October 31, 2004

Short Takes, September-October 2004


Netflix Pacts with P.O.V.

Netflix, the DVD rental-by-mail company, has announced that it will offer documentaries shown on PBS' POV the day after they air. The distribution agreement is a direct result of a project conducted by the Washington, DC-based Center for Social Media, funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, on how to extend the working lives of social documentaries.

The project began with the question, "What happens to social documentaries after a brief television airing?", continued with a series of case studies and then a roundtable of experts who weighed in on the business of making and distributing social documentaries.

At that meeting, some 25 filmmakers, funders, distributors, cablecasters, lawyers, scholars and librarians indentified what keeps documentaries from audiences after their broadcast premiere, and brainstormed what might be done.

In a message sent to the Center for Social Media, Netflix Vice President Ted Sarandos said of the agreement, "This is a direct result of our conference last year."

Sundance Institute's Latest Experiment: The Documentary Lab

The Sundance Institute held its first Documentary Film Editing and Story Laboratory last June in Utah. Seven fellows were selected to participate in the five-day program, which provided the filmmakers with the opportunity to collaborate with established and award-winning editors and directors as they worked on the editing phase of their documentary works-in-progress. The fellows include directors, editors and producers from four projects that had previously received funding from the Sundance Institute Documentary Fund. 

The lab was developed to provide documentary filmmakers with an intensive environment to workshop their rough cuts with a group of accomplished editors and directors working as creative advisors. Mentored by the creative advisors, filmmakers focus on story and character development, dramatic structure and effective storytelling.  

 "Editing is a crucial component of storytelling, particularly in nonfiction filmmaking," said Diane Weyermann, Director, Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program, in a statement. "There are few opportunities for documentary filmmakers to receive critical feedback during this challenging stage of the creative process.".  

Inaugural lab participants included director Mercedes Moncada and editor Viviana Garcia-Berne: The Immortal (Nicaragua/Spain); director Shiri Tsur and producer Avi Banon: On the Objection Front - A Personal Journey (Israel); director/editor Mark Becker: Romantico (USA); and director Hank Rogerson and editor Victor Livingston: Shakespeare Behind Bars (USA).

Professionals taking part in the lab included editors Alex Cooke, Jean-Philippe Boucicant, Kate Amend and Richard Hankin; director Rob Moss, and producer/director Vikram Jayanti.

HBO Sports Archives Available for Licensing

Rick Bernstein, senior vice president, HBO Sports, announced that footage from HBO's award-winning sports productions is immediately available for licensing. The catalogue includes the feature documentaries Curse of the Bambino and Jim McKay: My World in My Words; the boxing anthology series Legendary Nights; and the journalism magazine show RealSports with Byrant Gumbel.

HBO has become an increasingly valuable resource for quality sports footage. Fox Sports has been a steady client, using six minutes of exclusive Mike Tyson material in its Emmy-nominated special on the former heavyweight champion. HBO Sports Archive material has also been licensed for playback on such shows as The O.C. and Nip/Tuck.

Now in its second year, HBO Sports Archives next initiative concentrates on digging deeper into the early history of the network. Some of the diversified events covered by the network in the 1970s included college basketball, track and field, skiing, gymnastics, figure skating, rodeo, tennis, water sports, soccer, bowling and unusual shows like Man vs Shark.



Roadside Makes Commitment to Tying the Knot

Jim de Seve's Tying the Knot has been picked up for North American theatrical distribution by Roadside Attractions, the distributors of Morgan Spurlock's Super Size Me. Howard Cohen and Eric D'Arbeloff, the heads of Roadside, saw the film at its Tribeca Film Festival premieres and felt that the film would be a perfect complement to their list of acquisitions. The film chronicles the current effort by gay and lesbian couples to receive the same 1,138 federal rights granted through legalized marriage. Interspersed with the personal stories of gay couples are interviews with authors, historians and legal experts, who examine the historical evolution of marriage.

