October 1, 1998

Short Takes, October 1998


As the days dwindle down to just a precious few... No sooner had I finished predicting torrents of activity for the magical month of October when I'm forced to report that there's more. IDA and HBO have joined forces on the other coast—the one on the right—for Frame by Frame, a fortnight-long screening fest of docs from HBO and DOCtober. Apple Via, helmswoman for DOCtober all year long, will sky to Gotham to join ExecDirect Betsy A. McLane and loyal trustee Sheila Nevins at Frame by Frame's premiere. Once the DOCtober selections have had their moment in the Big Apple sun, the tour resumes to venues in San Pedro and Canoga Park. Grace Ouchida, redoubtable associate director of IDA, had just finished gracing NYC's Independent Feature Film Market in September for an exhaustive perusal of the docs at the Mart and the special No Borders component. And quo vadis for the editor-in-chief? Tim Lyons flies to Arkansas for some white water at the Hot Springs International Documentary Film Festival. As assistant editor, I'm reminded of Alexander Haig's words some years back, when another chief executive was incapacitated: "Never fear. I am in charge."

DGA Revamps Low-Budget Agreement

Given the rash of low-budget films over the past few years, the Directors Guild of America recently unveiled a revised version of its low-budget agreement to enable more directors to join the fold. The new accord sets a ceiling at $6 million for low-budget films and establishes a four-tiered structure: films made for less than $ 1.2 million; films in the $ 1.2 to $2.5 million range; films in the $2.5 to $3.5 million range; and films in the $3.5 to $6 million range. The new agreement also offers incentives at each tier in terms of guild minima and mandatory periods for directors cuts.

PBS Announces New Docs

PBS announced at last summer's TV Critics Association press tour 4 new nonfiction programs, to be aired as soon as this month. Los Angeles affiliate KCET will co-produce John Glenn: American Hero, which airs on October 28 and Turbulent Skies, a four-part series on the 90 year history of commercial aviation. Blaine Baggett, who produced the IDA Award winner The Great War, is producing Turbulent Skies. The other two programs are The Mississippi: River of Song, a four-part mini-series about the history of the music that evolved from the legendary river, and Australia: Beyond the Fatal Shore, a major retrospective on the nation's history and culture, slated to air in time for the Sydney Olympics in 2000. The film on Australia is produced by NYC Arts, in association with Thirteen/WNET; art critic and native Australian Robert Hughes, author of The Fatal Shore, will narrate the film.

PBS also announced two upcoming mile­ stones in public broadcasting this November as part of "PBS Digital Week ." Chihuly Over Venice, a profile of Seattle-based glass-blowing artist Dale Chihuly, will mark the first high definition television broadcast for the public network, while Frank Lloyd Wright, Ken Burns' latest work about the legendary architect, will be the first digital television program to be aired with enhanced digital content.

I Witness Goes Daily on CBS Eye On People

I Witness, the weekly series produced by IDA Trustee Steven Rosenbaum and BN, returns to CBS Eye On People this season as a daily documentary series, where the program will delve deep into a single topic for five consecutive episodes. A small team of video journalists, armed with digital video cameras, will live alongside their subjects for six weeks, then create reports on such topics as polygamy in Utah, homeless teens in Minneapolis, or the monster truck subculture out west. 

National Geographic Launches New Partnership with Banff Mountain Festivals

National Geographic's Exploration Council is launching a new three-year sponsorship program with the Banff Mountain Book and Film Festivals to bring together adventurers and conservationists from around the world in a renewed passion for mountain places. As official media sponsor of the Festivals, National Geographic will promote Banff through its magazines, books, television channels and other education programs, reaching a global audience of 70 million people. The Film and Book Festivals attract thousands of attendees each November, while the 250-city world tour of the best books and films attracts approximately 70,000 more people. Bernadette McDonald, director of the Centre for Mountain Culture, which produces the Festivals, commented, ''There could be no finer conduit for our message than National Geographic. Our shared mandate to bring the mountain adventure, cultural and environmental communities together is the strongest possible base [for] a sponsorship relationship."

