Documentary

The Blackfish Effect

Three years after it hit theaters, Blackfish continues to resonate well beyond the movies. In response to public pressure catalyzed by the film, SeaWorld announced an end to its orca breeding program and a plan to transition the whales to a more natural, yet still captive, environment.

PR Collaborative is proud to have played a role in changing attitudes toward SeaWorld. We handled the Washington, DC press campaign for Magnolia Pictures in addition to spearheading the grassroots outreach to animal conservation organizations such as PETA and the Oceanic Preservation Society. 

Establishing early relationships with top animal welfare organizations and ocean conservation groups proved essential to building the film’s theatrical audience while simultaneously activating a community to agitate for reform. The stellar press reception coupled with the grassroots support helped make Blackfish one of the top-grossing documentaries of 2013 and scored a ratings coup for CNN.

SeaWorld has suffered since the release of Blackfish in 2013; its profits fell 84 percent in 2015 and attendance dropped by 100,000 visitors. Additionally, the “Blackfish effect” has echoed beyond the sea-park industry. Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus is retiring its iconic elephants in May, citing a “mood shift” in customers’ attitudes towards performing animals.

Blackfish tells the story of Tilikum, a performing orca that killed several people while in captivity. Filmmaker Gabriella Cowperthwaite created an unforgettable portrait of these highly intelligent animals and the trauma they endure living under the whip of a multi-billion dollar entertainment giant. Cowperthwaite, in a recent interview with NPR, called SeaWorld’s new policies a “defining moment.”

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It’s Always Sunny in Utah

The Sundance Film Festival kicked off on January 28 in Park City, Utah. Vice President of Film, Renee Tsao, attended the festival and experienced the excitement firsthand. Here’s our round-up of films that made the news and news that made headlines. 

  • The Birth of a Nation received a preemptive standing round of applause before the film even began. That auspicious start was followed by critical and popular accolades for the “searing slave drama,” which was awarded the grand jury prize for a narrative film and was voted best movie by audiences. Read more here
  • Diversity dominated Sundance. Tom Bernard, co-president of Sony Pictures Classics, called 2016 “the year of the women.” Given the abundance of female directors to breakout actress performances with resounding standing ovations, we hope Bernard is right. However, Variety asks whether this diversity can last in Hollywood.
  • “Stop complaining.” Kristen Stewart shared a controversial piece of advice for women in Hollywood: “Go do something.” Stewart was at Sundance promoting her movie, Certain Women, a portrait of intersecting lives in Montana. 
  • Swiss Army Man divided audiences and made headlines at Sundance. It was later purchased by A24. Think Castaway – minus Wilson, plus a dead body. Read more here.
  • Amazon and Netflix are the latest big spenders in the film industry. These two new players in the industry made it clear that they have money to spend and that they’re here to stay. What does this mean for the average moviegoer? Renew your Amazon Prime and Netflix accounts this year. It’ll be worth it.
  • Speaking of Amazon and Netflix, director Sian Hader says, “We are living in a new age of film.” Hader wrote and directed Tallulah, staring Ellen Page and Allison Janney, and was also a writer and producer for Orange is the New Black. Netflix scooped up Tallulah before it even debuted at Sundance. 

88th Academy Awards: Documentary Features Shortlist

PR Collaborative was honored to have worked on eight of the 15 films in the Documentary Features category that were shortlisted for the 88th Academy Awards: 

