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February 21, 2008 10:58 AM
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DISPATCH FROM AWARDS SEASON | Docs in the Spotlight: Oscar Nominee Michael Moore Calls for Distribut

At the IDA reception for Oscar doc feature and doc shorts nominees in Beverly Hills Wednesday night, director Alex Gibney ("Taxi to the Dark Side"), director Michael Moore ("Sicko"), IDA president Diane Estelle Vicari, and director James Longley ("Sari's Mother"). Photo by Brian Brooks/indieWIRE

Oscar nominee Michael Moore stirred members of the doc community on Wednesday night in Los Angeles, laying out a plan to create a new theatrical distribution outlet for non-fiction film. On stage at the Academy of Motion Picture Art and Sciences' Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills, Moore rallied attendees at the annual International Documentary Association (IDA) celebration for feature and short film doc Oscar nominees. "We have to correct this situation with documentary films," Moore said of the challenges that have recently faced theatrically distributed documentaries. "This cannot go on any longer."

Moore countered the idea that audiences are losing interest in documentaries, despite the tough times that numerous non-fiction films faced in theaters over the past year. "They want truth and they want honesty and they want non-fiction [films]," the filmmaker said at the Academy.

In lenghty remarks that capped a night of film clips and remarks by most of the doc Oscar nominees, Michael Moore said that he will soon meet with the heads of theater chains to present a business plan for what he calls, "Doc Night in America." The plan would encourage theaters around the country to dedicate one screen, on one night a week, to documentary screenings.

"'Harry Potter' doesn't need to be on seven screens," Moore quipped, to laughter and cheers on Wednesday night in Beverly Hills. "That seventh screen, it just isn't full, it never is and it's crowding out some very good movies." Elaborating, Moore noted, "Look at Box Office Mojo [and] how much the top ten films make on a Monday night. There were films last week that were making a hundred bucks a night." Calculating that at about twelve viewers per theater for some films on certain screens, he quipped, "I just believe that there are 12 people in every town in America that would like to see some non-fiction, instead of some fiction, for one night of the week."

"These theater chains have made a lot of money off of my films -- millions of dollars," Moore said last night. "I am going to go and ask, not for charity, but show them a way where they can make more money than what they are making on that 15th screen or on that shitty night of the week where nobody's in there."

Also part of the plan, Michael Moore said, would be the creation of a consortium of PR and marketing people at the studios who would support and promote documentary, bolstering the work of smaller companies with limited resources.

Outside of the theatrical success of a few market leaders each year, many in the film industry bemoan the fact that it seems to be getting harder to garner respectable theatrical grosses for most non-fiction titles. Last year, high-profile docs acquired at the Sundance Film Festival, including "Crazy Love," "In The Shadow of the Moon," and "My Kid Could Paint That" all received critical acclaim but did not perform in the marketplace.

This year, the five Oscar nominees for best feature -- "Sicko," "No End in Sight," "Taxi To The Dark Side," "War/Dance" and "Operation Homecoming" -- have earned a combined theatrical gross of $26.2 million, according to daily box office tracking site, Box Office Mojo. That's up slightly from the $25.5 million earned by doc feature nominees last year, but down from the $83.2 million earned by the nominees two years ago. Each year one film dominates the grosses, with "Sicko" earning $24.5 million this year, "An Inconvenient Truth" making $24.1 million last year and "March of the Penguins" earning $77.4 million two years ago.

Charles Ferguson's "No End in Sight" has earned $1.4 million this year, while Alex Gibney's "Taxi to the Dark Side" (which just recently opened theatrically) has made $91,867. Andrea Nix Fine and Sean Fine has yielded $90,354, and Richard E. Robbins' "Operation Homecoming" has grossed $6,795 (all according to Box Office Mojo).

"This has got to stop and I am committed to this," Moore proclaimed emphatically. "This is my New Year's resolution and I am going to lead the charge on this, I hope you wil join me in this because I can't do it alone. I will be the 800 lb., almost, gorilla that will get this done."

"We will start a non-fiction movement of fans and viewers across the country, especially between the two coasts," Michael Moore concluded to cheers from the auditorium of documentary filmmakers and IDA members. "I believe in my heart that we all can make this happen, I ask you to please join with me in making it happen."

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