July 30, 2004

Short Takes, July 2004

NEWS BRIEFS

Slamdance Forms Management/Distribution Shingle

Slamdance President and co-founder Peter Baxter has joined forces with veteran film and television producer and talent-manager Robert Schwartz and Cleveland-based businessman George Ketvertis to launch the Slamdance Media Group. The company, which will incorporate both distribution and talent-management units, has made a pact with home entertainment company Ventura Entertainment to sell product under a new Slamdance label. The theatrical distribution unit, to be known as Slamdance On the Road, has inked with ArcLight Cinemas for exclusive exhibition of the new company's titles in the Los Angeles market.

Two titles have already been acquired for US theatrical release: the award-winning Faster (Mark Neale, dir.; Robert Koehler, prod.), an action-packed documentary about Grand Prix motorcycle racing, and Slamdance Grand Jury Prize winner, Better Housekeeping (Frank Novak, dir.; Mark Mathis, prod.), a cutting-edge drama with a dark satirical streak. Both movies are examples of the kinds of films with strong, identifiable core audiences on which Slamdance On the Road will focus, utilizing the non-traditional street marketing that has worked so well for the festival. The management unit will begin with a roster of clients currently represented by Schwartz, and is also seeking out strategic alliances with film and television production companies.

For Baxter, the new venture is an important next step in the evolution of Slamdance, which launched in Park City in 1995 to showcase undistributed films by emerging filmmakers. Said Baxter in a statement, "First, we grew from a festival into a year-round operation, and now we are continuing to support truly independent filmmakers with a commercial enterprise that brings them just financial reward."

The Slamdance Media Group will operate independently from the festival, as a for-profit operation, with Schwartz as chairman and co-CEO, Baxter as president and co-CEO and Ketvertis as executive vice president for strategic planning and business development. Baxter will remain president of Slamdance, Inc., responsible for year-round programs, and for recently established festivals in China and Poland.

The Slamdance Media Group will scout product and clients from among submissions to the festival, among many other sources. As Schwartz explains, "We will select films for theatrical distribution or straight-to-video sales, but our management division is also looking for screenplays, features and shorts with remake or production potential that can be packaged through our alliances with production companies. Additionally we will represent talented writers, directors and actors who might otherwise let them fall through the cracks."

Artbeats and Discovery Form Footage Partnership

Artbeats, a leader in royalty-free stock footage, has formed a partnership with Discovery FootageSource, a division of Discovery Communications, Inc. (DCI), to offer footage from DCI's extensive film library. The newest addition to Artbeats' library of DCI footage includes four new medical procedures collections, entitled Medical-Graphic Surgeries, Medical-Laboratory, Medical-Montage and Medical-Surgeries.

"Artbeats has been a great partner for Discovery FootageSource, they have allowed us to reach markets with our footage that were previously untapped," said Peter McKelvy, vice president of Discovery FootageSource, in a statement. "Artbeats' reputation for incredible customer service and award-winning footage made them an obvious choice for our company."

According to Phil Bates, founder and president of Artbeats, the company's goal is to provide unique royalty-free footage for use in a variety of applications, including broadcast, feature films, commercials, desktop video, game development and multimedia.

Banff Television Foundation Announces Restructuring and Long Term Agreement

The board of directors of the Banff Television Foundation announced in April a financial and operational restructuring designed to ensure a stable and dynamic future for the Banff Television Festival. Recent financial difficulties required the foundation to make a voluntary assignment in bankruptcy and to appoint Richter Allan & Taylor Inc. ("Richters") as Trustee in Bankruptcy. The foundation's assets will be assigned to a new nonprofit foundation, and a subsidiary of Achilles Partners, LLC, will take over responsibility for staging the 2004 Banff Television Festival, the event's 25th anniversary.  

Upon completion of the restructuring, the board of directors of the new foundation will consist of senior representatives of the Canadian television industry. It will be the objective of the board to ensure the long-term viability of the Banff Television Festival, one of the industry's premier events.

"Although we are very dismayed that the foundation ran into financial difficulties after such an illustrious history, we...look forward to a fantastic 25th Anniversary Celebration," said Loren Mawhinney, chair of the Banff Television Foundation board of directors in a statement. "It is business as usual for perennial festival goers and a secure and healthy future has been assured." 

