March 1, 2002

Short Takes, March 2002


Sundance Channel Launches New Doc Channel

This year at the Sundance Film Festival, Sundance Channel Founder and Creative Director Robert Redford announced the launch of a channel devoted exclusively to documentary films. The new network will be owned and operated by Sundance Channel, LLC, and will show independent nonfiction films, including both shorts and features, from the United States and abroad.

At a press conference announcing the film, Redford said that there have been very few announcements that “have me as eaxcited as this one…The commitment at Sundance is also a personal commitment of my own. I have my own personal history with documentary filmmaking, probably much of which is not known. Going back to the early 70’s, I’ve produced many, narrated quite a few, made a couple…so obviously I have a keen interest in documentaries and their importance. But that interest came at a time when documentaries did not receive the due that I thought they deserved in the marketplace.”

Redford went on to talk about how over the years, previously the only place Sundance could service the documentarian was at the Festival. As the documentary evolved as a form of storytelling, films like Hoop Dreams helped documentaries move into a stronger place in the theatrical market. However, most of the time docs still do not get the release treatment they deserve. Said Redford, “There’s a kind of odd, weird paradox that exists which says that with documentaries, nobody wants to fund them, nobody wants to show them, but almost all the people who don’t want to fund them or show them will tell the documentarian, ‘You’ve got to make this film. It’s so important – this film has to get made. It’s a noble idea.’ Well, nobility doesn’t have a huge place in an industry that’s just about business. But at any rate, the idea was that that irony led us to break that apart and try to do something about it.”

Explained Redford, “The theatrical marketplace is pretty locked off because of the relationship between exhibitors and distributors. The electronic route became the route to go for distribution – the Channel…This is the natural expansion of not only Sundance and its long term commitment to independent film and the independent voice, but also to the expansion of Documentary as it moves closer to hopefully fulfilling the role I think it deserves - equal opportunity in the marketplace.”

Also announced at the press conference was the Sundance Soros Documentary Fund, previously reported on in this column, which will allow Sundance lend financial support to its commitment to documentary filmmaking.

Academy Players Directory Moves to Tinsel town

The Academy Players Directory, the casting bible of the industry, recently moved its offices from Beverly Hills to 1313 Vine Street in Hollywood. The physical move will complement the recent enhancements to the online version of the Directory. Actors who list themselves now have the ability to update virtually all of their contact, credit, representation and union affiliation information on a daily basis via the Internet. The new facility, which will occupy approximately 5,000 square feet of updated office space, will have several work stations for actors who don’t have Internet access at home. Because of the increased use of the Internet-based version of the Directory, the printed guide will now only be published twice each year instead of three times.

EarthLink Continues Corporate Sponsorship of Frontline

EarthLink announced this past fall that it is continuing its national corporate sponsorship of the award-winning PBS television documentary series Frontline. The national sponsorship gives EarthLink, one of the world’s largest Internet service providers, an exclusive opportunity to create a bond with the program’s educated viewer base that is more prone to using the Internet as a relevant and productive tool in their everyday lives.


The Independent Spirit Awards nominations were announced this past January. Films nominated for the Best Documentary Award, which is presented to the director of a film, include Dogtown and Z-Boys (Stacy Peralta); Go Tigers! (Kenneth A. Carlson); Lalee's Kin: The Legacy of Cotton (Susan Froemke, Deborah Dickson, Albert Maysles); Promises (Justine Shapiro, B.Z. Goldberg, Carlos Bolado); and Scratch (Doug Pray). The sixth annual DIRECTV/IFC Truer Than Fiction Award is presented to an emerging director of nonfiction features who has not yet received significant attention. The award is accompanied by a $20,000 unrestricted grant, funded by DIRECTV and the Independent Film Channel. The Finalists for the 2002 DIRECTV/IFC Truer Than Fiction Award are Edet Belzberg for Children Underground; Sandi Simcha Dubowski for Trembling Before G-d; B.Z. Goldberg, Carlos Bolado and Justine Shapiro for Promises; Alix Lambert for The Mark of Cain; and Monteith McCollum for Hybrid.

