June 30, 2005

Short Takes, June 2005


Hi-Def Wins Big at Banff Television Fest

High definition programming will have more than a few dollars to gain at this month's Banff World Television Festival, held June 12-15, 2005. Along with NHK, Japan's biggest public broadcaster, the festival will honor the world's best hi-def programming with the NHK President's Prize and a $25,000 cash prize. The winner will be announced at the Banff Rockie Awards Ceremony.

Robert Montgomery, chief executive officer of the Banff World Television Festival, said in a statement, "With the "Future of Television" as a major focus at our 2005 Festival, it's fitting that exceptional High Definition programming be awarded so significantly. We are honored to be working with NHK to recognize the best of HDTV."

Any film that was entered in the festival's Rockie Awards International Program competition was eligible for a nomination in the HDTV competition.

MASS MoCA Offers Workshop for Socially Conscious Doc Filmmakers

Filmmakers and activists around the country converged on North Adams, Massachusetts, where MASS MoCA launched the Projections Film Form, which included a festival and interactive workshops for documentary filmmakers committed to using their films to advocate and advance social change. 

Working Films' mission can be summed up by the simple equation "Content + Intent = Action." The forum was designed to share—in theory and practice—its step-by-step process for developing specific, timely and strategic outreach and audience development plans for independent documentary projects. Films shown included Two Towns of Jasper, One in Eight, Girl Trouble and Thirst, among others, and screenings featured Q&As with both filmmakers and local and regional activists working on issues featured in the projects.

Ten filmmakers and four advanced film students in mid-production participated in the intensive institute that ran concurrently with the screenings. Working Films' co-founders Robert West and Judith Helfand (Blue Vinyl) led the institute, along with cutting-edge activists with long and successful histories of developing and sustaining strategic organizing campaigns. Some of the workshop activities included creating specific outreach and audience development/engagement campaigns, identifying community partners and developing support materials.

Film Garden and Fox Family Foundation Seed New Program

Film Garden Entertainment announced the creation of The Greenhouse at Film Garden, a program that produces documentaries at no cost to nonprofit charitable organizations by utilizing the talents of aspiring filmmakers. The participating filmmakers get hands-on experience, mentoring and an opportunity to showcase their work, while participating charities receive quality documentaries to use for fundraising and community outreach.

Film Garden is a Los Angeles-based production company that has produced more than 600 nonfiction programs for television over the past 11 years. Working in collaboration with the Frieda C. Fox Family Foundation, The Greenhouse pairs aspiring filmmakers with selected nonprofit organizations.

Nancy Jacobs Miller, founder and president of Film Garden Entertainment, was inspired to create The Greenhouse after several nonprofits sought her help in documenting their work. "I realized there was a significant need in the nonprofit community and that a well-made documentary could be a powerful fundraising tool," Miller said in a statement. "By creatively using the existing infrastructure, resources and talent pool of Film Garden, we can effectively serve both nonprofits and aspiring filmmakers at no cost to either."

The Greenhouse selects aspiring filmmakers based on their passion for and commitment to documentary production. Each filmmaker is paired with a nonprofit that will be the subject of their short documentary and an industry veteran who will serve as a mentor throughout the process. The filmmakers attend a series of intensive workshops that cover each stage of documentary production, from pre-production through videography, writing and editing.

Following completion of the workshops, each filmmaker has three months to complete their documentary. The creative director and project administrator at The Greenhouse work with each participant to ensure that every collaboration between filmmaker and nonprofit results in a professional quality documentary.

New Pre-Show System is Kodak Highlight at ShoWest

Kodak offered a first look at new additions to the company's networked Kodak Digital Cinema system at the recent ShoWest conference for motion picture distributors and exhibitors in Las Vegas. The upgraded system incorporates high definition 720p image decoding, a new HD projector and surround sound capability.

Bill Doeren, general manager of Kodak Digital Cinema, said that most pre-show systems currently in use offer standard definition images with stereo audio. The Kodak system, which includes a package consisting of proprietary software, plus hardware and services to prepare, distribute and display quality pre-show advertising on theater screens, delivers high definition images with surround sound. The company has installed systems on more than 800 screens in the United States and Canada, with an equal number in line for installation.

The Kodak demos utilized the new three-chip DLP High Definition ScreenPlay 333 projectors from InFocus. Said Doeren in a statement, "On the InFocus projectors, the images are brighter and sharper with a greater range of contrast and more color saturation. Combined with surround sound, they make everything, including concerts and other events, a more enjoyable experience."

For feature presentations, the company demonstrated the new Kodak CineServer, which is compatible with a range of digital projectors up to 2K resolution. At ShoWest, Kodak used the Barco 2K DLP projector to show trailers and motion picture content.

