September 1, 1999

Short Takes, September 1999


Summer was great here, with big changes going down at the IDA. A hearty welcome goes out to Kathleen Fairweather at the top of the ID masthead as the new editor-in-chief, and a fond farewell extends to former editor Tim Lyons. Adieu aussi to Apple Via, the Special Projects Coordinator, whose swan song was the Wattstax screening and presen­tation last month (more on Wattstax in the October issue). Thanks for her dynamism and versatility; DOCtober could not have happened without her. The rest of us remain, and Melissa Disharoon, the Fiscal Sponsorship Coordinator, fills Apple's shoes. Betsy McLane and Grace Ouchida have been criss-crossing the continent, running seminars in New York and hosting paities in Boston, where McLane attended the annual University Film and Video Foundation conference. September abounds and October awaits.


Delivering on its commitment to support independent film and video, PBS launched a new series this past summer, INDEPENDENT LENS, that includes both nonfiction and fiction work. The series follows the long-running P.O.V. series in the programming schedule, and is designed to complement that acclaimed series. Donald Thoms, vice president, PBS program management, curated the series, culling from submissions supplied directly from producers, as well as program suppliers such as Independent Television Service (ITVS), the National Asian American Telecommunications Association (NAATA), the National Black Programming Consortium (NBPC), Native American Public Telecommunications (NAPT), and Pacific Islanders in Communications (PIC).

Thoms noted that the impetus for launching this new series was partly due to a lack of aware­ness among independent filmmakers that PBS is a strong showcase for their work. "I work a lot with independents here at PBS," Thoms said. "Our schedule is made so much of independent work, but a lot of people didn't know that. They were going to other places and not realizing that a home for independents has been PBS." Thoms, who sits on P.O.V.'s editorial committee, thought of this series in relation to P.O.V. "Our signature series for independent acquisition i s P.O.V. They get hundreds of films submitted every year, and many of these works never get seen. We thought it would be interesting to do another series of independent work that we could spread out in our schedule, to assist P.O.V. What we're hoping to do is complement P.O.V., not replace it. A lot of local PBS stations have their independent time slots and need works to go in there."

Some of the titles that have been screened already since the August 9th launch date have been Wannabe: Life and Death in a Small Town Gang, by John Whitehead; Nothing But the Truth, by Mark Steven Shepherd; Visas and Virtue, by Chris Tashima; and I Am Viet Hung, by Diep N. Bui. For this month's schedule, go to "North American Broadcast Premieres." The series runs through October 11th .

ABCNEWS VideoSource Doubles the Size of Its Facilities

ln response to an ever-growing demand from self­ service clients for on-site research and screening, IDA Trustee ABCNEWS VideoSource has doubled the floor space of its New York offices. Since its opening in 1995, the archive has proved a rich resource for documentary researchers, multi media producers and corporate clients. Clients can research the entire ABCNEWS collection, which dates back to 1963, as well as film and tape collections from the Worldwide Television News, the Associated Press, British Movietone and Universal Newsreel. Five booths are dedicated to screening tapes from these collections, and VideoSource can also accommodate clients for 16mm film screening.

With the expansion, VideoSource has added new dubbing facilities, including three Beta-to-Beta transfer decks, two Beta-to-VHS decks and an Elmo to make quick film-to-tape transfers. To use the research and screening facilities at ABCNEWS VideoSource, call 800.789.1250 to make an appointment.

Academy Restores Short Doc Category

Based on research commissioned by its' Board of Governors, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences elected to restore the Academy Award for Best Short Documentary. Earlier this year, the Academy had voted to eliminate the category, cit­ing a lack of entries. Prominent members of the filmmaking community-Martin Scorsese, Michael Eisner and Robert Redford among them­ responded with full-page ads in the Hollywood trades (reprinted in last ID) and a constant stream of faxes, e-mails and letters. See ''Festivals and Competitions" for details on submitting short and feature length documentaries.

Film Preservation Foundation Launches Millennium Initiative

With a total of $700,000 in support from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Pew Charitable Trusts, the National Film Preservation Foundation launched the Treasures of American Film Archives Millennium Project. The nationwide initiative, spearheaded by NFPF in collaboration with seventeen archives, will help "orphan films" reach a larger audience. The Foundation will present three screenings next year—in Los Angeles, New York and Washington, D.C.

