Production News: Amsterdam Round-up

A sampling of pitches from the 5th Forum for International Co-financing of Documentaries in Amsterdam...
February 1, 1998

A sampling of pitches from the 5th Forum for International Co-financing of Documentaries in Amsterdam


Piano designs

Renzo Piano’s building designs question whether architecture is a reflection of the social organism. Renzo Piano – The Instinctive Architect reveals the approach of this Italian interdisciplinary visionary who has swept away the formalism usually accompanying practitioners of his craft, ruffling more than a few feathers along the way.

Produced by Sydney’s Hilton Cordell Productions (Year of the Dogs, Advertising Missionaries) with Dreamtime Productions in Milan, the 52-minute film piqued interest in a buy from drtv and France 3. Support also came from broadcasters ABC Australia (us$60,000), tsi (us$35,000) and The Netherlands’ avro (us$8,000). The us$350,000 production will be ready September, 1998.


Headlock Hype

Billed as the Hoop Dreams of the pro-wrestling world, Wrestling With Shadows explores the life and psyche of a world-class athlete near the end of his career. Canadian-born Bret Hart has been World Wrestling Federation champion three times.

Much of the film, a modern morality tale which benefitted from one of the Forum’s most compelling pitches, has already been shot. The pitch drew sales from arte in Germany, bbc’s Storyville, Norway, Finland, Austria and Belgium, with a second German sale pending. a&e is also likely to buy in. High Road Productions (Never-endum Referendum, Albanian Journey) of Toronto is the producer. Telefilm Canada, Alberta’s A Channel, TVOntario (us$51,700) and the National Film Board of Canada (us$207,000) have been in since day one. Producer Paul Jay says the overall budget is now close to us$600,000, up from us$533,000.


Bollywood Squares

Tired of the same old Hollywood films featuring perfectly coifed slackers and bodacious heroines? Looking for some good old-fashioned violent singing and dancing? What you need is a dose of Bollywood – India’s version of the film industry in Bombay.

Same Same but Different is an hour-long look at the mania surrounding Hindi cinema and culture, where all music is film music, holy men bless cameras before a shoot and film stars win political elections in landslides. Bollywood is so busy that actors and directors work on more than a single film at a time to keep up with demand.

From Virus Films in Copenhagen, the project has a budget of just over us$200,000 – part of which is being subsidized to the tune of us$45,000 by Danish broadcaster drtv. The film should be completed in autumn 1998.


The kkk burns Jackie Collins

German producer Michael Born recently received a four-year prison sentence for producing fake documentaries. His undoing was his coverage of a kkk book-burning supposed to have taken place in Germany. A commission investigating neo-Nazi activity in Germany found the books to be Jackie Collins novels (no comment), the swastikas backwards, and Born’s own mother had sewn the robes.

Faction Films (Hard Drive, In Search of Da Cat) of London will have wrapped Hoax by June ’98. Backed by a us$57,000 investment from bbc2, the us$225,000 one-hour film looks at ‘mockumentaries’: fakes being snapped up by media outlets desperate for sensationalism – even if it’s staged. As Born commented from his prison cell: ‘If the Holocaust happened now, Stern TV would have us in the gas chamber to get the pictures.’ Flanked by the bbc’s Nick Frasier, Faction pitched the film as a possible anchor for a thematic evening of fakes, an idea which appealed to Denmark’s tv2, drtv and sbs.

Fire on the mountain

London’s Oxford Television Company (Alan Clarke’s History of the Tory Party, The Vampire’s Life) is working on a 3 x 50 minute series delving into the doings of the Pacific Rim’s tectonic plate. Half a billion people live along the Rim, and will be on the front line if a sudden shift – a tectonic hiccup – suddenly remaps the face of the earth. Ring of Fire is a us$1.2 million series following scientists as they try to understand why a tremor in Tokyo can cause a landslide in San Diego.

The three shows will focus on volcanoes, earthquakes and tidal waves. With bbc2 already involved for us$295,000, the series should be ready to air by February, 1999. Although she was somewhat dismissive of disaster films, labelling them ‘trendy,’ Canal+’s Anna Glogowski admitted she may have been interested had itel not already snagged the rights for almost us$300,000.


Love, Love Me Do

What is love? What suddenly makes a complete stranger the center of our lives? What do years spent together do to love? Epidem (Gracious Curves, Benneton’s World) of Helsinki attempts to answer those and other questions in Everyday Love (working title), a 52-minute feature. With the basic thesis that love belongs to everyone, the film examines the lives of several ordinary couples. Ready for delivery spring of 1999, the film is being produced with us$58,000 help from Finnish broadcaster yle tv. The budget is approximately us$270,000.


