August 30, 2003

Short Takes, August-September 2003

DOCS ROCK Student Documentaries Featured at LA Film Festival

Five student documentaries produced at San Pedro High School's DOCS ROCK Program were featured at the Los Angeles Film Festival High School Showcase in June.

These films were produced during the first year of the DOCS ROCK program in 2002 under the direction of documentary filmmaker Pamela Cohen and language arts teacher Tony Saavedra. The program is a collaboration between the International Documentary Association and Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Visual and Performing Arts Unit and is funded in part by the City of Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department.

The films showcased include I Don't Know Mr. Saavedra, but I'll Try by Jennifer Bautista, Brenda Diaz, Shinji Vallejano and Ashley Vincent; Our Generation by Milca Rivera, Shinji Vallejano, Jessica Harris, Crystal Reif and Ashley Ursini; Shelter from the Storm by Elizabeth Nicollelo, Jessica Harris, Kim Reilly, Milca Rivera and Nicholas Agour; and Soul Survivors by Candace Hill, Carly Uruburu, Michael Robidart, Jarod Kawahare and Crystal Reif.

AFM Moves to November and Partners with AFI

The American Film Market Association (AFMA) announced that, effective November 2004, the American Film Market will move in the industry calendar from February to November. The last winter AFM will be held next February, and the first fall AFM will be held November 3-10, 2004.

This move follows a year-long review by AFMA on how best to serve the independent film industry. "As a global trade association, AFMA's role is to anticipate and serve the long-term needs of the independent film industry," said Jean Prewitt, AFMA President and CEO. "The November dates enhance AFMA's ability to create new programs and services during the AFM while showcasing independent film in Hollywood in advance of the awards session."

Also announced by the American Film Institute and AFMA is a new strategic relationship between the AFI Los Angeles International Film Festival (AFI FEST) and AFM. AFI FEST and AFM will join forces in marketing, sponsorship, scheduling, registration and a variety of other initiatives. While each event will continue to be managed separately, the collaboration will result in a unified market and festival. AFI FEST 2004 will be held November 4-14.

"AFM and AFI FEST complement each other perfectly," said Jean Firstenberg, director and CEO of the American Film Institute. "AFI FEST is an international festival showcasing the finest in world cinema, while the AFM is an international film market well-known for its dynamic business environment. A collaboration between these leading cultural and commercial organizations demonstrates unity to the world film community while creating an exceptional global film event for the people of Los Angeles."

AFMA is the trade association representing independent producers and distributors of motion pictures and television programming worldwide. Founded in 1981, the American Film Market has grown steadily over the last two decades to become the largest motion picture market, generating more than $500 million in film production and distribution deals. 

Now in its 17th year, the AFI Los Angeles International Film Festival (AFI FEST) is one of the nation's fastest-growing film events and the longest-running film festival in Los Angeles. 

NYU Receives Gift from Pew

New York University has been awarded a grant of $1.55 million by The Pew Charitable Trusts to establish at an interdisciplinary Center for Religion and Media. A collaboration between the directors of the Religious Studies Program; the Center for Media, Culture and History; and the Department of Journalism, the center will promote interdisciplinary and cross-cultural scholarship, teaching and public knowledge of religion and media as a global phenomenon with local roots.

"One of our main priorities at NYU is not only to engage the various schools and disciplines, but also to create a community around critically important issues that reaches beyond the university," said John Sexton, president of New York University, in a statement. "The center will not only develop exciting new research and academic training in religion and media, but will also carry that work into the public sphere more effectively, through journalism, filmmaking, public dialogues, publications and Internet projects."

The idea for the center was conceived by anthropology professors Faye Ginsburg, director of the Center for Media, Culture, and History, and Angela Zito, director of the Religious Studies Program, who will be co-directing the Center. 

"The events of September 11 and their aftermath have made understanding the spread of religious ideas and practices through a variety of media—something that has always been important—of concern to nearly everyone," said Ginsburg. "We're grateful that The Pew Charitable Trusts share this commitment to a cross-disciplinary study of religion, and that they've chosen to support a center in our vibrant and diverse NYU community."

In addition to Journalism, Religious Studies, and the Center for Media, Culture, and History, the center will draw upon faculty from NYU's Anthropology, Cinema Studies, Culture and Communication, History, Middle East Studies and Performance Studies departments. NYU will provide the central location, in-kind support and a pledge to raise a $10 million endowment. The center will function simultaneously as a space for scholarly endeavor, a stage for public educational events, and an electronic interface with media specialists and the public.

Independent Lens Announces 2003-2004 Line Up

The Independent Television Service (ITVS) and PBS have announced the first ten titles of their acclaimed primetime series Independent Lens. The Fall 2003/Spring 2004 season, 29 evenings of independent documentaries, features and shorts, will be hosted by acclaimed actor/director Don Cheadle, a champion of independent filmmaking.

Said Cheadle in a prepared statement, "I'm a passionate believer in the power of independent filmmaking— filmmaking that truly represents the totality of who we are in this country.  Now more than ever, with people being intimidated against speaking out and with huge conglomerates controlling more and more of what we see and hear, people deserve the chance to see these kinds of films.  And the great thing about Independent Lens is anybody with a TV, from Maine to Alabama or wherever you happen to live, can go on the incredible journey where these films take you."