2929 Entertainment Makes Landmark Decision to Go Digital

Landmark Theatres, a 2929 Entertainment company, announced its plans to fully enable all of its 59 theaters for digital projection, beginning with six of Sony's new SXRD projectors this summer. Landmark is the nation's largest theater chain devoted exclusively to independent film.

Said 2929 Entertainment co-owner Mark Cuban in a statement, "Digital cinema provides a new experience for theater-goers. Sony's 4K digital projectors provide a viewing experience that far exceeds what other theaters are doing today with 2K projectors. We are excited to start to push the envelope in digital cinema with Sony's SXRD technology and see where the technology and experience can take our customers."

The new Sony projectors are the first commercially available 4K projectors, which offer a 4096 x 2160 pixel resolution and a high contrast ratio. They use a Silicon X-tal Reflective Display (SXRD) imaging device. Sony has incorporated the specifications and guidelines established by Digital Cinema Initiatives (DCI) into the design of the new projectors to fully support DCI's efforts and provide an enabling technology that will allow the industry to move to a digital environment.

The rollout of digital cinema by Landmark Theatres is part of the company's strategy to produce and distribute high-definition movies through HDNet Films, another of 2929 Entertainment's holdings.


Natl. Geo and Chinese Television Pact for Forbidden Doc

As reported on WorldScreen.com, China Central Television (CCTV) is teaming with National Geographic Channels International (NGCI) for the high-definition documentary Forbidden City, which the Chinese state broadcaster has been planning since 2003. CCTV will produce 12 50-minute episodes for the series, and NGCI will assist the broadcaster in producing short version for the international market.

The series will celebrate the 80th anniversary of The Palace Museum. NGCI's producers and experts from the Palace Museum will work closely with the CCTV's production crew to ensure the documentary is objective, precise, historically factual, scientific and educational.

THINKFilm Acquires Varied Doc Slate

On the heels of its Oscar win for Born Into Brothels, THINKFilm has announced the acquisition of two high-profile documentaries: the in-the-works, as-yet-untitled documentary by and about comedy sensation Eddie Izzard, and Protocols of Zion, Marc Levin's explosive exploration of resurgent anti-Semitism in the wake of September 11, 2001.

The Izzard film is being directed and produced by Sarah Townsend, who has a number of stage and short film credits to her name. Joni Sighvatsson (K-19: The Widowmaker, Pretty Persuasion) and Nick Hirschkorn (Five Children and It) are executive producers. The project has been in production for nearly three years and aims to provide the definitive portrait of this multi-faceted, multi-medium performer.

The project will combine performance footage; interviews with friends, family and fans; and extensive material documenting the Izzard's life, both onstage and off.

Says Mark Urman, head of THINKFilm's theatrical division, "I have been a rabid Eddie Izzard fan since I first saw Dress To Kill, and I have been pursuing him aggressively since I first heard about this project. All of us at THINK look forward to seeing his unique comic universe brought to film, and we can't wait to share it with Eddie's legions of fans, both old and new."

On the other end of the spectrum, Protocols of Zion draws its inspiration from an encounter filmmaker Levin had in a New York taxi not long after 9/11, in which his driver, an Egyptian immigrant, made the startling claim that the Jews had been warned not to go to work at the World Trade Center on the day of the attack. He then said, "It's all written in the book," referring to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a notorious forgery created over 100 years ago, purporting to be the Jews' master plan to rule the world. The Protocols was a crucial influence on Hitler, and fueled hatred, violence and ultimately genocide throughout the first half of the twentieth century.

The film premiered to great acclaim at Sundance, followed by a strong showing at the Berlin Film Festival. THINKFilm President and CEO Jeff Sackman said in a statement, "Protocols of Zion is like an alarm that rings loud and clear. We at THINK are committed to doing whatever we can, both professionally and personally, to make sure that it is heard by as many people, of as many faiths, as possible."

Award-winning filmmaker Levin (Slam) uses as his departure point the book's renewed popularity and sudden availability via such outlets as Amazon and Wal-Mart. He then embarks upon a personal odyssey in which he delves into one of the central issues facing the world today—the rise of religious intolerance and ethnic bigotry waged, ironically, in the name of God. Armed with his camera and appearing on screen along with his subjects, Levin engages in a free-for-all dialogue with Arab Americans, Black nationalists, Christian Evangelicals, Aryan skinheads, Kabbalist rabbis, and Holocaust deniers and survivors alike.

Frameline Jumps for Bridge Pic

Frameline, North America's premier distributor of lesbian, gay, bi and transgender (LGBT) film and video has acquired North American rights for Jenni Olson's debut feature film, The Joy of Life. The experimental documentary premiered in January 2005 at the Sundance Film Festival and sparked the Golden Gate Bridge board of directors to renew discussion of the issue of a suicide barrier on the Golden Gate Bridge.

