Member News, December 2004

Martin Doblmeier's Bonhoeffer, which tells the dramatic story of the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who offered one of the first clear voices of resistance to the Nazis and eventually joined the plots to kill Adolf Hitler, won the 2004 Gabriel Award for Best Documentary Film. The award was presented in October at a special ceremony at the Directors Guild of America in Los Angeles. The film will be presented nationally on public television in 2005.

Director/camera/editor Andy Garrison's Third Ward, TX has received support from the Independent Television Service (ITVS), through its public television partnership program, LInCS. Houston-based KUHT, Channel 12 has supported the project with equipment, services and occasional crew. The film is about the rise and success of an art  project that transformed and revitalized the predominately African-American Third Ward neighborhood in Houston. Ironically, the very stuff that makes life better and more fulfilling in the neighborhood has now attracted the attention of developers threatening the demise of the community. Garrison is hoping to be complete the film by the beginning of next summer.

Doug Hawes-Davis let us know that Libby, Montana was announced as a finalist in the Documentary Award Category at the 2004 IFP/NY Market & Conference. The film chronicles what the Environmental Protection Agency calls the worst case of community-wide exposure to a toxic substance in US history. The film is the fourth feature-length project from Montana-based High Plains Films. It was produced, directed shot and edited by Drury Gunn Carr and Hawes-Davis, and features an original score from Alabama musician Ned Mudd.

Jonathan Helfand Music and Post, an audio post and music house in New York, recently finished audio on Young Productions' Fever: The Music of Peggy Lee for PBS' American Masters. The biggest challenge of the project was restoring the quality of music recorded up to 60 years ago. The audio house also mixed radio promos for The History Channel documentaries The Barbarians Are Coming, Tactical to Practical and Mail Call. Also for The History Channel, they recorded and mixed the four-part series Mavericks, Miracles and Medicine.

R.J. Johnson's The Joke's on Thee airs on TBN (Trinity Broadcasting Network) New Year's Eve 2004. The Joke's on Thee explores the question, Does God have a sense of humor? It also examines humor in the Bible, humor from the pulpit and comedians who joke about God in their acts. The documentary is a unique mix of theologians, preachers, teachers, celebrities and comedians.  People appearing on the program include Jonathan Winters, Oral Roberts, Mark Russell, Pat Boone, Paul Rodriguez, Rev. Jesse Duplantis, Dr. Tony Campolo, Pastor Jess Moody and Kathleen Madigan.  The Joke's on Thee won the award for Best of the Festival—Comedy at the Berkeley Video and Film Festival.

MacGillivray Freeman Films' Coral Reef Adventure won the 2004 GSTA Achievement Award for Best Cinematography at the Giant Screen Theater Association conference in Montreal in September. The company's next giant screen film, Mystery of the Nile, will be released in IMAX theaters in February 2005. MFF has also entered into partnership on two upcoming films. Alexander G. Spanos, founder of A.G. Spanos Companies, will serve as executive producer of Greece: Secrets of the Past. In spring 2005, MFF will begin production on a new project about the nation's wetlands and the effect of hurricanes on their ecosystem. They will work in partnership with the Audubon Nature Institute of Louisiana in development and production of the piece.

Seth Magalaner's The Bay Area Black Aces premiered on FSN Bay Area in September. Of the 150 or so pitchers who have had 20-win seasons in the major leagues, only 12 have been African-American. Of those "12 Black Aces," four won 20 games for the Oakland A's or San Francisco Giants. Those four pitchers—"Sad Sam" Jones, Vida Blue, Mike Norris and Dave Stewart—are the subject of the program.

IDA Board President Richard Propper's Solid Entertainment has acquired the international broadcast, home video and DVD rights (excluding the United States) to three new risk-themed documentaries from documentary production company PacificCoast Video. Con Artist explores the legendary art fraud of John Drewe and painter John Myatt. Beating Vegas: Inside the MIT Card Counting Story is based on Ben Mezricha's New York Times best-selling book, Bringing Down the House. The stories of men in competition to join the Special Forces as Air Force Para-Rescuemen is the subject of The Rescue Warriors: Inside the World of Para-Rescuemen. All three docs were originally produced for the National Geographic Channel. Solid has also inked a two-year deal with producer Moriah Films for five landmark historical documentaries, including the broadcast, home video and DVD rights. The agreement covers the Academy Award-winning Genocide and The Long Way Home, as well as In Search of Peace, Liberation and the recently completed Unlikely Heroes.

Jan Rofenkamp was busy on behalf of his company, Films Transit International, at the 2004 Toronto Film Festival with world premieres of Susan Kaplan's Three of Hearts, Peter Raymont's Shake Hands With the Devil, George Butler's Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry, Michael Epstein's The Final Cut and the North American premiere of John Appel's The Last Victory.