Among the documentaries and nonfiction works selected for the Project are the Tatsuno Collection (1938-60), from the Japanese American National Museum; Cologne: From the Diary of Ray and Esther (1939), from the Minnesota Historical Society; Moana (1926), Robert Flaherty's portrait of Samoan life, from the Museum of Modem Art (NY); World Trip Collection (1935-36), from the National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution; Why We Fight (1942-45), commissioned by the U.S. War Department and produced by Frank Capra, from the National Archives and Records Administration; the Harry Carney Collection (1938-41), from the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution; the Melville J. Herskovitz Collection (1930-34), from the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution; and Safety First (1940), from the West Virginia State Archives.

Burns Inks Ten Year Deal with General Motors

In a deal that could set the gold standard for film­maker-sponsor relationships, filmmaker Ken Burns and General Motors reached an agreement last summer, in which the auto manufacturing giant would underwrite a significant portion of every project Mr. Burns undertakes over the next decade. General Motors, which has helped to underwrite most of Burns' films, from The Civil War on, will finance 35% of the cost of each film that Burns produces and the entire cost of the educational materi­als. "Having a long-term commitment allows you to do some real long-range planning," Burns told The New York Times. "I still have to go out and raise the other 65%, and that's not a snap of the finger. But now, if we have a good idea and it stands the test of our own poking and prodding, at least we've got this head strut on a bud get."

Aussi Doc Foundation Sets Out to Assist Documentarians

A fundraising foundation was formed over the summer to provide financial support for Australian documentary filmmakers. The Documentary Foundation aims to promote and strengthen the Australian documentary industry, with the help of money raised from the corporate and private sectors. Funds will be used to support a grant program for local documentary makers and finance projects that advance documentary making in Australia. Other activities the foundation will support include an annual awards night for makers; regular screenings of works for both the industry and the general public; independent advocacy; and the collection and distribution of information on the industry.

The Documentary Foundation is an initiative of The Odyssey Channel, a pay television documentary channel, and the Australian Screen Directors Association. An independent board of directors will oversee the Foundation, with members drawn from the world of business and the film and television industry.

Thirty Years After: Woodstock: The Book

Just in time for Woodstock '99, Michael Weise Productions released its latest tome: Woodstock: An Inside Look at the Movie that Shook Up the World and Defined a Generation. This book, written by IDA member Dale Bell, is a collection of remembrances and perceptions from the festival performers and producers and the filmmakers who created the Academy Award-winning Woodstock. Contributors include Arlo Guthrie, Country Joe McDonald, Joe Cocker, Martin Scorsese, Thelma Schoonmaker and others. (This book will be reviewed in the October issue).

The book is available in stores and online, and IDA members are entitled to a 10% discount. To order directly from Michael Wiese Productions, call 800.833.5738, or check out the website at


According to indieWIRE, filmmaker/IDA member Bennett Miller (The Cruise), producer Jed Alpert, agent Ann Blanchard and radio artist Ira Glass are pitching a television version of Glass's celebrated radio program This American Life. The television version, according to Glass, would incorporate four or five stories on a specific theme. "It would look like nothing on TV," Glass explained in The Slate. "In many stories, they'd be impressionistic, more like a great rock video, more like Errol Morris, than anything on the TV newsmagazine and documentary programs."

The San Francisco-based Outpost Film Center reports a flurry of activity in and out of its editing bays. Werner Herzog's latest doc My Best Fiend, a meditation on his love-hate relationship with actor Klaus Kinski, had extensive post­ production work done there; Haskell Wexler and Johanna Demetrakas brought their film Bus Riders Union there for sound editorial and mixing; and Jo Streit started post-production on Flirting with Power; an account of Ross Perot's 1992 and 1996 races. IDA member Tamsin Orion brought her documentary Pacific Vision to Outpost for sound and re-record mixing, and IDA member Barbara Sonneborn completed Foley recording on her award-winning Regret to Inform... New Yorker Films recently picked up My Best Fiend for domes­tic distribution; Werner Herzog screened his latest doc at Cannes Film Festival last May... In its 60th anniversary year, the National Film Board of Canada has announced its release docket for next year. Among the docs on the slate include Peter Wintonick's Cinema Verite, which chronicles that seminal movement in documentary filmmaking; and Perfect Hero, an examination of the romance novel industry... E! Networks and Leeza Gibbons Enterprises launched a Hollywood issue-oriented series in August on E! Entertainment. The series includes documentaries that will focus on such issues as Hollywood's obsession with youth; sexism in the entertainment industry; and the motivation behind charity involvement with charity causes... Lions Gate Entertainment acquired the North American distribution rights to Errol Morris's latest work Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter Jr. The film profiles an engineer who designs and repairs gas chambers, electric chairs and lethal injection systems. Mr. Leuchter also wrote a highly controversial book that ques tioned the truth of the Holocaust... Return With Honor, Freida Lee Mock and Terry Sanders' acclaimed film about American POWs in Vietnam , picked up a high-profile endorser in Tom Hanks, who was so impressed with the film that he agreed to lend his name to it as a presenter... 7th Art Releasing will distribute Parris Patton's latest film Creature worldwide. The doc profiles a Hollywood-based, North Carolina-born drag queen who undergoes a sex change operation.


