Lisa Bertagnoli | January 12, 2017 | http://www.chicagobusiness.com/article/20170112/ISSUE01/170119999/cmp-invest-impact-an-investment-fund-for-documentary-films
At this year's Sundance Film Festival, several Chicago-based film buffs will head to the theater, grab a box of popcorn and watch "Trophy," a documentary about big-game hunting, with more than passing interest.
The film buffs are members of CMP Invest/Impact, an equity fund that invests in documentaries, particularly films with the aim of changing society. Along with "Trophy," its investments include "Icarus," about Russia's Olympics doping scandal; "The Eagle Huntress," about a Kazakh girl training to hunt with eagles; and "Notes on Blindness," based on the diary of a blind man.
Chicago-based CMP Invest/Impact was launched in 2015 by Paula Froehle, a 53-year-old film director, and Steve Cohen, 52, an attorney with his own practice in Chicago. The two know of only one other documentary investment fund, and that's Impact Partners, founded in New York a decade ago. CMP Invest/Impact, nicknamed CMP II, is riding the wave of several trends. One is increasing buzz about documentaries, among them "Making a Murderer," which premiered on Netflix in December 2015. Another is the growing number of media outlets, including CNN, HBO, Amazon and Netflix, interested in buying and airing documentaries.
To date, CMP II's 17 members have invested $1.7 million in 16 films. (Froehle and Cohen have made a combined investment in the low six figures.) Individual investments range from $1,000 to $100,000 or more. Returns range from 110 percent to 120 percent over a two- or three-year period. Sometime after Sundance ends in late January, CMP II will unveil a higher-tiered fund, which will let members invest an annual minimum of $100,000 in independently produced documentaries of all types, not just social-impact films.
Froehle, who has connections to documentary filmmakers, vets movies to bring to investors, who then watch them and decide whether to invest. Their track record includes theatrical releases, sales to Netflix and HBO, and multiple Sundance appearances. "This is a very difficult business," says "Trophy" producer Lauren Haber, who is based in New York. CMP II "is supporting more than the film itself," she says.
CMP II has its roots in the Chicago Media Project, a nonprofit Froehle and Cohen established in 2014 to give film buffs a chance to support documentaries via grants. Membership in the nonprofit is a requirement for members of the investment fund.
Ken Pelletier, a Chicago entrepreneur and former chief technology officer at Groupon, was one of the earliest members of both Chicago Media Project and CMP II. "Getting at the truth is becoming increasingly difficult," Pelletier says of his interest in documentary filmmaking. Through CMP II, he has invested in seven projects, including the upcoming "The Apollo Theater Film Project," a history of Harlem's Apollo Theater. "I think we're off to a pretty good start," he says.
Social impact, a healthy ROI and a touch of Hollywood: Sounds like the butter, truffle salt or maybe even bacon topping that box of movie popcorn.