November 1, 2003

Short Takes, November 2003


Netflix and Docurama Announce Distribution Partnership

Netflix, the world's largest online movie rental service, and Docurama, the only label dedicated solely to documentary films, have announced an exclusive distribution partnership. Under the agreement, Docurama will release and Netflix will promote to its more than one million members several critically acclaimed documentary titles previously unreleased in the DVD format. Docurama will distribute the titles widely through all channels once the exclusive window expires.

Netflix will promote the Docurama titles on the Netflix website ( Proprietary software allows the company to match members' movie ratings and rental histories to DVD suggestion and selection.

Steve Savage, president and co-founder of New Video, parent company of Docudrama, compared the agreement to the practice of opening a film in major cities before building to national distribution. The partnership between the two companies marks the launch of Netflix First, which will provide Netflix members access to films they might otherwise not see. Said Savage in a statement, "Netflix First allows audiences to fully appreciate the promise of DVD, which not only allows you to enjoy box office hits, but also to find hidden film gems, no matter where you live."

The first four Docurama titles featured as part of this agreement are William Gibson: No Maps for These Territories (2001; Mark Neale, dir.), a profile of the influential science fiction writer who coined the term "cyberspace"; See How They Run (2002; Kelly Duane, Emily Morse, prods./dirs.; Tony Saxe, prod./ed.), an insider's look at the 2000 San Francisco mayoral election and highly publicized run-off between incumbent Willie Brown and openly gay write-in candidate Tom Ammiano; True Meaning of Pictures: Shelby Lee Adam's Appalachia (2002; Jennifer Baichwal, prod./dir.; Nick de Pencier, prod.), which tells the story behind some of the "hillbillies" photographed by Shelby Lee Adams over the past 30 years; and Jupiter's Wife (1994; Michel Negroponte, prod./dir.), the true story of Maggie, a beguiling woman in her 40's living in New York's Central Park who claims to be the daughter of actor Robert Ryan and the wife of the Roman god Jupiter.

NFB Films Have US Premiere in Washington, DC

The National Film Board of Canada had the US premiere of three of its feature length documentaries at the prestigious Washington DC National Gallery of Art's new Canadian Documentary series this past July. Almost Real: Connecting in a Wired World (Ann Shin, dir.), Men of the Deeps (John Walker, dir.) and The Last Round: Chuvalo vs. Ali (Joseph Blasioli, dir.) were selected to participate in the series, which was presented in collaboration with the Canadian Film Institute in Ottowa.

Said Tom McSorley, director of the Canadian Film Institute, "This diverse and decidedly offbeat collection includes examinations of memory (both cultural and personal), the pervasive presence of technology in human endeavor and, in that amorphous and threatening milieu of ‘globalization,' the hunt for Canada itself."

Since its creation in 1939, the NFB has produced more than 10,000 films and audiovisual works and won more than 4,000 awards. As Canada's public film producer, the NFB produces and distributes culturally diverse audiovisual works that provide Canada and the world with a unique Canadian perspective.


Moorman Doc Strikes the Right Tune with Palm 

Palm Pictures has acquired North American and Caribbean rights to Tom Dowd & the Language of Music. The film, directed by Mark Moorman, profiles the late producer behind some of the greatest albumks in American rock, soul and jazz. Palm Pictures will release the film following its world premiere on the Sundance Channel in October. The film will be shown on the Channel as part of its month-long music series, Sonic Cinema.

Life and Debt  Now on DVD through New Yorker Video 

Stephanie Black's Life and Debt was released by New Yorker Video in June on DVD and VHS. The film looks at the 25 years of "help" given to Jamaica by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. Meant to move the country towards self-reliant development, these efforts have instead crippled the third world country's economic growth and enriched the lenders.

Magnolia Releases Bukowski Doc

Magnolia Pictures began a limited release in August of John Dullaghan's documentary Bukowski: Born Into This, which reveals the man behind the myth through interviews with the writer, his family, co-workers, girlfriends and many of the artists he influenced over the years.

Author Charles Bukowski personified the lower depths of human existence, and for many readers his name became synonymous with screwing, drinking, fighting, seedy barrooms, foul-mouthed prostitutes and low-paying jobs. He was perhaps most widely known as the screenwriter and real-life model for Barbet Schroder's Barfly, the film based on his early life.

The documentary premiered at Sundance 2003 and was also shown at the Tribeca Film Festival this past summer. A national roll-out is planned after the film's initial New York/Los Angeles release.

