September 1, 2001

Short Takes, September 2001


Academy Board Issues 74th Awards Rules

In June, the Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences ruled that Documentary Short Subjects may also qualify for award consideration by winning a Best Documentary short award from one of nine designated film festivals. The qualifying film festivals and specific awards are: Aspen ShortsFest (Best Documentary); Black Maria Film Festival (Jurors’ Choice); Clermont-Ferrand Short Film Festival (The Grand Prix); The Double Take Documentary Festival (The Jury Award for Short Film); The International Short Film Festival Oberhausen (The Grand Prize of the City of Oberhausen); Sundance Film Festival (Jury Award for Short Filmmaking); Tampere Film Festival (Best Documentary); Uppsala International Short Film Festival (Grand Prix); and USA Film Festival (First Place, Non-Fiction).

Frieda Lee Mock Elected to Academy Board of Governors

Academy Award-winning documentarian Freida Lee Mock was elected to the Board of Governors at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences in July. She is the first governor of the newly created documentary branch (see March 2001 Short Takes). The branch was announced in January after the board of governors approved a proposal submitted by Documentary Film Award Committee Chairman Arnold Schwartzman.

British-Austrian Doc Conference Announced

This past May, the Vienna Film Fund organized Reel Time - Documentary, a bilateral, British-Austrian conference on television documentaries. The purpose of the event was to look at how Austrian TV could benefit from examining the successful example of British television documentaries. In Austria, despite an abundance of talent, documentaries have virtually disappeared from prime-time television.

A panel of speakers consisted of British and Austrian producers, directors and commissioning editors, and was accompanied by screenings of British TV docs. Complementing the event were screenings of Austrian Cinema Documentaries in London at the Lux Cinema.

Large Study for the Large Screen

According to a 10-market global study recently completed by L & J Research, Inc. for and MacGillivray Freeman Films, large format audiences are upscale, extremely well-educated, have high profile careers and are loyal to the genre. The study, based on nearly 1,000 questionnaire responses from IMAX theater patrons, is believed to be the most comprehensive demographic and lifestyle study ever conducted in the large format industry. is a large format fan site. MacGillivray Freeman Films is the leading independent producer and distributor of IMAX theater films, and helped to fund the study for the purposes of researching their audience and securing corporate sponsorship for various film projects.

NetGuru forms NetGuru Documentary Division

Net Guru announced in May that it was forming NetGuruDocumentary Digital Television Programming to produce and distribute documentaries with emphasis on unique and previously undocumented subjects from the Indian subcontinent.

In a prepared statement, Charles Sleichter, Vice President, Digital Media and Program Development, explained that the new division was set to initially produce six one-hour programs “that not only illuminate previously untold stories and perspectives of India but also create a strong link with and cultural bridge for global and western audiences.” The documentary arm has also acquired a number of completed award-winning programs on India for worldwide distribution.

The six one-hour shows currently in various stages of production are: The Snake-Charmer's Daughter; Drops of Immortality; Through the Eyes of a Poacher; Children of the Tiger God; Cast by Caucasians; and Durga Puja: The Mother of All Celebrations.

According to Sleichter, NetGuruDocumentary is also providing pre-production and logistical support, crewing and equipment to outside documentary and feature film producers.

PBS and Carlton Establish Co-Production Fund

PBS and CPB in the US, and Carlton International, the sales arm of UK commercial broadcaster Carlton Communications, are creating a co-production fund worth $20 million over three years. The fund will be open to US and UK producers.

ARTE and BBC Forge Doc Co-Production Pact

Two of Europe's most significant commissioners of documentaries, ARTE (France and Germany) and the BBC (UK) have agreed to a co-production pact. The agreement enables them to co-invest in high-end documentary projects, thus creating a European entity capable of independently producing and delivering major films to the largest European markets.

New US Doc Channel

Chronicle, a new digital cable channel for documentaries, was launched on July 1. Chronicle is based in New York, and its goal is to program cultural, historical and independent productions.

The launch schedule includes Mark Jonathan Harris' The Long Way Home, the 1997 Oscar-winning feature doc which looks at people displaced after the Holocaust. Chronicle has also acquired 80 hours of programming from distributor Winstar Worldwide, which includes the eight-part one-hour series The Water Planet, on marine life; Aspects of Life, a 13-part series on natural history in southern Africa; and Quest: The Origins of Modern Beliefs, a 13-part series on myths and faith.

Producer Henry Kesler fills the post of Senior Vice-President, Programming, for Chronicle. Rick Blume serves as the CEO.


