February 2, 2003

Short Takes, February 2003


Sundance Documentary Fund Announces Recipients

The Sundance Documentary Fund has chosen 23 projects to receive funding grants. The fund is a program of the Sundance Institute dedicated to supporting international documentary films and videos that focus on current human rights issues, freedom of expression, social justice and civil liberties. A committee of human rights experts and film industry professionals selected the documentary projects from around the world. In supporting such work, the Sundance Documentary Fund encourages the diverse exchange of ideas crucial to developing an open society, raising public consciousness about human rights abuses and restrictions of civil liberties, and fostering a lively, ongoing debate about these issues.

"The international documentary community is shining a light on compelling, important stories that might never reach as large an audience through any other medium," said Diane Weyermann, Director, Sundance Documentary Film Program, in a prepared statement. "Filmmakers across the globe continue to surmount overwhelming obstacles in promoting ideas that might otherwise be ignored. They are making insightful and thought-provoking films that might actually change the world. The Sundance Documentary Fund helps that process."             

Formerly known as the Soros Documentary Fund, the Sundance Documentary Fund is made possible by a $4.6 million grant from the New York-based Open Society Institute (OSI). Originally established in 1996, the Soros Documentary Fund was widely respected for the quality and exposure of the projects it supported. The Sundance Documentary Fund currently considers projects in two categories: development and work-in-progress. Development grants provide seed funds to filmmakers whose projects are in the early research stage or in pre-production. Documentaries in production or post-production are eligible for the more substantial work-in-progress grants. Details on the fund's award guidelines can be found on the Sundance Institute website, www.sundance.org.

The grant recipients in the Works-In-Progress category include Raed Andoni/Nizar Hassan, 13 Days in Jenin Camp (Palestine); Malek Bensmail and Thierry Leclere, Algeria at What Cost (Algeria/France); Maziar Bahari, And Along Came a Spider (Iran); Carlos Sandoval, The Farmingville Project (US); Jocelyn Glatzer, The Flute Player (US); Anne Aghion, Gacaca, Living Together Again in Rwanda? (US/France); Amit Goren, Golan (Israel); Thierry Michel/Christine Pireaux, Iran: Veiled Appearances (Belgium); Renee Tajima-Peña/Gita Saedi, Kansas Stories (US); Zana Briski/Ross Kauffman, The Kids of Sonagachi (US); Megan Mylan/Jon Shenk, The Lost Boys of Sudan (US); Micha Peled, Made in China (US); Mercedes Moncada, The Passion of Maria Elena (Mexico); Jane Greenburg, Standards of Decency (US); and Francois Verster, When The War is Over (South Africa). Recipients of Development Grants are as follows: Michael Offer/Jeanne Charuet, Child Soldiers (France); Sabiha Sumar, A Feminized Islam? (France/Pakistan; Adi Barash/Ruthie Shatz, Garden (Israel); Danae Elon, The Iron (US); Evaldo Mocarzel/Ugo Cesar Giorgetti, On The Fringes of Sao Paulo: Squatting (Brazil); Mark Becker, Romantico (US); Hank Rogerson/Jilann Spitzmiller, Shakespeare Behind Bars (US); and Ghada Terawi, The Way Back Home (Palestine).

OMDC and NFB Partner on Calling Card Program

The National Film Board of Canada and the Ontario Media Development Corporation (OMDC) have announced a new program whereby they will help train emerging Ontario documentary filmmakers by jointly supporting the production of up to six new half-hour documentaries over the next 18 months through the OMDC's Al Waxman Calling Card program. The program provides financial assistance, business skills and production advice to up-and-coming documentary producer-director teams, with a cash award of $45,000 per film. It falls under the OMDC's New Voices, New Visions initiative that provides emerging entrepreneurs in the cultural industries with the tools required to create a new market-driven product.

"The NFB's renewed support for emerging talent is a perfect fit with the Calling Card Program," said Sylvia Sweeney, executive producer of the NFB's Ontario Production Centre. "As a co-producer we can offer a financial contribution as well as mentoring, marketing and distribution support to make sure the films and filmmakers achieve both excellence and prominence."

