March 31, 2004

Short Takes, February-March 2004

National Geographic and ZDF Join Forces

National Geographic Film Library and ZDF archives have signed a multiyear reciprocal sales agreement to represent content from each company's archives in their respective markets.

The partnership gives National Geographic exclusive rights to the ZDF Network television library for sales in the United Kingdom; ZDF gains rights to license National Geographic footage to its clients in Germanic territories including Germany, Austria and German-speaking Switzerland. ZDF German Television Network is one of Europe's largest broadcasters and is headquartered in Mainz, Germany. 

"Both ZDF and National Geographic Television and Film (NGT&F) have 40 years worth of high-quality programming ranging in diverse topics from culture and environment to science and exploration," said Matthew White, vice president, Film Library for NGT&F, in a prepared statement. "Our combined libraries will give producers access to some of the most rich, distinctive nonfiction footage available."

ZDF and National Geographic stock footage is now available locally to advertisers, broadcast producers, researchers and curators for use in educational and research projects, television and film productions and museum exhibits.

Bensimon Reaches Out to Japan and Australia

Government Film Commissioner and National Film Board of Canada Chairperson Jacques Bensimon just completed a series of highly successful meetings in Korea, Japan and Australia. While his meetings in Korea focused mainly on animation, his discussions with NHK President Katsuji Ebisawa in Tokyo and Film Australia will resonate with documentarians.

Bensimon and Ebisawa signed a Memorandum of Understanding between the NFB and the Japan Broadcasting Corporation (NHK) to serve as the basis for future programming and corporate initiatives. This is the first partnership between the NFB and an Asian country. The two companies will cooperate on co-production opportunities and share expertise on High Definition video technology.

The first co-production to fall under the new agreement will be the HD documentary War Hospital, which follows the life and fortunes of the world's largest field hospital, Loki Hospital in Northern Kenya, set up to handle the wounded from war-torn Sudan. Alberta filmmaker David Christianson will direct.

Bensimon also met with executives from Film Australia to expand a previously signed partnership agreement between the two national film producers/distributors. They agreed to establish a joint documentary co-development fund and share archival footage. Film Australia will also be acquiring NFB programming for its catalogue.

HBO Announces Upcoming Doc Programming

As reported in The Hollywood Reporter, HBO's documentary programming division is looking to develop a multi-episode series for the first time.

This decision was in part inspired by the characters in Family Bonds, an episode of HBO's America Undercover anthology series. The pilot follows the real-life exploits of Tom Evangelista, who runs a business in which he employs family members as bail bondsmen and bounty hunters in Queens, New York. The half-hour pilot will air during the second half of 2004.

Another change on the HBO nonfiction docket includes a paring down of the America Undercover series. For the past three years, the show has aired weekly on Sunday nights. The show will now return to being an occasional event, which will allow for more time to market the diverse subject matter for each episode.

Upcoming HBO projects include an examination of religious-inspired celibacy from British filmmaker Antony Thomas; The End, a look at dying patients in a Los Angeles hospice program from Kirby Dick and Eddie Schmidt of Chain Camera pictures; the cable debut of Andrew Jarecki's Capturing the Friedmans; A Boy's Life from Rory Kennedy; Nick Broomfield's Aileen: The Life and Death of a Serial Killer; Jonathan Karsh and Jennifer Chaiken's My Flesh and Blood; a look at the life in the mailrooms of Hollywood talent agencies based on the book Mailroom: Hollywood History From the Bottom Up by David Rensin; and a Jennifer Lopez-produced doc on quincaenera, the Latino teenage coming-of-age ritual. At press time, it had not yet been determined which of these docs would air on America Undercover, and which would air on Cinemax's similar franchise Reel Life.

Nefertiti Reveals High Ratings for Discovery Channel

The world is still fascinated by mummies. Discovery Channel's groundbreaking documentary Nefertiti Revealed (Anthony Geffen, dir.) broke ratings records for the network throughout Europe, Asia and Latin America, after an impressive performance in North America.

The film follows an expedition to Egypt to investigate the identities of three long-forgotten mummies. It combined cutting-edge science, cinematic CGI and dramatic reconstructions to tell the story of the legendary Queen and the potential discovery of her remains. 

