May 1, 2001

Short Takes, May 2001

…in likewise every lusty heart that is in any manner a lover, springeth and flourisheth in lusty deeds. For it giveth unto all lovers courage, that lusty month of May.

—Sir Thomas Malory



Leo Burnett USA Hires Digital Ranch for Army Campaign

Leo Burnett USA, a leading advertising agency, has taken on the Los Angeles production company Digital Ranch to shoot “Basic Training,” a reality-based ad and Web series for the agency’s “An Army of One” campaign. The agency hired Digital Ranch because of its documentary experience and expertise in capturing military operations. Headed by Rob Kirk and Rob Lihani, Digital Ranch has produced more than 200 hours of programming for The History Channel, including the popular Suicide Missions and History’s Mysteries.

Digital Ranch video crews are documenting the progress of six recruits through every step of their nine weeks of basic combat training in South Carolina. The footage will be used by Burnett producer/director Sam Ciaramitaro to create 15 reality-based ads about the recruits’ transformation from civilians to soldiers. The footage is featured on the Army’s new Web site,

BBC Changes Commissioning Guidelines

The BBC announced in March that it would be amending its guidelines on commissioning programs. Henceforth, BBC requires that all proposals include an online and interactive component. “We are now only commissioning projects that have levels of interactivity,” Ashley Highfield, BBC Controller of New Media told DOCtv. “It is no longer viable to take program pitches without interactive elements such as SMS, Internet or interactive TV.” The BBC will also seek to acquire all interactive rights.

Academy Issues New Eligibility Rules for Oscars®

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences announced a few rule modifications for awards eligibility last February. In terms of technical presentation, a film is ineligible is it’s screened on the Web before its qualifying theatrical run. In the short film categories, however, films will be considered in such specialized formats as IMAX or Iwerks if they are made available for Academy voting screenings in Los Angeles County. Previously, the Academy would only accept reduction prints that could be screened in the Academy’s theater. Finally, in the documentary category, films included in the second-round competition are prohibited from advertising themselves as “Academy Award® finalist” or “Academy Award® Short List Film.”

Court TV Commits $140 Million to Programming

Court TV announced in March that it would commit a record $140 million towards programming over the next two years. The channel has enjoyed considerable growth over the past two years in a number of areas, including subscribership, ratings, demographic composition and website hits. Last month Court TV premiered The System, a documentary series that looks at the complex nature of the American justice system. Included in the original programming slate for the 2001-2002 season are Attica, produced by Lumiere Productions, a two-hour account of the 1971 uprising at Attica Prison and the subsequent 30-year quest for justice that was settled only last year; Final Appeal: The US Supreme Court, which will provide an inside look at the inner workings of the Supreme Court; and Secret Service: In the Line of Fire, produced by Partisan Pictures, which details the strategies, tensions and dangers to those who serve in the Secret Service.

USA Cable, Langley to Launch Crime Channel

According to DOCtv, USA Cable will team with IDA Trustee John Langley to establish a new digital channel, Crime. USA Cable also acquired, a Web portal that Langley launched last summer in collaboration with Court TV (see October 2000 ID)., which features information, public safety news and entertainment, will serve as the interactive companion to Crime, which will include original series, reality programs, police dramas and films. Two programs slated for the new channel include CrimeScene, a weekly talk show that will look at the impact of crime on society, and Police Beat, which takes viewers on criminal investigations. Langley is producing both programs.


Quattrone Resigns from Discovery

Former IDA Trustee Mike Quattrone stepped down as general manager and executive vice president of Discovery Channel. According to DOCtv, he was displeased with recent staff changes within the organization. Clark Bunting, current head of Animal Planet and another former IDA trustee, will succeed Quattrone. Mike Quattrone’s wife Kathy Quattrone was recently promoted to executive vice president and general manager of Discovery Health.

PBS Cuts 64 Jobs

In response to the economic slowdown, Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) cut 64 positions, or 8% of its workforce. Concurrently, Jacoba Atlas, Vice President of Programming in Los Angeles, was promoted to joint chief programming executive in charge of nonfiction programming.

Juris Moves Up at AMC

Marc Juris, the executive producer of American Movie Classics’ original series, documentaries and specials, has been named executive vice president and general manager of the cable channel. Juris had also served a senior vice president of original programming, packaging and production for the cable channel.

Deland Elected as CINE’s President

Dalton Delan, executive vice president of the Washington, DC-based PBS affiliate WETA, was named the next president of the Council of International Non-Theatrical Events (CINE); he succeeds Vivian Schiller. Prior to joining WETA, Delan was executive vice president of programming and creative director of the Sundance Channel. He has also worked in programming and development for the Travel Channel, Lifetime Television, HBO and ABC News Closeup Documentary Unit.


First Run Features Picks Up Fighter from Next Wave Films

The Independent Film Channel’s Next Wave Films announced in March that First Run Features had acquired US rights to Fighter, Amir Bar-Lev’s feature-length documentary about two longtime friends—and survivors of the Holocaust and of totalitarian regimes—who take a journey to the scenes of life-or-death confrontations. Fighter has won awards at festivals around the world, including the Hamptons Films Festival, Karlovy Vary, Galway and Newport.