The fall slate includes Mei-Juin Chen and Martha Burr's Shaolin Ulysses: Kung Fu Monks in America; Mickey Lemle's Ram Dass: Fierce Grace, about the guru and spiritual leader; and Tracy Droz Tragos' Be Good, Smile Pretty, a personal documentary that chronicles the filmmaker's struggle to know and grieve for the father she never knew, a soldier who died in Vietnam when she was a baby. 

Winter/spring documentary titles for the series includes award-winning films and festival hits such as Sam Green and Bill Siegel's Weather Underground; MacArthur Genius Award winner Stanley Nelson's A Place of Our Own; Charles Burnett's fascinating re-examination of history in Nat Turner: A Troublesome Property; and Matthew Buzzell's Jimmy Scott: If You Only Knew, an acclaimed portrait of the recently rediscovered jazz great. 

The new primetime Independent Lens debuted in January 2003. The first season saw the re-launched series evolve into a critical hit that brought a new group of loyal viewers to PBS.


Modern Drummer Festival Gets DVD Treatment

Hudson Music, a leading music instruction video producer, and New York DVD, one of New York's leading providers of DVD development services, have recently completed video production of the Modern Drummer Magazine Festival 2003 for an upcoming DVD title.

The two-day festival, which was held May 17-18 on the campus of Montclair State University in Upper Montclair, New Jersey, featured some of the music industry's leading drummers and percussionists, including Saturday Night Live band member Shawn Pelton, world music pioneer Airto Moriera, rock/fusion stalwart Steve Smith, Dream Theater's Mike Portnoy and Pat Metheny Group's Antonio Sanchez.

The Modern Drummer Festival production, a multi-camera shoot, was produced by Paul Siegel and Rob Wallis, principals of Hudson Music; directed by Dave Diomedi, with technical direction from Brian Sheridan. Capturing the event involved production of seven consecutive hours on two successive days.

"This production was as fast and as flawless as the performances; shot selections were called in clean, rapid-fire succession, enabling us to produce a live cut that will hopefully translate into an explosive DVD title for drummers around the world," said Siegel. "The sound on this productionwas pristine; every beat and hit sounds like it would from the audience."

The DVD title, a multi-disc package, will be authored and developed by New York DVD's Brian Brodeur, working in conjunction with Hudson Music, for a projected fourth quarter 2003 release. The title will be distributed through Hudson Music's distribution channels, including, as well as through the Modern Drummer Web site at

Palm Takes Skater Doc in Hand

Palm Pictures has acquired the Helen Stickler's skater doc Stoked: The Rise and Fall of Gator for a summer North American release. A DVD release is planned for early next year.

The film tells the story of Mark "Gator" Rogowski, a skater who was convicted for murder and sentenced to prison for 31 years to life. Stickler's other work includes the short film Andre the Giant Has a Posse, as well as pieces for MTV.

First Run Features Brings Venus Boyz Down to Earth

First Run Features will release the documentary Venus Boyz, an intimate film about people who create intermediate sexual identities. The film will begin its New York run at the Quad Cinema on August 22, to be followed by a release in Los Angeles.          

Club Cassanova, the legendary Drag King night in New York, is the point of departure for an odyssey into transgendered worlds, where women become men-some for a night, others for a lifetime. German director Gabriel Bauer examines the current Drag King movement and brings drag kings, female masculinity and gender performance from New York City and London to the screen. 

The film also explores how, for the various women involved, masculinity and transformation can be defined as performance, subversion and/or existential necessity.  The Drag Kings profiled examine social power structures, discuss their lives with candor, humor and insight, and explore male eroticism and power strategies with a self-awareness, self-reflection and self-confidence befitting the gender pioneers they are. As celebrated Drag King Mo B. Dick explains, "Instead of becoming an angry woman, I became a funny man." 


Heaton Recognized for Underwater Camerawork

Pauline Heaton received the Kodak Vision Award in Cinematography from Women in Film at the Crystal and Lucy Awards this past May. Heaton is widely recognized as one of the world's leading specialists in underwater cinematography.

"Pauline Heaton has made incomparable contributions to advancing both the science and the art of underwater cinematography," said WIF President Iris Grossman in a prepared statement. "She has enhanced our understanding and appreciation of life underwater. Pauline is also an amazing source of support and inspiration for other women who have followed the path she has blazed."

Heaton is a native of Ontario, Canada. She traces her career path back to age of 12 when a teacher suggested combining her photography and swimming hobbies, and an encounter with a shark at the age of 15. She earned her bachelor's degree in motion picture studies from Ryerson Polytechnic Institute, where she filmed her first underwater movies. After graduation, Heaton worked with five-time Emmy Award-winning documentary filmmaker Sam Waterman on a television series hosted by Peter Benchley for ESPN, and was involved in several other projects before shooting her own films.