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  • Best of Enemies (Magnolia Pictures) - In the summer of 1968, ABC hired two towering public intellectuals to debate each other during the Democratic and Republican national conventions. William F. Buckley, Jr. was a leading light of the new conservative movement. A Democrat and cousin to Jackie Onassis, Gore Vidal was a leftist novelist and polemicist. Vidal and Buckley believed each other’s political ideologies were dangerous for America. As they debated politics and policies, their explosive exchanges devolved into vitriolic name-calling, keeping viewers riveted and changing television news forever.
  • Cartel Land (The Orchard) - In the Mexican state of Michoacán, Dr. Jose Mireles, a small-town physician known as "El Doctor," leads the Autodefensas, a citizen uprising against the violent Knights Templar drug cartel that has wreaked havoc on the region for years. Meanwhile, in Arizona's Altar Valley – a narrow, 52-mile-long desert corridor known as Cocaine Alley – Tim "Nailer" Foley, an American veteran, heads a small paramilitary group called Arizona Border Recon, whose goal is to stop Mexico’s drug wars from seeping across the American border. CARTEL LAND is an on-the-ground look at the journeys of two modern-day vigilante groups and their shared enemy: the murderous Mexican drug cartels.
  • The Hunting Ground (RADiUS-TWC) – A haunting expose of sexual assault on college campuses, The Hunting Ground follows undergraduate rape survivors pursuing both their education and justice, despite ongoing harassment of them and their families. Scrutinizing the gamut of higher education from elite Ivies and state universities to small colleges, the filmmakers reveal a system of institutional cover-ups, rationalizations, victim-blaming, and denial that creates perfect storm conditions for sexual predators to prey with impunity.
  • The Look of Silence (Drafthouse Films) –Through Oppenheimer’s footage of perpetrators of the 1965 Indonesian genocide, a family of survivors discovers how their son was murdered as well as the identities of the killers. The documentary focuses on the youngest son, an optometrist named Adi, who decides to break the suffocating spell of submission and terror by doing something unimaginable in a society where the murderers remain in power: confront the men who killed his brother. A powerful companion piece to Oppenheimer’s Oscar-nominated documentary, The Act of Killing, The Look of Silence bears witness to the collapse of fifty years of silence
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  • 3 1/2 Minutes, 10 Bullets (Participant Media) - On Black Friday 2012, a white middle-aged male and a black teenager exchanged angry words over the volume of the music in the boy’s car. Michael Dunn fired 10 bullets at a car full of unarmed teenagers and then fled. Three of those bullets hit 17-year-old Jordan Davis, who died at the scene. Thus began the long journey of unraveling the truth. The film follows that journey, revealing how hidden racial prejudice can result in tragedy.
  • We Come as Friends (BBC Worldwide North America) - At the moment when the Sudan, the continent’s biggest country, is being divided into two nations, an old “civilizing” pathology re-emerges – that of colonialism, the clash of empires, and new episodes of bloody (and holy) wars over land and resources. The director explores the landscape in his tiny, self-made, tin and canvas flying machine, entering improbable locations and getting access to people’s thoughts and dreams in both stunning and heartbreaking ways. Chinese oil workers, UN peacekeepers, Sudanese warlords, and American evangelists ironically weave common ground in this documentary.
  • Where to Invade Next – Michael Moore, playing the role of “invader,” visits a host of nations to learn how the U.S. could improve its own prospects. This eye-opening comedy is a call to arms. Turns out the solutions to America’s most entrenched problems already exist in the world—they’re just waiting to be co-opted. Click here to read more about our work with Where to Invade Next. [Link to blog post]
  • Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom (Netflix) - Chronicling events that unfolded over 93 days in 2013 and 2014, this film witnesses the formation of a new civil rights movement in Ukraine. What started as peaceful student demonstrations supporting European integration morphed into a full-fledged violent revolution calling for the resignation of the nation's president. Winter on Fire captures the remarkable mobilization of nearly a million citizens from across the country protesting the corrupt political regime that utilized extreme force against its own people.

PR Collaborative managed media strategy, outreach and research for the documentaries. We take great pride in helping these documentary filmmakers share their stories, which often shed light on important current issues and promote social activism. 124 films were originally submitted in the category, and the five nominees will be announced on January 14, 2016. 

Middleburg Film Festival 2015

For the third year in a row, PR Collaborative contributed to the success of the third annual Middleburg Film Festival. The festival featured a carefully curated selection of 26 narrative, foreign and documentary films in an intimate theatre environment, followed by fascinating Q and A's with world-renowned filmmakers and actors.  

The films screened October 22 – 25, 2015 in Virginia’s historic wine country located one hour outside of Washington DC. The 2015 main slate featured titles from seven women directors including ITHACA, SHERPA, SUFFRAGETTE, THE ARMOR OF LIGHT, MUSTANG, PEGGY GUGGENHEIM – ART ADDICT, and MISS YOU ALREADY. The festival also screened a selection of foreign language submissions to the Oscars.

Middleburg Film Festival welcomed many special guests, including director and actress Meg Ryan, directors Lee Daniels, Catherine Hardwicke, and Marc Abraham, actor and film subject Tab Hunter, and actress Bo Derek. Carter Burwell was honored as 2015's Distinguished Film Composer with a selection of his most memorable scores presented by the Loudoun Symphony Orchestra. The festival also honored Academy Award-nominee Dante Spinotti as this year's Distinguished Cinematographer.

SPOTLIGHT won the Audience Award for Best Narrative, and HARRY & SNOWMAN won the Audience Award for Best Documentary. The winners were chosen by audience ballot.

In addition to securing media coverage for the festival, PR Collaborative also worked on the campaigns for two films in the festival: Abigail Disney's THE ARMOR OF LIGHT and Catherine Hardwicke's MISS YOU ALREADY.