October 1, 2000

Short Takes, October 2000

Be it life or death, we crave only reality.
-Henry David Thoreau


In the wake of CBS's summertime triumphs with Survivor and Big Brother, networks and cable companies are working furiously to match the success. ABC announced a contestant call for a program called The Mole, in which ten individuals will team up to complete a series of physical and psychological tasks; one of the contestants will be designated the mole, who will thwart the efforts of the competition without betraying his or her identity. ABC is also offering Jailbreak, where contestants are locked up in prison, then try to escape. NBC is chiming in with Chains of Love, in which four women will be chained to a man for a week. Last One Standing: Nebraska aired on the USA Network; it documents a competition where a cross-section of Nebraskans keep their hands on a tractor for as many as 24 hours in an effort to win it. Hmmm. Wasn't this premise explored before, to great effect, in the 1998 doc Hands on a Hard Body? And didn't Survivor, in an homage to that film, stage a competition called "Hands on the Icon"? How post-modem! Reality begets a creative treatment of reality, which in tum begets a reality TV/game show. But it all comes down to reality: they're still competing for that hard-body in Nebraska.

But Survivor and Big Brother aren't just about games, they're about the extent to which people will go for a chance at the grand prize. And we're not talking about dressing up as a turnip on Let's Make A Deal. You assemble a group of people, place them on an island, watch the alliances form and throw a million dollars into the mix, you've got yourself a National Geographic with a human face. Indeed, one visitor to the Survivor Web site likened the behavior of the castaways to that of Rwandan silverback gorillas.

Other pundits, behavioral psychologists among them—have compared Survivor to the controversial experiments conducted at Stanford and Yale in the 1950s and 1960s, where volunteers were monitored for the degree to which they would modify their behavior in deference to authority or the power of the given situation. According to an article in The New York Times, Los Angeles-based Film Garden Entertainment is taking a new look at these experiments, with the intent of re-enacting them, in The Human Experiment, a 13-part series. Nancy Jacobs Miller, president of Film Garden, said in the article, "We were very intrigued, long before Survivor, in producing a show that would reveal things about human behavior in a context that was entertaining and at the same time educational and legitimate." Whatever one makes of this strange millennial phenomenon, it sure has the nation's viewers—and the documentary community—in atizzy. Finally, USA Films is bringing the whole thing full circle, at least for now, with a spoof: Series 7: The Contenders. Daniel Minihan is writing and directing the series; he previously wrote I Shot Andy Warhol. Now, what would Andy say about all of this? I think we already know. The real question is, how long would he last on the island?




Indie Groups Convene at MIPCOM 2000

US Independents, in collaboration with Filmkontakt Nord, Saskatchewan Motion Picture Association, Creative Networx (Munich), and That's-A-Wrap Distribution (Australia), will launch a new initiative this month at the MIP-COM international television market in Cannes, France. KickStart will bring together producers from the US, Scandinavia, Canada, Germany and Australia to spur projects in development. The KickStart session, held on October 1, was designed to exchange information on projects with international potential, a broadcaster commitment and a portion of funding in place. "With global production oppurtunities on the rise and the implications of new and converging technologies, the need for solid professional contacts worldwide is a core rational for this gathering," said Meg Villarreal of US Independents, in a prepared statement. "We found that independent producers in America aren't taking advantage of a whole range of opportunities for establishing partnerships."

IFilm Acquires Film Finders

IFilm, the Internet streaming giant, purchased Film Finders, the Los Angeles-based film tracking service, in a deal last summer. Film Finders annually monitors rights and development information for the production of over 40,000 films around the world. Under its new parent company, Film Finders', databases and research reports will be available on the Web (www.iFilmpro.pro) for the first time.




Wyler Appointed Head of Rochester Fest

Catherine Wyler, a seasoned producer and entertainment executive, was named artistic director of the Rochester, New York-based Picture Fest International, which premieres in September 2001. Wyler, the daughter of the legendary director William Wyler, was senior vice president of production at Columbia Pictures, director of cultural and children's programming at PBS, assistant director of the media arts program at the National Endowment for the Ans and manager of network relations at Warner Brothers Television.

