October 1, 2001

Short Takes, October 2001


On-Line Community Inspires “Essays on Documentary”

The D-Word Community (www.d-word.com), an international online collective of documentary filmmakers, launched its first collaborative project, Essays on Documentary, on June 20, in partnership with Docuweb (www.docuweb.org), a leading documentary streaming site.

The D-Word Community was launched two years ago with the intent of creating a genuine community for documentary professionals. After a year of getting to know one another via online postings and discussion, the members of D-Word decided to try to make a film together utilizing Internet technology. According to Doug Block, veteran doc filmmaker and one of the founders of D-Word, they first spent months tossing ideas around. “Someone on the site even made a bet that it would never get off the ground,” Block recalls.

The bet posting set off a frenzy of brainstorming, which resulted in official proposals. Approximately 15 semi-finalists were narrowed down to seven finalists, from which Essays was finally chosen. The piece consists of eight short nonfiction films in which filmmakers explore the business, art and trauma of the documentary process. The shorts range in style and tone from Carlos Gomez’s Seeds, a portrait of fellow doc filmmaker Margarita Carrilla in earthquake-ravaged Columbia to Jill Chamberlain’s Living on Borrowed Time, a humorous first-person account of credit-card film financing.

“What’s interesting about the project is what ended up being collaborative and what didn’t,” says Block. “It became more analog than I had hoped. I had this image of people swapping electronic files, but the technology wasn’t in place.” Several members did indeed collaborate during the production process, after which the shorts were put on tape and sent around through the mail. Filmmakers experimented with putting a few of the shorts up on the site for private streaming, but were unable to see the pieces well enough to offer constructive feedback.

Block notes, “This was an experiment in collaboration across geographical borders. The piece was conceived, initiated and, in a sense, produced online by people who had never met one another in person. The production process was very public.” Excited by the results, members of D-Word are already talking about other forms of collaboration in the future.

Essays on Documentary will be streamed online by the San Francisco based Docuweb for one year.

IFFCON Takes a Break

In an ironic twist, IFFCON, the annual film financing conference held in San Francisco in January, will take a year off in 2002 due to loss of funding. Organizers plan to use the year to research and evaluate the current state of film financing and distribution, then re-organize the event accordingly. In January 2002, a think tank will be held instead of the conference with the purpose of re-assessing the event.

Sundance Adopts Soros Documentary Fund

Since its founding in 1996, the Soros Documentary Fund has been a program of the Open Society Institute, and has supported over 250 documentaries around the world focusing on contemporary human rights issues. Donor George Soros has single-handedly funded the SDF. As of July 2001, however, the Fund ceased being a program of the OSI and was transferred to the International Program of the Sundance Institute. The goal in doing so was to broaden the funding base in order to eventually allow the SDF to become self-sustainable.

While OSI will continue to support the Fund over the next few years, Diane Weyermann, Director of International Programs at the Sundance Institute, will directly oversee it. The Fund may be renamed, but its goal will remain the same: to support international, high quality documentaries dealing with social justice, civil liberties and freedom of expression.

EDN Holds Executive Committee Meeting

The Executive Committee of European Documentary Network held its summer meeting in late June in conjunction with the new documentary festival SEE Docs in Dubrovnik in order to support the rebuilding of professional relations in the Balkans after ten years of strife.

The biggest issue on the agenda centered on how to launch a large European campaign to better production conditions for independent documentary producers. Public channels, which used to fund well-researched, creative documentaries, are now more often looking for quick and cheap solutions in order to compete with commercial TV players. As it was put by one committee member, “The public channels are not reaching for the sky anymore.”

Other facets of the meeting included a one-day co-production conference; the decision to continue collaboration with the local organizers of the Ireland’s Doclands and Bulgaria’s Documentaries and Human Rights; and organizing a one-day workshop in connection with the Sheffield International Documentary Festival.

