April 1, 1999

Short Takes, April 1999


I Have a List!

Oyez, oyez, oyez. Gentle reader, I rise from my lowly scribe-perch to address you. One symptom of raging millennium fever is making lists. This craze has gone on all decade long, but it reached a crescendo in '98 when the Modem Library and AFI dropped their pronouncements on an unsuspecting public, Kenneth Starr rocked the White House with his witness list, and soon every other publication was chiming in with their 100 greatest of whatever. Now its our turn. Documentaries have gotten a lot of short shrift in this List-o-Mania: nary a doc appears on the AFI list, and only five docs make the Premiere magazine "100 Movies That Shook the World" (and those are Don't Look Back, Freaks, Man with a Movie Camera, Olympiad and 28-Up). It's high time that docs got their due. So... we'd like you to send in your lists. Send us your list of at least five documentaries that are your Desert Island Docs, docs for which you would stake your careers, your livelihoods, your lives to see over and over again. Criteria for selection are wide open. These could be your favorite docs, or what you feel are the most important docs to the evolution of the genre, or the most influential to your respective careers as filmmakers, teachers or simply doc afficiona­dos. Send your lists to me, Thomas White, International Documentary, 1551 S. Robertson Blvd., Ste. 201, Los Angeles, CA 90035-4257; e-mail : ida@artnet.net. If we get enough responses, we can flaunt a list of our own!

"I reckon—when I count at all­—
First—Poets—Then the Sun—
Then Summer—then the Heaven of God­—
And then—the List is done—"

—Emily Dickinson

IDA to Host ISSFED's Inaugural Board Meeting

The International Society of Specialty Film Exhibitors and Distributors (ISSFED), mentioned here is the last issue, will hold the first meeting of its board of directors this month in Los Angeles—at the IDA offices. Executive Director Betsy A . McLane, also one of ISSFED's Directors, will host the event. The Michigan-based nonprofit is an association of independent theater operators and bookers, programmers and distributors from colleges, art houses, festivals and cinematheques, all united in the mission to bring art films and specialty films to movie screens across the country. The ISSFED Board of Directors include Gillian Anderson, composer and conductor; Bill Banning, CEO, Roxie Releasing; Brenda Benthien, President, ISSFED; Paul Beutel, Executive Director, Paramount Theater, Austin, TX; Michelle Byrd, Executive Director, Independent Feature Project; Russ Collins, Executive Director, Michigan Theater Foundation; Jonathan Forman, President, Cleveland Cinemas; Steven Freidlander, Senior Vice President, Fine Line Features Distribution; Chris Horak, Director, Universal Studios Archives & Collections; Sydney Levine, President, Film Finders; Betsy McLane, Executive Director, IDA; Gary McVey, Executive Director, American Cinema Foundation; and Mark Urman, President, Lions Gate Releasing. ISSFED is planning to hold a mini-conference in September at the Cinémathèque Ontario in conjunction with the Toronto Film Festival. For more information about ISSFED, check out its website at www.issfed.org.

DOCtv Offers Reduced Subscriptions to IDA Members

DOCtv, the new bi-monthly newsletter (well, "fortnightly"... so, you get two a month) "for buyers and sellers of factual programming worldwide" is offer 50% off the normal subscription rate for IDA members. The valuable, information-packed mag usually sells for £495 a year (24 issues). For more information, contact Ms. Hayley Ward, Marketing Manager—Media Group, Phillips Business Information Ltd., Forum Chambers, The Forum, Steveage, Herts, SG1 1EL, UK; phone: +44-1438-742424; fax: +44-1438-740 154; web: www.phillipslid.co.uk.

Discovery Expands Presence in Latin America

Discovery Networks International, looking to develop documentary programming in Latin America, held a regional producers workshop in February out of its Discovery Networks/Latin America/Iberia base in Miami. The two-day workshop, which drew representatives from broadcast channels in South and Central America, as well as from North America and Europe, was designed as a forum for these programmers to exchange ideas in the develop­ment of the documentary in Latin America and potential inter-continental collaborations and co-productions; representatives from Discovery also fielded pitches from independent producers from Latin America and selected three projects for development. Discovery also announced its intention to maintain its First Time Filmmakers initiative, in which six neophyte documentarians from a specific region-Argentina this year­ will be commissioned up to $30,000 each to produce a half-hour work about their community and culture.