Blackchair Productions Takes Indies Around The World

Joel Bachar of the Seattle-based Blackchair Productions, responsible for the popular monthly indie showcase Independent Exposure, is taking his show on the road. Following his much-anticipated Hallowierd show this month, he's off to the Czech Republic where he takes up an Artist's Residency at the Center for Metamedia in the town of Plasy to meet media artists from all over the country and present Independent Exposure to cities throughout the Czech Republic.

Star Wars Inspires Two Docs

With the wildly successful re-release of the first Star Wars trilogy in 1997 and the hotly anticipated first film of a projected prequel trilogy in production, the Star Wars juggernaut is churning full speed ahead, and filmmakers Lynn Hale and Jeff Cioletti are documenting this second coming as we await it. Hale's film tracks the making of this new film; segments of her documentary are available for viewing on the web at www.starwars.com. Cioletti's film, in production for more than a year, focuses on that rabid sub-culture that has helped make Star Wars the phenomenon that it is and that pines away the days designing and maintaining web sites and filling entire homes with merchandise and memorabilia. Cioletti will finish shooting his film when the Star Wars prequel finally hits the theaters next May.

NATPE Eases Up On Membership Fees

The National Association of Television Production Executives (NATPE) will make it more affordable for its members to attend the annual NATPE conference and exhibition, NATPE President and CEO Bruce Johansen announced last summer in NATPE's monthly publication. Historically, NATPE corporate members would have to pay a minimum of $750 to attend the conference—$350 for the membership fee that enables one to attend and $400 for the registration fee. Under the new fee structures, members will pay $475 for membership, which includes one complimentary conference registration.

Political Communication Center Completes NEH Grant Project for Its Archive

With the help of a $ 129,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Oklahoma-based Political Communications Center recently fulfilled its mission to preserve its substantial archive of political radio and television commercials. The archive, holding commercials and spots from presidential races dating back to 1952, campaigns for U.S. Congress, and bids for local offices, totals more than 65,000 items, making it the largest of its kind in the world. The NEH grants helped to clean and repair more than 200,000 feet of 16mm film and provide improved long-term storage for these films and the video reels in the collection. For more information about the archive, contact the Political Communication Center, Dept. of Communication, University of Oklahoma, Norman, OK 730 19-0335; phone: 405-325-31 14; fax: 405-325-1566; web: www.ou.edu/pccenter.

Showtime Announces Millennium Docs by Hollywood Directors

According to Richard Katz, writing recently in Variety, the cabler Showtime has tapped some Hollywood heavyweights to create feature-length documentaries reflecting on some of the influences shaping our society during the past 100 years. Weighing in on topics of interest will be Norm an Jewison (20th century humor), Barry Levinson (visions of the future), Garry Marshall (marriage), Gregory Nava (the melting pot, or multi-cultural ism), Robert Townsend (sex) and Robert Zemeckis (drugs and alcohol). Additional directors may be announced at a later date.


Continuing on the marathon list of Emmy Award nominees from the last issue, here are some more in the Documentary Programming category that came in over the transom, post­ deadline: Outstanding Individual Achievement in a Craft in News and Documentary ProgrammingCinematography: Jim Clare and Shane Moore: THE LIVING EDENS: Manu: Peru's Hidden Rainforest, PBS; Rod Clarke, Kevin Flay and Richard Matthews: THE LIVING EDENS: Namib: Africa's Burning Shore, PBS; Jeff Foott, Robert Fulton and Jeff Hogan: THE LIVING EDENS: Patagonia: Life at the End of the Earth, PBS ; Steve Downer, David Fortney, Robert Fulton, Bob Landis, Bruce Reithennan and Neil Rettig: THE LIVING EDENS : Denali: Alaska's Great Wilderness. Outstanding Individual Achievement in a Craft in News and Documentary Programming—Sound/Audio: Alan Decker, Clifford Hoelscher, Mark Linden, James Mather, Samantha Purdy and Daniel Rees: THE LIVING EDENS: Namib: Africa's Burning Shore, PBS. Outstanding Individual Achievement in a Craft in News and Documentary Programming—Editing: Jill Garrett: THE LIVING EDENS: Namib: Africa's Burning Shore. Outstanding Individual Achievement in a Craft in News and Documentary Programming—Music: Laura Karpman: THE LIVING EDENS: Manu: Peru's Hidden Rainforest, THE LIVING EDENS: Denali: Alaska's Great Wilderness, THE LIVING EDENS: Patagonia: Life at the End of the Earth, PBS... P.O.V. garnered the following Emmy nominations in the News and Documentary categories: Outstanding Investigative Journalism: A Perfect Candidate, David Van Taylor and R.J. Cutler, directors/pro­ducers. Outstanding Background/Analysis of a Single Current Story: Fear and Learning at Hoover Elementary, Laura Angelica Simon, director; Tracey Trench, producer. Outstanding Informational or Cultural Programming: Girls Like Us, IDA member Tina Di Feliciantonio and Jane C. Wagner, directors/producers. Outstanding Interview/ Interviewers: Nobody's Business, Alan Berliner, director... Eastman Kodak Company and Philips Broadcast Television Systems Company recently earned an Emmy Award for Technical Achievement for the design and manufacture of the industry standard Spirit DataCine multi-standard digital telecine. It was one of only four Emmys awarded this year for engineering accomplish­ments... The California Council for the Humanities announced the following grant awards for script development for documen­taries: Barrio Logan-Paul Espinosa, project director; UC San Diego Extended Studies and Public Programs, project sponsor. The Whole World of Music: The Life and Times of Henry Cowell—Sharon Wood, project director; Film Arts Foundation , project sponsor. Class—IDA members Alan Snitow and Deborah Kaufman, project director, Snitow-Kaufman Prods., sponsor.