Awards at the Sundance Film Festival this past January were presented in the following categories: Directing Award: Rob Fruchtman and Rebecca Cammisa for Sister Helen; Excellence in Cinematography Award: Daniel B. Gold for Blue Vinyl; Special Jury Prize: How to Draw a Bunny (John Walter, dir; Andrew Moore, prod.)and Señorita Extraviada (Lourdes Portillo, prod./dir); Documentary Grand Jury Prize: Daughter from Danang (Gail Dolgin and Vicente Franco, dirs.) and the Documentary Audience Award and the Sundance Freedom of Expression Award: Amandla! A Revolution in Four Part Harmony (Lee Hirsch, dir./prod.; Sherry Simpson, prod.). The documentary jury was comprised of filmmaker Jeffrey Friedman, curator Jyette Jensen, filmmaker Stanley Nelson, filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin and filmmaker Frances Reid.


90 Miles was invited to screen at El Nuevo Festival de Cine Latinoamericano, Habana, Cuba, where it was awarded the Coral Award for Best Documentary Film, as well as a Memoir Documentary Award given by the "Centro Cultural Pablo de la Torriente Brau (ex-aequo)."

In January, the Slamdance Film Festival awarded the Audience Award and a Special Grand Jury honor to Mark Moskowitz’s Stone Reader. The Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary went to Lucia Small’s My Father, The Genius.

The Nortel Networks Palm Springs International Film Festival honored director Michael Apted with the International Filmmaker Award this past January. As stated in a festival release, Apted is being recognized by the festival for “breaking through the barrier of language and crossing over the border of culture to become a filmmaker of the world.”

The US Film Festivals Circuit announced in January that ten film festivals will participate in an inaugural series linking national sponsors with notable US festivals. The series will allow name brand companies to get involved with the world of film and film festivals in a variety of consumer markets over the course of an entire year. The Circuit will begin at the Washington (DC) International Film Festival in April, and then move to New York for the Gen Art Film Festival later that month. Other participating festivals include the Seattle International Film Festival, the Nashville Independent Film Festival, the Florida Film Festival, the Maui Film Festival, the Boston Film Festival, the Mill Valley Film Festival, the Denver International Film Festival and the Fort Lauderdale Film Festival. The second season will start with the Palm Springs International Film Festival. In 2003, the Cleveland International Film Festival will be included on the Circuit.

The 35th annual NY Film and Video EXPO documentary judges awarded “Best Debut” to Big Blue – the NYC Handball Documentary, by director/editor Justin Sullivan. The film is the first documentary about New York’s most popular sport, exploring the world of gambling, bravado and intense athleticism found on the city’s handball courts.


ITVS begins pilot project for Electric Shadows

As reported in indieWire, the Independent Television Service (ITVS) has negotiated financing deals for Rob Mikuriya's Face to Face and Jilann Spitzmiller and Hank Rogerson's Circle of Stories. The programs will be the pilot projects for ITVS' Electric Shadows, a new initiative that will produce interactive content about under-served communities for the Web. In addition, Electric Shadows will also feature a special section for children entitled "How to Record Grandma and What Questions to Ask."

Face to Face, which features a combination of audio, photos and Flash animation, uses personal stories to parallel the experiences of Japanese Americans in the1940s and present-day Arab Americans with personal stories. Circle of Stories, a series on Native American storytelling, utilizes audio, video, photos and animation.

Cowboy Pictures picks up Promises

Cowboy Pictures picked up the US rights to the documentary Promises. Justine Shapiro, B.Z. Goldberg and Carlos Bolado’s film follows several Israeli and Palestinian children who live close to one another but are distanced by the political, cultural and historical differences between them.

In a prepared statement, Cowboy partner John Vanco said, “In troubled times, there occasionally comes along films that give us hope for greater peace and understanding.” In addition to a theatrical release in major markets, Cowboy plans on giving the film an intense non-theatrical and educational marketing push.

KCTS/Seattle joins with Britian’s Carlton and TWI for colorful portrait of World War II

International producer and distributor TWI, major UK producer, broadcaster and distributor Carlton Television and KCTS/Seattle Public Television are joining together to produce The Perilous Fight: America’s World War II In Color. Inspired by TWI/Carlton Television-produced The Second World War in Color, an award-winning series that presented a vivid portrait of World War II through original color film, personal diaries and letters, The Perilous Fight will tell the story of America’s World War II.