DOCS WATCH

Dada Films to Release Broadway: The Golden Age in June

Dada Films, the newly launched theatrical distribution company, makes its debut this June with Broadway: The Golden Age, a doc from producer/director/writer Rick McKay. The documentary celebrates, through the testimonials of dozens of legendary performers, four of the richest decades on Broadway-the 1930s through the 1960s. McKay also incorporates rare and never-before-seen footage from the original stage productions of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Bus Stop, Carousel, West Side Story, Camelot and Mame to complement the riveting accounts from such luminaries as Shirley MacLaine, Stephen Sondheim, Hal Prince, Chita Rivera, Angela Lansbury and many more.

"I guess I would say that it is a journey film or a time-travel film," says McKay. "It is a trip back in time to a completely different New York City; a different time in America when the world was simpler and passions may have run more deeply. One choice I did make along the way was to really try and make a personal film that recounted one man's journey to find this lost era."

Magnolia Pictures Acquires Control Room

Jehane Noujaim's Control Room has been acquired by Magnolia Pictures. Noujaim, co-director of Startup.com, premiered her new film earlier this year at Sundance, followed by screenings at the Berlinale, Full Frame Documentary Film Festival and Hot Docs.

The film looks at the Qatar-based Arab news network Al  Jazeera, and provides an opportunity to re-examine what is perhaps the most pressing question of international relations today: Is America radicalizing or stabilizing the Arab world? Without miring itself in shadowy conspiracy theories, Control Room provides a balanced view of Al-Jazeera's presentation of the second Iraq war to their worldwide Arab audience, and in so doing calls into question many of the prevailing images and positions offered up by the US news media.

The film opened in New York in May at the Film Forum, and will follow with a national release.

Coming to a Small Screen near You...

Docurama and Full Frame, one of the most important documentary festivals in North America, have teamed up again to release The Full Frame Documentary Shorts Collection: Volume 2. Sporting seven festival favorites, the nearly three-hour DVD will allow viewers to throw their own mini-festival at home. Titles included are as follows: Crowfilm (Edward P. Davee), Miss Alabama Nursing Home (Anne Pass), Nutria (Ted Gesing), Album (Barbara Bird), Wood Island (Kate T. Williamson), Have You Seen This Man? (Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck) and Iwo Jima: Memories in Sand (Beret E. Strong and John Tweedy).

Kino on Video released The Eleanor Roosevelt Story on DVD in June. The 1965 doc, directed by Richard Kaplan, won an Academy Award for Best Documentary and was honored as Best Film of the Year by the National Board of Review. The intimate portrait of one of the most remarkable women in American history features a four-minute video introduction by Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Paola Freccero, the Sundance Channel's senior vice president, film programming, announced that the channel has acquired the pay television rights to four documentary films that screened at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival: The Five Obstructions by Jørgen Leth and Lars Von Trier, Garden by Ruthie Shatz and Adi Barash, Investigation into the Invisible World by Jean Michel Roux and Screaming Men by Mika Ronkainen. 

Freccero said of the acquisitions, "The Sundance Film Festival has become one of the preeminent festivals in the world to screen documentary films, so it is most appropriate that Sundance Channel be able to take some of these films to the broader audience they deserve."

Deadline Right on Schedule for Dateline

In a groundbreaking deal for an independent film, Dateline NBC has licensed the Sundance Film Festival documentary Deadline for a special two-hour primetime broadcast this summer.

Deadline chronicles former Illinois Governor George Ryan's final months in office leading up to his landmark decision to offer blanket clemency to everyone on Illinois' Death Row. Directed by Katy Chevigny and Kirsten Johnson, the film was produced by Dallas Brennan and Chevigny through New York-based independent documentary production company, Big Mouth Productions, in association with the nonprofit Arts Engine, Inc.

NBC CEO Robert Wright became interested in the film when he saw it at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival. The broadcast channel has the exclusive North American broadcast rights for the film for one year, and currently plans to broadcast it this summer. Repeats on MSNBC and Bravo are possible after the Dateline special presentation on NBC.

Said Chevigny, "We're really excited for the opportunity to reach such a wide audience through NBC. This is an important collaboration that I am hopeful will have implications for independent media makers everywhere."

Ties That Bind Online Project Launches

The National Film Board of Canada (NFB) recently announced the debut of The Ties that Bind, described as "AnInternet Documentary & Community Engagement Project," is now online at www.nfb.ca/tiesthatbind.

The project, an initiative of the NFB's Pacific Centre, combines traditional linear documentary storytelling with an online presence to encourage learning, as well as providing a forum for an exchange of ideas and active engagement in the community. The site was inspired by a documentary of the same name directed by John Ritchie, co-produced by NFB and Force Four Entertainment, for CBC Newsworld.

The Ties that Bind documentary follows the Jordan family through two years of transition. Chris has multiple disabilities. His aging mother and father both face serious illness. The whole family must plan for an uncertain future.

