March 1, 2001

Short Takes, March 2001

A cloud comes over the sunlit arch,
A wind comes off a frozen peak,
And you’re two months back in the middle of March.

- Robert Frost



Academy Grants Branch Status to Doc-Making Members

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced in January that the 150 documentary filmmakers who are members of the academy would be granted branch status, which means that a member of the Documentarians Branch can be elected as a governor of the academy. Arnold Schwartzman, chair of the Documentary Film Award Committee, submitted a proposal for branch status, which the board of governors approved.

“Documentarians have played an important role in filmmaking since the beginning of the art form, whose first steps were essentially documentary in nature,” Academy President Robert Rehme said in a prepared statement. “By granting branch status to our documentary filmmaker members, the Academy is acknowledging the continuing importance of the century-old genre.”

“I applaud the governors of the Academy for their wisdom and generosity in embracing this important genre of filmmaking,” Schawrtzman said. “The establishment of a Documentarians Branch is a fitting endorsement as we approach the 60th anniversary of the year that the documentary form joined the Academy family.”

ITVS Turns Ten

The Independent Television Service (ITVS) will celebrate its tenth anniversary this year with a series of events starting in June. In its first decade, ITVS has rocked the airwaves with such memorable gems as Sing Faster: The Stagehands’ Ring Cycle, by Jon Else; My America…Or Honk if you Love Buddha, by Renée Tajima-Peña; Girls Like Us, by Tina DeFeliciantonio and Jane C. Wagner; Black Is…Black Ain’t, by Marlon Riggs; Coming Out Under Fire, by Arthur Dong; and Family Remains, by Tamara Jenkins.

The tenth anniversary tour kicks off in Minneapolis, the birthplace of ITVS, and moves to New York City’s Museum of Modern Art, then to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. The retrospectives presented in each city will feature a variety of ITVS programs, representing the service’s range of perspectives, formats, genres and styles.

New Digital Digs for National Geographic Channel

The National Geographic Channel was launched in January, operating out of a new digital TV studio in the northern half of the National Geographic Society headquarters building in Washington, DC. The 16,000 square-foot facility, designed and constructed by Mark G. Anderson Consultants, contains a studio set, control room, interview areas, central equipment room and second-floor newsroom and edit suites.

The National Geographic Channel is a joint venture of National Geographic Television and FOX.


Hayling Ankles Channel 4 for Mentorn

According to DOCtv, Alan Hayling left his commissioning editor position at Channel 4’s Nations and Regions department to become executive producer with Mentorn Barraclough Cary, a major producer of nonfiction programming in the UK. Hayling had previously been a commissioner in Channel 4’s documentary department.


IFC to Release Keep the River on your Right

Keep the River on your Right: A Modern Cannibal Tale, the award-winning documentary by David and Laurie Gwen Shapiro, will be seen in theaters across America this spring, thanks to IFC Films, which will release the film. The doc profiles artist and traveler Tobias Schneebaum, who lived among indigenous peoples in Peru and Papua New Guinea. Next Wave Films, a division of IFC Entertainment, provided finishing funds for the doc.

That’s A Family! Screens at the White House

Women’s Educational Media showcased its latest film That’s A Family!, directed and produced by Deborah Chasnoff, to an audience of more than 100 leaders of national children’s family, educational and civil rights organizations at the White House. The film takes a tour from a child’s point of view through a diverse range of family structures. That’s A Family!, executive produced by Helen S. Cohen, is the first in a three-part media series for children entitled Respect for All.

The Jaundiced Eye to Air on Sundance Channel

The Jaundiced Eye, the acclaimed film from Amy Sommer and Dan Gifford, the makers of Waco: The Rules of Engagement, will air on the Sundance Channel in June. Sommer and Gifford’s company, Somford Entertainment, will handle the US distribution, while Canadian distributor CVS will oversee educational video distribution in Canada. The film follows the decade-long trial and emotional trauma of a gay Michigan man, Stephen Matthews, and his heterosexual father, Melvin Matthews, who were wrongly accused of sexually molesting Stephen’s son.


The Independent Spirit Awards were announced in January, with a new category for Best Documentary, to be given to the director. The nominees are Dark Days, Marc Singer; The Eyes of Tammy Faye, Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey; Long Night's Journey Into Day, Frances Reid and Deborah Hoffman; Paragraph 175, Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman; and Sound and Fury, Josh Aronson. The Finalists for the DirecTV/IFCTruer Than Fiction Award, presented to an emerging director of nonfiction features, are Vincent Fremont and Shelly Dunn Fremont for Pie in the Sky: The Brigid Berlin Story; David Shapiro and Laurie Gwen Shapiro for Keep the River on your Right: A Modern Cannibal Tale; James Ronald Whitney for Just, Melvin; and Jem Cohen and Peter Sillen for Benjamin Smoke.