Clein + White Execs Form New Company: dominion3

Clein + White senior executives Kim Dixon, Judy Dixon and Heather Burgett left the public relations firm last August to launch dominion3, which specializes in marketing, public relations and consulting for new media clients. The troika has a strong track record in representing independent filmmakers, as well as new media clients such as Eveo.com.

In a prepared statement, Burgett said, "We will continue to keep our feet firmly in the indie film scene while also adapting to the changing industry and its new medium for film exhibition and distribution."




Artisan Signs on Latest Pennebaker/Hegedus Doc

Artisan Entertainment has acquired the North American rights to Startup.com, the latest documentary from D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus. The film, which is also co-directed by Jehane Noujiam, tracks the rise of GovWorks.com, an Internet company that provides services for governmental agencies and businesses.

Startup.com, which Artisan hopes to premiere at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival, is produced by Frazer Pennebaker. In a prepared statement, Artisan Senior Vice President Patrick Gunn stated. 'Artisan has continually supported the documentary film format, first with The Cruise, then Buena Vista Social Club and now Startup.com."

"Startup.com," Cunn added, "provides a first-hand look at the playing field that's broken wide open with the emergence of a new business model—the Internet startup—and gives a never-before-seen look at the drama that unfolds as a Web site is bom."

PBS May Revisit An American Family

At the Television Critics Tour Association conference last summer, PBS President Pat Mitchell announced the possibility of creating a series modeled after the pioneer series An American Family, which aired on PBS in 1973. The series tracked a Santa Barbara, Calif.-based family over the course of a year. According to a report in Variety, Mitchell hopes that the new series, now in its exploratory stages, would document a number of diverse families around the country. In addition, based on the success of the UK import 1900 House, in which a family lived for a period of time in a Victorian-era house with Victorian era amenities, PBS may develop an American version of that program, tentatively titled Frontier House.

Presidential Campaign Brings out the Docs

Actor/writer Donovan Leitch kept busy at the National Republican and Democratic Conventions in Philadelphia and Los Angeles last summer, making The Last Party 2000, a follow-up to the 1992 campaign doc The Last Party, which he wrote.

Actor Philip Seymour Hoffman is the on-camera narrator of the 2000 edition, which has been in production since March and will wrap on Election Night in November. Leitch is aiming for a theatrical release on Inauguration Day in January. The film not only covers the conventions but also the shadow conventions and the protest activity. Elsewhere on the campaign trail, Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich) was tapped by the Gore camp to make a short documentary about a day in the life of the presidential nominee. The film screened at the Democratic Convention before a national television audience.

Hank Greenberg Doc Breaks Million Dollar Mark

The Life and Times of Hank Greenbeg, Aviva Kempner's profile of the legendary Jewish baseball slugger, topped the million-dollar pinnacle at the box office, a rare feat for a documentary; only 20 documentaries in the history of the genre have reached that mark. The film, released by Cowboy Booking international, enjoyed extended runs in New York. Boston, Los Angeles and Washington, DC.




The Iris Awards, sponsored by the National Association of Television Program Executives (NATPE), received a record number of submissions in the Current Affairs/Information Programming and PSA categories—up 14% and 33%, respectively, from a year ago. The awards will be given out in a ceremony in Los Angeles this month.

The following films were finalists in the Roy W. Dean Grant Awards: The One and Only Mary Pickford, by Nicholas Eliopoulos; Alma, by Yuri Makino; A Jive Bomber's Christmas, by Stann Nakazano; No Voices, by Joy Shani A'che; Lost and Found, by Debra Baker; The Red Knight, by IDA member Howard F. Galloway; Stolen Lives, by IDA member Kiku Lani Iwata; Oh, How They Lived—stories of the Negro Leagues, by Bryon Motley; Women Behind the Camera, by Vanessa H. Smith; and A New Science of Life, by Matthew Bramlett.