De-Classified Information Featured in Cable Ready's End Game

The international distribution and development company Cable Ready is launching the four-part End Game, a factual mini-series epic about the Cold War, at MIP COM. The project features recently de-classified information from both US and Soviet military archives. Cable Ready has also been named the international distributor for Renegade Productions and Leo McWatkins Films.

Residential Reality

TNT has ordered 13 episodes of Residents, a new reality drama from executive producer R.J. Cutler (American High, The War Room). The hour-long show will follow real-life medical residents during their first year of work at a hospital.

A&E Completes The Impressionists

History Television Productions, an in-house production unit of A&E Networks, completed The Impressionists in May. The program is a four-hour biographical series about the 19th century art movement.

Demme and LaGravanese Explore the ’70s With IFC

Ted Demme and Richard LaGravanese headed into production in June on a documentary for the Independent Film Channel recognizing American films and filmmakers of the 1970s. IFC Originals, a division of IFC Enterainment, is funding the piece, which will include contemporary directors interviewing directors from the ’70s. Jonathan Sehring, Caroline Kaplan and Alison Palmer Bourke of IFC Entertainment are executive producing the project. According to the announcement, the film will be released theatrically by IFC films in late 2002 prior to its network debut.

Media Monster Hits the Trail

Chicago-based production company Media Monster is producing a feature-length documentary that retraces the steps of the infamous “Hippie Trail” of the 1960s. Angered with the Vietnam War, the perceived greed and lies of the government, the rise of capitalism and the spiritual bankruptcy of their religions, many hippies looked eastward to India and Nepal. It is estimated that between 1965-1975, over half a million Americans and Western youth sold their belongings, packed their bags and began the epic trip east.

Media Monster will travel from Istanbul across Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Nepal, retracing the stories of several hippies. The film is being produced and directed by Nail Lard, and shot by Oral User.

Aussie Approval

The Australian Film Finance Corporation (FFC) approved financing for four documentary projects in its June funding round. The films granted funding were Deadly Rivals (Prod.: Jane Ramsey, Dir.: Stephen Ramsey), which looks at dog shows, female boxers, ballroom dancing and the Gold Coast Meter Maids in order to examine people's obsession with winning; A Fine Body of a Gentleman (Seedwillow Pty Ltd, Prod./Wtr.: John Izzard, Dir.: Geoff Burton), which tells the story of the three-year odyssey of a group of black cricketers from rural Victoria, the white men who trained them and how they became Australia's first ever international cricket touring team; Land Mines - A Love Story (Camerawork Limited, Prod./Dir.: Dennis O'Rourke), about the relationships between a number of people who have had their lives defined by the phenomenon of land mines; and Native Tongues (Nick Torrens Film Productions Pty Ltd, Prod./Wtr.: Nick Torrens, Dir.: Mitch Torrens), which compares the worlds and the experiences of indigenous peoples in Australia and the US through the eyes of two indigenous performance artists, Ningali Lawford and James Luna.

Airtime for Mizrahi

This September the Oxygen network launches The Isaac Mizrahi Show, a 30-minute documentary series featuring designer/singer/actor Isaac Mizrahi. The show, which also has a web component, will be taped on location in both New York and Los Angeles and will follow Mizrahi through his daily activities. Dori Berinstein is executive producing.

Apted to Explore American Marriage

Michael Apted will direct Married in America, a two-hour documentary special for A&E. The film will be the first in a longitudinal study of marriage in the US as it looks at the changing dimensions of and stresses on marital relationships. From August to October, Apted will film eight couples who are about to be married. In a year or two, he will return to film them again and see how their lives are progressing. Steve Lawrence of Manhattan-based Yerosha Productions is producing.

Sundance Channel Launches Anatomy of a Scene

In July, the Sundance Channel launched a new original series, Anatomy of a Scene. The series looks behind the scenes at the making of new films. The first film to be featured on the program was Hedwig and the Angry Inch. The show included materials from the movie's production process such as storyboards and script notes.

Acquisitions Report

Cowboy Booking picked up George Butler's The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition for a September 2001 release. The movie, based on Caroline Alexander's best selling book, explores the story of Sir Ernest Shackleton's Antarctic expedition in 1914. The doc has screened at many festivals, including Sundance, Santa Barbara, San Francisco, Telluride and Double Take.