Koch Lorber Releases Wiesenthal Center Docs on DVD

This September, Koch Lorber Films released The Long Way Home (1997; Rabbi Marvin Heir, Richard Trank, prods.; Mark Jonathan Harris, dir./wtr.)and In Search of Peace Part One: 1948-1967 (2001; Rabbi Marvin Heir, prod./wtr.; Richard Trank, prod./dir./wtr.; Martin Gilbert, wtr.) on DVD. Both films were produced by the award-winning Moriah Films, a division of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

The Long Way Home, which earned the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, recounts the journeys of Holocaust survivors following World War II as they searched for a place to set down roots. It looks at how much of the world turned its back on the survivors-turned-refugees, and the world events that led to the creation of the state of Israel.

In Search of Peace probes the roots of continuing saga of the Middle East, examining the conflicts and their global impact from 1948-1967. The film looks not only at events in Israel, but also at their effect on Arab refugee camps, the General Assembly of the United Nations and various world capitals.


By the time this column is published, the envelopes will have been opened and the winners will have cried, prayed and tried to thank their mothers, fathers, collaborators and gods all in less than 30 seconds. However, all the Emmy Award Nominees should be given another round of applause. The 2003 collection  includes:

Outstanding Non-fiction Special - Traditional: Benjamin Franklin (PBS, Twin Cities Public Television in association with Middlemarch Films, Inc.; Catherine Allan, exec. prod.; Ellen Hovde, Muffie Meyer, prods.); Christopher Reeve: Courageous Steps (ABC, TWI and MXR Productions; Rudy Bednar, Alastair Waddington, exec. prods., Stuart Watts, Ian A. Hunt, prods.; Christopher Reeve, narrator); The Day The Towers Fell (The History Channel, Lou Reda Productions for The History Channel; Lou Reda, exec. prod.; Dolores Gavin, sup. prod.; Sammy Jackson, prod.); Journeys With George (HBO, Purple Monkeys Productions with HBO; Sheila Nevins, exec. prod.; Julie Anderson, sup. prod.; Alexandra Pelosi, prod.); and Unchained Memories: Readings From The Slave Narratives (HBO, HBO Original Programming; Sheila Nevins, Donna Brown Guillaume, exec. prods.; Jacqueline Glover, Thomas Lennon, Lisa Heller, prods.).

Outstanding Nonfiction Series - Traditional: American Masters (PBS, A co-production of Thirteen/WNET New York); Behind The Music (VH1, VH1 Productions); Biography (A&E , Traveling Light Media for A&E Television Network); The E! True Hollywood Story (E!, E! Entertainment Television); and Inside The Actors Studio (Bravo, A co-production of The Actors Studio, Betelgeuse Productions, In the Moment Productions and Bravo Network).

Outstanding Nonfiction Program - Alternative: Antiques Roadshow (PBS, WGBH Educational Foundation); Cirque Du Soleil Fire Within (Bravo, Galafilm and Creations Musca in association with Bravo Network); Da Ali G Show (HBO, Talkback Productions in association with HBO Original Programming and C4); The Osbournes (MTV, MTV Networks); and Trading Spaces (TLC, TLC/Banyan Productions).

Outstanding Directing for Nonfiction Programming: Stanley Nelson for AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: The Murder Of Emmett Till; Bruce Gowers for American Idol - Finale; James Bobin for Da Ali G Show; James Cameron and Gary Johnstone for James Cameron's Expedition: Bismarck; Alexandra Pelosi and Aaron Lubarsky for Journeys With George; and Ed Bell and Thomas Lennon for Unchained Memories: Readings From The Slave Narratives.

Outstanding Writing for Nonfiction Programming:  Michelle Ferrari: AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: Seabiscuit; Marcia A. Smith: AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: The Murder Of Emmett Till: Sacha Baron Cohen, Dan Mazer, Anthony Hines, Jamie Glassman, James Bobin: Da Ali G Show; Alexandra Pelosi: Journeys With George; Mark Jonathan Harris: Unchained Memories: Readings From The Slave Narratives.


Nathaniel Kahn's My Architect took home the Sterling Award for a Feature Film at the inaugural  Silverdocs: AFI/Discovery Channel Documentary Festival. The film follows Kahn, the illegitimate son of famed architect Louis I. Kahn, as he travels the world looking for answers to his father's complex and mysterious life and discovers just how revolutionary his father was. The Sterling Award Certificates of Merit for Shorts were given to: Welcome. A Docu-Journey of Impressions, directed by Almudena Carracedo; Life As It Is (Prosto Zhizn), directed by Marina Razbezhkina; and Hide Your Words (Harfhayat Ra Pehhan Kon), directed by Behnam Behzadi. The Silverdocs Award for a short was given to This is a Game Ladies, directed by Peter Schnall, about the Rutgers' University women's basketball team and their inspirational coach, Vivian Stringer. The Silverdocs Audience Award for a Short was given to Billy, directed by Kerri Yost. A special Jury Award was given to Collateral Damages by Etienne Sauret. The film provides an intimate look at the emotional and psychological impact of September 11th on New York City firefighters in the year after the attack on the World Trade Center.

Tracy Droz Tragos Be Good, Smile Pretty won the Los Angeles Film Festival's Target Documentary Award for Best Documentary Feature, which includes an unrestricted cash prize of $25,000. The doc follows Tragos' discovery, via the Internet, about her father's death while serving on a naval swift boat in the Mekong Delta. Laura Gabbert's Sunset Story won the Audience Award for Best Documentary Feature. Foo-Foo Dust, by Gina Levy and Eric Johnson, won best documentary short film.

Step Into Liquid, Dana Brown's surfing documentary, won the Audience Award for best documentary this past June at the Maui Film Festival.

There was a tie at the 27th Annual Atlanta Film Festival for the Jury Award for best documentary. Blue Hadaegh and Grover Babcock's A Certain Kind of Death, about people who die without next of kin, and Liz Garbus' Girlhood, a look at the juvenile justice system, split the award.

There was also a tie at the Provincetown International Film Festival for the best documentary prize. Judith Katz, Madeleine Gavin and Gary Sunshine's What I Want My Words To Do To You shared the award with Joan E. Biren's No Secret Anymore: The Times of Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon.

Simeon Soffer won the Audience Documentary Award at the Cine Vegas Film Festival for 4th and Life. The film examines the US prison system through the lens of a championship football game between two of the most notorious penitentiaries in the South.

Patricia Flynn and Mary Jo McConahay's Discovering Dominga received the Best Documentary Award at the 7th Annual Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival. The film documents the life of Denese Becker as a survivor of the 1982 massacre that destroyed her home in the village of Guatemala. Her escape to a nearby town led her to find an Iowa couple that went on to adopt her. Every Child is Born a Poet: The Life and Work of Piri Thomas was awarded the Opera Prima Award, presented to first-time directors. Produced and directed by Jonathan Robinson, the film looks back on celebrated author Piri Thomas.

Laura J. Lipson's doc Standing on My Sister's Shoulders nabbed the audience award at the DancesWithFilms Festival this summer.

Los Angles OUTfest handed out prizes to several documentaries this summer. Josh Aronson's The Opposite Sex, Rene's Story took the OUTstanding Documentary Feature prize. Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin by Nancy Kates and Bennet Singer and Laughing Matters by Andrea Meyerson tied for the audience award for OUTstanding Documentary Feature. The documentary short film prize went to Where the Girls Are, by Tricia Cooke and Jennifer Arnold.

Brother Outsider also tied for Best Documentary at the 2003 Philadelphia International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. Its co-winner was Joan E. Biren's No Secret Anymore: The Times of Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon. Yvonne Welbon's Sisters in Cinema won the Kodak Award for Best Documentary.


Schupak Joins Maryland Public Television Via Content Enterprises

Content Enterprises at Maryland Public Television has named Steven J. Schupak Vice President. Schupak will be responsible for television programming, development, production and distribution strategy on national productions, as well as regional productions such as ArtWorks This Week, State Circle, Business Connection and Outdoors Maryland.

Schupak previously served as the vice president of strategic marketing and business development for Henninger Media Services, Inc., during which he launched a successful television production and distribution unit. Earlier, the Potomac resident held management positions in production and program development at ABC Television in New York; e-on Corporation in Reston, VA; COMSAT Video Enterprises (part of Lockheed Martin) in Bethesda, Marlyland; and the National Cable and Telecommunications Association in Washington, DC.

Maryland Public Television is a nonprofit, state-licensed public television station which serves the citizens and communities of Maryland and beyond through a variety of broadcast and non-broadcast activities. More information about MPT's on-air and online programming can be found at

APT Announces New Board Members

The Board of Trustees for American Public Television (APT) has named two new board members. Michael Quattrone, former executive vice president and general manager of the Discovery Channel, and Jennifer Lawson, former executive vice president of programming and promotion services for PBS, were appointed this past July. They will join the 12 others currently serving.

Don Boswell, chair of APT's Board of Trustees and president of WNED, Buffalo/Toronto said in a statement: "We are very pleased to welcome Mike and Jennifer to the board. Individually, they are savvy, thoughtful, clever broadcasting professionals. Together, they will add great insight and dimension to the board. As APT becomes even more aggressive in providing high-quality, viewer-friendly programs to American public  television stations nationwide, Mike and Jennifer's expertise in public, commercial and cable television will be of great value."

Lawson is a producer, independent media specialist and head of Magic Box Mediaworks, an independent company that co-produced the eight-hour television series Africa, in association with WNET, New York and National Geographic Television. Other previous experiences include work at PBS, The Film Fund and the Television Program Fund at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting; and development work in children's programming.

Quattrone's seven-year term as head of the network was the most successful in its history. He conceptualized and developed numerous original productions including Expedition Adventure. His network unit developed and produced thousands of hours of programming, including Titanic Live and the two highest-rated documentaries in basic cable history: Raising the Mammoth and Walking With Dinosaurs.

CS Associates Names Redmond as Manager of Acquisitions

International documentary distributor CS Associates has named Jason Redmond as Manager of Acquisitions. Redmond, who is co-founder of the Boston Independent Film Festival, will seek new documentaries for broadcast and video distribution by the Massachusetts-based distributor, which carries such titles as the Jazz series by Ken Burns, Scientific American Frontiers and The Trials of Henry Kissinger.


Jazz Doc Subject Howard Armstrong Dies at 94

String-band fiddler Howard "Louie Bluie" Armstrong passed away in August at the age of 94 from complications related to a heart attack in March. His life and work were the subjects of two PBS documentary films: Terry Zwigoff's Louie Bluie (1985) and Leah Mahan's Sweet Old Song (2002).

Armstrong had mastered a variety of genres, from jazz to blue grass. The versatile musician played 20 instruments over the course of his lifetime, including the violin, viola, banjo and mandolin. His recordings included "Vine Street Drag" and "Knox County Stomp." Shortly before his heart attack, he was a recipient of one of the Governor's Awards in the Arts in Tennessee, his birth state.

British Filmmaker Schlesinger Dies at 77

Oscar-winning director John Schlesinger  passed away in July at the age of 77 in Palm Springs, California. The acclaimed director has suffered a stroke in December 2000 and his condition had worsened in the weeks prior to his death.

London-born Schlesinger  started making movies as a school boy, continuing when enrolled at Oxford. He went to work for the BBC on Tonight and Monitor, where he was mentored by producer Huw Weldon. Constantly filming, Schlesinger   learned much about the power of observation. The culmination of his BBC experience was the documentary feature Terminus, about a day in the life of a Waterloo Train Station.

His professional directing career spanned four decades, with films ranging from Midnight Cowboy to Billy Liar to Marathon Man to The Next Best Thing. He worked with a wide variety of talent, including Dustin Hoffman, Jon Voight, Sean Penn, Julie Christie, Richard Gere and Madonna.

His early experiences making documentaries had a strong impact on his aesthetic. In a 1993 interview with the BBC, Schlesinger said, "I learned my job mainly here at the BBC making short documentaries for various programs...You are observing a world."

Between films, Schlesinger directed theater and opera productions, as well as several programs for the BBC. He won a Oscar for Best Director for Midnight Cowboy. In 1996, he was recognized by BAFTA, who gave him the honor of Fellow of the Academy.

Bell Tolls for Filmmaker Anne Belle, Age 68

Documentary filmmaker Anne Belle passed away in June at the age of 68. Though she made films about a variety of subjects, she specialized in portraits of New York City ballet dancers.

Belle's two earliest films, Baymen - Our Waters are Dying, about the clam diggers of Long Island, and Henry, about an independent old man living on a barge on the Hudson River, were shown on PBS. She co-directed Suzanne Farrell: Elusive Muse with Deborah Dickson. The film, about the reticent young ballerina who was Balanchine's last great inspiration, was nominated for an Academy Award.

Other dance docs included Reflections of a Dancer: Alexandra Danilova and Dancing for Mr. B.: Six Balanchine Ballerinas. At the time of her death, she had been working on a project about Stanley Williams, a teacher at the New York City Ballet-affiliated School of American Ballet.