May 31, 2004

Short Takes, May 2004


I.M. Pei's Return to China Subject of New Doc by Anne Makepeace

Renowned architect I.M. Pei's return to his ancestral home of Suzhou, China, to design a new museum will be the focus of a prime-time documentary projected to air in 2006 on public television.

Award-winning filmmaker Anne Makepeace (Robert Capa in Love and War) will shoot Building China Modern: I.M Pei and the Transformation of an Ancient City. She will document the story of how the 86 year-old Pei, one of the world's greatest living architects, is returning with sons Sandi and Didi Pei to lead the design team of a modern, world-class museum, plan the development of the surrounding urban space and landscape the garden sites.

Said Pei in a statement, "It is my biggest challenge. It is probably also my last challenge." In addition to being significant because it is Pei's last major undertaking, the project is also important because it represents Pei passing the torch in the architectural firm Pei Partnership to his sons.

Pacem Productions, a Los Angeles-based production company, began filming in the spring of 2002. Production resumed most recently in November 2003, when the crew accompanied the Peis and members of the design team to Suzhou and filmed for two weeks. Final shooting is scheduled for the end of 2005. According to Pacem principal Eugene Shirley, the company hopes this will be the first of many collaborative projects based in China.

Busy Season for First Run

First Run Features has been active on the documentary front. The company acquired both Ross McElwee's newest documentary Bright Leaves, which it plans to release in summer 2004, and Amie Siegel's Empathy, a hybrid of documentary and fiction that explores the relationships between psychoanalysts and their patients. Bright Leaves premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and has played at the AFI Film Festival and the New York Film Festival. In the film, McElwee mines the social, economical and psychological terrain of the tobacco heartland as he journeys across North Carolina and fences with the legacy of his great-grandfather, who created the famous brand of tobacco known as "Bull Durham." Empathy had its US theatrical debut with a self-released run at New York's Film Forum in January, where according to indieWire, it grossed $33,000 in its two-week run.

First Run opened Jacques Sarasin's I'll Sing For You (Je Chanterai Pour Toi) in New York in April. The film tells the story of Boubacar Traoré, the "Malian Elvis," who introduced The Twist to the West African nation of Mali, and then subsequently disappeared and was later rediscovered.

Showtime Acquires Tribute

Coming soon to a television near you...Kris Curry and Rich Fox's Tribute has been picked up by Showtime Networks for an exclusive two-year run. The film, popular on the festival circuit, is about tribute bands.

Docurama Acquires Five Sundance Festival Faves 

DVD label Docurama, the only distributor exclusively dedicated to documentaries in the home entertainment marketplace, has announced the acquisition of several Sundance Film Festival hits, including Judith Helfand and Daniel B. Gold's Blue Vinyl, winner of the 2002 Sundance Cinematography Award; My Flesh And Blood , from director Jonathan Karsh, which won the 2003 Audience and Director's Awards; Rob Fruchtman and Rebecca Cammisa's Sister Helen, which won the 2002 Director's Award; Sam Green and Bill Siegel's The Weather Underground, which screened at Sundance in 2003 and which later snared an Academy Award nomination; and When the Mountains Tremble, Pamela Yates and Newton Thomas Sigel's 1992 Special Jury Prize winner. The films will all be released on DVD and VHS in 2004 and early 2005.

 Said New Video's Steve Savage in a prepared statement, "With these latest acquisitions that we're announcing, we're adding some great films to our already award-winning catalog of Sundance doc favorites such as Brother's Keeper, Southern Comfort and Children Underground, as we continue to build Docurama as a vital and progressive DVD distributor of documentary films."


Columbia University Announces duPont Awards

Columbia University has announced this year's winners of the duPont-Columbia University Awards for broadcast journalism. In all, thirteen silver batons for excellence in television and radio journalism were awarded to local stations, networks, radio, cable and independently produced programs that aired in the United States between July 1, 2002, and June 30, 2003.

The documentary winners included FRONTLINE: A Dangerous Business (PBS—Neil Docherty and David Rummel, prods.; David Barstow and Lowell Bergman, rptrs.; Lowell Bergman, David Rummel and Linda MacIntyre, wtrs.), an hour-long investigation of accidents at foundries owned by McWane, Inc.; FRONTLINE: Failure to Protect: The Taking of Logan Marr, The Caseworker Files, and A National Dialogue (PBS—Barak Goodman, prod.wtr.; Rachel Dretzin and Muriel Soenens, prods.; Fred Friendly Seminars, co-prods.), a three-hour series examining problems in the US child welfare system; FRONTLINE: Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero (PBS—Helen Whitney, prod./dir./wtr.), a two-hour documentary probing the impact of September 11, 2001, on spirituality; LaLee's Kin: The Legacy of Cotton (HBO-Susan Froemke, prod./dir.; Deborah Dickson, Albert Maysles, dirs.), a 90-minute documentary probing the relationship between poverty and education; and P.O.V.: Two Towns of Jasper (PBS-Whitney Dow and Marco Williams, prods.dirs.), a 90-minute documentary on race in America.

The duPont Awards, administered since 1968 by Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism, are considered the broadcast equivalent of the Pulitzer Prizes, which the journalism school also administers.


The Audience Choice Award for best documentary feature film at the Palm Springs International Film Festival went to Job Fab and Elliot Berlin's Paper Clips.