Carlton International has signed a major deal with Japan's NHK/MICO for the documentary special Organ Farm, a three-part series. The film offers a rare insight into one of the great medical advances of the new millennium, detailing the work being carried out by a team of scientists and doctors seeking to develop cross-species organ transplants. Organ Farm features the final preparations for the first human trials involving pig organs. The film has been signed for so far by Carlton International with UBC (Thailand), Channel News Asia (Singapore), ATV (Hong Kong), EBS (Korea), PTS (Taiwan), as well as Yes TV (Israel) and TV2 (Denmark).


The New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA) presented Monteith McCollum with the first-ever $25,000 NYFA Prize, an unrestricted grant from an anonymous donor awarded to “an artist of exceptional promise.” McCollum received the prize in addition to the $7,000 Fellowship grant. Selected in the Film Category were: Jorge Aguirre, Shawk Atkins (Gregory Millard Fellow), Pierre Bennu, Stephanie Black, Matthew E. Buckingham, Marcia M. Donalds (Deceased), Jorg Fockele, Barbara Hammer, Caran Hartsfield (Lily Auchincloss Fellow), Tessa Hughes-Freeland, Cristina Ibarra, Heiko Kalmbach, Lana Lin, Joshua Marston, Monteith McCollum (NYFA Prize), Bill Morrison, Bernardo Ruiz, Peter Sillen and Juan Carlos Zaldivar. Throughout the year, the NYFA's Artist and Audience Exchange will allow Fellowship members to display their work throughout New York at free public events, readings, workshops, performances, etc.

South Africa's Avanti Awards 2001, organized by the National Television Association (NTVA), were awarded to Lindy Wilson for the doc The Gugulethu Seven Part 1 & 2 and to Reel Communications for Circle of Ice. SABC News won the Avanti in the News/Actuality category for Special Assignment "Bishop from Shyogwe." The NTVA Avanti Award is a symbol of excellence for original creativity that advances or crystalizes the possibilities of media communication.

Flying Moon Filmproduktion's Havanna, Mi Amor won the German National Award for Best Documentary 2001. Havanna was written and directed by Uli Gaulke and produced by Helge Albers, Roshanak Behesht Nedjad and Konstantin Kroening. The film, which examines the Cuban love for telenovelas, also won the Prix Joris Ivens at Cinéma du Réel.

The Freedom of Expression Award was presented by The Playboy Foundation and Playboy TV Intl. at the Brazilian Film Festival of Miami to Brazilian producer/director Tete Moraes for the doc Rose's Dream, 10 Years Later. It is the first time the award, which includes a $5,000 prize, has been presented to a work produced outside the US. Rose's Dream is an update on Moraes' 1987 film Land for Rose, which told the story of 1,500 families who occupied a ranch in 1985, an event that led to the founding of Brazil's landless farmers movement. The Playboy Foundation joined with the Sundance Institute in 1993 to create the Freedom of Expression Award to honor documentary films that deal with social issues.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced the following Student Academy Awards: Gold Medal: XXXY, by Porter Gale and Laleh Soomekh, Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA; Silver Medal: Green, by Laura Dunn, University of Texas at Austin; Bronze Medal: Undesirables, by Marianna Yarovskaya, University of Southern California, CA.

Under their joint Documentary Online Initiative, the Australian Film Commission in association with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation have approved production funding for four new documentaries to be created specifically for Internet broadcast. Chosen from 116 applications, the projects will be produced for Web-streaming and hosting on ABC Online. The purpose of the AFC/ABC Documentary Online Initiative is to support projects that utilize the possibilities of the Internet and challenge conventional documentary forms. The documentarians chosen include both experienced producers and new filmmakers. The projects are as follows: Escape to Freedom (Sohail Dahdal and David Goldie), an exploration of the complex challenge Australia faces in responding to the plight of refugees; Homeless (Trevor Graham, Rosa Hesp and Rob Wellington), about an experiential website telling the stories of six individuals trapped in a state of homelessness in their booming global cities; The Wrong Crowd (Debra Beattie), a personal history as told by Beattie about the willingness of Queensland to ignore its injustices and corruption; and A Year On The Wing (Nell White), a journey with over two million wading birds as they attempt their annual migration from the Southern Pacific to Siberia and back.


Juan Carlos Zaldivar's 90 Miles was awarded the Best Documentary Award at the New York International Latino Film Festival. He was also presented with an award from the Cuban Artist's Fund at their annual fundraising gala.

The 2nd Annual Short Movie Awards selected Kevin O'Keefe's Destiny's Children for the documentary award. More than half a million site visitors watched and voted online to select the Audience Awards. Viewers chose Afrat Tal's No Backup as the winner in the documentary category.

The 7th Philadelphia Gay and Lesbian Film Festival awarded Jay Corcoran's Undetectable with the Best Documentary prize. The film looks at six people living with AIDS.