Discovery Flies With British Airways

British Airways and the Discovery Channel have teamed up to make flights just a bit more interesting. Beginning September 1, all British Airways long-haul flights began showing two hours and 15 minutes of Discovery Channel programs throughout their flights.

In a prepared statement, Catherine Breza, Director, Discovery Private Networks, said, “With its focus on exploring the world and experiencing other cultures and lands, the Discovery Channel is an ideal source of programming for airline passengers.”

Martin George, British Airways Director of Marketing, added, “The Discovery Channel is a first-class addition to our existing excellent onboard television line-up, and another significant step in our continuing commitment to offer the highest quality in-flight entertainment and travel experience.”

AFI’s eTV Workshop Announces 2001 Participants

In July, the American Film Institute announced its selections for the 2001 AFI Enhanced TV (eTV) Workshop, an exclusive production-based environment that provides television producers with the opportunity to work with and be mentored by world-class technology innovators and designers to create a prototype for the next generation of digital television.

Documentary projects chosen for the 2001 Workshop are as follows: People Like Us: Social Class in America, a light-hearted yet searching look at America’s home-grown class system (prods./dirs.: Louis Alvarez and Andrew Kolker); The New Americans, a six-part series from Kartemquin Films, the producers of Hoop Dreams, that follows immigrants from their homeland to their new lives in the US; Accordian Dreams, a documentary narrated by singer/songwriter Tish Hinojosa which features yesterday’s and today’s “squeezebox” trailblazers who define Texas Conjunto Music (prod./dir.: Hector Galan); and Wilson and the Birth of the American Century, a documentary on Woodrow Wilson, produced by KCET and Carl Byker.

Robert T. Coonrod, CPB president and CEO, said in a prepared statement, “Public TV is a leader in digital innovation, and this new partnership with AFI will enable us to advance the art further and faster…we are gratified that public TV again leads in the number of programs accepted into the Workshop. This format will enable the PBS producers and talented producers from HBO and Comedy Central to learn a great deal from each other and their Workshop mentors.”

Australian Commission Revises Funding Guidelines

The Australian Commission (AFC) announced that it is revising its funding guidelines for the General Development Investment (GDI), Consultant Producer Mentor and Interactive Digital Media programs.

In addition to supporting the development of documentary and drama slates, the GDI will now also included television projects previously supported by the Commercial Television Production Fund. The Consultant Mentor Program now allows for the attachment of a mentor producer during the development phase. The Interactive Digital Media Program will now focus on development, as opposed to production.

German Focus for Hot Docs 2002

The 2002 international exchange program of Toronto’s Hot Docs will focus on Germany, with a series of industry events and screenings held over the coming year. Twelve Canadian indie doc producers/directors will attend the 45th International Leipzing Film Festival this month. In return, Hot Docs will present a spotlight on German documentary cinema at its 2002 festival in May.

Kodak Debuts Prototype Digital Cinema System

This past July, Kodak began staging demonstrations of an early prototype of its digital cinema system. Currently being tested at the company’s Imaging Technology Center (ITC) in Los Angeles, the new system will be shown to filmmakers, developers and exhibitors over the next several months with the goal of using reactions and advice obtained during demonstrations as a roadmap for guiding and motivating ongoing research and development.

Robert J. Mayson, General Manager, Cinema Operations, explained, “We are determined to push digital cinema to ever-higher standards…we believe that digital cinema is not a product, but a process.” Kodak’s goal is an affordable digital cinema that has reliable anti-piracy safeguards and accurately represents the artistic intentions of the creative community.

The ITC’s main mission is to test and demonstrate new film, digital and hybrid imaging technologies and provide informed feedback. Glenn Kennel, ITC’s Digital Cinema Program Manager, anticipates that the first systems will be delivered to exhibitors within one or two years.


PBS Journeys

The latest segment of the public television series Journey to Planet Earth recently finished shooting its latest episode on environmental pressures common to the world’s grasslands. Producers Marilyn and Hal Weiner journeyed to Argentina, South Africa, Kenya, the Great Plains of North America and the Chinese State of Inner Mongolia to gather footage for the program.