Blinded me with science

Dedicated to those who have, at one time or another, accidentally set fire to a chemistry lab, Paris-based dune (The Children of Ivan Kuzmich, Cutting Loose) looks at the importance of mistakes in the scientific process, and the necessity of coming up with answers other than those dictated by common sense in Eureka! I still got it all wrong.

Topics include: ‘Between Atom and Energy’, ‘Measuring the Earth’, ‘Genes and Heredity’ and ‘The Brain and Intelligence’. The 4 x 52 minutes has a budget of almost us$2 million and is expected to be completed for the end of the millennium. The only broadcaster on board is France 2 to the tune of us$350,000.

It’s all fun and games

until someone takes a picture…

All it takes to make a quick million is a couple of compromising photos of your local elected official, or a short but revealing video featuring your favorite celebrity. The British tabloids and their 12 million daily readers are eager for scoops, and will pay seven figures for the best of them. Enter Max Clifford, press agent and middle man, who digs up (some say manufactures) scandals for the shock-hungry press. He finds the victims and their tragic stories (with accompanying footage, preferably) and splits the profits 50/50.

From Elma Productions (Ventura dit Lino, Sexe, Chansons et Video) in Paris, Fun, Fun, Fun is a 52-minute fly-on-the-wall film with an estimated budget of just over us$200,000. France’s La Sept/arte is on board for us$90,000, and is planning to schedule the film as part of a thematic evening. At the pitch, Discovery’s Chris Haws raised the question about whether Clifford would be paid for his participation. Consensus from buyers was that they’d prefer to see the film on completion.

uss ‘r’ us

As the saying goes, if you want to know someone, invite them on a journey. And that’s just what ADR Productions (Les Conquerants des Quatres Vents, Mysteres D’Asie Centrale) in Paris did with a group of Russian businessmen. The New Russians is shot aboard a cruise ship with the Association of Russian Entrepreneurs: businessmen who are eventually convinced to open up during the course of the film. The men articulate their origins, the struggle to remain honest in a corrupt system, their lust for power, and the desire to re-establish some of the old ways. Ready for the end of 1998, the 52-minute film is being produced with broadcasters Image+ France (us$30,000), rtbf in Belgium (us$35,000) and Finland’s yle (us$6,000), with a budget under us$250,000.


Mirror, mirror

From birth they lead the same lives, but as identical twins grow up, they start searching their apparent sameness to find the differences upon which to build their own identity. Zero Film of Berlin (A Tickel in the Heart, Blockade) is working on Dialogue of Silence, a 90-minute film, scheduled to be completed in May, 1999. The budget for the picture is us$225,000, and is being partially offset by us$60,000 from German broadcaster wdr.

Characters featured in the film include symbiotic twins – both circus performers – who have lived together their entire lives as man and wife, and 70-year-old gay twins who have never been separated. While drtv expressed interest in a shorter version, the bbc’s Jeremy Gibson encouraged Zero to re-contact Mothercorp on completion.

Sympathy for the Devil

How will history judge three scientists, each Nobel Prize winners, who worked under the auspices of the Third Reich? While not members of the Nazi party, the three rose to fame within it. Were they willing accomplices, or victims of circumstance? Faustus Versus Mephisto, from Egoli Films of Berlin (Made in Germany, Jeckes) and Paris’ Gaumont Television, is a look at Werner Heisenberg, Carl Bosch and Adolf Butenandt: masters of physics, chemistry and biochemistry, grandfathers of the nuclear age.

The 3 x 52 minutes will be completed for the end of 1998, with a budget of over us$600,000. French broadcaster La Cinquième has already signed on for us$160,000. Advice from the bear pit came from Discovery Europe’s Chris Haws, who suggested the producers contact Glenwynn Benson, the newest face in the bbc’s science department.

Pop Corn

Pop Odyssee, a look at the relationship between pop music and culture, the audience and the cyclical nature of the genre, from Berlin’s Turner and Tailor (Lost in Music i-v, Streetfashion), will be ready for the turn of the century. With a budget of almost us$900,000, six one-hour episodes are in the works, with plans to double the length of the series. German broadcaster zdf is chipping in us$230,000. After the pitch – and discussion around the table as to whether or not Brian Wilson did or did not write the definitive pop tune – nrk expressed the strongest interest and the bbc requested a script outline.