Richard Trank's Unlikely Heroes opened in September in New York. The documentary, narrated by Sir Ben Kingsley, highlights seven previously unknown stories of extraordinary men and women who exemplified the highest levels of courage and human dignity during the most desperate days of the Holocaust.

Jeff Tuchman reports, "I just finished executive-producing an hour for Court TV with Al Roker. It deals with a terrifying scandal at the Houston police department's crime lab, which called into question the reliability of the DNA evidence presented in courtrooms every day around the country."

Gemini Productions, headed by Gail Willumsen and Jill Shinefield recently finished a one-hour documentary for WGBH's NOVA series. The Mummy Who Would Be King, about the long lost mummy of a great pharaoh, premiered on Channel Four in the UK in June 2004, and will air in the United States on PBS in early 2005. Gemini also wrapped up more than two years of shooting for a two-hour special on Burt Rutan's "SpaceShipOne" project, the first non-governmental manned space program. Willumsen and Shinefield documented the design, construction and testing that resulted in SpaceShipOne's historic flight on June 21, 2004, when Rutan sent the world's first commercial astronaut into space above the Mojave Desert. The behind-the-scenes documentary aired on Discovery Channel in October. Willumsen and Shinefield are currently in pre-production on one of the episodes of Global Health, WGBH's upcoming six-hour series dealing with the precarious state of health in populations around the world.  Production will take the pair to Haiti, Bangladesh and Thailand. The series will air on PBS in the fall of 2005.


The office of IDA may reside in Los Angeles, but the spirit of IDA travels worldwide. This new section will let you know where we've been, what we've seen and where you can find us next.

South Korea

In September, IDA Executive Director Sandra Ruch attended the 1st EBS International Documentary Festival, "Challenging ASIA, Documentaries 2004." As she reported via e-mail from the festival, "This has been quite an experience...much  excitement and interest in the documentary world of the Pacific Rim."

Ruch served on the jury for the festival along with Jury Chair Trinh T.Minh-Ha, filmmaker and professor at University of California, Berkeley; Dan Wolman, a filmmaker from Israel; and Doh Jung II, a professor at Kyung-Hee University in South Korea. Ruch also appeared live on EBS TV and radio, where she had to learn to slow her normally rapid-fire pace of dialogue, so that everything could be translated into Korean.

E-mailed Ruch, "This is quite a courageous and innovative festival. EBS is the Korean educational channel, and it is broadcasting international documentaries 17 hours a day for the seven days of the festival."  Ruch said that the audience seemed to love the film screened at the opening ceremony, Christine Choy's Deconstruction of Korean Housewife. Choy, born in China to a Chinese mother and Korean father, is the chair of the Graduate Film and TV Department at New York University.

Other filmmakers Ruch had the opportunity to meet included Kamal Bahar, from Iran, who was at the festival with one of the 12 films in competition, The Lovers: The Victims. Bahar gave Ruch $100 in cash so that he could join IDA for two years, he has no credit card. He insisted on the two-year membership because, says Ruch, "He doesn't know if he will see me again. His film on AIDS cannot be shown publicly in Iran."

New York City

Ruch recently spent time in New York City, where she and IDA Board of Directors President Richard Propper oversaw a well-attended meeting with the Board of Trustees on September 21. Participants included Paula S. Apsell (NOVA), Nancy Cole (NBC News Archives), Susan Lacy (American Masters), Andrea Meditch (Discovery Spotlight/Discovery Docs), Steve Messere (ITN Archive Ltd), Stanley H. Moger (SFM Entertainment), Steven Rosenbaum (Camera Planet), David N. Sheehan (ABCNews Videosource) and Mel Stuart (President, Mel Stuart Productions). While IDA's bylaws mandate a yearly meeting of the trustees, they felt that the gathering was so productive that they recommended IDA have four Board of Trustees meetings a year. The next will take place on December 9 in Los Angeles.

While in New York, Ruch also attended the IFP Market. As she reports, "I saw many wonderful documentaries, both works-in-progress and completed films. The Spotlight on Docs was spectacular. Overall, the quality of the documentary seems to be improving, with great stories and equally good production values." A highlight of the market for IDA was that there were many films in the Spotlight on Docs that were part of the IDA Fiscal Sponsorship program.

Future adventures include: 

IDA was a media sponsor of the Jackson Hole Digital Synthesis Conference in Santa Barbara, sponsored by the Jackson Hole Film Festival and held in late September/early October. Tune in next issue for reflections from the executive director.