Dedicated to educating and motivating large audiences about new ways of looking at the environment and how humans affect it, the series features three one-hour specials a year. It is supported by an outreach initiative designed for students, community leaders, teachers and parents. Upcoming episodes include an exploration of the increased spread of infectious diseases and how severe environmental problems can lead to increased hostilities around the world.

Cameron’s Real Life Look at Titanic

Director James Cameron began production this past summer on the large-format 3D documentary Ghost Of The Abyss. The film, which follows a six-week underwater expedition to the wreckage of both the Titanic and the Bismark, is being produced by Cameron and WALDEN Media.


Pierson for President

The Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences elected Academy Award® winner Frank R. Pierson as the new president this past August. Pierson, a governor representing the writers’ branch of the Academy, served as vice president last year. He succeeds Robert Rehme.

A writer and director, Pierson won the Oscar® for his original screenplay of Dog Day Afternoon, and was nominated for Academy Awards for Cat Ballou, with Walter Newman, and Cool Hand Luke. His directorial efforts include A Star is Born and cable television projects such as Citizen Cohn, Truman and Conspiracy.

Roger Mayor (executives’ branch governor) was elected first vice president, Don Rogers (sound branch governor) and Kathy Bates (actors’ branch governor) were elected vice presidents, Alan Bergman (music branch governor) was elected treasurer, and Saul Zaentz (producers’ branch governor) was elected secretary. Rehme will automatically return to serve as the Immediate Past President.

Janes Retires From NFB

After almost 30 years of service to the National Film Board of Canada, Barbara Janes retired this August as the Director General of the NFB’s English program. Janes served in a variety of posts during her tenure at the NFB, including Director of Canadian Distribution, Producer at Studio D and Executive Producer of the Pacific Centre.

Bay Area Strikes Gould

This past September Tamara Gould was named Executive Director for the Bay Area Video Coalition (BAVC). She had previously worked at the nonprofit media arts center from 1996 – 2000, including a stint as their associate director.

She succeeds Sally Jo Fifer, who recently left BAVC to head-up the Independent Television Service (ITVS). Fifer served as executive director for nine years, shepherding the organization through its growth as a force in the field of technology workforce development.

In a prepared statement Gould said, “I am incredibly honored and inspired by the opportunity to return and lead BAVC. The organization is at the forefront of independent media and I look forward to ensuring its continued success as a national leader in technology and training.”

Jackson Crosses the Pond

Michael Jackson, Chief Executive of UK Broadcaster Channel 4, resigned in July to take the post of President and Chief Executive at the USA Entertainment Group, the film and television production division of USA Networks.


The United States – Japan Foundation (USJF) awarded its inaugural Cornerstone Prize to the Smithsonian Institution in support of The Japanese American Saga. The hi-def television documentary series is being co-produced by the Smithsonian and KCTS/Seattle Public Television, in association with the University of Hawaii – West Oahu’s Center for Labor Education and Research (CLEAR). The USJF is a private independent American grant-making foundation dedicated to improving understanding between the American and Japanese people.


Bradley Beesley’s Okie Noodling and Hybrid, by Monteith McCollum, split the award for Best Documentary Feature at the Great Plains Film Festival. Hybrid is the story of one man’s love and obsession for hybrid corn. Okie Noodling looks at the excitement of hand fishing or “noodling,” and the sense of community that has hooked three Oklahoma families on hand fishing. Heather Courtney’s Los Trabajadores (The Workers), a story of immigrant day laborers in the context of the economic development of Austin, Texas, received the Nebraska Humanities Council Award. The Best Documentary Short award went to Eugene McCarthy: I’m Sorry I Was Right, by Mike Hazard.