The Writers Guild Awards nominees in Television include the following: Documentary—Current Events: THE AWFUL TRUTH: Holiday Inn Attempts to Deport its Mexican Housekeepers for Organizing a Union—Michael Moore and Nick McKinney, United Broadcasting, Bravo; FRONTLINE: John Paul II: The Millennial Pope—Helen Whitney and Jane Barnes, Helen Whitney Productions, PBS; FRONTLINE: Justice for Sale—Stephen Talbot and Sheila Kaplan, Frontline/WGBH and the Center for Investigative Reporting, PBS; FRONTLINE: The Killer at Thurston High—Michael J. Kirk and Peter J. Boyer, Kirk Documentary Group, PBS. Documentary—Other Than Current Events: FRONTLINE: Apocalypse!—William Cran and Ben Loeterman, Ben Loeterman Productions, Inc./Invision Production Ltd., PBS; CULTURE SHOCK: Born to Trouble: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn—Jill Janows and Leslie Lee, WGBH, PBS; THE AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: George Wallace: Settin' The Woods on Fire—Steve Fayer, Daniel McCabe and Paul Stekler, Midnight Films, Big House Productions/The American Experience, WGBH, PBS; AMERICAN MASTERS: Hitchcock, Selznick & The End of Hollywood—Michael Epstein, American Masters, WNET, PBS; Without Lying Down: Frances Marion and the Power of Women in Hollywood—Bridget Terry and Cari Beauchamp, Chaise Lounge Productions, LLC, TCM.

Aviva Kempner took the National Society of Film Critics Award and the Florida Film Critics Circle Award for Best Documentary for The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg.

The Golden Satellite Award for Best Documentary went to Reckless Indifference, William Gazecki, director/producer, and Dale Rosenbloom, producer.

The following media arts organizations were awarded grants from the National Endowment for the Arts: The Sundance Institute: $110,000 for the Sundance Festival's feature film program and the House of Docs; Foundation for Independent Video and Film: $50,000, for general support; Visual Communications: $20,000, for the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film and Video Festival; Greenway Arts Alliance: $35,000, for David Zeiger's documentary Senior Year; and ESB Productions: $15,000, for the 2001 International Film Financing Conference.

The nominees for the first-ever Online Movie Awards, presented by iFILM, were announced at the Sundance Film Festival. The winners will be chosen by an online vote and announced at an awards ceremony in Los Angeles on March 20. The nominees for Best Documentary are And Still I Rise, Ngozi Onwurah; Closer, Tina Gharavi; Eleven Eighty Two, Kevin Jerome Everson; Kosovo and Beyond, Lilibet Foster; and This is for Betsy Hall, Hope Hall.


The Sundance Film Festival, to be covered in the next issue, closed out on January 27 with a bevy of awards for docs. And the winners were: Documentary Grand Jury Prize: Southern Comfort—Kate Davis, producer/director. Documentary Audience Award: Dogtown and Z-Boys—Stacy Peralta, director, and Agi Orsi, producer; Scout’s Honor—Tom Shepard, producer/director. Documentary Directing Award: Stacy Peralta, Dogtown and Z-Boys. Excellence in Cinematography Award: Albert Maysles, Lalee’s Kin: The Legacy of Cotton. Freedom of Expression Award: Scout’s Honor. Documentary Jury Special Prize: Children Underground—Edet Belzberg, producer/director. Latin American Special Jury Mention: Coffin Joe: The Strange World of José Mojica Marins—Andre Barcinski and Ivan Finotti, directors.

Monteith McCollum’s documentary Hybrid, a film about a 100-year-old Iowa farmer, his troubled relations with his family, and his life-long obsession with hybrid corn, took the Grand Jury Award for Best Feature at the Slamdance Film Festival.

IDA Collaborates with DocuDays in Beirut

The DocuDays: Beirut Documentary Film Festival enjoyed its second go-round last fall, in collaboration with the IDA and the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival. Taking place at Lebanese American University, the event drew students and fans from all audiovisual colleges and faculties in Lebanon, in addition to independent filmmakers and documentarians from local TV stations. The festival screened 48 docs in all, including the award-winning One Day in September, Kevin McKiernan’s Good Kurds, Bad Kurds, Charles Guggenheim’s The First Freedom, Jillann Spitzmiller and Hank Roberson’s Homeland, Eric Fournier’s Of Civil Rights and Wrongs: The Fred Korematsu Story, and a host of films from the Middle East.


Films Selected to the National Film Registry

The following documentaries were selected to the National Film Registry at the Library of congress: Koyaanisqatsi (1983, Geoffry Reggio, producer/director); The Living Desert (1953, Ben Sharpsteen, producer; James Algar, director); Sherman's March (1986, Ross McElwee, producer/director/writer/editor); and Why We Fight (1943, Frank Capra, producer/director).


Johan van der Keuken, Dutch Documentarian, Dead

Johan van der Keuken, whose final film, The Long Holiday (2000), documented his struggle with prostate cancer, died in January at age 62. When he was diagnosed in October 1998, he embarked on a journey to understand his suffering. He filmed his travels to Kathmandu, Burkina Faso, Brazil, the United States and back home to The Netherlands for a retrospective of his work at the Rotterdam Film Festival. The Long Holiday earned the Ecumenical Prize at the 2000 Berlin Film Festival.

Van der Keuken’s film career came out of an interest in photography; at age 17, he published We Are Seventeen, a compendium of portraits of his classmates. The book helped him win a scholarship to the IUDHEC film school in Paris, where he made his first film, Paris at Dawn (1958). His work over the decades was screened at festivals and museums around the world. In 1999, he received the Persistence of Vision Award at the San Francesco International Film Festival.


Solid Entertainment Launches Website

Solid Entertainment, the Los Angeles-based documentary distribution and production company headed by IDA Treasurer Richard Propper, recently launched its catalog online at Sold Entertainment has produced programs for Discovery Channel, TLC, Animal Planet, A&E, HBO and Cinemax.