November 1, 2001

Short Takes, November 2001


Pacific Film Archive to Receive IDA Preservation and Scholarship Award

The Pacific Film Archive (PFA), an internationally recognized center for the exhibition and study of cinema, has been the named the recipient of the 2001 IDA Preservation and Scholarship Award. The Pacific Film Archive, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, is headquartered at University of California, Berkeley. The archive’s collection includes over 7,000 titles, with selections from Soviet and eastern European cinema, American experimental cinema, video art of the 1970s, and the largest collection of Japanese cinema outside of Japan. The archive focuses its preservation activities on independent and experimental film, with a particular emphasis on works by Bay Area filmmakers.

The Pacific Film Archive also presents daily exhibition programs that showcase the work of a particular filmmakers or the cinema of a particular region in the world, or that explore specific topics. Finally, the PFA Library and Study Center provides film information resources and services.

Previous recipients of the IDA Preservation and Scholarship Award include The Film Foundation, George Eastman House, National Film Board of Canada and the Film Department of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Academy is Moved to Donate

In its largest-ever donation, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Board of Governors announced that it would contribute one million dollars to aid the victims of the September 11th tragedy. Usually, media arts organizations receive funding from AMPAS; however, according to AMPAS President Frank Pierson, “The timing seemed right. It seemed like a good time to expand our scope a bit.”

Healthy Expansion for Discovery

This past September, Discovery Networks International (DNI), the global programming and distribution of Discovery Communications, Inc., expanded its presence in the Canadian market with four new digital channels, including Animal Planet, Discovery Civilization, Discovery Health Channel and Discovery Kids. These four channels join Discovery Channel, TLC and Discovery Wings to make a total of seven Discovery brands available.

Also in September, DCI acquired Discovery Health Channel’s principal competitor, The Health Network, from Fox Cable Networks Group, a division of the Fox Entertainment Group. Said Judith A. McHale, DCI president and chief operating officer, in a prepared statement, “We launched Discovery Health Channel in 1999 in the belief that the health category had tremendous consumer and advertising potential…two years later, Discovery Health Channel is undoubtedly the world’s premier media and entertainment brand for health, medicine and wellness, and this purchase consolidates DCI’s position as the number one health network in the world.”


The Cold War and Beyond Looks at Contemporary Global Geo-Politics

In the wake of the attack on America, the newest project for veteran documentarian Jim Thebaut (The Iceman for HBO; Bad Cops and Execution at Midnight for A&E) has gained a particularly chilling relevancy. On September 11, Thebaut was on location in Moscow shooting The Cold War and Beyond, a two-hour documentary on the history of the Cold War and the legacy it has left the world.

Differing from the 24 hour-long Cold War series that aired on CNN a few years ago, Thebaut’s piece specifically focuses on the history of the arms race, looking at both the events that took place during the Cold War period and the world’s current perilous situation in terms of the build-up of weapons of mass destruction. In 1945, there were only three such weapons; by the beginning of the new millennium, there were over 60,000 nuclear weapons in existence. Thebaut examines how that happened, and what it means for the world now that the technology used in the development of these weapons is in the hands of rogue states and smaller countries in the wake of the break up of the Soviet Union and the collapse of the Warsaw pact.

The exploration of current world geo-political scenarios resulting from the Cold War arms race was a focus of the doc even before the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. For example, the film explores how economics factors into the growth of terrorism. Because of the current precarious financial situation throughout Eastern Europe, dying as a martyr can be much more attractive than living in poverty. The Russians currently live in fear of terrorism on a daily basis; the southern border of Russia is lined with countries that are breeding terrorists.

Thebaut interviewed Dmitri Rogozin, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee of the Russian State in the Duma (Russia’s equivalent to the US House of Representatives) a few days after the Attack on America. Rogozin said that perhaps the September 11th tragedy could have been averted if Russia and the United States had had a closer working relationship, and that perhaps in the future the two countries might even one day become partners in dealing with terrorists. At one time, this statement would have seemed a preposterous when describing two countries who still have thousands of nuclear missiles aimed at one another. However, says Thebaut, “The Russians couldn’t have been more gracious. If there’s a silver lining in any of this, it was in how the Russians responded. ‘Fortress America’ was penetrated and that’s a big deal for people around the world – we’re all vulnerable.” During his interview with Thebaut, Rogozin similarly remarked that all you needed to do was go out to the US Embassy in Moscow and see all the flowers there to know the Cold War was over.