Using the Jordan family's story as a starting point, the online project explores new ways of creating more meaning, ending isolation and taking control of one's life. The website allows participants to take part in discussions about disability issues, tell their own stories and find links to resources and events in their own communities. Updates to the Jordan's story are posted regularly.

The project was directed by Julie Gendron of Cummunicopia.net and produced by Tracey Friesen for the NFB.  

AWARDS ROUND UP

The NFB, Glacialis Productions and Gedeon Programmes' 52-minute documentary Lords of the Arctic was awarded the 2004 Earthwatch Film Award by the Earthwatch Institute. The award was presented in March as part of the 2004 Environmental Film Festival in Washington, DC. In the film, wildlife specialist Caroline Underwood focuses on northern wildlife and its close and tragic relationship to climate change. The doc is one of five films in the documentary series Arctic Mission, filmed in Hi-Definition as a team of filmmakers, sailors and scientists undertook a voyage across the Arctic Ocean aboard the sailing vessel Sedna IV. The team's mission was three-fold: study the impact of climate change in the Arctic, film this little-known part of the world and share the magical universe of the far north with the world.

The Sundance Institute Documentary Fund announced its first round of grants for 2004. Eleven feature-length documentary films will receive a total of $395,000. The Fund, established at the Sundance Institute in 2002 by a gift from the Open Society Institute, is dedicated to supporting US and international documentary films and videos that focus on current human rights issues, freedom of expression, social justice, and civil liberties. Work In Progress Grants were awarded to the following filmmakers: Anne Aghion, In Rwanda, We Say ‘The Family That Does Not Speak Dies' (US/France); Shantha Bloemen and JoMarie Fecci, Western Sahara, Africa's Last Colony (US); Julie Mallozzi, Monkey Dance (US); Patrice O' Neill, The Fire Next Time (US); Jed Riffe, Waiting to Inhale: Marijuana, Medicine and the Law (US); Susan Stern, The Self Made Man (US); and Pamela Yates, Passage Through Fear (US). A development grant was awarded to Fibi Kraus, Marry Me Out (Italy). Supplemental grants were given to Simone Bitton, The Wall (Israel/France); Khalo Matabane, Story of a Beautiful Country (South Africa); and Jonathan Stack, War without End.

The Kraszna-Krausz Book Awards ceremony was held in March at the Hungarian Embassy in London. The awards, presented by the Kraszna-Krausz Foundation, are given to books about the media which combine high-quality research and argument with excellent writing. The Foundation is the project of Andor Kraszna-Krausz, who built his Focal Press into one of the world's leading publishers of books on photography and the moving image. Main Prizes went to Giuliana Bruno's Atlas of Emotion: Journeys in Art, Architecture and Film (Verso, UK/USA), and to This Film Is Dangerous: A Celebration of Nitrate Film, edited by Roger Smither and associate editor Catherine A. Surowiec (FIAF, Belgim). Special commendations were given to The History of Television, 1942-2000, by Albert Abramson (McFarland & Co, USA); The Emergence of Cinematic Time: Modernity, Contingency, the Archive, by Mary Ann Doane (Harvard University Press, USA/UK); Wondrous Difference: Cinema, Anthropology and Turn-of-the-Century Visual Culture, by Alison Griffiths (Columbia University Press, USA); Making Pictures: A Century of European Cinematography, created by Imago, the Federation of European Cinematographers (Aurum Press, UK and Harry N. Abrams, USA); and The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film by Michael Ondaatje (Village Books/Knofp, Canada; Alfred A. Knopf)

HBO's Curse of the Bambino won the Emmy for Best Sports Documentary of 2003, presented by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. The awards recognize outstanding achievement in television sports coverage. The doc, narrated by Ben Affleck, looks at the supposed curse Babe Ruth left on the Red Sox when owner Harry Frazee traded him to the Yankees.

63rd Annual Peabody Award Winners Announced

The winners of the 63rd Annual Peabody Awards were announced by the University of Georgia's Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. The 29 award winners for excellence in electronic media, chosen from more than 1,100 entries, were presented on May 17, 2004, at a luncheon at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York, and hosted by Katie Couric.

Nonfiction winners included HBO's War Photographer (Christian Frei), a documentary about Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer James Nachtwey; and Cinemax's To Live Is Better than to Die (Weijun Chen), an account of a family's grim struggle with HIV/AIDS in rural China.