In the United States, the program was the highest-rated documentary to air on cable in 2003. Reaching close to 10 million people, the special became the sixth highest-rated program in the Discovery Channel's history.

National Film Board of Canada Sponsors Grierson Awards

The National Film Board of Canada (NFB) has become a major sponsor of the Grierson Awards in a two-year agreement announced in London by the Grierson Memorial Trust. The NFB will sponsor the National Film Board Award for Best Cinema Documentary, a new award established this year to recognize and encourage the theatrical release of documentary films.

A legendary figure in the development of the documentary in both Canada and the UK, John Grierson is perhaps best known for founding the world-renowned NFB in 1939. Originally created to support the Allied war effort, Canada's public producer and distributor has gone on to win every major international film award and dozens of tributes as a unique cultural agency and an instrument for social change.

The Grierson Award was established in Britain shortly after his death in 1972 and is administered by the trust that also bears his name. Now in its 32nd year, the annual Grierson Awards are among the world's top prizes for film and television documentary, with a record number of entries currently in competition.

Welcoming the support of the NFB, the chairman of the Grierson Memorial Trust, documentary director Edward Mirzoeff, said, "We are delighted that John Grierson's contribution to the National Film Board of Canada should be celebrated through their sponsorship of the British Documentary Awards which bear his name. Canada's pioneering work with factual film helped to shape the documentary movement which Grierson led, and his work with the NFB created a legacy valued internationally today. We look forward to a long and mutually rewarding partnership."

This is the second announcement this year between the NFB and their UK colleagues to promotetheatrical documentaries. This past spring, the NFB, the UK Film Council and the BBC unveiled the World Documentary Fund, providing a major new source of funding for long-form documentary filmmaking.


Broomfield Doc Provides a Look into the Mind of First Female Serial Killer

Twelve years ago, ace documentary filmmaker Nick Broomfield made the film Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer. Wuornos's lawyer, her born-again Christian mother and the Florida state police had all been involved in trying to sell her story, the story of America's first female serial killer, to the highest bidder. Wuornos herself, who was convicted of murdering seven men, ironically emerged as the most honest person.

Wuornos and Broomfield kept in touch, writing occasionally, and then last year he was served with a subpoena to appear at Aileen's final state appeal before execution. Extracts of his film were shown in court, showing her lawyer puffing on a big joint before giving her legal advice in prison. Many of her childhood friends were also called as witnesses.

Then, unexpectedly, Wuornos announced she had killed the seven men in cold blood, not in self-defense as she had pled previously, and she wanted to die immediately. In a subsequent interview, Wuornos admits in an unguarded moment when she thinks the camera is turned off that she did kill in self defense but that she can no longer stand being on death row (12 years) and has to die.

Aileen:  Life and Death of a Serial Killer is Broomfield's brand new, real-life documentary about Wuornos. It portrays Aileen's childhood in Troy, Michigan, as one of unbelievable abuse and violence, which continued with her years on the road as a hitch hiking prostitute and ultimately culminated in the murders. The film provides an insight into the mind of a deeply paranoid yet sympathetic person. It is a powerful statement against the death penalty and raises disturbing questions about executing the insane.

Filmmaker Broomfield is working in tandem with producers on the narrative feature Monster, in which Charlize Theron stars as Wuornos. In an interview that appeared in the Toronto Star, Broomfield said that he provided information and outtakes from his film to writer-director Patty Jenkins and star Charlize Theron to help them get a handle on Wuornos. The documentary will open theatrically in Los Angeles, New York and other cities on January 9, as well Monster.

Wellspring Licenses "Gator" Doc

Wellspring has acquired the worldwide rights, excluding the US, Canada and Carribean basin, for Helen Stickler's doc Stoked. Palm Pictures released the film, about the troubled life of pro skateboarder Mark "Gator" Rogowski, domestically in late August 2003. Wellspring said it planned to license the film internationally starting immediately.

