Short Takes, June 2002
Documentary Credit Coalition (DCC) Spearheaded by IDA
It was an 8:00 am, but the room was full. Congregating in a “neutral” conference room provided by Kodak, writers, actors, directors, producers, editors, cinematographers and other filmmakers gathered to express concern and dismay in response to the announcement by Discovery Communications of the company’s proposed plans to stop screening end credits on Discovery Networks. The IDA organized the meeting, and by the end, a broad-based coalition—the Documentary Credit Coalition—had been formed to further investigate and take action on the matter.
The initiative came in the wake of several news reports that Discovery executives, during meetings with selected nonfiction program producers, presented a plan to eliminate on-screen credits. Newspaper and trade articles reported that credits would be replaced with listings on Discovery’s website for a limited period of time. Executives cite viewers’ supposed channel surfing away from the cable networks’ channels during the 30 seconds it typically takes to screen credits as the reason for the change. The perception is that audiences view Hollywood credits differently than nonfiction credits.
A variety of issues came up during the meeting, the most prevalent of which was the fear that this was “the first step on a slippery slope, down which it will spread like a cancer.” Many voiced concerns that other networks are planning to eliminate credits as well, and that Discovery was simply taking the first bullet.
Currently, guild protections only exist for SAG, AFTRA, WGA and DGA contracts, therefore, solidarity on the issue is necessary in order to protect the rights of content providers and the creative community as a whole. Many found the website idea unacceptable, both because of the short length of time for which credit information would be available, and because of the assumption of technological capabilities and socioeconomic class on the part of the viewers—not everyone has Internet access.
There was disagreement over the best tact to take in responding to Discovery’s plan. Several present at the meeting felt that the constriction of credits is inevitable, therefore, it is necessary to work with networks such as Discovery to come up with a realistic solution that will limit the amount of credits shown. Others felt that to give in at all would be to lose the battle, and only provide more room for Big Business to maneuver out of its responsibilities to the creative community.
Described by one participant as an “old-fashioned union fight about the protection of rights,” the meeting also inspired a call for a public education program about the importance of credits. Many in the room felt that people don’t realize that it’s not just about seeing one’s name up on screen; it’s a livelihood issue. For developing filmmakers working on low-budget films, credit is often the only compensation the artist receives in return for his or her work, and is an important step in building a career.
The impact of credit elimination on production costs was also discussed. Documentaries rely heavily on archive collections and licensing clips from pre-existing material; contractually, many archives charge low rates for usage in return for being featured in the credits. According to several of the producers present, many networks don’t provide realistic budgets for the shows they expect producers to deliver. If credits are taken away, costs for licensing clips will go up, thereby driving up overall production costs.
Another point made was that particularly in nonfiction projects, sources need to be credited because they are the “foot notes” of the film. In an era where more and more people are shifting the way they obtain their information from books to films and television programming, it is especially important to provide accurate, trustworthy information. Credits ensure that this happens.
This first meeting of the DCC included representatives of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences; Producers Guild of America; Caucus of Writers, Producers, and Directors; Alliance of Women Directors; American Society of Cinematographers; Writers Guild of America, West, Inc.; International Cinematographers Guild; American Cinema Editors; and British Academy of Film and Television Arts/Los Angeles; and such prominent independent filmmakers as Harrison Engle, Roger Gimbel, Lynne Littman, Lisa Leeman, Marian Rees, Arnold Schwartzman and Mel Stuart. In a written statement, IDA President Michael Donaldson said, “The response we got is indicative of the deep concerns the filmmakers have about this issue. Most of the organizations that were represented will issue their own statements and shape their own policies, but we believe it is important to provide a communal voice cutting across the boundaries of different disciplines.”
Changes at the IFFM
The IFP Market will be quite a different entity when it unspools in New York this September. Formerly known as the Independent Feature Film Market, this year’s event will be much smaller, excluding narrative features and focusing instead on projects in the development stage and works-in-progress. Submission fees will be lowered, while accepted projects will have a higher registration fee. Patricia Finneran has been named Artistic Director of the Market.
In a prepared statement, Finneran said, "Our goal is to heighten attention around a select group of talented, emerging filmmakers, particularly those still seeking production and completion funding." The Spotlight on Documentaries and No Borders sections of the Market will remain the same, but there will be more than a 60 percent drop in narrative projects from last year.
