Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

Education Documentary Featuring Bill Gates Gets First Distribution Deal at Sundance

Like BoomTown, Bill Gates was at the Sundance Film Festival this weekend–not just to sample some of the fare at the well-known independent film festival, held annually in Park City, Utah, but also to appear at the screening of a documentary about the crisis in public education in which he appears and that scored the first distribution deal at the event.

The worldwide rights for “Waiting for Superman,” directed by Davis Guggenheim and produced by Participant Media, were sold to Paramount Vantage, a unit of the Viacom (VIA) movie studio.

The film premiered Friday at Sundance, with Gates in attendance. The Microsoft (MSFT) co-founder took questions at the screening and made it to several Sundance events, surprising several film types.

“I couldn’t believe it was him,” said one participant at a filmmakers’ gathering.

Yes, it was him, especially since issues in public education have been a big focus of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, where he has been spending most of his time since leaving day-to-day work at the software giant in 2008.

Interestingly, Participant Media–along with Guggenheim–put out “An Inconvenient Truth,” the global-warming doc starring former VP Al Gore, which was a huge success.

And in yet another Silicon Valley connection, Los Angeles-based Participant was founded by former eBay (EBAY) exec Jeff Skoll.

Here are highlights from a terrific interview Walt Mossberg did with Melinda Gates at the sixth D: All Things Digital conference in 2008, where she talked eloquently about the problems faced by U.S. schoolchildren:

And here’s the press release from Participant on the “Superman” deal:

HOLLYWOOD, CA (January 21, 2010)–Worldwide rights for the new documentary from Oscar®-winning director Davis Guggenheim (AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH) and Participant Media have been acquired by Paramount Vantage, it was announced today by Adam Goodman, Paramount Film Group President and by Participant Media’s CEO Jim Berk.

The documentary will have its world premiere tomorrow, January 22, at the Sundance Film Festival. Paramount Vantage will release the movie in the fall of 2010 in the U.S. with international release dates not yet determined.

The studio’s specialty division Paramount Classics released Guggenheim’s acclaimed AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH in 2006. The influential documentary, financed and executive produced by Participant Media, received two Academy Awards®, and was a worldwide box office hit, grossing more than $24 million in the U.S. and nearly $50 million worldwide.

The new film, developed, financed and executive produced by Participant Media, examines the crisis of public education in the United States through multiple interlocking stories–from a handful of students and their families whose futures hang in the balance, to the educators and reformers trying to find real and lasting solutions within a dysfunctional system.

The documentary features several leaders in the field of education, including philanthropist Bill Gates of The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; President and CEO of the Harlem Children’s Zone in Harlem, New York Geoffrey Canada; Chancellor of the Washington, D.C. public schools Michelle Rhee; Knowledge is Power Program Founders (KIPP) David Levin and Mike Feinberg; and President and CEO of Manchester Bidwell Corporation Bill Strickland.

Six-time Grammy Award-winning recording artist, concert performer and philanthropist John Legend composed the end title song “Shine.” Legend’s own Show Me campaign uses education to break the cycle of poverty through sustainable development at the individual, family, and community levels.

Said Paramount’s Goodman: “Our commitment to this movie and the issue of education is urgently important to all of us at Paramount. In collaboration with our partners, we hope to bring about a real solution.”

Said Davis Guggenheim: “With these two great partners, Participant Media and Paramount Pictures, we have a chance to create public awareness around this issue, and this is the only way we can make real change in our children’s schools.”

Said Jim Berk, CEO, Participant Media: “The movie creates an emotional personal connection to an issue which underpins the very future of our country. By reuniting with our good friends at Paramount, we have the chance to build on our ground breaking partnership on AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH to launch a national conversation from movie theaters, to kitchen tables all across the country.”

“It’s wonderful to have Paramount as partners on this film,” says the film’s producer, Lesley Chilcott, who was also a producer on AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH. “It’s crucial to have experts like Paramount and Participant that understand the power of a film to create urgency about an important issue. We need to get the message out there. Millions of kids are waiting.”

The film is directed and produced by Davis Guggenheim. Lesley Chilcott is the producer, with Jeff Skoll and Diane Weyermann serving as executive producers. Written by Davis Guggenheim and Billy Kimball. The cinematographers are Erich Roland and Bob Richman. Greg Finton, Jay Cassidy, and Kim Roberts served as the editors.


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