Pennebaker's New Hendrix Film Gets the Digital Treatment

Pioneer Entertainment and the independent record label The Right Stuff announced last February that they would team up to issue the DVD and VHS versions of D.A. Pennebaker's latest work, Searching for Jimi Hendrix. The documentary, which aired on Bravo in February, explores the art and artistry of the late guitarist through the great musicians around the world who have testified to the sublimity of his music. Pennebaker and co-director Chris Hegedus capture this eclectic group of artists in recording studios, rehearsal halls and on stage performing Hendrix 's compositions. These artists include Laurie Anderson, Los Lobos, Cassandra Wilson, Chuck D, the Five Blind Boys of Alabama, Roseanne Cash and more. Pioneer and The Right Stuff will also release the CD soundtrack of this film. All three formats—DVD, VHS and CD-will be released on April 20th.

Michael Nesmith Awarded $46 Million in PBS Lawsuit

Michael Nesmith, the ex-Monkee turned independent producer, won $46 million in damages from the Public Broadcasting System in a lawsuit over the rights to a videotape library of PBS programs; a federal jury found PBS liable for breach of contract and fraud. Nesmith's former company, the now-defunct Pacific Arts, had had an agreement with PBS to develop a special PBS Home Video Library, which distributed such titles as Masterpiece Theater and The Civil War, an agreement that left Pacific Arts deeply in debt. The lawsuit alleged that PBS had persuaded the producers of the programs to terminate their distribution agreements with Pacific Arts, sign them over to PBS, which, in turn identified other distributors.

A spokesperson for PBS maintained that it would "vigorously contest the verdict."


March was the maddest month for winter­ into-spring festivities, and in Los Angeles every major aspect of filmmaking is awarded in the weeks leading up to the Academy Awards Night. The Directors Guild of America's list of nominees in the Documentary category are Jerry Blumenthal, Peter Gilbert and Gordon Quinn for Vietnam: Long Time Coming (Seventh Art Releasing); Matthew Diamond for the IDA Award-winning Dancemaker (Four Oaks Foundation and Long Legs, Inc.); IDA member Susan Lacy for the American Masters program Leonard Bernstein: Reaching for the Note (Thirteen/WNET, PBS); Nigel Noble and Ed Dessisso for Porgy and Bess: An American Voice (Mojo Working Productions, PBS); and Kyra Thompson for Dying to Tell the Story (Turner Original Productions, TBS)... The nominees for the American Cinema Editors (ACE) Eddie Awards in the Documentary category are Michael Levine for The Cruise (Charter Films/Artisan Entertainment); Pam Wise for Dancemaker (Four Oaks Foundation/Long Legs, Inc.); and IDA member James Moll for The Last Days (Shoah Foundation/October Films)... The Motion Picture Sound Editors weighed in with its Golden Reel Awards for excellence in sound editing. In the Special Venues category, the following were nominated: Africas Elephant Kingdom; Dynamite Train; Everest; Olympic Spirit—Atlanta; Pensacola­ Wings of Gold; Star Trek—The Experience; Superstition and T-Rex: Back to the Cretaceous... Elsewhere in the media arts world, The Ark Trust, a nonprofit organization devoted to animal-protection issues announced the winners of its annual Genesis Awards, which honor "individuals in the major media whose courage and integrity have increased awareness of animal-protection issues." Among the documentaries honored were Don't Say Goodbye (NBC); Life with Big Cats (Animal Planet); National Geographic Explorer: Chimp Rescue (TBS); In the Wild: Orangutans with Julia Roberts (PBS); and Vanishing Giants (syn­dicated documentary)... The Academy of Television Arts and Sciences held its annual College Television Awards Competition, and the Seymour Bricker Family College Award for the work best representing a humanitarian concern went to Our American Journey: Vietnam—In Country. The filmmakers—Dominic Bonelli, Ken Chalk, Christine Jutras, Mike Rizzu to and Jack Ryan—all hail from Norwich University... The Working Group, a nonprofit media production company dedicated to giving voice to America's working people, presented its Joady Awards last month "to those whose efforts have contributed to bringing the voices, concerns and images of working people to the American public." Two documentaries took home Joadies: Sing Faster, IDA member Jon Else's film about the San Francisco Opera's production of Wagner's Ring Cycle, as told entirely from the point of view of the stage­ hands; and IDA members David and Nancy Sutherland's The Farmer 's Wife, an epic portrait of a struggling Nebraska farm family. Globalvision, the production company that made the award winning PBS docs South Africa Now, Rights and Wrongs, and Globalization and Human Rights, also won a Joady, as did the No On 226 Media Campaign... IDA member Abraham Raven, Professor of Film and Photography at Hampshire College, has been awarded a completion grant from the National Foundation for Jewish Culture's Fund for Jewish Documentary Filmmaking. The March records Raven's mother's recollections of her experiences in the Auschwitz Death March of 1945... The California Council for the Humanities announced its recent round of media grants to the following projects: The California Missions: Buried History, produced and directed by IDA member Michael Rose; Lalo Guerrero—A Life in Music, produced and directed by IDA member Sean Carrillo; The Land is Our Gold, produced and directed by Holly Alonso; Crossing the Rainbow Bridge II: The Pow-wow Bridge, produced and directed by Kat High; Cul de Sac: A Suburban War Story, produced and directed by Garrett Scott; Brown Zone—Twilight of Paradise, produced and directed by IDA member Paul Alexander Juutilainen; and We Live Among You, produced and directed by Wallace Murray... The National Endowment for the Arts announced a $500,000 grant to the National Film Preservation Foundation Archives to work with twelve regional archives to preserve films not protected by commercial interests, including newsreels, silent films, home movies and documentaries. Among the organizations involved in the effort are UCLA Film and Television Archive and the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles.