Inside Out, Toronto's Lesbian and Gay Film and Video Festival presented its Documentary Audience Award to Roger Hyde's Queen of the Whole Wide World.

The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition won the Award for Best Documentary at the 27th Seattle International Film Festival. The Endurance also won the Silver Deer for Best Documentary at the 2nd Lkae Placid Film Forum. The runner-up was Albert Maysles, Susan Froemke and Deborah Dickinson’s Lalee's Kin: The Legacy of Cotton.

The French documentary Avant de Partir by Paul De Laubier nabbed the prize for Best Doc at the 4th Newport International Film Festival. The Audience Award went to Gillian Grisman's Jerry Garcia/David Grisman portrait Grateful Dawg, which premiered at the fest. A Special Jury Prize went to Matthew Testa's doc The Buffalo War.

The New Festival: New York’s 13th Annual Lesbian and Gay Film Festival awarded Alexandra Shiva, Sean Macdonald and Michelle Gucovsky the Documentary Jury Award for Bombay Eunuch. Tom Shepard's Scout's Honor, a look at the anti-gay policies of the Boy Scouts of America, received a special jury prize, as well as the Audience Award for Best Documentary at the 25th San Francisco International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival in June.

Alain Cavalier's Vies (Lives) earned the top award in the documentary section of the 2001 Karlovy Vary Film Festival. The doc jury presented Uyen Luu's Pho (Noodle Soup) with the award in the “under 30 minute” category.

The 12th edition of the Human Rights Watch Festival opened in June with Jung (War) In The Land Of The Mujaheddin. The movie's Italian filmmakers, Alberto Vendemmiati, Fabrizio Lazzaretti and Guiseppe Pettito, received the Nestor Almendros Prize for courage and commitment in human rights filmmaking for their documentary on an Afghanistan hospital threatened by strict Taliban rule. US director Arthur Penn presented the award. Raoul Peck (Lumumba), was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award.

The top documentary award at IMAGE Film & Video Center's 25th Annual Atlanta Film & Video Festival was split between two films. Ryan Deussing's new nonfiction movie about the battle over the Confederate flag, Confederacy Theory, shared the award with T-Shirt Travels, an ITVS project that explored the selling of second-hand clothing in Africa. The Audience Award was shared by Eric Saperston's doc The Journey, which includes interviews with notable personalities and corporate executives, and Doug Pray's Scratch, a portrait of the turntablist/DJ sub-culture.

The Sundance Institute signed an agreement with the city of Park City, Utah, to keep the Sundance Film Festival in the city at least through 2005, with the potential for an extension through 2008. The 2002 Festival will take place one week earlier than usual (January 10-20) in order to accommodate the 2002 Olympics (February 8-24).

The 2001 Florida Film Festival awarded the Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary Feature to Kate Davis' Southern Comfort. George Butler's The Endurance received both the Audience Award for Best Documentary Feature and the Florida Forever Filmmaker Award. The Grand Jury Award for Best Documentary Short went to Riding The Tiger by John Haptas and Kristine Samuelson.


Thomson Exits The Independent After Fourteen Years

Patricia Thomson, the longtime editor-in-chief at The Independent Film & Video Monthly, the publication of the Association for Independent Film & Video, edited her valedictory issue last July, after 14 years at the top of the masthead. She has joined her husband to run something completely different: a wine tour company in Italy, called La Dolce Vita Wine Tours. Thomson will spend half the year in Italy, and half in the United States, where she will continue to write on a freelance basis.

Beth Pinsker has taken Thomson’s place as editor-in-chief.

St-Arnauld to Head Telefilm Canada

Johanne St-Arnauld, formerly Telefilm Canada's Director of International Relations, has been promoted to acting executive director of the organization. She succeeds François Macerola.

Facts Change at BBC's Factual Division

Richard Klein, a commissioning executive in the BBC's factual division, is taking responsibility for developing documentaries at BBC Knowledge, soon to become BBC4. Senior Commissioning Executive Jo Clinton Davis, also in the division, has been promoted to Head of Factual Commissioning, with responsibility for day-to-day management. She will report to BBC Controller of Factual Commissioning Nicola Moody.

Danielson is new Artistic Director of Edinburgh Film Fest

Shane Danielson, critic, columnist and programmer, will replace Lizzie Francke as the new Artistic Director of the Edinburgh International Film Festival.

Danielson has served as a program advisor for the ICA in London and a guest programmer at the Melbourne International Film Festival and the Smithsonian. He programmed the Max Ophuls retrospective at last year's Edinburgh Festival.