Librarian of Congress James H. Billington announced his annual selection of 25 motion pictures to be added to the National Film Registry. Under the terms of the National Film Preservation Act, each year the Librarian of Congress names 25 "culturally, historically or aesthetically" significant motion pictures to the Registry. The list is designed to reflect the full breadth and diversity of America's film heritage, thus increasing public awareness of the richness of American cinema and the need for its preservation.
Nonfiction and documentary films chosen include Cologne: From the Diary of Ray and Esther (Raymond and Esther Dowidat, 1939); Marian Anderson: The Lincoln Memorial Concert (1939); The House in the Middle (National Clean Up-Paint Up-Fix Up Bureau, 1954, produced with the cooperation of the Federal Civil Defense Administration); Memphis Belle (US Army Eight Air Force/Paramount, 1944, Dir.: Lt. Col. William Wyler, DP: Major William C. Clothier and Lt. Harold Tannenbaum); Serene Velocity (Dir./DP/Editor: Ernie Gehr, 1970); and The Thin Blue Line (Third Floor Productions/American Playhouse and Miramax Films, 1988; Prod.: Mark Lipson; Dir.: Errol Morris; DPs: Stefan Czapsky, Robert Chappell; Editor: Paul Barnes; Music: Philip Glass).
Australian Broadcasting Corporation to Provide Content to Newsreel
National Geographic Television & Film's (NGT&F) Film Library has signed an agreement with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) to bring packaged news stories and footage to US broadcasters via Newsreel, the newly-launched National Geographic syndication news service.
ABC Australia's international news stories and footage will account for approximately 25% of Newsreel content, and will offer North American audiences an Australian and Asia Pacific viewpoint on global events. The Newsreel news syndication service is offered through Pathfire's Digital Media Gateway, and distributed to news outlets via Pathfire's local broadcast network, which includes NBC and ABC affiliates and independent stations. Through the network, National Geographic Film Library provides one hour of news footage per week to broadcast stations on a subscription basis.
“Newsreel plays a vital role in the news gathering process, particularly in the current economic and political climate where the demand for international content is high, yet production budgets are slimmer than ever,” said Matthew White, Vice President, Film Library for NGT&F. “Our partnership with ABC Australia gives us a new avenue to bring international trend stories to our local broadcasters, expanding the content available through our own library and providing our clients with images and subject coverage from across the globe.”
Sundance Channal Pacts with Zeitgeist
Sundance Channel has acquired the U.S. Television rights for six films from indie distributor Zeitgeist Films. Docs included in the pact include Kim Snyder's look at Chronic Fatigue Syndrome in I Remember Me and The Brandon Teena Story by Susan Muska and Greta Olafsdottir.
Elie Wiesel Goes Home in Several Formats
The acclaimed documentary Elie Wiesel Goes Home is now available for the first time in VHS and DVD formats. The film chronicles the Nobel Laureate’s compelling visit to his hometown in Europe, following Wiesel as he travels to Sighet, Romania, were he lived as a child until he and his family were forced into Nazi concentration camps. The film further documents Wiesel’s haunting return to Auschwitz. The visual imagery is supplemented with passages from Wiesel’s writings read by Academy Award® winning actor, William Hurt.
Elie Wiesel Goes Home, from Choices, Inc., was produced and directed by European filmmaker Judit Elek.
Turning the Video Pages
TRUE LIFE video stories will be released in July by Subtle Communications and Facets Multimedia for a 25th anniversary special DVD collection of Scott Jacobs’ documentary stories about real people in the 1970s living out the American Dream. The series looks back at an innocent America through the voices and faces of ordinary citizens trying to make their living as everything from boxers to bakers to New Age gurus.
In an era that pre-dates VHS and the first personal computers, Jacobs used his black and white Sony video portapak—now known as a video camcorder—while he traveled across America as a young video journalist. Combining Jacobs’ own remembrances of what it meant to own the first portapak on the block with the original tapes he recorded on the road, TRUE LIFE shows how the video portapak transformed the concept of the television documentary. The DVD release is an example of how new technology can help preserve classic work for new generations.
Wilco Doc Finds Home at Cowboy
Cowboy Pictures partners Noah Cowan and John Vanco, along with Plexifilm CEO Gary Hustwit, jointly have acquired rights to Sam Jones' I Am Trying To Break Your Heart, produced by Fusion Films in association with Experience Music Project. The film will open in New York in July, followed by a national rollout.