The Independent Feature Project will cut in half the number of films that it screens at its annual Independent Feature Film Market. "The number of feature-length films screened in the market has grown by 40% in the past four years," commented Michelle Byrd, IFP's Executive Director. "While we are wholly committed to being a market, not a festival, the number of features has become too unwieldy for buyers to properly cover the market." The Market, which takes place in September, will introduce a new feature: IFFM Rough Cuts, in which ten filmmakers will be invited to screen their respective works-in-progress... Stanley Nelson's The Black Press: Soldiers Without Swords, fresh from winning the Freedom of Expression Award at Sundance, took the Documentary Jury Prize at the first Hollywood Black Film Festival... Roko Belic and IDA member Adrian Belie screened their Sundance Audience Award-winner Genghis Blues as part of the American Independents at the Market (AIM) sidebar at the Berlin Film Festival; Doug Block's Home Page, another Sundance preemer, also screened at AIM... IDA member James Moll presented his film The Last Days at the Berlin fest; Steven Spielberg, who exec­ produced the film, was also on hand to present... Reed Paget's Amerikan Passport, a tale of the filmmaker's epic adventures around the world, won the Documentary Award at Slamdance.


Herbert Kline, whose career as a documentarian was forged in the crucible of the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s, died in February at the age of 89. A born wayfarer, he ran away from his native Iowa at age fourteen to visit such American landmarks as Valley Forge, Niagara Falls and Mount Vernon. The Great Depression sparked his interest in progressive causes, and he eventually became editor of the Chicago­ based publication New Theater, the first to publish the plays of Clifford Odets. When the Spanish Civil War broke out, he joined the legions of American artists and intellectuals drawn to that conflict. He found work writing for a Loyalist radio station, and eventually made two documentaries about the war, one of these managed by collaboration with the French photographer and filmmaker Henri Cartier-Bresson. As the political crises grew across Europe in the late 1930s, Kline ventured to London, Czechoslo­vakia and Poland. Out of his experiences there, he made Crisis, about Hitler's invasion of Czechoslovakia; and Lights Ow in Europe, about the 1939 invasion of Poland and the beginning of World War II. He returned to the States in 1941 and made a film in Mexico with John Steinbeck about peasant life there. He later made one of the first documentaries on the Holocaust, My Father's House (1947). His left­ist views got him blacklisted in the McCarthy era, and he didn't make another film until 1970, when he returned to Mexico to direct Walls of Fire, a documentary about the great Mexican rutists Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros. Walls of Fire earned an Academy Award® nomination. His last documentaries, made in the late 1970s, were The Challenge of Modern Art and Acting... Lee Strasberg.