Uncovered Begins National Release in NYC

Director Robert Greenwald's Uncovered: The War on Iraq, which premiered at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival, opened in New York City on August 13 at several theaters, including the Angelika Film Center, two weeks before the Republican National Convention, and will expand throughout the East Coast before opening in Los Angeles on September 3.  The film will run in every state before the 2004 Presidential election. The doc reveals the manipulation of the case for war by the Bush administration through in-depth interviews with former CIA analysts, Pentagon and Foreign Service experts and former weapons inspectors juxtaposed against television interviews by key players in the Bush Administration including Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleeza Rice and the president himself. Cinema Libre Studio, the film's co-producer and US distributor, has begun an outreach program to grassroots organizations, both online and offline, interested in associating with the film's galvanizing themes. A shorter version of the film was co-produced with Center for American Progress and MoveOn.org, and screened at thousands of "house parties" across the nation in 2003.

Greenwald, a veteran filmmaker, in a statement reflected, "What we witnessed at Cannes, with all the excitement around ‘documentaries of dissent' is a tremendous evolution for film as a tool for political change. In the US, there is a tremendous outcry for the truth from both Democrats and Republicans. Our intent, with this film, has been to galvanize the American people to demand the truth from our president or to vote for someone who will tell the truth."

You Can't Be Neutral Onscreen in July

First Run Features released Howard Zinn: You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train at New York's Cinema Village in July. It is the first film exclusively about the famous historian, teacher, activist and author of the landmark book A People's History of the United States. Zinn's life and work have been a catalyst for progressive change in America for more than 60 years. He has informed and inspired all those who struggle for social and economic justice with hope, clarity and passion.

The film includes recent interviews with Zinn, his colleagues and friends, including Noam Chomsky, Marian Wright Edelman, Daniel Ellsberg, Tom Hayden and Alice Walker. Archival materials follow the trajectory of Zinn's life, from his early childhood in the slums of New York, through his time as a labor organizer in shipyards in the 1930s, as well as serving in the Air Force as a bomber during World War I, an experience that was to inform and shape his anti-war outlook thereafter.

Co-producers/directors Denis Mueller and Deb Ellis previously worked together on The FBI's War on Black America and separately on numerous additional projects, including Mueller's Citizen Soldier: The Story of the Vietnam Veterans against the War and Ellis' Unbidden Voices and Skin Deep.

IFC Glories in Desert Race Doc

IFC Films has acquired North American distribution rights for Dust to Glory, Dana Brown's homage to desert racing's premiere event—the Tecate SCORE Baja 1000, announced SCORE President and CEO Sal Fish announced. The deal was actually completed at the Cannes Film Festival and was announced first there by IFC President of Entertainment Jonathan Sehring.

 "Given the record-breaking success of Touching the Void, we felt Dana's film would be a great fit for IFC, especially since Step into Liquid, his first film, has become the definitive film on surfing," commented Sehring.

Often referred to as "the most famous race that no one has ever seen," Dust to Glory reunited Step Into Liquid producers C. Rich Wilson and Scott Waugh of BronWa Pictures with producer and SCORE Baja racing champion, Mike McCoy to help Brown capture the legendary Tecate SCORE Baja 1000 on film. 

The sprawling, ambitious film used more than 50 cameras, four helicopters, a four-passenger open-wheel desert race car camera vehicle and a crew of over 80 to film the longest continuous point-to-point race in the world, which takes place each November in the mysterious and foreboding desert of Mexico's Baja Peninsula.

The film also features archival footage from the inaugural desert race 37 years ago, which attracted such luminaries as Steve McQueen and James Garner. The footage was supplied by Bruce Brown, the famed director of Endless Summer and On Any Sunday, who is the filmmaker's father. Also contributing to Dust to Glory is SCORE's Sal Fish, director of photography Kevin Ward, and associate producer Marty Fiolka.

Exact plans are still being finalized, but the current world premiere for the film is set to be either in November during this year's 37th Annual Tecate SCORE Baja 1000 peninsula run, or in February 2005.

