April 30, 2005

Short Takes, April 2005


Guggenheim Center for Doc Film in DC

The National Archives and Record Administration, the Foundation for the National Archives and Guggenheim Productions, Inc. have announced plans to establish the Charles Guggenheim Center for Documentary Film at the National Archives in Washington, DC. Named after the late internationally-acclaimed, award-winning filmmaker and documentarian Charles Guggenheim, the center plans to offer programs aimed at the public, young people and film professionals.

Initiatives for the center include presenting programs that highlight the National Archives' unique media collections that preserve and document the nation's heritage; encouraging and promoting the study of documentary film; serving as a national forum for symposia and meetings for the documentary film community; and showcasing both Guggenheim and other documentarians' work for the public. The center plans to take advantage of the recently-opened William G. McGowan Theater at the National Archives.     

Charles Guggenheim devoted his life to documentary film, receiving a dozen Academy Award nominations and four Oscars during his career. His credits include the Academy Award-winning films: Nine from Little Rock (1957), Robert Kennedy Remembered (1968), The Johnstown Flood (1989) and A Time for Justice (1995). He served as president of the Foundation for the National Archives from 1999 to 2002.

Witness to Truth Aids in Sierra Leone Investigation

Gillian Caldwell, executive director of the organization Witness, announced the launch of Witness to Truth: A Video Report and Recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Sierra Leone. The project marks the first time that video has been used by a TRC to raise public awareness of its findings and recommendations.

Caldwell traveled to Sierra Leone with her family in November 2003 to produce the film on behalf of TRC. It was embargoed until the TRC delivered its written report and film to the president of Sierra Leone in November 2004. The video highlights the key causes of the war and encourages civil society in Sierra Leone and beyond to hold the government accountable for implementing the binding recommendations issued by the TRC.

Caldwell participated in a screening and panel discussion about the film at New York University's School of Law this past December on International Human Rights Day.

Al Jazeera Readying English-Language Channel

As reported in The Guardian, Arab satellite channel Al Jazeera has begun recruiting staff for an English language channel, with optimistic plans to launch by the end of 2005.

Said project manager Nigel Parsons in The Guardian, "The brief is emphatically not to do an English translation of the Arabic channel. It will have international appeal and fill a lot of gaps in existing output."

According to Parsons, the goal is to eventually have a five-channel network covering the world, which would include an Arabic sports channel, a children's channel, the English language channel and a documentary channel.

The original Arabic channel was established in 1996, funded by the Emir of Qatar. It gained worldwide attention because of its satellite link from Kabul during the Afghan war, its broadcasting of messages from Osama bin Laden and its coverage of the war with Iraq. The channel was also the subject of the award-winning documentary, Control Room.

WGA Creates New Feature Doc Award

The Writers Guild of America (WGA) East and West introduced a new Feature Documentary Writing Award for the first time at the Guild's awards reception on February 15, 2005.

The award is a response to the increased number of writing credits on documentary films. As of November 2004, more than triple the amount of docs with writing credits had been released than in all of 2003. According to numbers released by the WGA, 23 documentaries were released in Los Angeles in 2003, eight of which had writing credits. Fifty documentaries were released in LA from January 1- October 1, 2004, with 30 containing writing credits.

"We at the WGA hope this trend continues," said WGAw secretary-treasurer and chair of the WGAw Organizing Committee Patric M. Verrone in a statement. "Documentarians will continue to fight to tell their stories, and the WGA will fight for these writers to get the recognition and benefits they deserve."

Judy Chrichton, WGAe Council member and documentarian, added that often the great documentary, which gains much of its power from a sense of passion and immediacy, is seen as a spontaneous reflection of reality rather than as a considered work which has been shaped and crafted.

The creation of the award is part of the WGA East and West's broader efforts to build a community of nonfiction writers and bring more documentaries under Guild contract. Three docs in 2004 (as of November 2004) were released by WGA signatories: Fahrenheit 9/11, Riding Giants and Coral Reef Adventure.

The nominations for the first-ever WGA Documentary Screenplay Award for Outstanding Achievement in Documentary Writing for the Screen are Bright Leaves (Written By Ross McElwee), Control Room (Written By Julia Bacha and Jehane Noujaim), Home of the Brave (Written By Paola di Florio), The Hunting of the President (Written By Harry Thomason and Nickolas Perry), In the Realms of the Unreal (Written By Jessica Yu ), Super Size Me (Written By Morgan Spurlock).