The film began as a 16mm black & white documentary by first-time filmmaker and award-winning photographer Sam Jones about alt-country-turned-experimental rock band Wilco’s recording of its fourth album, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. During the course of filming, Jones soon had unexpected human drama and corporate intrigue to contend with, when the band started breaking apart and their now-acclaimed new album was rejected by their label, Reprise Records.
“This is a movie about a band with a rabid fan base, but it’s not just a film just for the fans,” said Cowboy partner John Vanco in a prepared statement. “Because of the dramatic real life events that Sam ran across when he was shooting, the film’s narrative arc, topicality, energy and mature aesthetic sense make it work, without qualification, as a great film for film fans in general—not just Wilco fans.”
Artisan Stands in the Shadows of Motown
Artisan Pictures has acquired the North American rights to the transcendent music-themed documentary Standing in the Shadows of Motown, which is tentatively slated for an August release.
The film documents the soulful reunion of the Funk Brothers, Motown’s unheralded group of musicians, who for over a 14-year period performed on nearly every Motown hit single, thus holding the distinction of having played on more number one hit songs then the Beach Boys, the Rolling Stones, Elvis and the Beatles combined.
Previously released music-themed docs by Artisan include Buena Vista Social Club. Sandy Passman, one of the film’s producers, said in a prepared statement, “We were immediately impressed with Artisan's enthusiasm and professionalism. Their plan for marketing the film is smart and creative, and given their experience with Buena Vista Social Club, we know Artisan will do an outstanding job with our film.”
The film was directed by Paul Justman and is based on Allan Slutsky's book of the same title, which won the 1989 Rolling Stone/BMI Ralph J. Gleason Music Book Award. Sandy Passman, Slutsky and Justman produced the film. The project was executive produced by Paul Elliott and David Scott.
Wide Angle on Thirteen/WNET New York
Thirteen/WNET will produce a new original program, Wide Angle, a weekly series of one-hour documentaries focusing on issues of “global consciousness.” Each episode will begin with a short segment that places the week’s documentary in the context of relevant current events. Topics explored will include environmental politics, migration, economics, race, women’s rights corruption and global media, among others.
After airing each documentary, the evening’s host will present a discussion with a high-profile guest to address the issues presented in the film. James P. Rubin, former Assistant Secretary of State, and popular British network ITN anchor Daljit Dhaliwal will host the program on alternating weeks. Each documentary will be a US television premiere acquired from established documentarians worldwide, as well as original productions and international co-productions.
Said Rubin in a written statement, “After September 11 there is nothing more urgent than helping Americans appreciate the complexities and dangers posed by events around the world. Wide Angle will provide an unprecedented public service. I am truly excited to participate in this unique and long-overdue new program.”
Support for Wide Angle is provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, PBS, the Hewlett Foundation, the Jacob Burns Foundation, the Schumann Foundation, and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.
AWARDS ROUND UP
In March, the first annual International Gay Film Awards were held in Hollywood at the Ed Gould Theater at the Gay & Lesbian Center. The US gay press gave Sandi Dubowski's Trembling Before G-d the Best Documentary prize.
Documentary finalists for the third annual PlanetOut.com Short Movie Awards are as follows: About Vivien (Kathy Sport); For Straights Only (Vismita Gupta-Smith); Losing Lois (Julie Hill, Kathy Richter, Barbara Rosenthal); Madonnalogue (Mark McCormick); and Naming Prairie (Alexandra Juhasz). The awards are presented by HBO in association with the Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival.
The Academy Foundation, the educational and cultural arm of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, has awarded $400,000 in grants to 38 college and community film programs around the country. The Grants committee, chaired by actors’ branch member Janet MacLachlan, chose the groups, which bring together students and professional filmmakers. Recipients include: AFI, Film Arts Foundation, Film Aid International, Inner City Filmmakers, Streetlights, College of Santa Fe, Western States Black Research Center, American Indian Film Institute, American Museum of the Moving Image, Brooklyn Academy of Music, Cinestory, Cleveland Film Society, Cleveland High School, Cornell Cinema, Film Forum, Independent Feature Project – Midwest, Kids ‘N Film, Young Filmmakers Academy, Independent Feature Project North, Film Institute of Northern California, Film/Video Arts, Hot Springs Documentary Film Institute, New York Women In Film & Television, University of Arizona, Short Film Group, and Merrimack College.