She wasn't satisfied with the state of the art, so Heaton designed and built camera housings, lighting and other specialized gear for underwater cinematography. She organized Watervisions Underwater Camera Systems in Vancouver, Canada. The company provides specialized boats, cameras, housings and lights, in addition to production services. Her 350 credits range from such features and TV series as Jumanji and The X-Files, to the award-winning documentary The Last Wild Salmon, to television commercials. Heaton received a Citation of Recognition Genie for her work on the feature film Magic in the Water.

Heaton has also trained many of Canada's underwater cinematographers and crews. She says that more than half of the crew members on her projects are women. The Kodak Vision Award is sponsored by the Kodak Entertainment Imaging division for the purpose of encouraging and recognizing the pursuit of excellence.

Riedelsheimer Captures Two Lolas for Rivers and Tides

Rivers and Tides: Andy Goldsworthy Working with Time won the Film Award in Gold for Best Documentary, and director Thomas Riedelsheimer won a Film Award in Gold for "outstanding artistic individual achievements" in cinematography at the 53rd German Film Awards, or Lolas, this past June. The Federal Office for Cultural and Media Affairs, which sponsors the Lolas, granted $269,000 in prize money to Riedelsheimer for his two awards. The Lolas are the German equivalent to the Academy Awards and are among the most lucrative in the world, with prize money of $3.4million going to 18 winners in 12 categories.

Canadian Short Docs Winners Announced

The National Film Board of Canada and British Columbia Film have announced the finalists of their short form documentary competition, Picture This. In keeping with the mandate of the competition, proposals were assessed on the following basis: the cultural and social relevance of the film, originality of concept, creative treatment, innovation and artistic merit. The visions and interpretations of the competition's theme of "Home" included the philosophical, the physical and microbiological realms with film proposals that explored personal history, primary relationships (or their absence), and "that spot on the globe that people become attached to." The five finalists are Arlene Ami, Lolo's New Home; Trish Dolman, Home; Lisa Jackson, My Indian Name is Nahmabin; Velcrow Ripper, Where the Alveoli Roam; and Rafi Spivak, Fragments of Proximity. Each of the finalists will receive production funding in the amount of $20,000 through a combination of cash and in-kind services. Projects will be approximately eight minutes in length.


Maui Film Festival at Wailea gave the 2003 Documentary Audience Award to Step Into Liquid. Shot in several key locations around the world, the film is already being praised as one of the greatest surfing films of all time. By crossing action sports photography with traditional filmmaking, creator Dana Brown (The Endless Summer II), son of Bruce Brown (The Endless Summer), invites mainstream audiences to re-think surfing as a form of natural spirituality.

The 29th Seattle International Film Festival presented the Golden Space Needle Awards for best documentary went to Kim Shelton's A Great Wonder and Kim Bartley and Donnacha O'Briain's The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. Revolution, a journalistic thriller that charts the overthrow of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and his dramatic return to power 48 hours later, was also awarded a jury prize in the First Person Singular doc competition, which it shared with Sam Green and Bill Siegel's The Weather Underground.

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, under the alternative title Chavez - Inside the Coup, earned the $50,000 Global Television Grand Prize at the 2003 Banff Rockie Awards. The film is a production from the Republic of Ireland, in association with broadcasters and funding agencies in the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands and Finland. It was named best in its category, Information and Current Affairs, and was the International Jury's unanimous choice for the Grand Prize, from a field of 83 programs across 14 categories. The $25,000 NHK President's Prize for the Best High Definition TV Entry in competition went to a Japanese documentary in which the horrors of the Hiroshima bombing are movingly evoked through the stunningly vivid drawings and paintings of the survivors. Drawing A-Bomb Memories (NHK-Japan) was also named Best History and Biography Program. The Best Arts Documentary prize went to Andy Warhol - The Complete Picture, a compelling and definitive account of the life and work of the great and influential American artist, produced by A World of Wonder Productions for Channel Four. American producers and broadcaster picked up Banff Rockie Awards in four categories, including the Best Social and Political Documentary award for FRONTLINE: Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero (Helen Whitney, prod.), a brilliant examination of whether faith itself was challenged, deepened, lost or found in the events of September 11, 2001. The Best Sports Program was Farang Ba (Crazy White Foreigner), from Naked Emperor Productions. It is an unusual and engaging documentary about a most unlikely boxer, a sport which changes his life, physically and mentally.


Miss LaBeija, Subject of Paris is Burning, Dies at 53

Pepper LaBeija, the queen of the Harlem drag balls immortalized in the 1991 documentary Paris is Burning, died on May 14 at the age of 53 at Roosevelt Hospital in Manhattan, as reported by The New York Times.  

When Pepper LaBeija was not onstage, she was William Jackson of the Bronx, who sometimes dressed as a man.

LaBeija led a group of performers, the House of LaBeija. The House was founded in 1970, and Pepper took over a year or two later. In the movie Pepper explained, "A house is a family for those who don't have a family." Pepper was called "mother," and "children" were the younger members of the house.

Miss LaBeija was bedridden for most of the last decade, due to the amputation of both feet which resulted from diabetes. She last performed at a ball in 2001, when 30 attendants delivered her on a litter.