The Joy of Life shares two San Francisco stories: the history of the Golden Gate Bridge as a suicide landmark, and the story of a lesbian in San Francisco searching for love and self-discovery.

Writer/director Olson provoked renewed public interest in the Bridge barrier with an op-ed piece in the San Francisco Chronicle calling for a barrier and announcing the Sundance premiere of her film. The following week another filmmaker, Eric Steele, announced he had filmed 19 people who jumped off the bridge during the course of 2003. The topic of a suicide barrier was finally put on the agenda in February by the bridge board's building and operations committee. At press time, the full board had plans to take up the issue in March. Prior to the meeting, a videotape copy of The Joy of Life was distributed to each of the 19 members of the Bridge District's board of directors.


Discovery Times Greenlights's Full Season of Off To War

Discovery Times Channel has commissioned a full season of the network's original limited series Off To War, which aired last October. Produced for Discovery Times Channel by renowned production company Downtown Community TV Center (DCTV), the film offers a unique window on the war in Iraq, focusing on the citizen soldiers of the Arkansas National Guard on both the frontlines and the homefront.

In April 2004, 57 men from Clarksville, Arkansas left their jobs and their families for Iraq as members of the 39th Infantry Brigade with the Arkansas National Guard. Over the course of the past year, the filmmaking team of brothers Brent and Craig Renaud, born and raised in Little Rock, followed the unit through their call-up, deployment and service, while simultaneously capturing the lives of their loved ones back at home.

The unit will soon return home from Iraq and the Renaud brothers will continue to film them, documenting their assimilation back into society over the next few months.

"The response we received from our viewers and the industry for this series has been both moving and overwhelming," said Vivian Schiller, senior vice president and general manager, Discovery Times Channel, in a statement. She cited both the topicality and intimacy of the stories as reason for the strong viewer response.

Sundance Channel Drawn to Ryan

Sundance Channel has acquired the pay television rights to Chris Landreth's Oscar-winning animated short film Ryan. The film will premiere on the Sundance Channel in the third quarter of 2005.

Ryan is based on the life of Canadian animator Ryan Larkin. Thirty years ago at the National Film Board of Canada, Larkin produced some of the most influential animated films of his time—and himself received an Oscar nomination. Today, he lives on welfare and panhandles for spare change in downtown Montreal. Landreth's film explores Larkin's evolution from artistic genius to poverty.

While not a documentary in the traditional sense of the word, the hauntingly visual film represents a growing number of hybrid pieces that are expanding the nonfiction genre. In the film, the voices of Ryan Larkin and the people who have known him speak through strange, twisted, broken and disembodied 3D generated characters, whose appearances are bizarre, humorous or disturbing. Although incredibly realistic and detailed,Ryanwas created and animated without the use of live action footage, rotoscoping or motion capture; instead it was derived from an original, personal, hand animated three-dimensional world which Landreth calls "psychological realism."


57th Annual Writers Guild Awards - Television Winners

-Documentary—Current Events: From China with Love (Frontline), PBS. Written by Michael J. Kirk

-Documentary—Other Than Current Events: The Fight (American Experience), PBS. Written by Barak Goodman.        

Sundance Institute Documentary Fund

In this first round of grants for 2005, fourteen feature-length documentary films will receive a total of $490,000. 

-Work in Progress Grants: Deborah Dickson, The Secret History of the Hmong (US); Mark and Nick Francis, Black Gold (UK); Victoria Funari and Dergio De La Torre, Maquilopolis (US); Maria Teresa Larrain, The Trial of Pascual Pinchun (Canada/Chile); Zach Niles and Banker White, The Refugee All Stars (US); Laura Poitras, The War After (US); Juan Carlos Rulfo, In The Pit (Mexico); and Rodrigo Vázquez, An American Martyr (UK).

-Development Grants: Richard Hankin, Home Front (US); Azza El-Hassan, The Feather Man  (Palestine/Germany); Melissa Kyu-Jung Lee, Yukai! (Australia); Robb Moss and Peter Gallison, Secrecy (US); and Jonathan Stack, Rebirth of a Nation (US).

