For the past few years, documentary filmmaking lost some of its niche status when it comes to majorly-released, feature-length material. Besides, the medium had to fall back on platforms like Netflix, but documentaries also act as a preferred genre for indie or no-budget filmmakers. Short documentary form has indeed become one of the more impressive storytelling mediums and it’s exciting for young artists to be able to tell compelling stories without the need or the pressure of high budgets and Box Office performance.
However, this summer is bound to change things.
Docs have become the underdog heroes of 2018, beginning with RBG (released in May) and continuing with Won’t You Be My Neighbor (which, like RBG, made around $12.5 million so far), and now rolling in is the fan and critic darling, Whitney. Directed by the multi-talented Kevin Mcdonald, (whose credits include the Oscar-winning doc, One Day in September, about 1972 Olympic Games hostage situation, and acclaimed fiction work like Last King of Scotland) Whitney opened this past weekend with $1.2 million from 454 theaters, as reported by The Hollywood Reporter. Roadside Attractions and Miramax partnered on the release of the film, which earned an A CinemaScore and appealed heavily to females (65%), as well as to African Americans (72%).
“There is very little that the studios are offering for the upscale, older audience,” says Roadside co-president Howard Cohen. “It’s classic counterprogramming. The good news for the indie sector is that it’s been a long time since docs have done this well.”
Hopefully, things will continue on for docs as they return to the attention that they once held. For example, in summer 2004, Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 made box-office history when earning $119 million at the North American box office, enough to make the summer’s top 10 list. A year after Fahrenheit, Warner Independent’s March of the Penguins prized up an impressive $77.4 million domestically. And in summer 2006, Al Gore’s 2006 global warming film, An Inconvenient Truth, earned $24 million on its way to winning the Oscar for best documentary feature (March of the Penguins likewise won the Oscar).