Joan Churchill Receives Kodak Vision Award

Joan Churchill received the Kodak Vision Award for cinematography at the Women In Film Lucy Awards for Innovation in Television luncheon last month. The award is presented annually to a cinematographer with notable achievements in television, who is also a source of inspiration for other women filmmakers.

Churchill was bom to be a filmmaker—her father was a major producer of educational films and documentaries. She studied filmmaking at University of California at Los Angeles in the 1960s and subsequently worked with such major figures as the Maysles brothers, on Gimme Shelter and Haskell Wexler and Barbara Kopple, on No Nukes. Churchill also directed and photographed Jimi Plays Berkeley and earned a co-cinematography credit on the classic PBS series An American Family. She spent the latter half of the 1970s in London, where she eventually headed the documentary department at the National Film School and collaborated with filmmaker Nick Broomfield. She returned to Los Angeles in 1984 and has since made One Generation More, Asylum, Arrested Development in the House, LA Race and An American Campaign, among other films. Earlier this year, Churchill taught a six-week documentary workshop with Alan Barker at the International School of Film and Television in Cuba.




Nigel Noble's The Charcoal People won best documentary honors at the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival.

Off the Curb: The Heart of Hip-Hop won the Gold Award in the Music Video category at PhilaFilm: Philadelphia International Film & Video Festival. Susan Cobey Williamson produced and directed the film.

My Khmer Heart and IDA member Diane Estelle Vicari's Sugihara: Conspiracy of Kindness were selected as Best Documentaries at the Hollywood Film Festival.

Kevin Fitzgerald's Freestyle and Daniel Anker and IDA member Barak Goodman's Scottsboro: An American Tragedy shared Best Documentary honors at the Urbanworld Film Fest.




The internet, along with its various servers and searchers, has made a tremendous impact as a communications medium and an informational resource. As the Internet offers new and innovative opportunities every day for documentarians, ID will monitor some of these developments and share them in Cybertakes. If the readers hear of new Web sites, chat rooms or online services before we do, please let us know.


Sundance Institute To Launch Online Festival in 2001

The Sundance Institute announced last summer the creation of the Sundance Online Film Festival, produced by StreamSearch.com, to coincide with the 2001 Sundance Film Festival (January 18-28). The Sundance Online Film Festival will launch on www.sundance.org and will showcase a selection of new work developed especially for the Web and a retrospective of past Web highlights.

In a prepared statement, Sundance Co-Director Geoffrey Gilmore said, "The Sundance Institute has always been interested in exploring innovative work, and the dynamic material currently being generated for the Web is something that we are excited to present."

Unfortunately, the deadline for entries, September 29, passed well before this issue went to press.

Langley and Court TV Commit to Crime.com

IDA Trustee John Langley, the mastermind behind the groundbreaking television program COPS, teamed up with Court TV last summer to premiere Crime.com, a new Web portal that offers users interactive crime-related information, news and entertainment. The portal features exclusive crime footage, localized crime statistics, chats with prominent crime experts, tools to assist community-based crime-fighting organizations, links to victim's assistance rcsources and e-commerce.

Crime.com will also showcase footage from existing libraries and new video captured by videographers across the nation. Court TV and Langley Productions will develop original programming for both television and the Internet. Crime.com will also partner with CourtTV.com, the leading crime and justice portal on the web.

Among the most popular sites in the Crime.com portal is the Maricopa County (Ariz.) Sheriff's Office, which operates a live jailhouse Web-cam in the Madison Street Jail, a maximum security facility in Phoenix. The site received over six million hits in its first two days on the Web.

As Langley commented in a prepared statement, "This is a unique opportunity for people to witness first-hand what an unpleasant experience it is to be arrested and jailed. It's an extension of what viewers see every week it COPS. We're excited to add this new feature to Crime.com and make the site an even more dynamic, interactive experience for our users."