Netflix raises Oscar stakes with documentary contender 'Virunga'

Fri Feb 20, 2015 3:10pm EST
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By Lisa Richwine

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Netflix Inc, the streaming video pioneer that shook up Internet television with "House of Cards," loped into the heart of the Hollywood film world this awards season on the backs of some captivating mountain gorillas.

In a sign of the company's ambitions, Netflix mounted a high-profile campaign to win the feature documentary category at Sunday's Academy Awards with "Virunga," the story of rare gorillas threatened by unrest and oil drilling in the Congo's Virunga National Park.

It ran full-page ads in The New York Times, took over billboards in Hollywood, and hosted a screening attended by Bill and Hillary Clinton. Executive producer Leonardo DiCaprio helped promote the film.

Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos was a fixture on the Hollywood awards circuit, rubbing shoulders with top producers, actors and directors as the company adds to its documentary slate and moves into original feature films.

Its visible Oscar push is one way Netflix aims to expand the reach of documentaries, Lisa Nishimura, Netflix vice president of original documentary and comedy, said in an interview.

Most documentaries that make it to theaters come and go quickly. The original documentaries on Netflix's subscription service can live on-demand for years.

"We are bringing these films to a very global audience," Nishimura said. "You start that conversation and people can easily access and continue to grow the profile of that film."

"Virunga" debuted in a limited number of theaters and on Netflix in November.   Continued...

Filmmakers Joanna Natasegara and Orlando von Einsiedel, of the Oscar-nominated documentary feature "Virunga," pose at a reception ahead of the upcoming 87th Academy Awards ceremony in Beverly Hills, California, February 18, 2015. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok