May 1, 1995

Short Takes, May / June 1995

Discovery's New Launch

Discovery Communications, Inc., the parent company of the Discovery Channel, has announced the creation of Dis­covery Pictures, which will develop and produce feature-length, family-oriented nonfiction films for worldwide theatrical release in both 35mm and giant-screen format. The new division will envelop and expand upon the Discovery Productions Unit, the five-year-old documentary section that produces a broad range of original specials and series.

Heading Discovery Pictures will be IDA members Denise Baddour, senior vice president and general manager, and Tim Cowling, senior vice president and executive producer, who have worked together for five years in the de­sign, development, and implementation of DPU projects. Their work has garnered numerous awards, including 10 Emmys, 3 CableACEs, 3 Peabodys, and more than 80 other national and international awards.

Discovery Pictures' releases, with a particular emphasis on nature films and strong narrative storylines, will showcase films geared to family audiences, starting with its first release, The Leopard Son, in the spring of 1996. The new division's first large-format film (IMAX), on the elephants of Africa, is scheduled for release in 1998 and will be distributed in theaters, museums, and other special venues around the world.

The announcement arrives on the eve of Discovery's tenth anniversary. The idea for a 24-hour, all-documentary cable channel came to Discovery founder John Hendricks, ad hoc devotee, as he was following the cable deregulation debates in 1984. With seed money from investment banker Herbert Allen, Discovery was launched in June 1985. Today Discovery has grown from an adventurous programming gamble to a multifaceted doc production and distribution empire. Its holdings include the Discovery Channel, the fifth-largest cable web in the United States, and the Learning Chan­nel, the 20th largest cable subscriber, as well as Discovery Channels in Europe, Latin America, Asia, Canada, and New Zealand. Plans are in the works to bring Discovery to China, India, Australia, and South Africa.

In Remembrance

Documentary filmmaker and cameraman Ernest Nukanen, whose work took him from the North Pole to the tropical forests of Surinam, died February 26 at his home in Belfast, Maine. He was 75 and had been in failing health for some time.

Nukanen went to the North Pole in 1957 to document a return expedition by Lowell Thomas, Peter Freuchen, Admiral Donald MacMillan, and Sir Hubert Wilkins. He traveled to the tropical forests of Surinam to film and produce Journey to Chilane, a documentary on the life of the Oynanan Indians. As a combat cameraman he covered the U.S. Marine landing in the Dominican Republic in 1965 as well as the fighting in Vietnam and Cambodia for ABC News. One of the first teachers of documentary film tech­niques at USC, he taught there from 1979 until 1991.