Greenwich Ent. & Kanopy Acquire ‘Subject,’ Doc That Takes Hard Look At Nonfiction Films And “Fine Line Between Documentation And Exploitation”

EXCLUSIVE: Greenwich Entertainment is maintaining a brisk pace of acquisitions. A day after picking up North American rights to the TIFF premiere documentary Sorry/Not Sorry, the independent distributor announced it has partnered with Kanopy to acquire U.S. and Canadian rights to the feature doc Subject

Jennifer Tiexiera and Camilla Hall produced and directed the film, which premiered at the 2022 Tribeca Festival. Greenwich plans to open the film in theaters in New York and Los Angeles on November 3, while Kanopy will host a pre-theatrical screening and Q&A with the filmmakers online through public and college libraries. TVOD/DVD, college and public library streaming kicks off December on 5.

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Subject goes behind the scenes of such famous nonfiction stories as Hoop Dreams, Capturing the Friedmans, The WolfpackThe Square and The Staircase to explore the often murky ethical dilemmas and complex relationships that can exist between documentary filmmakers and their real-life participants,” notes a release about the film. “In addition to the ‘stars’ of their own stories [like Arthur Agee of Hoop Dreams and Jesse Friedman of Capturing the Friedmans], Subject brings together prominent doc world directors, producers and festival programmers to speak to the fine line between documentation and exploitation.”

The Wolfpack, one of the films explored in Subject, won the top prize for U.S. Documentary at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. It examined the lives of Susanne Reisenbichler and her seven children, who had been kept virtually prisoner for years in a New York apartment by Susanne’s husband, Oscar Angulo, father of the kids. 

“We had been through a horrific, horrific abusive situation for years and years and years,” Reisenbichler told Deadline at the Camden International Film Festival last September. She said as The Wolfpack was being made and then released, adequate thought was not given to how the documentary would impact the subjects of the film.

“Knowing what I do now, I think it’s rather appalling that nobody in the film industry made available any kind of counselor or a therapist or someone that we could talk to about the process we were going through as we became exposed to the world,” Reisenbichler said. “And I don’t fault the people who were directly involved in the filming of the movie — I think the failure comes from the systemic system of people don’t think about that. It’s like, ‘Oh, is this going to make money? Is this going to further my career?’ And that’s kind of the whole premise of what happens with documentaries instead of looking at what the subjects of the documentary have gone through and the whole process of coming out with their story.”

Tiexiera and Hall aren’t out to shame documentary filmmakers but to establish best practices going forward so that participants in nonfiction films are not mistreated or their needs ignored. That goal is supported by Margie Ratliff, whose life was changed when she was portrayed in the 2004 documentary series The Staircase.

“I am starting a 501c3 that focuses on resources for participants,” Ratliff, a producer of Subject, told Deadline in Camden. “So, it could be past participants of documentaries – current, future, anyone who’s interested in being a participant. So many times, you get a consent form, a release form, and you don’t know what it means. And that would be so great to have a lawyer that you can go talk to and they can run you through it.”

In a statement accompanying news of the acquisition of their documentary, co-directors Tiexiera and Hall said, “We are absolutely thrilled that Subject will be seen in theaters across the U.S. and cannot wait to share it with documentary film fans. More and more people are watching documentaries every day, but this is a chance to understand what really goes on behind the scenes.”

Subject was produced by Lady & Bird Films alongside Joe Caterini (Fortune Favors Films) and Margie Ratliff, with executive producers Dr. Kameelah Rashad, Logan Snyder (Fortune Favors Films), Alex Lieberman (Bright West Entertainment), Gary Lieberman (Bright West Entertainment), Loren Hammonds (TIME Studios) and Alexandra Johnes (TIME Studios). Greenwich’s co-president Edward Arentz negotiated the acquisition with Cinetic’s Isadora Johnson and Alexis Galfas on behalf of the production.  

Greenwich’s Arentz said, “Subject simply is a must-see for anyone who loves documentaries and wants a heady exploration of the potential ethical dilemmas that documentary filmmakers and their subjects face.”

Jason Tyrrell, general manager of Kanopy, added, “Subject is the perfect addition to Kanopy’s catalog of ‘films that matter’, and we’re thrilled to join with our partners at Greenwich Entertainment to make sure this documentary reaches the widest possible audience. We pride ourselves on our support of the documentary community, and on curating one of the largest collections of documentaries in streaming. Subject is sure to expand critical conversations in classrooms, living rooms, and libraries alike around the impact of documentary cinema on its participants and audiences.”

Recent acquisitions by Greenwich Entertainment include Robert Irwin: A Desert of Pure Feeling; Your Friend, Memphis; Pianoforte, and Inshallah a Boy.

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