You could be forgiven for hearing that CNN has a new brand called CNN Films Presents and asking, "Don't they have one of those already?" CNN Films, the shingle launched at the network last year, has made several buzzy documentary acquisitions at major festivals in the recent past but the new division (which will exist alongside the Films group, not under it, despite being run by the same people) will have a separate mandate, namely the acquisition and windowing of already-released movies.
Among the flicks on the CNN Films Presents slate already are two movies with a Gallic theme: March of the Penguins, the French documentary about life in the Antarctic circle; and The Imposter, about a French man who impersonated a missing child. The former is well-known; the latter is acclaimed (it won the British Independent Film Award for best documentary last year), but not as widely seen. Both will begin rotation on CNN on Jan. 2 and Jan. 23, respectively.
The world of documentary filmmaking is a crowded one. Even Oscar-winning directors can have trouble finding a next port of call after a large project. CNN snapped up popular filmmaker Morgan Spurlock, director of Super Size Me, to produce a series (Inside Man) for the network, which they renewed for a second season in October. The distinction between the two divisions suggests that CNN Films will become more of a commissioning arm for the network. If Films Presents is handling acquisition and windowing, it's likely that Films proper will be handing more projects like the upcoming Martin Scorsese-produced documentary on Roger Ebert the network has in the works for next year.
CNN boss Jeff Zucker said as soon as he started in January of this year that he didn't want to compete with traditional cable news nets for the dwindling "news demo" viewers who shuffled between Fox, CNN and MSNBC before mostly holing up at Fox. Instead, the exec is repositioning the news net to take on bigger challengers with larger audiences, namely the major unscripted networks like Discovery, History and Nat Geo. Documentary windowing is shrewd: it costs less than outright acquisition in many cases and Films Presents will have access to movies viewers remember, if not from the theaters, at least from Best Documentary clips at the Oscars. And it fits neatly with Zucker's "more shows and less newscasts" strategy.
“CNN Films Presents is a curated series of exceptional documentary feature films from the past for a new audience to discover and for fans to enjoy again,” said Vinnie Malhotra, svp of development and acquisitions for CNN Worldwide. Malhotra and Amy Entelis, svp of talent and content development, will manage the new unit.