-Supplemental Grants: Cristina Ibarra and John Valadez, The Last Conquistador (US)

 26th Annual Sports Emmy Awards

Presented by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

-Sports Documentary Nominees:

  • Hitler's Pawn (HBO, Black Canyon Productions, Clear Channel Entertainment Television): Ex. Prods: Rick Bernstein, Ross Greenburg; Coord. Prod: Brian Hyland; Prod: George Roy.
  • Nine Innings from Ground Zero (HBO, MLB Productions): Ex. Prods: Rick Bernstein, Ross Greenburg, David Gevant; Sr. Coord. Prod: Brian Hyland; Prod: Joe Lavine. 
  • Sports Illustrated: 50 Years of Great Stories (ESPN): Ex. Prods.: Michael Antinoro, Mark Shapiro; Coord. Prod.: Bob Chesterman, Frederick Mitchell.
  • The Games of the XXVIII Olympiad: Stylianos Kryiakides, The Journey of a Warrior (NBC): Ex. Prod: Dick Ebersol; Ex. VP, Production: David Neal; Prod: Sabrina Fodor.
  • Beyond the Glory (FOX Sports Net, Asylum Entertainment): Ex. Prods: Read Jackson, Steven Michaels, Frank Sinton; Coord. Prods: Eric Johnson, Tiffany Reis; Prods: Matt Cahoon, Ron Krauss, Brett Mahoney, Mark Monroe, Chris Mortensen, Jackson Nguyen, Alex Piper, Mark Rowland, Anthony Storm


The Big Sky Documentary Film Festival

  • Best Feature Documentary: Citizen King (Prods./Dirs.: Orlando Bagwell, Noland Walker; USA).
  • Best Short Documentary: Hardwood (Dir.: Hubert Davis; Prods.: Erin Faith Young, Peter Starr; Canada).
  • Short Jury Artistic Vision Award: Director Roger Teich
  • Feature Jury Artistic Vision Award: Invisible (Prods./Dir.: Konstantin Bojanov; Bulgaria/USA)
  • Special Jury Prize: Nome Rode System  (Prod./Dir.: Rainer Komers; Germany))
  • Big Sky Award: Ridin' and Rhymin' (Prods./Dirs.: Greg Snider, Dawn Smallman; USA).

15th Annual Cinequest Film Festival

  • Tie for Best Feature Documentary: We Are Dad (Dir./Prod.: Michel Horvat) and Wetback: The Undocumented Documentary (Dir./Prod.: Arturo Perez Torres; Prod.: Heather Haynes)
  • Best Short Documentary: In Search of Coonass...and found a people (Dir.: John Darling Haynes)
  • Audience Choice Award Documentary: Emmanuel's Gift (Dir./Prod.: Lisa Lax, Nancy Stern

South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Conference & Festival

  • Jury Award For Best Documentary Feature and Audience Award for Documentary Feature: Cowboy Del Amor: (Dir./Prod.: Michele Ohayon.
  • Special Jury Award for Documentary Feature and Runner Up for Documentary Audience Award: The Boys of Baraka (Dirs./Prods.: Heidi Ewing, Rachel Grady.


Hubley Ankles Sundance Media Relations

Patrick Hubley reported that after working with the Sundance Institute and Film Festival for six years, he has decided to leave his position as manager of media relations. Upon exiting, he plans to fulfill a lifelong dream of traveling around the world for the next year.

Said Hubley in an e-mail to press colleagues, "It has been a great pleasure to work with you over the years. It has been a good run and I have enjoyed every minute of it!" 

Irene Cho, who worked at the festival this past year and previously at Dreamworks SKG, will serve as the interim Institute PR contact while a search is conducted to fill Hubley's position.

Moody Moves on From BBC

As reported by WorldScreen.com, Nicola Moody, the BBC's commissioner of documentaries and contemporary factual, is leaving the broadcaster, opting not to take a commissioning editor role in the newly streamlined factual commissioning team.

Said director of television Jana Bennett on WorldScreen.com, "I am very sad to lose Nicola as she has been a key member of the senior television team for a number of years, but I do completely understand her desire for a fresh challenge."


Sy Wexler, Educational Filmmaker, Dies at 88

Educational filmmaker and documentarian Sy Wexler died of cancer and the neurological disease diffuse Lewy body syndrome on March 10, 2005. His short films were an intrinsic part of the post-World War II classroom, and addressed everything from the natural world to the then-delicate subject of sex education.

Wexler got his filmmaking start while serving as a Lieutenant in the US Army Signal Corps as a cameraman. In 1945 he worked with Frank Capra on the seminal documentary series Why We Fight and Know Your Enemy. After he and his wife settled in Los Angeles, Wexler built a small film studio on Seward Street in Hollywood and produced educational films with partner Bob Churchill under the  Churchill/Wexler Film Productions banner.

From 1965 to 2001 Wexler Film Productions specialized in medical and scientific films, and became a world leader in the field. Other interesting projects included an animated film about the Bill of Rights, a film to demonstrate a new voting machine and a multi-award winning instructional about how germs can easily spread in hospital settings. In 1976, Wexler produced the award-winning The Human Brain, A Dynamic View of Its Structures and Organization, for Dr. Robert Livingston, which garnered worldwide acclaim for its groundbreaking 3-D imaging.

Wexler is survived by his loving artist wife of 63 years, Helen, filmmaker son Howard, film preservationist son David, and three grandchildren..