PBS'P.O.V. was recognized for both Flag Wars (Linda Goode Bryant, Laura Poitras), an account of disputes between cultures and classes in Columbus, Ohio; and Two Towns of Jasper (Marco Williams, Whitney Dow), the troubling story of a lynching examined by two film crews, one white and one black.

Other winners presented by PBS included: NOVA/WGBH's  The Elegant Universe with Brian Greene, a three-part series and website about string theory, one of the most controversial topics in science; FRONTLINE: A Dangerous Business (Lowell Bergman, David Rummel, Linden MacIntyre, wtrs.; Neil Docherty, David Rummel, prods.),  a collaboration with The New York Times and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, that exposes a manufacturing company putting its workers at risk; The Murder of Emmett Till (Stanley Nelson), part of the American Experience series, which chronicled a racially motivated lynching that helped mobilized the civil rights movement (all three programs aired on PBS); Hoxie: The First Stand (David Appleby), from the University of Memphis, the story of how a small town in Arkansas integrated its schools in the 1950s in the face of strong opposition; and Thirteen/WNET's Great Performances: Degas and the Dance (Mischa Scorier, dir./wtr.; Margaret Smilow, and Junko Tsunashima,. prods.), a documentary that examines the life and paintings of the French Impressionist and his connection to the Paris Opera and its dancers.

Bill Moyers was cited for career achievement, most recently for his series NOW with Bill Moyers and the documentary Becoming American: The Chinese Experience.

FESTIVALS WRAP

The Full Frame Documentary Film Festival presented a number of films with awards at their seventh annual festival in April. Jehane Noujaim's Control Room took home the Grand Jury Award, the Center for Documentary Studies Filmmaker Award and the second place Seeds of War prize. The Audience Award was shared by Ross Kauffman and Zana Briski's Born into Brothels and Julian Petrillo and Eric Chaikin's Word Wars. Producer/director Melba L. Williams' A Thousand Words won the CameraPlanet/Full Frame Jury Award for Best Short. The Charles E. Guggenheim Emerging Artist Award went to The Boy Who Plays on the Buddhas of Bamiyan directed by Phil Grabsky; with Honorable Mention going to Blue Hadaegh and Grover Babcock's A Certain Kind of Death. The first place Seeds of War prize was presented to Kim Bartley and Donnacha O'Briain's The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. Morgan Spurlock's Super Size Me garnered the MTV>News:Docs:Prize.

 Born into Brothels also proved popular at the Cleveland Film Festival, where it was honored with the Roxanne T. Mueller Audience Choice Award for best film. The film won the Jury Documentary Prize at the Bermuda Film Festival.

At the Thessaloniki Documentary Film Festival, a jury of three international film critics gave the festival's FIPRESCI Award to Iranian filmmaker Majid Majidi for his Barefoot to Heart, which follows Afghan refugees trying to escape war. The Corporation won the Audience Award, and Nicos Ligouris' Summer Lightning: Scenes from the Life of an Innkeeper and His Family won first prize in the category of docs longer than 45 minutes.

Cinequest 14 bestowed the Best Feature Documentary Award upon Awful Normal, directed by Celesta Davis and produced by Tim Skousen. Director Matthew Nie and producer Dennis Guskov's Good Stuff won the award for Best Short Documentary. Terry L. Benedict's The Conscientious Objector won both the Best Feature DXD and the Documentary Audience Choice Award.

Awful Normal also garnered attention at the Florida Film Festival, where it won a special jury award for "extraordinary courage in filmmaking." Other award-winners in Florida included Robert Stone's Neverland: The Rise and Fall of the Symbionese Liberation Army (Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary Feature) and Barak Goodman's The Fight (Audience Award for Best Documentary Feature).

PASSINGS

Isaac Kleinerman, 87, Producer and Editor of Documentaries

As reported in the Los Angeles Times, Isaac Kleinerman, 87, a producer and editor of television documentaries, died March 7 while vacationing in Bucerias, Mexico. He lived in Todi, Italy. In a New York-based career that spanned 40 years, Kleinerman produced more than 500 programs on a wide range of subjects that included history, current events, entertainment, the humanities and sports, including the highly praised original series and 1960 condensation of Victory at Sea.

Victory at Sea began in 1952 as an NBC series of 26 episodes documenting the US Navy's efforts during World War II. Kleinerman was senior editor on the series. He then reduced the 13 hours to a 90-minute version. Victory at Sea remains the definitive film work on the naval history of World War II, and it continues to be re-broadcast throughout the world.      

Kleinerman moved to CBS in 1957, where for the next 18 years he produced a string of award-winning documentaries and special reports, including the classic Churchill: Man of the Century.