Lorenzo DeStefano's Los Zafiros—Music From the Edge of Time was awarded the Gold Medal For Excellence—Best Music Documentary at the 2004 Park City Film Music Festival.

The Berlin Film Festival presented the Best Documentary Award to Andrew Horn's The Nomi Song.

Byambasuren Davaa and Luigi Falorni's The Story of the Weeping Camel, Mongolia's first-ever entry for Oscar consideration for Best Foreign Language film, won the grand jury prize for best documentary at the Miami International Film Festival. Laura Gabbert's Sunset Story garnered the grand jury special citation for best documentary.

Sunsets were also popular at the Santa Barbara Film Festival, where George Hickenlooper's Mayor of the Sunset Strip was named best documentary. The Audience Award for best documentary went to Rick McKay's Broadway: The Golden Age.

The Audience Award for Best Documentary at the Sarasota Film Festival was presented to Lindsay Crystal for her My Uncle Berns. The film explores the life of her artistic uncle from his rough childhood to his memories of D-Day, and recently surviving September 11th in his nursing home just blocks away from the Twin Towers.


Peters Says Good-Bye to AIVF After Five Years

Elizabeth Peters, the executive director of the Association of Video & Filmmakers (AIVF/FIVF), left the organization in April after five years with the organization.

During her tenure, AIVF grew in membership, service and advocacy impact; strengthened their internal structure and rolled out a number of important programs. Said Peters in a statement, "I'm proud of what I've accomplished here and I think it's a good time for a change...I think this transition provides an exciting opportunity for AIVF: a chance to bring in somebody with new energy and new vision, to build from where we are and carry the organization forward into its 30th year."

Strauss and Nevins Upped at HBO

Chris Albrecht, Chairman/CEO of HBO Entertainment, announced that Sheila Nevins has been upped to President/HBO Documentary and Family, and Carolyn Strauss has been upped to President/HBO Entertainment. Both were formerly executive vice presidents of original programming.

Said Albrecht when making the announcement, "Carolyn and Sheila have made extraordinary contributions to our programming over many years. Their creative instincts have been instrumental to our success and I wanted to acknowledge that with these promotions."

Nevins is responsible for overseeing the development and production of all documentaries and family programming for HBO and Cinemax and their multiplex channels. During her tenure as executive vice president of original programming, HBO's critically acclaimed documentary and family programs won numerous awards, including 18 Prime Time Emmy Awards, 32 News and Documentary Emmys and 18 George Foster Peabody Awards, including a Personal Peabody for her outstanding work in Documentary and Family Programming. She also executive-produced 12 Academy Award-winning documentaries. She has been with HBO since 1979.

Wellspring Acquired by American Vantage Media

Wellspring Media, known for its distribution of documentaries and foreign films, has been acquired by Las Vegas-based entertainment and media company American Vantage Media, as reported in Wellspring parent Al Cattabiani will stay on board, along with the current staff of 50. American Vantage's parent, AVCS, recently acquired Hypnotic Media, the multi-media production and distribution company formed by feature film director Doug Liman and producer Dave Bartis. Hypnotic, based in Los Angeles and New York, has a television development and production deal with Warner Bros. TV, with whom it currently co-produces the hit television series 'The O.C.' for Fox Broadcasting.

American Vantage Media was formed by AVCS to specifically focus on the entertainment and media industries as part of the company's overall strategy to expand into areas of interest in the gaming, entertainment, media and lifestyle industries.


Former ITVS Director of Production Dies at Age 36 From Cancer

Patrick Stephen Wickham, director of contract policy and digital initiatives and former director of production at Independent Television Service (ITVS) passed away on February 17 in San Francisco after a six-month struggle with cancer. Wickham had been on staff at ITVS for 13 years, joining the organization shortly after it was founded in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1991.

At ITVS, Wickham worked with PBS and other production and distribution entities on behalf of independent producers on issues such as expanded contract rights in the multi-channel environment. He also supervised new media contract issues for projects such as the ITVS Web series Electric Shadows and the weekly PBS Series Independent Lens. Prior to his most recent duties, Wickham served as ITVS' director of production from 2000-2003.

Said ITVS President Sally Jo Fifer, "It is with deep sadness that we grieve the loss of our extraordinary colleague Patrick Wickham. His contributions over the past 13 years were enormous. He had a special gift that made filmmakers know they had someone in their corner, helping them succeed....More than anything, we will remember his keen intelligence and his tremendous wit. Our thoughts and condolences are with his wife, Kristi, and his family during this difficult time."

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Heifer Foundation at or to Kids in Development Society at 415.885.0660.

Mary-Ellis Bunim, "Mother of Reality TV," Dies at 57

Television producer Mary-Ellis Bunim passed away in January at the age of 57 from cancer. Bunim and her business partner, Jonathan Murray, created the MTV series The Real World in 1992, which was the first of many shows to feature non-actors in supposedly non-scripted situations.

Bunim and Murray's television credits include Road Rules, The Love Cruise, Making the Band, The Real Cancun and The Simple Life. Before working with Murray, Bunim served as executive producer of soap operas Search for Tomorrow, As the World Turns, Santa Barbara and Loving. She worked in local television news in Atlanta, Cleveland and Rochester, NY.

Memorial donations may be made to the National Breast Cancer Coalition Fund.