HIQI Media Acquires Static-X Doc

HIQI Media, which specializes in music documentaries, picked up Colin Gray and Megan Raney’s Where the Hell are We & What Day is It?This is Static-X, about the LA-rock band Static-X and its rapid rise to gold record status with its 1999 album Wisconsin Death Trip. HIQI Media was founded by Oren Bitan, former vice president of Seventh Art Releasing. Bitan has handled theatrical releases for such music docs as Better Living Through Circuitry (Jon Reiss) and Meeting People is Easy (Grant Gee).

Doc on Doc-Makers: Pennebaker, Hegedus to Star in The Story of a Generation

Principal photography began in March for a feature-length documentary on the work of pioneer D.A. Pennebaker and his wife Chris Hegedus—a work that spans four decades of filmmaking, from the groundbreaking Primary with Drew Associates (1960), the state-of-the-art Don’t Look Back (1966), the multi-awarded War Room (1993) to the recent, a bracing chronicle of the rise and fall of a dot-com company.

Directed by Mike Dibb, Pennebaker Hegedus Inc.—The Story of a Generation will include excerpts from the Pennebaker/Hegedus oevre, as well as outtakes and experimentals, interviews with the couple and insights from such figures as Norman Mailer, David Bowie, James Carville, Al Maysles and Bob Neuwirth. The film is executive produced by Ulli Pfau of the Germany-based filmvergnuegen GmbH, and produced by Sharyn Prentice. The film is projected to be ready for the festival circuit by January 2002.

Palm Pictures to Distribute Scratch

Palm Pictures has acquired Scratch, Doug Pray’s documentary on the art and artistry of hip-hop club DJs and turntablists. The film was featured at Sundance 2001, South by Southwest, the Cleveland Film Festival and the IFP/West Los Angeles Film Festival. Pray previous film, Hype!, examined Seattle’s grunge music community.

Palm Pictures will team with its Web partner sputnick7 to create a comprehensive theatrical, DVD, home video and Web distribution package. Palm also has a music label.

“I’m thrilled that Scratch will be distributed by a company who so fundamentally understands music and this subculture in particular,” says Pray.

Burns’ JAZZ Doc Spurs Music Sales

Ken Burns’ sprawling JAZZ documentary has surpassed the one million sales mark in CDs of music from the program. The five-CD set has sold over 200,000 copies, while individual collections have sold equally well. Sony Music is distributing the set domestically, while Verve Music Group is handling worldwide sales. In addition JAZZ has helped pump up the market share of the jazz genre from 2.5% to 4.0%.

Actors Studio Series Sold to Canal Plus.

Inside the Actors Studio, the popular interview series that has aired on Bravo, has been picked up by Canal Plus for airing in Scandinavia and key countries in Europe. Cable Ready, the international program distribution and development company, sold the program. The program focuses on the art and craft of film acting and directing.


CINE Honors Mitchell, Filmmakers

Pat Mitchell, President and CEO of PBS, received the CINE Leadership Award at the 42nd CINE Golden Eagle Awards held in February in Washington, DC. CINE also handed out its Master Series Awards, whose nominees are culled from the highest ranked winners of the 2000 Golden Eagle and Eagle winners. Fists of Freedom: The Story of the ’68 Summer Games, submitted by HBO, won in the Broadcast Division; That’s A Family, produced by Debra Chasnoff of Women’s Educational Media, won in the Non-Broadcast Division. The Amateur winner was Judy’s Time, produced by Erin Flannery at USC School of Cinema-Television.

The IFP/West Independent Sprit Award for Best Documentary went to Dark Days— Marc Singer, director. The DirectTV/IFC Truer Than Fiction Award went to Keep the River on the Right: A Modern Cannibal Tale—David Shapiro and Laurie Gwen Shapiro, directors/producers.

The Writers Guild of America awards went to the following: Documentary (Current Events)—FRONTLINE: John Paul II: The Millennial Pope, written by Helen Whitney and Jane Barnes, Helen Whitney Productions, PBS. Documentary (Other Than Current Events)—George Wallace: Settin’ the Woods on Fire (American Experience), written by Steve Fayer, Daniel McCabe and Paul Stekler, Midnight Films, Big House Productions/American Experience, WGBH, PBS. News (Analysis, Feature or Commentary)—Hurricane: Eyewitness to a Storm, written by Glenn Steinfast and Darcy Bonfils, ABC.

The British Royal Television Society announced the winners of the RTS Awards in the documentary and factual categories. And the Awards went to the following programs: Single Documentary—100% White—True Stories, A Diverse Production for Channel Four Television. Documentary Series—15, A Windfall Film Production for Channel Four Television. Documentary Strand—Correspondent, BBC News for BBC Two. Regional Documentary—Spotlight: Capitol Hill, BBC Northern Ireland. Features - Daytime—Watercolour Challenge, A Planet 24 Production for Channel Four Television. Features - Primetime—Big Brother, Bazal (part of Endemol UK Entertainment) or Channel Four Television. Children's Factual—Blue Peter, BBC Children's for BBC One. Arts—Arena: Wisconsin Death Trip, BBC Specialist Factual for BBC Two. Team—Big Brother, Bazal (part of Endemol UK Entertainment) or Channel Four Television. Cyril Bennett Judges' Award—John Willis.