The Academy of Television Arts and Sciences announced the primetime Emmy Award nominations in July; here are the nominees on the nonfic­tion categories: Programs—Nonfiction Special: Avalanche: The White Death (National Geographic Special), NBC; Dying to Tell the Story, TBS; The Farm: Life Inside Angola Prison, IDA Trustee A&E; Lenny Bruce: Swear to Tell the Truth, IDA Trustee HBO; Little Dieter Needs to Fly: Escape from Laos, Cinemax; Thug Life in D.C., HBO. Programs-Nonfiction Series: The American Experience, IDA Trustee PBS; American Masters, PBS; The Awful Truth with Michael Moore, Bravo; Biography, A&E; Inside the Actors Studio, Bravo. Achievement in Nonfiction Programming­ Cinematography: Richard Chisholm, Cory Taylor, Erich Yolkstorf, Skip Gray, Avalanche: The White Death (National Geographic Special), NBC ; Samuel Henriques, Bob Perrin, The Farm: Life Inside Angola Prison, A&E. Achievement in Nonfiction Programming—Picture Editing: Deborah Peretz, AMERICAN MASTERS: Leonard Bernstein: Reaching for the Note, PBS; Luke Sacher, BIOGRAPHY: The Rat Pack, A&E; Mary Manhardt, Mona David, The Farm: Life Inside Angola Prison, A&E; Tricia Reidy, Frank Lloyd Wright, PBS; IDA member Geof Bartz, Robert P. Weide, Lenny Bruce: Swear to Tell the Truth, HBO. Achievement in Nonfiction Programming­ Sound Editing: Cory Taylor, Avalanche: The White Death (National Geographic Special), NBC; Margaret Crimmins, Paul D. Hsu, The Farm: Life Inside Angola Prison, A&E; Derek Luff, George Leyva, Rick Norman, Why Dogs Smile & Chimpanzees Cry, IDA Trustee Discovery Channel. Achievement in Nonfiction Programming­ Sound Mixing: Dennis Towns, Scot B. Charles, Mark Linden, Al Decker, Avalanche: The White Death (National Geographic Special), NBC; Chris Drozalowski, BIOGRAPHY: The Rat Pack, A&E... Randolph Benson of North Carolina School of the Arts won the Student Academy Award in the documentary category for Man and Dog... The Academy Foundation of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced in June that it would award four American film festivals with grants of up to $50,000 each. The Chicago International, New York and Telluride Festivals will each receive $50,000, while the inaugural New York International Children's Film Festival is slated for $10,000. Academy President Robert Rehme indicated that the Foundation planned to give up to $250,000 per year to film festivals around the world, with the stipulation that the money be used for outreach and promotion efforts... Keiko Jbi, who won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Short this year, received the $10,000 Reise Award, which is part of the Dennis Reise Film Production Fund at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. The Reise Award goes for completion funds to a deserving film student... The British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) honored the best in television last May. And the winners were: The Flaherty Documentary Award: After Lockerbie, ITV; Best Factual Series: The Human Body, BBC2; Best Sound (Factual): The Life of Birds, BB1!; Best Editing (Factual): Lockerbie—A Night to be Remembered, ITV; New & Current Affairs Journalism: Inside the ALF, Channel 4; Best Features: Back to the Floor, BBC2; Originality Award: The Human Body, BBC2; Best Photography (Factual): 42 Up, BBC1.