United Artists Says Yes to Latest From American Movie Team

United Artists has picked up the North American, Australian, and New Zealand distribution rights for The Yes Men, a doc that had a buzzed-about world premiere at the 2003 Toronto International Film Festival. The doc, directed by Chris Smith, Sarah Price and Dan Ollman (American Movie), follows a group of prankster-activists as they impersonate the World Trade Organization. Said United Artists' Bingham Ray in a press statement, "It is a wild, irreverent, and funny movie. We are excited to add to our slate a film that takes such a provocatively satirical look at issues facing our society."


The nominees for the 2003 European Film Awards, presented by the European Film Academy (EFA) were as follows: European Film Academy Documentary 2003—Prix Arte: Chia E Tazi Pesen? (Whose Is This Song?) by Adela Peeva (Bulgaria/Belgium/Germany/Finland/Denmark/The Netherlands); De Fem Benspaend (The Five Obstructions) by Jørgen Leth and Lars Von Trier (Denmark/Belgium/Switzerland/France); Essen, Schlafen, Keine Frauen: (Eat, Sleep, No Women) by Heiner Stadler (Germany); L'odyssee De L'espece (A Species Odyssey) by Jacques Malaterre (France/Canada/Belgium); S21, La Machine De Mort Khmere Rouge (S21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine) by Rithy Panh (France); The Day I Will Never Forget by Kim Longinotto (UK); The Story Of The Weeping Camel by Byambasuren Daava and Luigi Falorni (Germany); and Tishe! (Hush!) by Victor Kossakovsky (Russia).

Africa's leading news agency, Nairobi-based Camerapix, won the coveted Documentary Award at the 2003 News World Conference in Dublin. Camerapix MD Salim Amin was honoured for the "professional and financial courage" he demonstrated by covering the civil war in Liberia more than a year before the rest of the world woke up to the unfolding tragedy there. A short version of his film, In Pursuit of Liberty: Liberia's Secret War, was first shown at last year's News World, and it was only as the conflict came to the world's attention that the importance and exclusivity of Amin's film was finally recognized. Since then it has been screened by CNN and the Discovery Times channel, and excerpts from the program have been used by most major news sources.

Simon Pummell's Bodysong won Best Documentary at the British Independent Film Awards.

Log In Productions' Fenceline: A Company Town Divided received a 2003 Environmental Media Association Award (EMA). Presented in Los Angeles to the film's director, Slawomir Grünberg, this award was the first ever given in the documentary feature category. The EMA Awards honor film and television productions that increase public awareness of environmental problems  and inspire personal action on these problems.

The Academy Foundation of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has allocated $250,000 to 17 U.S. film festivals for programming in 2004. Grants include: $30,000 each to the Chicago International Children's Film Festival and the Miami International Film Festival; $20,000 each to the Austin Film Festival, Mill Valley Film Festival, OutFest: The Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Film Festival, San Francisco International Lesbian & Gay Film Festival and the Hamptons International Film Festival; $15,000 each to the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival; $10,000 each to the African Diaspora Film Festival, Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival, Newfest: The New York Lesbian & Gay Festival, San Francisco Silent Film Festival, Taos Talking Pictures and the USA Film Festival; and $5,000 each to CinemaTexas International Short Film Festival, Maine Jewish Film Festival and VC FilmFest: The Los Angeles Pacific Film & Video Festival.

Digital media artist and educator Mar Elpano was selected as the 24th recipient of the Steve Tatsukawa Memorial Fund Award. Tatsukawa was widely respected for his work as a program executive with KCET (Southern California PBS), executive director of Visual Communications, national media advocate, filmmaker and community activist. This $1,000 award was established after his death at age 35 in 1984 to be given to individuals who continue his legacy of community service and advancement of the Asian Pacific American media arts. 

The Lexus IF (Inside Film) Awards are the people's choice awards for Australian Film. Painting With Light in a Dark World (Prod: Renata Shuman; Dir: Sascha Ettinger) won the Odyssey Channel IF Award for Best Short Documentary. The Discovery Channel IF Award for Best Documentary went to Wildness (Prod: Michael McMahon; Dir: Scott Millwood).


At the Vancouver International Film Festival, the Federal Express award for most popular Canadian film went to Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbott's The Corporation. Thom Anderson's Los Angeles Plays Itself won the National Film Board Award for best documentary feature. John Cadigan won The Chief Dan George Humanitarian Award for People Say I'm Crazy.      