THINKing About Wine

As reported in indieWire, THINKFilm has acquired the North American rights to Mondovino, Jonathan Nossiter's documentary film about wine's rich cultural history. The film debuted at Cannes last spring, where it was shown in competition. Current plans include a re-editing of the 166-minute film, the fall festival circuit and a first quarter 2005 theatrical release. 

Director Nossiter is a sommelier, wine consultant and wine writer. He filmed on three continents and in five languages, over a three-year period.

"As its title makes clear, Mondovino gives us a privileged look at the world of wine, and Jonathan is not only uniquely qualified to take us there, he has a fabulous time doing so," said THINKFilm theatrical division head Mark Urman in a prepared statement. "He has made a film brimming with life, information, intrigue, eccentricity, and just enough gossip to satisfy fans of both art and soap opera."


Women Make Movies new release The Trickle Down Theory of Sorrow aired in June as part of Reel New York, Channel Thirteen's celebrated showcase of independent films from New York filmmakers. This autobiographical work by acclaimed experimental filmmaker Mary Filippo explores issues and attitudes about work, class and gender roles, contrasting the viewpoints of the filmmaker and her mother in a visually captivating video montage. The film screened at both the New York Film Festival and the prestigious Flaherty Film Seminar last year.

On November 23, PBS will broadcast the documentary Los Angeles Now, directed by Phillip Rodriguez, as part of its Independent Lens series. The film looks beyond Baywatch and Blade Runner to create a fresh, candid portrait of America's second-largest city—a sprawling, multicultural megalopolis. Issues explored include the influx of immigrants, cultural confrontations and urban sprawl. Rodriguez shot the film in HD video, and used creative visuals and computer-generated imagery to evoke the city's vast array of moods and rhythms.

Acclaimed filmmaker Rory Kennedy will debut her latest film this month on HBO's America Undercover series. Imagining the Unimaginable: Indian Point in the Wake of 9/11 is an investigation of the controversy surrounding the nuclear power facility, Indian Point Energy Center, located on the Hudson River 24 miles north of Manhattan, well within New York City metropolitan region of 20 million people. The film investigates why Indian Point has become such a hot button following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001; discusses potential dangers the facility might pose for the region and questions current procedures, management and government oversight. The HBO debut of the film will be followed by Chernobyl Heart, Maryann DeLeo's Academy Award-winning short documentary, as a way to illustrate the aftermath of a worst-case scenario.

Home Vision Entertainment will release The Line King (Susan W. Dryfoos, prod./dir; Angelo Carrao, prod.) on DVD. The film tells the story of the amazing story of the late Al Hirschfeld, creator of thousands of famous drawings of stars and celebrities for more than sixty years. Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature (1996), the documentary celebrates Hirschfeld's many years of work for The New York Times, where his drawings were a centerpiece of the Sunday Arts and Leisure section. With appearances by Lauren Bacall, Carol Channing, Joan Collins, Barbara Walters, Robert Goulet, and many others, The Line King is a fascinating portrait of the artist as a cultural icon.

New Environmental Series on Public Television

Green Treks and THE Rohnert Park, California-based KRCB have put together a new 13-part public television series which began airing this past June. The Natural Heroes Series is the first national television series of independent films about the environment.

All over the nation, ordinary citizens are finding ways to bring clean air and water back to their communities, preserve open spaces, protect endangered species and ensure that their schools and neighborhoods are healthy. A host of independent filmmakers have created shorts, documentaries and educational programs focused on world-changing individuals. The goal is to ultimately air the program on every public television station in the United States, thereby getting these stories out to a national audience and inspiring others to act.


Top honors at the 25th Banff Television Festival, Canada's premier international event for program makers and content creators in television and new media, were presented in June to the producers of Children -- Full of Life: Learning to Care (NHK; Noboru Kaetsu, dir.; Junichi Nogami, prod.). This is the first time the $50,000 Global Television Grand Prize for Best of the Festival went to a Japanese program, and the first time that the Family and Youth category winner had gone on to claim top honors. Children -- Full of Life: Learning to Care follows in careful and compelling detail the exploits of a primary school class as its teacher instructs his pupils in sharing both good times and adversity, and learning how to care for others.

