and sometimes they help make change.
So the original question I posed in the beginning of this blog is simple. Why docs? Well, besides being damn good at selling them we also love real life story telling. We love opening people’s eyes. We love making them think, and we love entertaining them at the same time. That is why we sell docs and that is why we will continue to do so. Yes they are hard and yes at times the consumer response is frustrating, but we still want to put those stories out there and make them available for all to see. It is something we are still passionate about.
It is something we will always be passionate about.