Since documentaries are often the highlights of Sundance, it made sense that Oprah Winfrey chose the festival as the official launching pad for her documentary film club on her new OWN network. Playing to an elbow-to-elbow crowd at an invitational do in Sundance House, Oprah breezed in from the wings and made everybody feel as if they should be looking under their seats for a gift (except there were no seats). "It is my intention," she intoned with rock-solid resolution, "to do for documentaries what my book club has done for books." OWN has thus far acquired six films for broadcast and will produce five original two-hour documentaries, including one by Barbara Kopple on the Hemingways.
The room was packed with ardent-eyed documentary filmmakers suddenly eager to board the gravy train. The combined gross for theatrical feature-length documentaries last year was less than the opening weekend box-office take for "Megamind." Who knows, maybe Oprah can be a game changer?
She could have programmed an entire lineup of worthies from this year's Sundance. "The Redemption of General Butt Naked" – my personal favorite title among the docs – is about a Liberian warlord who personally massacred, often in his birthday suit, thousands during Liberia's 14-year civil war. Now he's reinvented himself as an evangelist seeking redemption from his victims. I didn't buy his redemption, though, amazingly, inevitably, some of his victims do.