The Al Waxman Calling Card is a competitive program with projects selected by an industry jury, and has triggered more than 40 new documentary and drama productions in five years.

LA's CineSpace Opens with Hughes Brothers' Doc

Los Angeleno cinephiles have a new place to dine, drink and devour onscreen goodies with the opening of CineSpace, an innovative new digital cinema/restaurant/lounge in Hollywood. The brainchild of partners Kimberly Herrmann, Errol Roussel and David Dickerson, the venue has been designed as a showcase for some of the world's most exciting new visual art and film, while offering exceptional food and a comfortable atmosphere. "Our goal is to provide a forum for presenting experimental, innovative or daring programming that might not otherwise find a public outlet, in a stylish, comfortable environment. And the food will be great, too!" said Herrmann in a release.

CineSpace opened to the public in January, with a special presentation of American Pimp, the Hughes Brothers' hard-hitting documentary about the current state of pimping in America. Dickerson said that he chose to open with a documentary because he was anxious to let people know that CineSpace wouldn't necessarily offer a "traditional" filmgoing experience. On choosing American Pimp as the inaugural film for the venue, Dickerson comments, "I chose a film where people could enjoy the visual and music aspects...it's dark, but the story is told in a fun way. I wanted a film people could watch and easily digest while eating food and having cocktails."

Each room of CineSpace features ultra-slim plasma viewing screens, with modular furniture that can be configured per event. All rooms contain state-of-the art digital projection and sound equipment. The dining room offers an 18 x 8-foot Hurley viewing screen. The seating has been specifically structured so that patrons can talk quietly and still enjoy the movie. "We sacrificed fitting more bodies into the dining room so that people wouldn't feel like they were on top of one another," says Dickerson. There is also a private screening room that features an 8 x 6- foot Hurley screen that can accommodate approximately 20 people.

In addition to the screening series scheduled by the CineSpace programmers and outside groups such as Hollywood Shorts and the New Filmmakers series from the Angelika group in Manhattan, the venue is also available for individual filmmakers to screen their projects Sunday through Wednesday nights. The space is also open during the day for activities such as screening dailies or showing rough cuts to financiers. Rental prices are on an individual basis-i.e., a nighttime rental will cost more than an afternoon. Dickerson said that it's important to him to support the filmmaking community, and that he's looking forward to working with filmmakers to help them whenever possible. 


Headspace Doc Solicits Dance Music Footage

Headspace is a dance music culture documentary with an intention for global coverage. To ensure that the reach of the independent film is truly worldwide, director Jethro Senger has envisioned a solution to his do-it-yourself project: Headspace uses the Internet as a means to gather material.

While the director records his own footage—limited by obstacles such as time, connections and cost—Headspacemovie.com is soliciting donations of video, pictures, text and music from interested parties, including DJs, producers, club-goers and fans of electronic music, for their contribution to the culture. The final cut, intended for a 2003 festival release, will combine the mixed media in a sequence that properly represents the impact dance music culture has had on the world.

The Headspace project has taken Senger to Osaka, Japan; seven cities in Europe; and  Miami, Detroit, New York, Atlanta and Los Angeles. The Internet submissions are meant to document the rest of this machine-based music culture, so as to get a more accurate picture of the depth and reach of the global dance music community. "Advances in technology gave birth to electronic music," Senger said. "Headspace rides along the same concept. Without technology this project would not be possible."

Gregg Hale, whose repute comes as producer for The Blair Witch Project, financed Headspace. Hale and Senger met in film school in Orlando, Florida.


Last Party 2000 Acquired by Film Movement

DVD subscription service Film Movement has acquired Donovan Leitch and Rececca Chaiklin's Last Party 2000. The feature length documentary chronicles Philip Seymour Hoffman's exploration of democracy in America, and examines how the American political process addresses, and often fails to address, the country's most pressing issues. Last Party 2000 follows Hoffman on an uncensored journey through the 2000 Democratic and Republican Conventions with behind-the-scenes footage of activists, politicians and celebrities ranging from Susan Sarandon to Charlton Heston, from Jesse Jackson to Pat Robertson, from Eddie Vedder to Willie Nelson and from Bill Maher to Michael Moore. Last Party 2000 will be released nationally in theaters this summer with simultaneous distribution to Film Movement subscribers on DVD.

Film Movement, founded by Larry Meistrich, is a new distribution company offering filmmakers a new way to distribute films, and as a result, broaden access for under-served film consumers nationwide. Film Movement will offer viewers, regardless of where they live, the opportunity to premiere theatrical-quality, first-run films via a subscription service. Each month, members receive an award-winning American independent, foreign or documentary film on DVD or VHS that will be available exclusively through Film Movement. Members will also receive access to films distributed by Film Movement through a theatrical film series, private event screenings and participating film festivals.

"The economics of releasing independent and foreign films have fundamentally changed," said founder and CEO Meistrich in a prepared statement. "As the distribution system has become increasingly hit-driven and the cost of prints and advertising has skyrocketed, too many outstanding films never find the audience they deserve despite critical acclaim and awards from top film festivals. Film Movement was founded to create access for consumers across the nation, who don't live near an art-house theater, miss opening weekends, or simply lack the information to know what movies to see."


The International Documentary Association released its top twenty favorite nonfiction films as part of its 20th anniversary celebration. The list was voted on by IDA members, and is as follows: (1) Bowling for Columbine, Michael Moore; (2) The Thin Blue Line, Errol Morris; (3) Roger & Me, Michael Moore; (4) Hoop Dreams, Steve James, Frederick Marx, Peter Gilbert; (5) Salesman, Albert and David Maysles; (6) Nanook of the North, Robert Flaherty; (7). Night and Fog, Alain Resnais; (8). Harlan County, USA, Barbara  Kopple; (9). Grey Gardens, Albert and David Maysles and Ellen Hovde; (10) The Civil War,  Ken Burns; (11) Crumb, Terry Zwigoff; (12). Gimme Shelter, Albert and David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin; (13) 7 Up, Michael Apted; (14) Fast, Cheap and Out of Control, Errol Morris; (15) Titicut Follies, Frederick Wiseman; (16) When We Were Kings, Leon Gast; (17) American Movie: The Making of Northwestern, Chris Smith; (18) Shoah, Claude Lanzmann; (19) The Man with a Movie Camera, Dziga Vertov; (20) Sherman's March, Ross McElwee.

There is no clear-cut winner in the doc awards race this year, with all the critics supporting different films. The New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Nonfiction Film was awarded to Paul Justman's Standing in the Shadows of Motown. Their counterpart on the left coast gave the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Documentary to Bill Weber and David Weissman's The Cockettes, with Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine as the runner-up. Beantown accolades, via the Boston Society of Film Critics went to Brett Morgen and Nanette Burstein's The Kid Stays in the Picture for Best Documentary, with Standing in the Shadows of Motown as the runner-up. Nominees for the Broadcast Film Critics Association Critics' Choice Awards in the Best Documentary category went to Bowling for Columbine, The Kid Stays in the Picture and Standing in the Shadows of Motown.

The 2003 Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards for Excellence in Broadcast Journalism presented the Gold Baton to FRONTLINE, produced at WGBH, Boston, for a series of riveting programs on PBS about the origin and impact of terrorism by Islamic militants. The seven FRONTLINE programs are Hunting bin Laden; Target America; Looking for Answers; Trail of a Terrorist; Gunning for Saddam; Saudi Time Bomb; Inside the Terror Network, . The Silver Baton was presented to ABC News for Nightline: Heart of Darkness; ABC News Television and Radio for coverage of 9/11 and Answering Children's Questions; CNN en Español and Jorge Gestoso for La Doble Desaparecida; Court TV and Lumiere Productions for Ghosts of Attica; HBO for In Memoriam: New York City 9/11/01; KPBS, San Diego, and Lee Harvey, for Culture of Hate: Who Are We?; NBC News and Martin Fletcher for coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict; P.O.V. (on PBS) and Tasha Oldham for The Smith Family; American Experience (on PBS), Steeplechase Films, Sierra Club Productions, and WGBH for Ansel Adams—A Documentary Film; WCVB-TV, Boston, for Chronicle: Beyond the Big Dig; and to WFAA-TV, Dallas, Brett Shipp and Mark Smith for Fake Drugs, Real Lives.