The Outie Awards for Outfest 2001: The 19th Annual Gay and Lesbian Film Festival were presented in July. Simcha Dubowski’s Trembling Before G-D, which looks at gays and lesbians in the Orthodox Jewish community, took home the Grand Jury Award for Documentary Feature. The Audience Award for Documentary Feature went to Lifetime Guarantee: Phranc’s Adventure in Plastic, a doc about the folk singer.

Highlight Films’ Between the Lines (1x58’) won first prize in the Jerusalem Film Festival’s In the Spirit of Freedom award.

Juna Carlos Zalvidar's 90 Miles won the Best Documentary Award at the 2001 New York Latino International Film Festival.

The Crested Butte Reel Fest awarded a Gold Award for Best Documentary to Local Heroes, by George and Beth Gage. Marianna Yarovskaya of the University of Southern California was awarded the Gold Award for Student Documentary for Undesirables. Two documentaries tied for 2nd place for the audience-cast awards: Artists and Orphans, by Lianne Klapper McNally, and The Gunnison Sage Grouse - A Dance of Survival, directed by Angie Varela and produced by Crested Butte resident Sue Navy. Silver Awards (2nd place) were awarded to A Brief History of Cuba in D Minor, by Martino Sclavi, and to F. Hatton Littman’s student documentary, Losing Your Grip: A Family’s Story with ALS.

Alison Duke’s Raisin’ Kane: A Rapumentary was awarded the HBO Documentary prize at the 5th Urbanworld Film Festival, along with $5,000. Estela Bravo received a special award for Excellence in Documentary Filmmaking for Fidel, her piece about the infamous Cuban leader. The award for Best Short in the documentary category went to Alison McDonald’s The Life and Times of Little Jimmy B.

Maisa Mendonca’s Strong Roots, which explores the issue of Brazil’s Landless Movement, took the Best Documentary prize at the 5th Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival.

The 7th Annual Palm Springs International Festival of Short Films awarded first place in the documentary category, along with a $2000 prize, to Beautiful America, by German Peter Roloff. I Could Have Been Human by Polish director Barbara Medajska won first place for documentary film in the student category.


Dwight Stanley Long, Pioneer Doc Filmmaker, Dies at 89

Dwight Stanley Long, lifetime mariner, adventurer and filmmaker, died of pneumonia on July 3 in Santa Monica, CA, at the age of 89. Known for his wartime and travel footage, the images Long captured in the first part of the 20th century are familiar to many.

Born and reared in Seattle, at the age of 21, Long began his journey to sail around the world on his 32-foot ketch. Bringing his camera, he planned to work his way around the world, sending stories to papers and magazines along the way. The footage shot during his 1934-1940 circumnavigation of the globe resulted in his film, Sailing All Seas. This was converted to video a decade ago and is sold at various seafarer venues.

The footage he shot during his trip resulted in Long’s assignment during World War II to the Yorktown II. With two assistants, he documented the Pacific war on 16mm film from the ship’s deck and Navy fighter cockpits. Periodically, he flew to Hawaii to develop the film, keeping one copy and giving one to military officials for movie theater newsreels.

His footage from the war was made into the Academy Award-winning documentary The Fighting Lady, by 20th Century Fox, which was directed by Louis de Rochemont and narrated by actor and former Navy lieutenant Robert Taylor. His footage continues to be used in World War II movies. One of his most recognizable clips shows a Hellcat fighter plane crashing onto the Yorktown and breaking in half, and the pilot safely climbing out.

Later on, Long created several travel documentaries which utilized the film he shot during the 1930s and 1940s. He narrated these as “Armchair Adventures” at UCLA’s Royce Hall into the 1970s. He is survived by his brother and sister.


Online Buzz

The Independent Television Service (ITVS) launched a new web site featuring highlights from the print publication BUZZWORDS at www.buzzwordsonline.com. The site contains resources and information for independent filmmakers, public television stations and audiences, including features, funding applications, and broadcast information. The ITVS was established by Congress to fund and present programs that “involve creative risks and address the needs of underserved audiences, especially children and minorities,” while granting control to artistic producers.