Children of Chabbannes, by IDA member Lisa Gossels and Dean Weaterell, won the Audience Award at the Nantucket Film Festival... IDA members Roko and Adrian Belie took the Documentary Jury Prize and the Audience Award at the Florida Film Festival for Genghis Blues, and Rolf Gibbs won the Best Documentary Short award for The Last Guy to Let You Down... IDA member Gary Weimberg won the Grand Jury Prize at the Atlanta Film & Video Festival for The Double Life of Ernesto Gomez Gomez, while Bob Sabistan and Tommy Pallotta's animated documentary Roadhead took the Animation Prize. Jasmine Dellal was honored with the Best Documentary Award for American Gypsy, and Jensen Rufe's The Ugliest Fountain in the World (Without a Doubt) won the Short Documentary Award... IDA member Mayo Chermayeff took the Documentary Jury Prize at the Chicago Alt.Film Festival for The Kindness of Strangers... Rory Kennedy earned Best Documentary honors at the Newport International Film Festival for American Hollow, while Rabbit in the Moon, by Emiko Omori, and Speaking in Strings, by IDA member Paola di Florio, won the Jury Awards in the Documentary Competition, and Come Unto me: The Faces of Tyree Guyton, by Nicole Cattell, took the Jury Award in the Short Film category. Marco Amenta's One Girl Against the Mafia picked up the Documentary Audience Prize... The Best Documentary Award at the New York Lesbian and Gay Film Festival went to Theme: Murder by Martha Swetzoff... Wim Wenders won the Best Documentary prize at the Seattle International Film Festival for Buena Vista Social Club... Nettie Wilde's A Place Called Chiapas and Paul Jay's Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows won three awards each at Hot Docs: Toronto International Documentary Festival last May. The films shared the honors for Best Feature, while Hitman Hart was honored for Best Independent Canadian Film and its editor, Manfred Becker, shared the Best Editing Award with Beyond Belief's John Weedmark. Wild took the Best Direction prize, and the film's sound­ man, the aptly named Velcrow Ripper, won for Best Overall Sound. Anne Henderson's The Road from Kampuchea received the Best Political Documentary Prize and the Vision TV Humanitarian Award. The Best History Documentary Award went to Patricio Henriques' The Last Stand of Salvador Allende, and Shui-Bo Wang's Sunrise over Tiananmen Square won the Best Short Award. Mosco Boucoult of the Ivory Coast took the Critic's Prize for International Documentary for Un Crime a Abidjan... IDA mem­ber Dai Sil Kim-Gibson and Emiko Omori were presented with the Asian American Media Award at the Asian American International Film Festival in July. The festival screened Kim-Gibson's latest film Silence Broken: Korean Comfort Women.


Mark O'Brien, the journalist and poet who was the subject of IDA member Jessica Yu's Academy Award winning documentary Breathing Lessons: The Life and Work of Mark O'Brien, died last July at his home in Berkeley, California of complications from bronchitis. Mr. O'Brien, stricken with polio as a child, was forced to live out most of his life in an iron lung. Despite his severely restricted mobility, he received a degree in English from University of California at Berkeley and attended Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism. He published sev­eral volumes of poetry, and in 1997 he co-founded Lemonade Factory, a small press that publishes poetry by people with disabilities. He was 49, and he is survived by his brother Kenneth, his sister Rachel and his father Walter O'Brien.


Library of Congress to Display Edison Collection on Web

The National Digital Library Program of the Library of Congress is displaying a significant part of its collection of motion picture and sound recordings of Thomas Edison. The website,, features 341 motion pictures, 81 sound recordings and several photographs, as well as a brief history of Edison's involvement with motion pictures and sound recordings. The motion pictures on the website, produced from 1891 to 1918, include some of the earliest documentaries ever made—actualities depicting the life and times of that era.

Keynote Publishing Releases Almanac of Politics and Government Online

The Virginia-based Keynote Publishing Company has made available its Almanac of Politics and Government on the web at The Almanac provides all the information you need to know about the American government and political systems—information on current office holders; the history, function and election statistics of political parties; and extensive economic statistics. The site also features a collection of landmark political doc­uments. The complete Almanac is available to both subscribers and guests, and non-members may browse and search the on-line version of the 1999-2000 print edition, researching political statistics and information that are current to 1999.