American police officers are constantly in the headlines – and often for the wrong reasons. With race relations boiling over and Donald Trump going for the White House, programming that spotlights US current affairs is in-demand, as Nicky Davies Williams says about new documentary Copwatchers. “It’s spot on for the zeitgeist,” says the DCD chief.
The BBC doc, from director Ben Steele (Hunted: The War Against Gays in Russia) and cutting-edge UK indie Renowned Films, follows a group of New York citizens who have been filming acts of police brutality. These ‘nightcrawlers’ scan police radio frequencies, drive across states and patrol neighbourhoods to gain their footage that they hope will bring accountability and action.
“This doc is about a movement of people in New York, which was started by a guy who filmed his friend being killed by the police,” says Davies Williams. “It follows three or four who go out and film police activities. What they film is terrifying, and it’s an extraordinary piece of work.”
In the UK, the show debuted via online channel BBC Three as NYPD: Biggest Gang in New York?, but DCD has changed the inflammatory title ahead of an international launch at MIPCOM. Davies Williams says she does not have online ratings data, but uses the fact it remained on the iPlayer homepage for a significant period as evidence of success, and notes it will get a linear play on BBC One.
She says the doc is “a real piece of journalism, and not sensationalist”, making it suitable for many free TV networks at MIPCOM looking for attention-grabbing current affairs.
The show: Copwatchers: Policing the Police
The producer: Renowned Films
The distributor: DCD Rights
The broadcaster: BBC Three, BBC One (UK)
The concept: Documentary following the tensions between the New York police, and the civilian groups that film their actions