After retiring from CBS in 1975, Kleinerman and his wife, Linda Richardson, formed an independent film company, producing documentaries such as The Unknown War, a 20-hour series looking at the Soviet's role in World War II, which was a break-through cooperative effort between US creative interests and Soviet television.  

 Kleinerman is survived by his wife, two daughters from a previous marriage and two granddaughters.

Robert Snyder, 88, Academy Award Winner

By Ed Carter, Documentary Curator, Academy Film Archive, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

Academy Award-winning documentarian Robert Snyder died at his home on  March 21, after a long illness. He was 88. In a 55-year career, he produced and directed films about some of the greatest artists, musicians and writers of the 20th century, including Pablo Casals, Henry Miller, Buckminster Fuller, Anais Nin, Claudio Arrau, Will and Ariel Durant, and Willem de Kooning. He won an Oscar for The Titan: Story of Michelangelo in 1950, and was nominated for an Academy Award for The Hidden  World in 1958.

Snyder grew up in New York and received his bachelor's degree from City College of New York and his master's from Columbia University. During World War II, he was in charge of propaganda analysis of enemy films for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). In 1945, he was assigned by the OSS to direct the inaugural United Nations Conference in San Francisco. He produced Billie Holiday's first concert at Town Hall in New York City in 1947; and in 1948, the first Louis Armstrong concert at Carnegie Hall. Snyder was a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Directors Guild of America. Although born and educated in New York City, he lived in Southern California for many years with his wife, Allegra Fuller Snyder, professor emeritus and former chair of the dance department at University of California, Los Angeles.

Recently he was honored in Los Angeles with an exhibit about his life and work, and received the Lifetime Achievement award at the Tiburon International Film Festival. Last year he completed Pablo Casals: A Cry for Peace, a definitive feature documentary on the great cellist and humanitarian.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Bob in July of 2000, when he graciously invited me into his home. For over two hours, he discussed a wide range of issues, from his filmmaking experiences, to his thoughts on art, philosophy and life. I was able to understand during that short time with him, as well as at the recent memorial service, that it was his talents as a human being, as much as for those as a filmmaker, that made Bob so important.

Bob Snyder was one of the first documentary filmmakers to deposit his entire collection of materials at the Academy Film Archive during my tenure as documentary curator. His trust in the archive made it possible for us to acquire the film collections of other documentarians. Bob's films eloquently demonstrate the depths of his artistic prowess, and I am proud to be one of the custodians of that legacy.

Robert Porter Bennett, 44, Cinematographer

By Doug Pray, Filmmaker

Robert Bennett's credits span hundreds of diverse feature film, documentary, commercial and video projects. He was director of photography on such documentary features as Hype!, Scratch and Uncommon Ground; and numerous television productions for MTV, BBC, PBS and the Sundance Channel, including Dreamland, Red Diaper Baby, The Real World episodes, and Candid Camera field segments. He had begun filming a new documentary, Big Rig, about American truckers.

Bennett had a great eye, but he also had a great ear for the people and musicians we were filming for my documentaries Hype! and Scratch, and his shots complemented their performances beautifully. He was an incredible hand-held cameraman, and he really knew how to cover a scene. Working with his footage in the editing room was like opening up gifts.

Bennett had a taste in quirk and cool culture and a droll sense of humor that manifested itself in his diverse interests from artist Robert Williams, to British sports car and MOPAR enthusiasm, to how he dressed. He was a lifetime member of the Nature Conservancy. An experienced storyteller, skier and alpinist, Bennett loved to travel the world. He joyfully collected ethnic and contemporary art and had an ear to world music, jazz, punk rock and the blues.

Bennett began his film career at Colorado College in Colorado Springs and later shot news footage for WOR and KABC. He earned an MFA from the American Film Institute and was a member of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees. Bennett also contributed to the documentaries American Pimp, The Mayor of Sunset Strip and Concert of Wills: Making the Getty Center.

His musical work includes long-form documentaries for the bands Depeche Mode, Sting and Kiss, and music videos for Soundgarden, Gin Blossoms, Rage Against the Machine, Butthole Surfers, Backstreet Boys, Blood of Abraham and The Young Fresh Fellows, among others.

Bennett is survived by his wife, artist Cynthia Johnson Bennett of Los Angeles; his parents, Robert and Elizabeth Bennett of Washington, DC; his brother Bruce of New York City and his brother and sister-in-law Andrew and JoAnn Bennett of San Francisco.

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests a donation be made in Robert Porter Bennett's name to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International, 120 Wall Street, 19th Floor, New York, NY 10005; (800) 533-CURE (2873).

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