The winners of Germany’s Adolf Grimm Preis 2001 Awards went to the following: Gold Award (Information and Culture)—Un Specialiste, Eyal Sivan, director, for WDR; Political Murders: Murder in the Colonial Style, Thomas Giefer, writer/director, for WDR. Adolf Grimme Award (Information and Culture)—Where The Money Grows, Markus Vetter, writer/director, for SWR; Kamikaze, Klaus Scherer, writer/director, for NDR; The Red Quadrat, Georg M. Hafner, idea/concept, for HR. Special Award—Eutopia, Mosaic Films and Phare et Balise (Colin Luke, Adam Alexander, T.Celal) for La Sept ARTE.


At the Santa Barbara Film Festival, The Fund for Santa Barbara Human Rights Award went to David Blaustein’s Spoils of War, while the Insight Award for best feature documentary went to Agnes Varda’s The Gleaners and I. Greg Marcks’ Lector won the Bruce Corwin Award for best short documentary.

The Audience Award at the Miami Film Festival went to Fernando Trueba’s Latin jazz doc Calle 54.

Monteith McCollum’s Hybrid earned the top documentary feature award at South by Southwest, while Bradley Bessley’s Okie Noodling won the Audience Award in the documentary category, Heather Courtney’s Los Trabajadores (The Workers) won the documentary first film prize, and Ellen Spiro’s Atomic Ed and the Black Hole took the documentary short prize.

At the Cinequest film festival in San Jose, Calif., Todd Robinson’s Amargosa won the Best Documentary Award.

The Banff Television Festival will this year honor Discovery Communications with the Global Television Outstanding Achievement Award.

The Sheffield International Documentary Filmfestival named Sirkka Moeller as festival programmer. She succeeds Alex Cook. Moeller was previously Sales Manager, Documentaries for Telcast International in Munich and had also programmed for the International Leipzig Festival for Documentary and Animation Film.


James Yee, Former Executive Director of ITVS, Dies at 53

James T. Yee, former executive director of Independent Television Service (ITVS) and longtime advocate for independent media producers, died in March at his home in Northern California, after an 18-monmth battle with cancer. He was 53.

Yee headed the San Francisco-based ITVS from 1994 to 2000. ITVS, which receives its funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), was established in 1991 by Congress to increase the diversity of public television programming and address the needs of underserved audiences. Today, ITVS is one of the most active funders and presenters of independent programming in the US.

Yee was a consummate advocate for ITVS and the independent producing community; indeed, he was among the original group of producers who advocated for ITVS’ formation. He guided the organization through a landscape of changing visual formats and funding cuts, which, through his diplomacy, he helped to restore.

Prior to his tenure at ITVS, Yee was the first executive director and co-founder of the National Asian American Telecommunications Association (NAATA), which he headed for 14 years. While at NAATA, he helped raise the profile of Asian Americans on both the small and large screen by funding and presenting Asian American programming on public television.

In addition to his work with ITVS, Yee served on President Clinton’s Advisory Committee on the Public Interest Obligations of Digital Television Broadcasters, and on the boards of the San Francisco Film Commission, Pacifica Radio Foundation, Western Public Radio, KPFA Radio and Film Arts Foundation.

Yee is survived by his wife, their two children, a brother and two sisters.

John Alonzo, ASC, Cameraman for Wolper, Stuart

John Alonzo, whose career as a cinematographer and director started under David Wolper and Mel Stuart, died in March at his home in Los Angeles; he was 66.

Although he worked mainly in narrative features throughout his career, he first learned his craft by working as a cameraman on documentaries for David Wolper and helping Mel Stuart in the editing room. He later helped shoot National Geographic Specials for undersea explorer Jacques Cousteau. Wolper subsequently recommended Alonzo to famed cinematographer James Wong Howe, who hired him for his second unit.

Alonzo later went on to shoot such classics as Vanishing Point, Harold and Maude, Lady Sings the Blues, Scarface and Chinatown, for which he received an Academy Award nomination. He is survived by his wife, and their daughter and son-in-law.


RightsLine Teams with Universal Studios for On-Line Clip and Still Clearance

Universal Studios Consumer Products Group announced in February that it had reached an agreement with RightsLine Inc. to enable its broadcast film clip and still licensing process on the Web. Through RightsLine, everyone from major studios to independent producers will be able to research titles from the Universal television and film libraries, order materials and complete the licensing process from their desktops. Universal is the first major studio to use Internet technology to this end.

The Beverly Hills-based RightsLine, founded in 1999, helps content and property owners to better manage and leverage their intellectual property rights online. RightsLine completed implementation of this partnership last month. Check for yourself at