The series will use only original color film footage from the 1930’s and 40’s to create a visually stunning chronicle of America’s World War II experience on both the home and battle fronts. The production team will be led by Martin Smith (Exec. Prod., The Second World War in Colour), with film research being supervised by Adrian Wood. In a prepared statement, Smith said, “[the film] will be anything but a heavy military history. It will be a people’s history. As the series explores through evocative color footage the central conflict of the last century, it will pose timely questions touching on ethical issues and the principles of civic duty. Given the current world crisis, these questions are as important today as they were 60 years ago.”

The producers invite the public to contribute to The Perilous Fight by providing their own materials, such as color footage, sound recordings, letters and diaries, to the project. Members of the public wishing to submit materials for considerations should first contact the producers at 800.386.0002. Online forms are can be found at The four-part series is scheduled for completion in summer 2002, at which point it will premiere on PBS.

Spielberg and The Shoah Foundation Present Holocaust Documentary Series

Broken Silence, a CINEMAX Reel Life series of five foreign-language documentary films by distinguished international directors, will debut on Cinemax on five consecutive nights next month (April 15-19). The films will debut in conjunction with Holocaust Remembrance Day, Yom Hashoah.

The series is presented by Steven Spielberg and Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation and produced by Academy Award®-winning doc filmmaker James Moll. Each director worked with Shoah Foundation researchers and historians to create a film about the Holocaust that would resonate most effectively in his own country, language and culture. In a prepared statement, Spielberg said, “The Broken Silence series of five foreign-language documentaries is an extremely important step in the Shoah Foundation’s mission of worldwide tolerance education.”

The series is composed of the following pieces: I Remember, directed by Poland’s Andrjez Wajda; Some Who Lived, directed by Luis Puenzo; Hell on Earth, directed by the Czech Republic’s Vojtech Jasny; Children From the Abyss, directed by Russia’s Pavel Chukhraj; and Eyes of the Holocaust, directed Hungarian filmmaker Janos Szasz.

Palm Pictures Explores Unity in Diversity

This spring, Palm Pictures will release 1 Giant Leap, a collaborative DVD/CD/Cinema project. A fusion of music, words, rhythms and images, the piece is a visual time capsule of life on the edge of a new century. By exploring the universal concepts of identity, spirituality, time, money and love, 1 Giant Leap explores the idea that regardless of one’s circumstance and experience, we on Earth are far more alike than we are different.

Musicians Jamie Catto and Duncan Bridgeman created the project, traveling to over 20 locations – from Kenya to India to Australia to the UK – to find a universal pulse and record the entire experience using a laptop and a digital camera. The project is executive produced by Chris Blackwell (Founder of Island Records, Palm Pictures). Participants in the project include Michael Stipe, Kurt Vonnegut, Tom Robbins, Dennis Hopper, Brian Eno, Stewart Copeland and Asha Bhosle, among many others.


Ted Demme, Director, Dies at 33

Director Ted Demme died this past January after suffering a heart attack at a celebrity basketball in Santa Monica, CA.

After debuting with Who’s the Man in 1993, the director followed up with Beautiful Girls, Life, Snitch, and The Ref. In addition to his big screen directing efforts, his work on the small screen included several episodes of Homicide: Life on the Streets.

At the time of his death, the director, who was the nephew of director Jonathan Demme, was in pre-production on Nautica with Ewan McGregor and Heath Ledger. He was also working with director Richard LeGravenese on an IFC documentary about American filmmaking in the 1970s, which will be released by IFC Films prior to airing on the channel next year.


ITVS Elects New Executive Committee

The Independent Television Service (ITVS) has elected a new Executive Committee. The group consists of the following board officers: Chair: Kevin Martin, Chief Operating Officer for KERA/KDTN in Dallas, Texas; Vice Chair: Cynthia Gehrig, President of the Jerome Foundation; Treasurer: Kristine Samuelson, Professor and Chair of the Department of Communication, Stanford University; Secretary: Juanita Anderson, Emmy Award-winning writer, director and executive producer; at-large: Mary Pruess; Chief Content Officer and General Manager for WHRO in Norfolk, Virginia; and Lillian Jiminez, Executive Director of the Latino Educational Media Center.

Departing Board Members are Pat Aufderheide, Professor of Communication at American University; David Haugland, Academy Award®-nominated producer and director and former IDA President; and Julia Pimsleur, producer and founder of Big Mouth Productions.