May 31, 2005

Short Takes, May 2005


Sundance Channel Partners with Docurama

Sundance Channel and Docurama, the only all-documentary label on DVD, have made a deal to launch the Sundance Channel Home Entertainment Documentary Collection. Currently, the plan is to release six titles a year culled from both original productions and acquisitions which have aired on the Sundance Channel.

At press time, The First Amendment Project, a series of films exploring contemporary issues surrounding the First Amendment, was to have been released on April 26. The Project is the first-ever programming partnership between Sundance Channel and Court TV. The DVD will include three films from the series: Chris Hegedus and Nick Doob's Fox vs. Franken, Mario Van Peebles' Poetic License and John Walter's Some Assembly Required.

Said Sundance Channel Home Entertainment Vice President Mike Haney in a statement, "Extending the Sundance Channel brand into the home entertainment market with a documentary line enables us to deepen our commitment to the genre."

Academy Screens Marshall Plan Films

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences presented a series of 25 Marshall Plan films in April in Los Angeles and at the Washington, DC Film Festival, following successful retrospectives at the Berlin Film Festival and the New York Film Festival this past October. There was been interest in the "Selling Democracy" series from other cities around the country, and a new slate of films will definitely play at the 2006 Berlinale.

Over 200 films were produced with Marshall Plan funds, and designed to show the people of Western Europe how the plan was helping to rebuilt their countries. "They're amazing short documentary/propaganda pieces, and most have never been seen in the United States," says Academy Film Archive Documentary Curator Ed Carter. "The archive has a collection of about 100 titles, many of them rare or unique, and we've begun an ambitious preservation program on many of the films."


Discovery Asia Commissions Hi-Def Singapore Doc

Discovery Networks Asia has commissioned UK-based Lion Television to produce a High Definition documentary series to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Singapore's founding.

Entitled History of Singapore, the series will look at the island country's growth from fishing village to its modern-day nation. Four one-hour episodes will be shot entirely on HD.


Wellspring and Court TV Identify With Unknown White Male

As reported in, Wellspring and Court TV have acquired the US rights to Rupert Murray's doc Unknown White Male, which debuted at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival.

The film tells the story of Doug Bruce, who went through sudden, profound amnesia. The director knew Bruce before the amnesia and filmed him as he traveled back to Europe to meet family and friends for the first time.

Said producers Beadie Finzi and Rupert Murray in a statement, "The film explores what it is like to have a second chance at life and examines the role that memory plays in making us who we are."

Wellspring will distribute the film theatrically and on DVD, while Court TV holds the exclusive TV rights.

Voices in Wartime Network and Cinema Libre Partner on Doc and Awareness Campaign

The Voices in Wartime Network and Cinema Libre Distribution have announced the launch of a nationwide campaign to raise public awareness about the psychological injuries suffered by veterans and civil victims of war.

The campaign will be led by the April 2005 opening of the doc feature Voices in Wartime, which explores the history, heroism, terror and emotional impact of war, from ancient Babylonia to the current conflict in Iraq. Philippe Diaz, president of Cinema Libre, commented on the crossover potential of the film because of its wide scope. "We all care about healing the wounds of war and supporting returning veterans, no matter how we feel about the war itself."

Voices in Wartime Network, a Seattle-based nonprofit organization, was conceived during the process of making the film, and is dedicated to enabling people to engage in a worldwide dialogue to address the collective trauma caused by war and to express themselves artistically while doing so.

John Henry Parker, founder of, said in a statement, "We need to get it right this time. When our soldiers suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, our entire society is affected and we all pay the price."

Currently, plans for the campaign includes hundreds of house parties, and local networks of veterans, poets, artists, doctors and educators.


Sundance Channel Acquires Staircase

Sundance Channel has picked up the eight-part documentary series The Staircase, Jean-Xavier de Lestrade's investigation into the death of Nortel executive Kathleen Peterson in Durham, North Carolina.

At press time, the film was scheduled to begin its run on the Channel on April 4, 2005, as part of the channel's DOCday nonfiction block. Two episodes will air back-to-back every Monday night at 9:00 p.m.

PBS Begins Production on Texas Ranch House

Continuing its series of historical reality shows like 1900 House and The 1940s House, PBS is making its next foray into historical living with Texas Ranch House. The eight-part series will challenge 20 participants to experience life as it was in the Old West.

PBS and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting have committed funding to Texas Ranch House. The series is being produced by Thirteen/WNET New York and Wall to Wall Inc.

"We're exploring the dynamics of America's multi-ethnic past, delving into the relationship between those diverse individuals who founded the young state of Texas, all the while dispelling the romantic stereotypes of life on the open range in the Old West," said Jody Sheff, Thirteen/WNET New York's executive producer of history programs, in a statement. "And, what's more, it's going to be a hell of a lot of fun along the way!"