Additional Banff Rockie Awards for nonfiction programming were presented to the following: Arts Documentaries /Documentaires Sur Les Arts sponsored by WGBH International: Martins' Passion (Prods: Lichtfilm/ARTE GEIE/WDR/ Synchrofilm in association with NPS/YLE; Germany, France, Austria, The Netherlands, Finland); History & Biography Programs / Émissions Historiques Et Biographiques sponsored by Rogers Communications Inc.: AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: Tupperware! (Prods: Blueberry Hill Productions/ WGBH; USA); Information & Current Affairs Programs / Émissions D'information Et D'actualité sponsored by Sony of Canada Ltd.: The True Face of War (Prod: Lion TV; UK); Popular Science & Natural History Programs / Émissions Sur La Nature Et Les Sciences sponsored by Barna-Alper Productions: The Origins of AIDS (Prods: MFP/Pathé Archives/Galafilm/Les Films de la Passerelle/RTBF in assoc. with Channel 4/CBC-Radio Canada/Canal+ Spain/ TSR/TV5 Monde/SBS; France, Canada, Belgium, UK, Spain, Switzerland, Australia); Social & Political Documentaries / Documentaires Sociaux Ou Politiques sponsored by National Film Board of Canada / Office national du film du Canada: My Family and Autism (Prod: BBC; UK); Special Jury Awards / Prix Spéciaux Du Jury: Reinventing the Taliban (Prods: Discovery Times Channel/New York Times Television; USA).

The National Film Board of Canada chose the festival as the place to introduce the five winners of the NFB's Reel Diversity Competition, a $1 million competition to promote culturally diverse filmmaking. Winners included Barbara K. Lee, In Between the Laughter; Arinze Eze, Born with a Silver Spoon; Sanjay Talreja, Cricket and the Meaning of Life; Olivier Tsai, Hybrid; and Sobaz Benjamin, The Oreo and the Wigga.

The Academy Foundation, the educational/cultural arm of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, has announced its latest round of institutional grants, with $400,000 going to 43 college and community film programs across the country. These grants are separate from the foundation's film festival grants.

Internship programs at the following schools and organizations received funding: California Institute of the Arts, Valenica, Cailif.; University of Southern California (USC), School of Cinema-Television, Los Angeles; Columbia University School of the Arts, NY; New York University, Department of Film and Television; University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), School of Theater, Film and Television; USC, College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Professional Writing Program; Yale University, Film Studies Program, New Haven, Conn.; and the Museum of Modern Art, Department of Film and Media, NY.

