Oprah give documentaries a lift

Utah: Media mogul Oprah Winfrey vowed to bring documentary movies into homes across the United States on her new OWN television network in an effort she likened to her hugely successful book club.

At a Saturday launch party at the Sundance Film Festival, which has long championed documentary movies, Winfrey told a delighted crowd that outspoken celebrity Rosie O`Donnell will be OWN`s "curator" of non-fiction films. O`Donnell will host specials in which the films` makers and subjects are featured when the OWN Documentary Film Club launches this spring.

"It is my intention to do for documentaries what we have been able to do for books," Winfrey said. "My goal, my dream, my intention is to bring documentaries into the mainstream, to have them stimulate new ways of thinking."

Non-fiction films have long been the stepchildren to their far more popular siblings, narrative feature films, and it is rare when a documentary gets the necessary marketing and promotion to bring in big bucks at box offices.

Only 12 have broken the $10 million mark in movie theaters, according to industry tracker Boxofficemojo.com. Last year`s highly-praised educational documentary "Waiting for Superman," which premiered at Sundance, has taken in only $6.7 million.

Most documentaries end up airing on TV, but outlets that air them in that medium are limited to only a few -- most prominently subscriber-based cable TV network HBO.

In her book club, launched on her daytime talk program "The Oprah Winfrey Show" during the mid-1990s, Winfrey would pick a title, audiences would read it, and then she would host shows to discuss the books with authors and experts.

The effort, which generated a few controversies among its selections, nevertheless kept her millions of fans tuned-in and made many of the chosen titles instant bestsellers.