Facets, Docurama Announce Spring Doc Releases

Facets Video will release two films by celebrated Russian filmmaker Alexander Sokurov. Spiritual Voices: From the Military Diaries (1995) and Confession: From the Commander's Diary represent the director's daring approach to the documentary format.

Docurama presented a special 20th Anniversary Collectors Edition DVD in March of Partisans of Vilna, a chronicle of the amazing endeavors of Jewish Resistance fighters in Vilna (today the capital of Lithuania) during World War II. Co-written by director Josh Waletzky and producer Aviva Kempner, the award-winning film blends songs, newsreels and archival footage with interviews of over 40 Holocaust survivors.

Docurama will also release the Sundance award-winner Blue Vinyl, Judith Helfand and Daniel B. Gold's "toxic comedy" about the harmful effects of polyvinyl chloride, aka PVC.


77th Annual Academy Awards

Documentary Feature: Born Into Brothels; Dirs./Prods.: Ross Kauffman and Zana Briski.

Documentary Short Subject: Mighty Times: The Children's March; Dirs./Prods.: Robert Hudson and Bobby Houston

American Cinema Editors Award for Best Edited Documentary

Riding Giants (Paul Crowder)

11th Annual Independent Spirit Awards

Presented by Independent Feature Project/West.

Best Documentary: Bruce Sinofsky and Joe Berlinger's Metallica: Some Kind of Monster
DirecTV/Truer Than Fiction Award: Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman for Born Into Brothels. The award includes a $20,000 unrestricted cash prize.

Writers Guild of America Documentary Screenplay Award

Morgan Spurlock for Super Size Me

American Library Association's 2005 Notable Films for Adults

This annual list recognizes non-feature titles that expand viewer knowledge on new or difficult topics; contribute to the resolution of contemporary problems and expand the boundaries of visual media and artistic and technical merit.

Bonnie Kreps' Arctic Dance: The Mardy Murie Story; LisaGay Hamilton's Beah: A Black Woman Speaks; Tracy Droz Tragos' Be Good, Smile Pretty; Carlos Sandoval and Catherine Tambini's Farmingville; Joan E. Biren's No Secret Anymore; Cathleen Foster's Point of Attack; Stanley Nelson's A Place of Our Own; Thomas Riedelsheimer's Rivers and Tides: Andy Goldsworthy Working with Time; Cynthia Wade's Shelter Dogs; Morgan Spurlock's Super Size Me; Sandi Simcha Dubowski's Trembling Before G-d; Ed Bell and Thomas Lennon's Unchained Memories; Richard Ray Perez and Joan Sekler's Unprecedented: The 2000 Presidential Election (2004 Campaign Edition); Sam Green and Bill Siegel's The Weather Underground; and Anke Mebold, Dennis Doros and John Canemaker's Winsor McCay

Corporation for Public Broadcasting's America at a Crossroads Initiative

The first round of research and development grants have been awarded to the following 10 production teams:

-The Anti-Americans (Louis Alvarez and Andrew Kolker, Center for New American Media, New York)
-Arab Democrats (Andrew Walworth and David C. Taylor, New River Media, Washington, DC; Phil Day, London; and Dr. Joshua Muravchik, AEI, Washington, DC)
-The Arab Predicament (Zvi Dor Ner and Mark Davis, WGBH Educational Foundation, Boston.)
The Day We Chose the Future (Paula Apsell, NOVA/WGBH, Boston)
-Danger Zone (Richard Carlson and Barbara Newman, Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, and Tulip Hill Productions, Washington, DC)
-Democracy in Iran (Aviva Kempner, Ciesla Foundation, Washington, DC)
-Ex-Extremists (Charles Stuart, Stuart Television Productions, Concord, Mass. and WNPT, Nashville)
-Feeling at Home in America (Alan and Susan Raymond, Video Vérité, Philadelphia)
-Inside the American Empire with Robert Kaplan (WETA, Washington, D.C. and 3BM Productions, London)
-In the Eye of the Beholder: News Coverage of the Middle East (Diana Frank, Michelle Genece, Mindfire Productions, New York)
-Invasion! (Timothy Smith and Brian Berger, Docere Palace Studios, LLP, New York, in association with Granada America, New York, and the Washington Post Company, Washington, DC)
-Islam vs. Islamism (Martyn Burke, Frank Gaffney and Alex Alexiev, ABG Films Inc., Los Angeles)
Jihad (William Cran and Clive Syddall, Paladin Invision, London)
Masika Al Arabiva El Enteshar Se Amerika (Arab Music Succeeding in America) (Miles Copeland and Jonathan Brandeis, Firstars, Hollywood)
The Muslim Brotherhood (Steve Hewlett, MSRM Productions, Washington, DC and London)
The Mosque in Morgantown (Brittany Huckabee of Boston)
Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience (Richard Robbins, PJ Productions, New York and WETA, Washington, DC)
-Picture War (Stanley Nelson, Firelight Media Inc., New York)
-Religion in US Prisons (Ginny Durrin, Durrin Productions, Washington, DC)
-The Road from Baghdad (David Fanning, WGBH, Boston and Martin Smith, Marcela Gavrina, Rain Media, New York)
Security Versus Liberty: The Other War (Jennifer Lawson, WHUT, Washington, DC, and Lisa Zeff, ABC News Productions, New York)
-Spain's 9/11 (Philip Marlow and Phil Craig, Brook Lapping Productions, London and Dr. Jeffrey Gedmin, the Aspen Institute, Berlin)
The Trial of Saddam Hussein (Daniel Polin and Kenneth Mandel, Great Projects Film Company, New York)
The Trouble with Islam (Gordon Henderson, 90th Parallel Films and Television Productions LTD, Ontario, Canada)