The Grierson Awards, the UK's most prestigious awards for documentaries took place in December, with BBC shows taking four out of the eight prizes awarded, and Channel 4 docs going home with three. Awards presented are as follows: Best Documentary on a Contemporary Issue—Kelly And Her Sisters, a portrait of a large family living on the breadline in a condemned housing estate (Carlton Productions for ITV1); Best Documentary on the Arts—Omnibus: David Hockney's Secret Knowledge, in which the artist reveals of the use of optical tools in European painting (BBC Specialist Factual for BBC2); Best Historical Documentary—Ceaucescu: The King Of Communism, which explores the Romanian dictator's extraordinary use of theatrical propaganda (Little Bird for BBC4); Best Documentary Series—The Trust, an account of the daily workings of one of the biggest hospital trusts in the UK (Hart Ryan for Channel 4); Most Entertaining Documentary—Faking It: Burger Man To Chef, which sees a Geordie burger van vendor learning how to pass as a top London chef (RDF for Channel 4); and International Documentary-Southern Comfort, the life of a female-to-male transsexual in the back woods of Georgia (Q-Ball Productions for BBC4). Two films tied in the category of Best Newcomer, resulting in a shared award between Lift (Channel 4), in which filmmaker Marc Isaacs and his camera take up residence in the lift of an East London tower block; and This is Palestine/News Time (BBC4), an account of filmmaker Azza El-Hassan's own neighbourhood in Ramallah.

Nicolas Philibert's French doc Être Et Avoir (To Be and To Have) was presented with the European Documentary Award 2002 in Rome during the 15th European Film Awards ceremony at the Teatro dell Opera. The doc follows the story of a one-classroom school in the country's Auvergne region. 

The National Board of Review awarded Michael Moore's Bowling For Columbine with the award for Best Documentary.

National Geographic Television & Film (NGT&F) was awarded three Panda Awards at the 2002 Wildlife Film Awards at Wildscreen's annual "Green Oscars" ceremony in Bristol, UK. NGT&F won in the Animal Behavior category for Mzima: Haunt of the Riverhorse, which aired in the US on National Geographic EXPLORER/MSNBC as Haunt of the Hippo. The program was produced and filmed by Mark Deeble and Victoria Stone, and was a co-production of Survival Anglia Limited/NGT&F. The film also won the Camerawork award. Snake Hunter - North America won in the Presenter-Led Show category. The film was produced by Zebra Film Productions for NGT&F.

The Independent Feature Project will present the 2003 Independent Spirit Awards at its annual award ceremony next month. Nominated in the Best Documentary category are Bowling for Columbine (Michael Moore, dir.); The Cockettes (Bill Weber and David Weissman, dirs.); Devil's Playground, (Lucy Walker, dir.); How to Draw a Bunny (John Walter, dir.); and Stevie (Steve James, dir.). The seventh annual DirecTV/IFC Truer Than Fiction Award will be presented to an emerging director of nonfiction features who has not yet received significant attention. The award is accompanied by a $20,000 unrestricted grant. The 2003 finalists are Jeff Blitz for Spellbound; Jennifer Dworkin for Love and Diane; Eugene Jarecki for The Trials of Henry Kissinger; and Mark Moskowitz for Stone Reader.


Honeyboy, by Scott L. Taradash, about Mississippi Delta Blues musician David "Honeyboy" Edwards, took the award for best documentary at the Ft. Lauderdale International Film Festival.