Public television stations KOCE of Orange County, Calif., and KLVX of Las Vegas, have partnered with the nonprofit organization The Chronicles Group to develop, broadcast and distribute the piece. Thebaut and Ed Dunford, former president of TRW, are executive producing. In addition to airing during prime time, the filmmakers hope that schools will use the piece as well. Says Thebaut, “There’s a generation [that] doesn’t really know about the Cold War, [that] thinks it was all a big misunderstanding. We had some really tense times.” In addition to the documentary itself, the producers are planning on making available to schools all of the interviews they have shot with such political luminaries as former US President Gerald Ford; former CIA Director Robert M. Gates; Henry Kissinger; Roland Timerbaev, Soviet Arms Control; and Valentin Berezhkov, interpreter for Stalin and Molotov. The film also features rare footage and photography from the Nixon Library and the Russian information Agency Novosti.

King of the Hill

Reel Films recently completed production on its first documentary feature, Togbe. The doc tells the story of Henk Otte, an unemployed construction worker living on disability in the projects of Amsterdam. In 1995, when he traveled to the impoverished village of Mepe in Ghana to meet his wife’s family, a tribal elder had a vision of a white man from abroad who would be a reincarnation of their beloved king and would help save the town from its economic plight. Charmed by Mepe and its people, Otte became genuinely interested in helping in the village’s development and was soon crowned chief, or Togbe.

According to co-director Rob Aitro, Togbe, is the story of a simple man whose life was given new meaning by the citizens of a country worlds from his own. Reel Films was formed by five alumni of New York University’s film school.

Five Producers Academy Fellows Awarded

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) and the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) awarded their first five Producers Academy Fellows. Aimed at nurturing public television’s next generation of creative talent, the fellowship recipients are given the opportunity to work with some of public television’s best producers. In addition, 20 people were chosen to receive Producers Academy Stipends to attend the Independent Feature Project Market this past September.

Fellowship recipients and producer pairings and programs are as follows: Celeste Crenshaw, Thirteen/WNET with EGG the arts show; Paula Gauthier, Oregon Public Broadcasting and ABC Nightline on LIFE 360; R. Shawn Kelly, Lyrick Studios, Barney & Friends; Rob Rapley, Public Affairs Television and Thomas Lennon Films, Becoming American: The Chinese Experience; and Van Dora Williams, American Experience and Roja Productions, ML King, Jr. Film Project.


DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus were honored in September with the Woodstock Film Festival’s Honorary Maverick Award.

The 5th Annual Backyard National Children’s Film Festival chose 14 finalists in its competition for aspiring young filmmakers aged 18 and younger. The films will be screened this month at the festival held at the Los Angeles Center Studios in downtown Los Angeles. The finalists are as follows: Elementary School: Kyle Deasy, 70 Feet Down Under; Rachel Jackson, Rachel’s Thoughts; Sureya Melkonian, Velveteen Hagfish; Middle School: Nick Corirossi, Spiddles; Laura Grogan, Sharks: The Real Deal; Ned Myerberg, Daniel’s Watches; Brenna Simonson, The Legend of Old Maid’s Brook; High School: Kenny Abdo, Comic Relief; Kellen Blair, Teeth; Eric Forrest, The Whale; Christian Heidicker, Open; Jonathan Kane, Coming Soon; High School Special Jury Prize: Karl Block, Everything In Its Place; and Brad Schaffer, Human in a Box.

The Creative Arts Primetime Emmy Awards were announced in September. The winners include: Nonfiction Special: Scottsboro: An American Tragedy; Nonfiction Series: American Masters: Finding Lucy; Nonfiction Program (Reality): American High; Nonfiction Program (Special Class) and Sound Editing for a Nonfiction Program: Survivor; Cinematography for Nonfiction Programming: Land of the Mammoth; and Picture Editing for Nonfiction Programming: Living Dolls: The Making of a Child Beauty Queen.

Janice Sakamoto was recently named the recipient of the 2001 Steve Tatsukawa Memorial Fund Award in recognition of her 18 years of contributions as a media advocate for the Asian Pacific community and a key staff member of the National Asian American Telecommunications Association (NAATA). The award was established to recognize those who carry on Tatsukawa’s legacy of commitment to community service and the advancement of the Asian Pacific media arts.


Liz Manne Moves On

After nearly four years, Liz Manne stepped down from her post as executive vice president of programming and marketing at the Sundance Channel this past summer amid company restructuring. The channel underwent enormous growth during Manne’s tenure, becoming a show case for specialty filmmakers and a viable alternative to theatrical distribution. Manne did not announce immediate future plans.


American High producer Jonathan Mednick dies at 39

IDA member Jonathan Mednick passed away this past summer of a brain aneurysm. Part of the team of producers on the PBS series American High, Mednick was posthumously awarded an Emmy for his work on the show. His IDA activities included serving on the IDA Television Magazine segment awards committee. Susan Berry, IDA’s former East Coast coordinator, remembers him fondly. “He was a huge help to me and was genuinely kind, thoughtful and generous. Any question I had, he was there for me.”