2005 Bangkok International Film Festival

-Golden Kinnaree winner for Best Documentary: Born Into Brothels.
Documentary Special Mention:  Touch The Sound (Dir; Thomas Riedelsheimer) received a special mention for "giving inspiration through sound and artistic treatment."
Documentary Special Mention: Final Solution (Dir.: Rakesh Sharma) received a special mention "for the courage of reflecting realitites." 

Santa Barbara Film Festival

The Fund for Santa Barbara Social Justice Award for Documentary Film and the Audience Award for Documentary Film: Homeland: Four Portraits of Native Action (Dir.: Roberta Grossman)

Miami International Film Festival

-Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary, World & Ibero-American Cinema Competition: Scott Dalton and Margarita Martinez's La Sierra (Colombia)
Special Jury Prize: Raising Social Awareness, and Audience Award-Documentary Feature: Keith A. Beauchamp's The Untold Story of Emmett  Louis Till (US)
Special Jury Prize: Cinematography: Marcos Prado's Estamira ( Brazil)

FESPACO 2005: The PanAfrican Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou

Eight films were chosen as finalists for in the Paul Robeson Award Initiative (PRAI): Stanley Nelson's Raise Your Voice, Shola Lynch's Chisholm '72: Unbought & Unbossed, LisaGay Hamilton's Beah: A Black Woman Speaks, Lillian E. Benson's All Our Sons: Fallen Heroes of 9/11, Eric Kabera's Keepers of Memory, S. Pearl Sharp's The Healing Passage/Voices from the Water, Rhonda Haynes' Bringing in Da Spirit and Donnie Betts' Music is My Life, Politics My Mistress: The Oscar Brown Jr. Story. The first three directors listed attended FESPACO by official invitation.
William Greaves and St. Clair Bourne, who did not have films in competition, were also invited to attend the festival.


NATPE Announces Co-Chairs

As reported by, Granada America's president, Stephen J. Davis, and John Weiser, Sony Pictures Television president of distribution, have been nominated to a second term as co-chairpersons of National Association of Television Producers and Executives (NATPE).

A number of new board members were also announced. Those serving their freshman term include Rich Battista, chief executive officer, Gemstar-TV Guide International Inc.; Robert Chua, founder and chairman of Hong Kong-based The Interactive Channel Company; Peggy Green, president of broadcast for Zenith Media Services; Russ Kagan, managing director, Proteus; David Katz, senior vice president, strategic planning and interactive ventures for CBS Television; Rebecca Segal, senior vice president, Sky Networks; Blair Westlake, corporate vice president, media/entertainment and technology convergence group, Microsoft Corporation; and Ed Wilson, president, FOX Network.   

Bravo Adds Introcaso-Davis, Cohen and Serwatka to Staff

Bravo is expanding its production and development staff as a result of its expanded original programming efforts. Amy Introcaso-Davis has been appointed vice president of development and production. Andrew Cohen, vice production of original programming at TRIO, has been named vice president of production and programming for Bravo. David Serwatka, director of documentary programming at TRIO, has been named director of production and programming for Bravo. Both Cohen and Serwatka will retain their positions at TRIO.

Lyle to Head New Fox Reality Channel

As reported by, David Lyle has been named the chief operating officer and general manager for the Fox Reality Channel, a new US cable channel dedicated to the reality TV genre. The channel is set to launch in 2005.

Prior to his new appointment, Lyle was at FremantleMedia North America, which he exited in January 2005. Before FMNA, he was worldwide head of acquisition and development at Pearson TV in London, and prior to that head of acquisitions at Nine in Sydney.