Mark Daniels's Classified X, examining how Hollywood has portrayed African­ Americans, was honored for best documentary at the Urbanworld International Film Festival last summer... Earlier last summer, Joshua Tunick took the award for best documentary video for Naked Pavement at the Atlanta Film and Video Festival, while Geoffrey Gottlieb garnered the best documen­tary film honor for Spitball Story... Seth Hendrickson and David Sarno continued their roll, which began at Slamdance, by taking the best documentary award for Goreville, USA, at the 2nd Annual Hollywood Film Festival .

The 44th Annual Flaherty Seminar wrapped in August, and among the highlights: two films by Jay Rosenblatt—Human Remains, a portrait of the intimate lives of five fascist dictators, and The Smell of Burning Ants, a meditation on the evolution of male socialization; Still Revolutionaries, by Sienna McLean, a film about two women who were members of the Black Panther Party; On the Edge of Peace, directed by Ilan Ziv, an Israeli-Palestinian co­-production about the first year of the Israeli­ Palestinian peace accords. Both Human Remains and Still Revolutionaries are slated for IDA's DOCtober in Pasadena.


Cinema Disc Surpasses 1200 Mark for DVD Titles

Cinema Disc, an online DVD movie sales and information site, announced in June that the number of DVDs had surpassed the 1200 mark, just six months after its launching by Gearhead Media Inc. The site, www.cinemadisc.com, continues its quest to be at the consumer forefront of DVD technology. Cinema Disc features include critics comer, where visitors may read and/or write their own reviews; a powerful search engine that allows viewers to search the entire database of titles for specific information ; and Talking Pictures, a newsletter containing commentary and in formation on upcoming releases.

New Ripples on the Web

Filmmakers with access to the World Wide Web have undoubtedly discovered the treasure trove of information, news, gossip, and chat rooms for swapping information, news and gossip. Festivals and foundations alike are making it easier, if not to assure entry or secure funding, at least to provide easier access to the information that you need to do so. Conversely, filmmakers themselves have set up their own Web pages to promote their projects. The IDA Web site, www.documentary.org, is ever evolving to meet the needs of the documentary community.

Among the Webzines worth exploring include indieWIRE (www.indiewire.com ), Film Threat (www.filmthreat.com) and Filmmaker (www.filmmag.com). IndieWIRE provides daily news, updates and reports on festivals, productions in progress, and trends in the indie-world. Film Threat is a weekly 'zine of reviews of new releases and developments in the field. The Filmmaker site is a virtually virtual version of the Independent Feature Project's quarterly publication, with additional resource information, chat rooms and links to indieWIRE. Other useful sites include Film Finders (www.filmfinders.com), which helps to link producers with distributors, and Surfview Entertainment (www.surfview.com), which lists film projects for potential investors to consider.