The AFI Festival gave out the following awards for documentaries this past November: International Documentary Competition Grand Jury Prize: A Wedding In Ramallah, directed by Sherine Salama; Special Mention For Emotional Courage And Cinematic Artistry: Family, directed by Sami Saif and Phie Ambo; and the Audience Award for Best International Documentary Film: The Smith Family, directed by Tasha Oldham. 

International Documentary FilmFestival Amsterdam handed out several awards this year. Stevie (Steve James, USA) won the VPRO Joris Ivens Award for best long documentary. The Silver Wolf for best short documentary went to Interesting Times - The Secret Of My Success by Jinchuan Duan. The International Critics' Award for the best debut was granted to Barbeiros by Mervi Junkkonen. By a large margin, the Audience Award was won by Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine. The Amnesty International - DOEN Award was granted to two films: The Day I Will Never Forget by Kim Longinotto and The Trials of Henry Kissinger by Eugene Jarecki.

First Glance 3 Los Angeles awarded best documentary honors to Tales from Ground Zero, directed by Steve Rosenbaum. Second place was awarded to Chris Deaux's Talk Fast, and third place went to Pratte's Reef, by Kurt Schaefer.

The audience at the 14th Annual Boston Jewish Film Festival selected Joel Katz's Strange Fruit as best documentary. The film tells the story of the anti-lynching protest song of the same title, which was composed by Jewish schoolteacher Abel Meeropol and made famous by Billie Holiday. The film will be broadcast on PBS's Independent Lens in April.

The Santa Fe Film Festival awarded the best documentary prize to the Hungarian-American co-production Vakvagany. The experimental film by Ben Meade depicts a dysfunctional family using stolen home movies. Elisabeth Unna's Little Lourdes was honored for Best New Mexico film. The doc is about the Chimayo's spiritual heritage with rural New Mexico and the contemporary community's battle with widespread heroin use. The festival's inaugural Audience Award went to Deborah Dickson's doc, Ruthie and Connie: Every Room in the House.

The 10th Annual Hamptons International Film Festival awarded the Golden Starfish Documentary Prize to Angela Christlieb and Stephen Kijaks look at a group of New York film fanatics, Cinemania. The prize includes $10,000 in cash and services. Canadians Peter Wintonick and Katerina Cizek's doc Seeing is Believing:Handicams, Human Rights and the News, which screened in the Conflict and Resolution sidebar, took the festival's $25,000 Dan & Ewa Abraham and Tammy Abraham Award. Their film documents the rise in use of personal video recorders and their effects on the events they capture. The sidebar, which is co-hosted by the festival and the Nobel Peace Laureates Foundation, screens issue-oriented material that focuses on conflict in the world. Aviva Slesin's Secret Lives: Hidden Children and their Rescuers During WW II, which also screened in the sidebar, was presented the inaugural Brizzolara Family Inspirational Film Award ($5,000). The popular doc award went to Steven Silver's The Last Just Man, also from the Conflict and Resolution section.


Scarlet Tops Tribeca Fest ;

Peter Scarlet has been named executive director of the Tribeca Film Festival. A native of Manhattan, Scarlet headed the San Francisco International Film Festival from 1983-2001. He recently served as director general of the Cinematheque Francaise.

As reported in indieWire, Scarlet said, "New York City is the crossroads of it all. There is room for a true international festival as a kind of meeting place for the cultures of the world, the filmmakers of the world and the people who live in this city."


A Shadow Falls Over Motown With Death of Griffith

Keyboardist Johnny Griffith of Motown's Funk Brothers died on November 10, 2002, at the age of 66. Griffith and his bandmates are the subjects of the recent documentary Standing in the Shadows of Motown.

 Just two days before his death, Griffith appeared on stage with the Funk Brothers at their performance at Harlem's famed Apollo Theatre for the launch of the film. Griffith, who was classically trained, can be heard on classics like "Stop in the Name of Love" and "Heard it Through the Grapevine."