Powers to the People: SundanceNow Doc Club Brings Curated Documentaries to VOD

You love documentaries. And what better way to satisfy your doc habit than by plunking down a few bucks to get access all your favorites, streaming 24/7?

So you bite the bullet and sign up for the streaming plan of a large (unnamed) online provider. You go to said provider’s site, eager for Ross McElwee’s Time Indefinite and…it’s not available. No big deal, it’s a bit obscure. How ’bout Scorsese’s The Last Waltz? Nope. Surely the Maysles Brothers Salesman is streaming, yes? Wrong again.

But fear not, frustrated doc geeks! Thom Powers, head doc programmer for the Toronto Film Festival and host of IFC’s doc series Stranger Than Fiction, has teamed with Sundance to bring you the SundanceNow Doc Club (docclub.com). For mere pennies a month (699, to be exact), viewers can “discover and watch the world’s best documentaries.” (Or, get an annual membership at $4.99 per month.) All streaming, all the time!

Like a lot of great American innovations, Powers’ story began in Detroit. We all know Detroit as a maker of cars, but did you know it also produces the finest “bullshit detectors” in the land? Powers points out this fact to me when we meet in Silverlake, Los Angeles in September. It must be something in all that dirty Michigan snow, because Michael Moore’s from right down the road in Flint (another decent producer of bullshit detectors).

“I guess I got so sick of people coming in and getting the story wrong,” says Powers of the media’s coverage of Detroit. Thus began Powers quest for truth. Luckily, in those pre-internet days, Powers had the city’s famed Detroit Institute for the Arts nearby, supplying him with the doc essentials; viewing films like 28 Up, Hotel Terminus and 17 as an impressionable kid. That kid grew up with a burning passion for docs and for sharing those docs with the world.

Copy of Thom Powers

Thom Powers

After years of producing and directing his own documentaries, Powers discovered that his favorite part of filmmaking was getting friends together in the theater and sharing the film they just made. The SundanceNow Doc Club is the logical extension of those happy evenings spent in the dark with friends.

Ultimately, the coolest thing about the Doc Club platform is the “human voice” behind the monthly selections. A new 5-10-title program of docs is released monthly, starting with “The Essentials” (including Errol Morris’ The Thin Blue Line, Jonathan Demme’s Stop Making Sense and a newly remastered HD version of Steve James’ Hoop Dreams – the latter unavailable to stream anywhere else) and spanning the gamut, with “Eye-Opening Journeys” or the “Ross McElwee Spotlight.” One of our favorites is the “Jew Telling Jokes and Stories” section: “seven films that profile important Jewish leaders, intellectuals, heroes and critics. These films celebrate people who break down barriers, challenge accepted notions and asked provocative questions. But it’s not all serious and weepy…”

Powers, along with his fellow doc gurus, assemble these programs with the care and expertise befitting the world’s finest bullshit detectors. The platform has just released mobile apps for iPad, iPhone and Android. In addition, opportunities abound for members to build their own community by attending screenings, with free tickets available on the Doc Club website.

From the outside, the SundanceNow Doc Club appears to be a much cozier option than other large (unnamed) online providers and comes without the frustration of not being able to stream Time Indefinite. Or The Last Waltz. Or Salesman. MM

Visit the SundanceNow Doc Club here. Memberships are US$6.99 a month, or US$4.99 a month for an annual membership.

Screenshot from www.docclub.com.

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