Lawrence Elman believes that even the most mundane of subjects can make for an engaging documentary.
Take, for example, Oink! by Angus Macqueen; the film is about humans’ relationship with pigs, which may sound dull, but which Lawrence insists is worth a watch. “This film, whilst it’s funny and moving, is very, very, very powerful,” he says over the phone from London. “And it will actually alter the way that you look at pigs.”
Lawrence is something of an authority on the topic of engaging stories. As the co-founder of the documentary streaming platform Yaddo, which he created with filmmaker (Man on Wire, This Film Is Not Yet Rated) and former BBC Storyville editor Nick Fraser, Lawrence spends his days watching, discussing, and commissioning these types of films. Sort of a Netflix for documentaries, the subscription-based Yaddo co-finances and finances films, commissions original content (such as Oink!), acquires projects, and has a back catalogue that is regularly being added to the online platform. “The idea is that every film that we put up or that we purchase or that we commission or that we co-finance is of the same level that Nick’s always done at the BBC,” Lawrence, who is originally from Montreal, explains. “You’re not going to be disappointed by the films, even if you don’t know what they’re about and haven’t heard of them.”
Yaddo launched in Europe in October 2016 and is now in 154 countries (though it is not yet available in Canada). Lawrence and Fraser actually had the idea some 13 years ago, but “we were just way too early,” Lawrence says. Then when Fraser had his budget cut at the BBC in recent years, they decided to revisit the plan—and focus financial attention back on quality factual filmmaking. It began, as Lawrence puts it, with “lots of grey hairs and long nights”—but the hardest work often has the greatest payoff. In this case, it means sharing true stories with rapt audiences. Hollywood is great and all, but there is nothing more captivating than real life.