Institutional grants were awarded to FilmAid International (New York) for screening programs in Kenya and Tanzania refugee camps; Streetlights (Hollywood, Calif.) for film industry job training and placement and career mentoring and advancement; the College of Santa Fe (New Mexico) for Girls Film School, a summer film production workshop; Cornell University, Cornell Cinema (Ithaca, NY) for visiting filmmakers; Film Arts Foundation (San Francisco) for educational programs including visiting filmmakers; Henry Mancini Institute (Culver City, Calif.) for "Tribute to American Film Music," a concert with accompanying film clips; IFP/Los Angeles, Chicago and New York for Project: Involve, a mentoring and training program; Inner City Filmmakers (Los Angeles), a film industry job development program; the UCLA Film & Television Archive, for DVD production of the lecture "A Century of Sound: The History of Sound in Motion Pictures;" the Brooklyn Academy of Music (Brooklyn, NY) for "Screening American History," an educational film series; CineStory (Idylwild, Calif.) for the CineStory Retreat, a screenwriting workshop; George Eastman House (Rochester, NY) for visiting filmmakers; IFP/Chicago for Project Involve Chicago, a mentorship and film training program; IFP Minneapolis/St. Paul for the Women Filmmakers Access Grant Program and IFP MSP Independent Producers Conference; Independent Films, Aspen Filmfest (Aspen, Colo.) for the Latino Youth Documentary Project, a film workshop; the Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive (Berkeley, Calif.) for "How to Read a Film," a series of visual literacy workshops for teachers; the University of Central Florida (Orlando) for "New Techniques/New Strategies," a filmmaking initiative utilizing visiting filmmakers; the Writers Guild Foundation (Los Angeles) for educational programs; Grover Cleveland High School (L.A.) for summer film production workshops for high school students; Film Forum (New York City) for reduced price tickets for screening programs; the Humanitas Prize (Pacific Palisades, Calif.) for the seminar series "Film as Social Commentary"; New York Women in Film & Television, Women's Film Preservation Fund, which supports the preservation of films in which women served in key creative roles; the North Carolina School of the Arts (Winston-Salem) for visiting filmmakers; the San Francisco Art & Film Program for the production program Teen Film Workshop; Squaw Valley (California) Community of Writers Screenwriting workshop; University of Iowa, Institute for Cinema and Culture (Iowa City) for visiting filmmakers; Webster University (St. Louis, Mo.) for the screening series "Indigenous Cinema"; Duke University, Film and Video Program (Durham, NC) for the touring exhibition program  "Women Film Pioneers International;" the Donna Reed Foundation for the Performing Arts (Denison, Iowa) for film acting workshops; Film/Video Arts (New York) Artist Mentor Project, an assistance and training program for emerging filmmakers; Frameline (San Francisco) for "Close-Up: Visionaries of Modern Cinema," a screening and visiting filmmaker program; Rural Media Arts & Education Project (Mariposa, Calif.) for "Cinema Veritas," a documentary screening and discussion program; the University of Arizona (Tucson) for visiting filmmakers; and California State University, Long Beach, University Library for purchase of Chinese-language films.


The Brooklyn International Film Festival presented the Best Documentary Award to Lode Desment for Mother's Crossing, which follows the moving story of an Iranian woman and her two daughters on the run from their violent husband and father. The film also looks at the world of "people smugglers," who are invariably labeled as rock-hard criminals but in actuality are often providing a necessary service for their refugee "customers." The Audience Award went to Travis Klose's Arakimentari, about the controversial Japanese artist. The film also won a Certificate for Outstanding Achievement for Score.

The Sixth Annual Provincetown International Film Festival gave out the HBO Audience Award in the documentary category to Deb Ellis and Denis Mueller's Howard Zinn: You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train.

The Stella Artois Best Documentary Award at the Seattle International Film Festival was awarded to Born into Brothels (India), directed by Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman. Runners-up included: The Corporation, directed by Jennifer Abbott and Mark Achbar; Big City Dick, directed by Scott Milam, Ken Harder and Todd Pottinger and Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, directed by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky. The Refracting Reality Documentary Award was shared by Andrew Douglas's Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus and Daniel Gordon's The Game of Their Lives (South Korea).

Born into Brothels also picked up the Audience Award for a Feature at the Silverdocs Film Festival. Audience Award for a Short went to Life to Live, by Aleksandra Biernacka. The festival's top honor, the Sterling Award for Best Feature, was shared by two films: James Millers' Death in Gaza and Carey Schonegevel's Original Child Bomb. Porter by Juan Alejandro Ramirez won the Sterling Award for Best Short. Three films received Special Mentions: Jonathan Stack's feature Liberia: An Uncivil War, Gina Levy and Eric Johnson's short Foo Foo Dust and Brent Huffman's short "Welcome to Warren."