The Fund for Jewish Documentary Filmmaking 2001 awarded monies to the following projects: The Second Front (Deborah Freeman - New York, NY); Resistance: Untold Stories of Jewish Partisans (Daniel B. Polin and Kenneth Mandel – New York, NY), Last Dance (Mirra Bank – New York, NY), and L’Chaiyim, Comrade Stalin (Yale Strom, New York, NY). The Fund is designed to support the creation of original documentary films and videos that promote thoughtful consideration of Jewish history, culture, identity and contemporary issues among diverse public audiences.
FESTIVALS ROUND UP
Director Alice Elliott won three prizes for her film The Collector of Bedford Street at the Aspen Shortsfest: the Horizon Award, Best Documentary prize and the Audience Award. The film is about Larry Selman, an unusual community activist in New York's Greenwich Village, and his bond with members of that community.
The Jury Award for Best Documentary Awards at the Fifth DoubleTake Documentary Film Festival—henceforth called Full Frame Documentary Film Festival—was presented to Davis Guggenheim’s The First Year, a look at five rookie teachers in their first year of teaching in Southern California public schools. Honorable mention went to Joel Katz's Strange Fruit, which examines the history and creation of the song of the same title. The Center for Documentary Studies Award was given to Whitney Dow and Marcos Williams for Two Towns of Jasper, while Steven Silver's The Last Just Man took the Audience Award and the Best Short Award went to Nilesh Patel's A Love Supreme. The MTV News:Docs:Prize award winner was Hannah Weyer's Escuela, an intimate portrait of Liliana Luis, a Mexican-American teenager who as part of a migrant farmworker family is constantly uprooted from schools and her social life as the family moves to follow their work. The Roland House Award for Best Editing was given to Dennis O’Rourke’s Cunnamulla, a quirky portrait of a town in Australia and the way in which its denizens deal with race in their community. The White House Project Women and Leadership Award, created for this year's fest, went to Bob Connolly and the late Robin Anderson’s Facing the Music. The Festival also presented this year's Lifetime Achievement Award to Frederick Wiseman and its Industry Award to Eastman Kodak.
WorldFest Houston awarded the Remi Grand Award for Best Film & Video Production, Documentary to Volcano (Pioneer Productions, UK). Special Jury Awards in the Feature Documentary section went to Children of Kosovo 2000 (Ferenc Moldovanyl, Kosovo, Hungary); Oil Children“ (Ebrahim Forouzesh, Iran); Witness to Hope: The Life of Karol Wojtyla, Pope John Paul II (Judith Dwan Hallet, USA); Terror From Within (Jason van Fleet, USA); and The Life & Significance of George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff, Part II (Mary Ellen Korman, USA).
CHANGES AT THE HELM
Jim McCullaugh Named Executive Director of ASC
Jim McCullaugh was named Executive Director of the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) this past March. Previously, he was the publisher of American Cinematographer magazine and the ASC Press, the organization’s book publishing division. He will continue to perform in both of these capacities.
McCullaugh ups his responsibilities with ASC at a time when the organization is expanding, with the start of the building of a campus this month around the Hollywood clubhouse, growing outreach initiatives and ambitious plans for the ASC Press.
McCullaugh joined ASC in 1997 as publisher of American Cinematographer magazine and The ASC Press. During his tenure, the magazine has specifically expanded its circulation and the Press has published four books. The 8th edition of the American Cinematographer Manual received an Award of Commendation, which is the first time the Academy has presented an award for a publication.
Robin Anderson, Australian Documentarian
Robin Anderson, who, with her husband Bob Connolly made such documentaries as the IDA Award winning Black Harvest, died last March at 51. The cause was cancer.
The Australian-based filmmaker ventured with Connolly to far-flung regions in Papua New Guinea to make their first three documentaries—the Academy Award-nominated First Contact (1982), Joe Leahy’s Neighbors (1989) and the aforementioned Black Harvest (1992). Each of those films took top honors at the Cinéma du Réel festival in Paris.
Closer to home, such films as Rats in the Ranks (1996) examines local politics and infighting in a small town in Australia, while Facing the Music (2001) documents a student and faculty led campaign to save the music department at Sydney University from being victimized by budget cutbacks.
Ms. Anderson studied economics in Australia and earned her master’s in sociology at Columbia University. She is survived by Connolly, a brother and two daughters.