The award went to Spurlock for Super Size Me.

Facets and OtherCinemaDVD Pact for Distribution

Facets Multi-Media, a premiere distributor of critically acclaimed film, has announced a DVD distribution with underground, alternative home video label OtherCinema DVD (OCD).

OCD releases will now be included with the list of over 400 titles on the Facets label, as well as inclusion in the massive Facets Video Catalogue of over 60,000 DVD and video titles from around the world.

Facets released four titles from the OCD catalogue this past December and January, representing a cross-section of OCD's titles. The selections highlight hybrid films, and illustrate OCD's commitment to "celebrate peculiar visions and offbeat sensibilities." Johan Grimonprez' dial H-I-S T-O-R-Y chronicles the history of skyjacking. On a lighter note, The Subject Is Sex presents a historical romp along the seamy side of sex in cinema. In The Rainbow Man, Academy Award-nominated Sam Green tells the story of Rockin' Rollen Stewart, who gained fame by waving a ‘John 3:16' banner at televised sporting events. The final title is Nomads and No-Zones, a compilation of the work of underground filmmakers Greta Snider and Vanessa Renwick as they travel along the West Coast, meeting punks, artists and other nomads.

Mark Your Calendars for 2006 Oscars

The Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has chosen Sunday, March 5 as the date for the 78th Academy Awards in 2006. The show will fall a week later in the calendar than in 2004 and 2005 in order to avoid a conflict with the closing ceremonies of the 2006 Winter Olympics. A late February Oscar broadcast is scheduled to resume in 2007.


 Hobbits Doc in the Works at National Geographic

Worldscreen.com reported that National Geographic Television International is in the midst of planning a doc, tentatively titled Hobbits, about the recent discovery of fossils from tiny prehistoric people on a remote Indonesian island. The story about the three-foot tall humans was broken by the scientific journal Nature.

 World Cup Series Scores With BBC

BBC Two and BBC Worldwide have announced plans for a major documentary series celebrating the history of the World Cup. A 2006 broadcast is planned.

BBC Documentaries and Contemporary Factual has struck a deal with FIFA's archive management partner Infront Sports & Media to secure access to 70 years worth of World Cup films and television footage, including newly discovered material from the first World Cup in 1930.

The series will combine archival footage with interviews from football legends and current players, with the goal of chronicling the game through images and words of the sport's greatest names.

Spurlock Makes Deal for 30 Days

As reported by The Hollywood Reporter, the FX cable channel has ordered six episodes of 30 Days, a documentary-style reality series from Morgan Spurlock, director of Super Size Me.

The series is based on the concept behind the film, planting an individual into a lifestyle that is completely different from his or her upbringing, beliefs, religion or profession. The hour-long series is set to premier in Summer 2005.

Spurlock, who won the Documentary Directing Award at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival, will host, narrate and executive-produce. The Restaurant's Ben Silverman will also serve as executive producer.


GeoQuest Travels Down Another Road Home

As reported by indieWire, Danae Elon's documentary Another Road Home has been acquired by new distribution company GeoQuest Entertainment Group. The film tells the story of the Israeli Elon's efforts to re-establish her ties to her childhood caretaker, a Palestinian Muslim.

Alex Cyrell, GeoQuest founder and president, said in indieWire, "Our mandate is to seek out films in all genres that provide unique elements on both content and form that can induce passion and touch the emotions of core audiences." GeoQuest plans on using new media resources in addition to traditional distribution methods to reach audiences.

Elon's first documentary, Never Again, Forever (1995), won awards at the San Francisco and Chicago Film Festivals. Another Road Home, produced by Qi film, screened at the 2004 Los Angeles Film Festival.

Shadow and Home Vision Acquire Wrong-Eyed Jesus

Andrew Douglas' Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus has been acquired for North American theatrical release by Shadow Distribution and for subsequent DVD distribution by Home Vision Entertainment.

The film is a lyrical, music-driven journey with Douglas and musician Jim White as the two set out in a broken-down 1970 Chevy Impala to track down the essence of the white South, a place where snakes slither and Satan stalks, and where music provides the soundtrack for souls in celebration and torment.

Shadow Distribution is based in Maine, and has released such critically acclaimed films as The Weather Underground and Under the Sun. Home Vision Entertainment produced and distributes independent and world movies on DVD.