Gretchen Berland and Mike Majoros won the Lake Placid Film Fesitval's Best Documentary honor for Rolling. Three people in wheelchairs were given cameras to capture their lives from their point-of-view, giving insight to what LPFF called "human resilience and the strength and determination of three extraordinary people who just happen to need wheelchairs." The jury also awarded a special recognition to Dawn Young, director of Water Polo: Beneath the Surface. Chisolm '72-Unbought and Unbossed by Shola Lynch took the Documentary Audience Award. The Israeli-produced doc Checkpoint by Yoav Shamir won Best Documentary at the Newport Film Festival. The film is set in the many contentious border areas separating the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza from the Palestinians. Jury prizes were given to Hilary Clarke's Bad Behavior and Nina Davenport's Parallel Lines. Martin Bell's short doc Twins garnered one of three jury prizes for short films. The Audience Award for Best Documentary went to Anja Baron's Last of the First, a look at the earliest pioneers of jazz focusing on the Harlem Blues and Jazz Band. The Audience Award for Best Short went to director Sascha Paladino's look at banjo player Bela Fleck and double bass virtuoso Edgar Meyer in Obstinato: Making Music for Two.


AIVF Names Matías Executive Director

After serving as interim director following the departure of Elizabeth Peters, Bienvenida Matías has been named as the new Executive Director of the Association of Independent Video and Filmmakers (AIVF).

In addition to being an award-winning filmmaker and highly regarded teacher, Matías was the executive director of the Center for Arts Criticism in Minneapolis. She is a founder and former national coordinator for the National Association of Latino Independent Producers (NALIP). She has been the director of production for ITVS, as well as the Executive-in-Charge of Production at WNYC-TV.

Matías has produced documentaries both for public television and independently, and is currently producing the documentary For the Record: Guam and World War II.

NFB Appoints New Marketing Manager in Western Canada

The National Film Board of Canada (NFB) has appointed Kim Ziervogel to the newly created position of Marketing Manager-Western Centre. Based in Edmonton, Ziervogel will oversee the marketing and launch of documentaries produced by the NFB's Edmonton and Winnipeg studios.

Ziervogel is a journalism graduate with more than 11 years of experience as a writer, publicist and in social marketing. Throughout that time, she has worked hard to promote positive Aboriginal stories in both the Aboriginal and mainstream press. Recognizing the need for an affiliation to formally represent Aboriginal journalists, she established the Aboriginal Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC). The association now has over 75 members. Ziervogel most recently worked as an editorial assistant at the Canadian Press.

DDE Announces Senior Promotions

Devillier Donegan Enterprises (DDE) has promoted Greg Diefenbach and Joan E. Lanigan to senior vice president roles.

Diefenbach, who has been upped to senior vice president of development and production, has been with DDE since 1996, supervising more than 120 hours of documentary programming, including the Empires strand. Lanigan has been promoted to senior vice president of legal and business affairs, where she oversees production, co-production and licensing agreements. At present she is completing a co-production deal for David Grubin's Marie Antoinette.


Visionary Di Giulio Dies, June 4, 2004

A seminal force in the film industry, Ed Di Giulio passed away on June 4. Perhaps best known for his part in the engineering and development of the Steadicam, Di Giulio had been active on various Academy subcommittees for many years and chaired the Academy's Scientific and Technical Awards Committee for five years.

As described by the Steadicam Guild, while at Mitchell Camera Corporation in the early '60s, Di Giulio developed the company's first reflex camera—the Mark II—and in 1968, he received the Scientific and Engineering Award for the important design and application of a conversion that made it possible to change over most of the industry's existing sound cameras to reflex viewing. In 1992, he received another Scientific and Engineering Award for the camera system design of the CP-65 Showscan Camera System for 65mm motion picture cinematography. In 1998, Di Giulio received a Technical Achievement Award for the design of the KeyKode Sync Reader. The next year, Di Giulio received the John A. Bonner Medal of Commendation, awarded for "outstanding service and dedication in upholding the high standards of the Academy."

Di Giulio authored a number of influential scientific papers and was a well-known lecturer at technical conferences and symposia both in the United States and around the world. An Academy member since 1966, he was also fellow of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE), and held more than a dozen patents in computer and cinema technology.