Further south on the West Coast, Peter Rosen's Khachaturian won the Best Documentary award at the 2003 Hollywood Film Festival.

Elsewhere in Los Angeles, The AFI Film Festival handed out several awards at its annual event in November 2003. The International Documentary Competition, presented by SILVERDOCS: AFI/Discovery Channel Documentary Festival, awarded the Grand Jury Prize to Beah: A Black Woman Speaks (USA), directed by LisaGay Hamilton. The Best Documentary Audience Award, presented by the Los Angeles Times and went to Double Dare (USA), directed by Amanda Micheli.

Beah: A Black Woman Speaks also won the Sci-Fi/Time Warner Audience Award for Doc Feature at the 2003 Austin Film Festival. Director Mark Monroe's Mutzie's Wedding won the prize for Doc Short.

The Hamptons International Film Festival awarded a trio of lucrative awards for documentaries. The Spike TV Best Documentary Award ($10,000 cash and in-kind services) went to Amy Morrison Williams for The Morrison Project. The Hamptons' signature "Conflict & Resolution" series, launched four years ago at the beginning of the current intifada in the Holy Land, presented Spencer Nakasako's Refugee with the $5,000 Dan & Ewa Abraham and Tammy Abraham Films of Conflict and Resolution Award. The film also took the $5,000 Brizzolara Family Inspirational Film Award.

Refugee also won the First Hawaiian Bank Golden Maile award for Best Documentary at the Hawaii International Film Festival. The Audience Award for Best Documentary went to They Call Her Ladyfingers: The Betty Loo Taylor Story, directed by Patricia Gillespie.

From October 25-31, 2003, New York University (NYU) held its 6th Tisch School of the Arts International Student Film Festival (ISFF). Stanford University's Melba Williams received the prize for Best Documentary and $1,000 for her film One Thousand Words.

At the Raindance Film Festival (UK) the Best Documentary was Maziar Bahari's And Along Came A Spider (Iran).

Audiences at 2003 High Falls Film Festival choose My Architect, produced by Susan Rose Behr, as their favorite documentary. The festival celebrates the work of women behind the camera. Short film audiences picked The House, written and directed by Vivienne Jones and produced by Maggie Ellis, as the festival's Best Short. This film from London, England, combines live action shots of women with mental disabilities as they explore their own lives and memories, both through drawings and through the animations the filmmakers have created from these artworks. The project stemmed from art workshops conducted in a group home between 1996 and 2000.

Anat Zuria's Purity won both the Special Prize and the Citizens' Prize in the International Competition at the Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival. This intimate film reveals the hidden struggle of Jewish Orthodox women to balance their cultural traditions and individual needs within the framework of strict, masculine religious law.

Filmmaker  Kim Longinotto's The Day I Will Never Forget, an examination of the practice of female genital mutilation in Kenya and the pioneering African women who are bravely reversing the tradition, was awarded a Time of History Jury Award at the 48th Valladolid International Film Festival and received Special Mention at the Barcelona Human Rights International Film Festival.


Shefter Named AMIA President

Milt Shefter has been elected president of the Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA). He succeeds Sam Kula of Canada. The nonprofit association has approximately 700 individual and institutional members in more than 30 countries.

"Our goal is to ensure that the stories of our times recorded as moving images on film and other media are preserved for posterity," said Shefter in a statement. "Nothing less than the future financial, cultural and historical value of irreplaceable assets is at stake."

According to Shefter, preservation wasn't a high profile issue in the past because no one anticipated that movies and television programs would be so lucrative on future cable television channels, DVD and other home distribution markets. Unfortunately, much classic content was lost. Members of AMIA recognize that preserving both commercial titles and aging films are important.

Shefter is the president and founder of Miljoy Ent., Inc., a Los Angeles-based consulting and project management firm that specializes in media asset preservation. In addition to AMIA, Shefter has served on the National Film Preservation Board; is a former governor of the Society of Motion Pictures and Television Engineers; and is a member of both the Writers Guild of America and of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.