Battlefield Britain Lands on U.S. Screens

As reported by worldscreen.com, APT syndication has picked up the US broadcast right to BBC Worldwide America's eight-part documentary, Battlefield Britain. Beginning February 1, 2005, the series will be distributed to 57 public television stations in the US

Spanning 2000 years of battle on British soil, the doc series is hosted by father- and-son historian team Peter and Don Snow. Each episode tells the story of a particular conflict with the use of reenactments and CGI.


As 2004 drew to a close, critics and organizations chose to laud a variety of docs, proving once and again how the diverse and exciting a medium it is. In addition to what is cited in the Oscars Insert, year-end accolades at press time included:


-Best Documentary: Touching the Void (Dir.: Kevin Macdonald. Prod.: John Smithson)


-European Film Academy Documentary - Prix Arte: Hubert Sauper's Darwin's Nightmare (France/Austria/Belgium)


1) The Five Obstructions (Dirs.: Jorgen Leth, Lars von Trier. Prods.: Carsten Holst, Marianne Christensen)

2) S21: Khmer Rouge Killing Machine (Dir.: Rithy Panh)

3) The Story of the Weeping Camel (Dirs.: Byambasuren Davaa, Luigi Falorni)

4) Born Into Brothels (Dirs./Prods.: Zana Briski, Ross Kauffman)

5) Arna's Children (Dirs.: Juliano Mer Khamis, Danniel Danniel. Prod.: Pieter van Huystee) and Control Room (Dir.: Jehane Noujaim. Prods.: Rosadel Varela, Hani Salama).


-Documentary Category: The Boy Whose Skin Fell Off (Yipp Films for Channel 4, United Kingdom)


1)      Born Into Brothels

2)      Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession (Dir.: Xan Cassavetes. Prods.: Rick Ross, Marshall Persinger, Alison Bourke)

3)      Super Size Me (Dir./Prod.: Morgan Spurlock)

4)       The Story of the Weeping Camel

5)      Paper Clips (Dirs.: Elliot Berlin, Joe Fab. Prods.: Joe Fab, Robert M. Johnson,. Ari Daniel Pinchot)


-Nominations for Best Teleplay-Current Events Documentary: Paul Stekler (P.O.V.: Last Man Standing: Politics Texas, Style); and Michael J. Kirk (FRONTLINE: From China with Love)

-Nominations for Best Teleplay-Other than Current Events Documentary: Mel Bucklin (AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: Emma Goldman); Llewellyn M. Smith (AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: Reconstruction, Part 1); David Grubin (AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: RFK); Barak Goodman (AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: The Fight); Jo Ann Young (Broadway: The American Musical, Episode 4-Oh, What a Beautiful Morning) and Carl Charlson (They Made America-Revolutionaries)

Latino Public Broadcasting has announced the winners of the Sixth Annual 2004 Open Call, a competitive process where projects addressing Latino themes and issues are chose for funding. Sixteen projects were chosen out of 103 applicants from across the United States. The selected projects are as follows: Al Otro Lado (Prod./Dir./Edit.: Natalia Almada); The Calling (Exec. Prod.: Daniel Alpert); Crossing Deadly Waters: The Last Hope for the American Dream (Prod.: Josie Mejia Beeck); The Devil's Miner (Prod./Dir./Edit.: Kief Davidson); First Voice: Latino Literature in the US (Prod./Dir.: Ray Santisteban); God Willing (Evangeline Griego); Latinos: Beyond Black and White (Phillip Rodriguez); Letters from the Other Side (Prod.: Heather Courtney); Masked Men (Prod./Dir./Wtr.: Carlos Avila); Nuestra Familia/Our Family (Prod./Dir.: Oriana Zil De Granados); Orozco: Man of Fire (Co-Prods./Dirs.: Rick Tejada-Flores, Laurie Coyle); Rebel (Dir./Wtr.: Maria Agui Carter); Special Circumstances (Prod.: Marianne Teleki); A Texas Correction (Prod./Dir.: Susanne Mason); Visions of Aztlan (Prod.: Jesus Trevino); and When the Tide Comes In (Prod.: Lourdes Portillo).



-International Documentary Competition Grand Jury Prize: Avi Lewis' The Take (Canada)

-Special Mention: Robin Scovill's The Other Side of AIDS (USA)

-Audience Award for Best Documentary Film: Wash Westmoreland's Gay Republicans


-Best Documentary: Aaron Matthew's A Panther in Africa

-Best Documentary Short: Greg Samata's The Hot 8


-Special Jury Prize: Medstar Television's JFK: Investigation Reopened