“I am extremely proud to be entrusted with this position at what I regard to be the UK's premiere film festival, and I look forward to working alongside a great team, to bring our audience the very best in world cinema,” said Danielson in a prepared statement.


Richard Rogers, Harvard Film Teacher, Dies at 57

Richard P. Rogers, filmmaker and director of the Film Study Center at Harvard University, died in July at his home in Wainscott, NY, due to melanoma.

Mr. Rogers devoted a large part of his life to education. He was a senior lecturer and senior research fellow at the Harvard center. Previously, he was Chairman of the Film Department at SUNY Purchase, where he and Willard Van Dyke created the highly regarded film program in 1974.

Mr. Rogers made a series of films for PBS, which included documentaries on William Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens and William Kennedy. Pictures From a Revolution, about Nicaragua in the wake of the Sandanista revolution, was produced by Mr. Rogers, his wife Susan Meiselas and Alfred Gazzuti. It was shown in 1991 at the 29th New York Film Festival. He also directed A Midwife's Tale, a drama about an 18th-century American midwife, which was shown on PBS in 1988.

Australia's John Heyer Dies at 84

John Heyer, a fundamental contributor to 20th century Australian documentary, died in London at age 84.

Heyer was born in Tasmania in 1916 and brought up in Melbourne. With films such as Men and Mobs, Journey of a Nation and The Valley Is Ours, Heyer aimed to document the construction of modern Australia. In 1945, Native Earth, about New Guinea, was nominated for an Oscar®. Heyer was a member of the New South Wales government documentary film committee in 1940, and executive producer of the National Film Board from 1945.

Heyer's best-known film was probably The Back Of Beyond, which was nominated for an Oscar® and won the Grand Prix Assoluto at the Venice Film Festival. In 1956, Heyer was appointed head of the Shell Film Unit, then the world's largest documentary producer, based in London. In 1967 he became an independent filmmaker and consultant to the Australian Broadcasting Commission and Rank. Heyer was awarded an OBE (Order of the British Empire) in 1970, was named a member of the European Academy of Arts, Sciences and Humanities in 1986 and was named a member of the Order of Australia in 1997.

Bill Nisselson, New York Indie Supporter, dies at 56

Bill Nisselson, Vice President, Studio Operations of Sound One, a post-production house in Manhattan, died on June 19 from a heart attack.

Nisselson was known for cutting deals for independent filmmakers and developing relationships with new directors as their careers grew. Nisselson oversaw sound mixing and editing for such films as the Coen brothers' Blood Simple and Ang Lee's Pushing Hands. Other filmmakers he worked with since beginning management of the post-house in 1980 included Woody Allen, Spke Lee, John Sayles and Ric Burns. He was working on several projects, including InDigEnt's DV film slate, when he passed away.

The Independent Feature Project will give a special posthumous award to Nisselson at this year's IFP Gotham Awards on October 1. In a prepared statement, executive director Michelle Byrd commented, “Bill's support of emerging artists endeared him to many. It is individuals like Bill working within the film community's infrastructure who have enabled New York’s independents to see their visions make it onto the screen.”


On-Line Pilot Project Launced by National Film Board Of Canada

Canada's National Film Board (NFB) launched a pilot project giving access to hundreds of its films via the Internet, with the goal of creating an on-demand service for its catalogue's titles. Currently, the service is available to selected Canadian universities, colleges and research centers. Users can do an online search of the catalogue, watch a 10-minute clip and then, if desired, a full length, VHS-quality version. Titles must be downloaded, as opposed to streamed.

Channel 4 On-Line Guidelines

UK Broadcaster Channel 4 launched a new on-line producer guide that includes full details of the channel’s structure and demands, as well as descriptions of commissioning editor responsibilities and contact details

BTDA Launches Web Site

The British Television Distributor's Association (BTDA) has launched a website targeting those interested in UK television exports. The site features information about the BTDA's activities, its recent news stories, market research such as the UK export figures for 2000, event notices and membership news. In addition, all BTDA members are profiled with a description of their business, with a direct hyperlink into their own websites.

The website will help the BTDA improve communications and reach a wider overseas audience. The BTDA represents more than 20 of the UK's leading distributors, including all the major companies such as BBC Worldwide, Carlton International, Granada International, Minotaur and Pearson Television International. The association was relaunched two years ago as a joint venture with the producers' association PACT. A key objective of the re-launch is the development of relationships between producers and distributors for purposes of creating improved programming for export.