Insanity and Marriage

Few people would imagine that the Leonardo Da Vinci-Fiumicino airport in Rome, which hosts 21 billion transports every year, has its own psychiatric ward. Flying Turbulences, by Rome’s Videa Documentary (The Banality of the New, The Latter Rain), is a 52-minute examination of this strange health-care unit. Every year, hundreds of people with extreme psychiatric disorders arrive, looking for something they can’t explain – some are religious fanatics, and some are just lost and wandering. Most end up at the ward before they get lost in the Roman streets.

The film will be completed by September, 1998, and, with a budget of about us$70,000, was probably the cheapest film pitched. Italian broadcaster rai is in for us$18,000. Planète Cable’s Michel Badinter said he’d be interested in a first run, but definitely not a copro. Speaking on behalf of the all the commissioning editors, tvo’s Rudy Buttignol made a point of welcoming rai to doc commissioning.

Videa Documentary also pitched Marriage Neapolitan Style, an examination of the life and work of Oreste Pipolo, a 60-year-old Naples photographer who has photographed nothing but weddings for the last 30 years. Weddings in Naples are more than just ostentatious displays of wealth and pride, they are a total melding of families. Marriage will be completed by September, 1998 on a us$70,000 budget, underwritten to the tune of us$18,000 by rai.


Suicide, Wealth and Power

On September 18, 1971, Marc Wallenberg, Sweden’s most powerful industrialist, drove into the woods and shot himself. Soon after, the 100-year-old Wallenberg empire fell into the lap of his brother, Peter, a man no one considered up to the task.

Twenty-five years later, the empire controls 40% of the Swedish stock market, employs 650,000 people internationally, and is worth almost us$100 billion. From Stockholm’s Luftspringaren, The House of Wallenberg – The Hidden Power, is a 2 x 50 minute examination of a family who’s motto is ‘to be without being seen.’ Swedish broadcaster svt has committed us$55,000 to the us$200,000 film.

United States

Sailing To America

The latest offering from the producer and director of Hoop Dreams and Team of Broken Dreams, The New Immigrants examines the lives of new Americans. Each year, the u.s. offers a fresh beginning to 700,000 legal immigrants, and probably as many illegal ones. The film will document six families who settle in the Chicago area during their first three years in the country, capturing their impressions and seeing how they fit into ‘the melting pot’.

The 6 x 60 minute series is produced by Kartemquin Films of Chicago, and will not be completed until 2001. Six hundred thousand dollars worth of support for the us$2.5 million project is coming from cpb/pbs, which was also involved in Hoop Dreams. The McArthur Foundation is in for us$500,000, and the pitch yielded firm interest from bbc, tv2, drtv and France 2. A theatrical release is planned.

Coup of the month: France

Panthers beat the rap

What happens to the revolutionaries after the revolution is over? Off The Pigs! is a look at the lives of four Black Panthers, from the 60s revolution to their place in mainstream society in the 90s.

Kathleen Cleaver, the highest ranking female member of the Panthers, is now a law professor; Jamal Joseph, the youngest Panther to be hunted by the fbi, has become a successful playwright after years in prison; Nile Rodgers, former soldier of the cause, is now a world-famous musician and producer who has worked with David Bowie, and can be partially credited as the father of rap. Bobby Seale, the last surviving founding member of the Panthers, is now looking for ways to survive as a middle-aged man, largely forgotten by the cause he helped bring to the world’s attention.

Produced by Paris’ Archipel 33 (Corpus Christi, Animal Connection), the film will have 90- and 52-minute versions, and should be delivered by May. France’s La Sept/arte, and Finnish yle tv1 have anted up $165,000 and $6,000 respectively towards the us$350,000 budget. The pitch also yielded interest from the bbc’s Jeremy Gibson.

Millennium Watch: England

On the Road

The idea: To have American poet lauereate Maya Angelou, and novelist and Vanity Fair columnist Christopher Hitchens travel across the u.s. to uncover the state of the nation at the end of the millennium. America, How Are you?, from Jon Blair Company (Schindler, Anne Frank Remembered) of London, is broken down into three one-hour episodes, each featuring a different journey through the u.s.: a cruise along the Mississippi from St. Louis to New Orleans; a train ride from New York to Los Angeles; and a drive through the streets of Washington d.c., a city at the head of the nation but unable to provide basic services to its citizens, with a convicted felon as mayor.

Blair’s pitch, and the heated exchanges which ensued, did not draw a nod from any of the buyers present, but the series is expected to be delivered near the end of 1999. With an estimated budget of us$1.7 million, bbc2 is the only broadcaster attached, for just under us$425,000.

About The Author
Daniele Alcinii is a news reporter at realscreen, the leading international publisher of non-fiction film and television industry news and content. He joins the rs team with journalism experience following a stint out west with Sun Media in Edmonton's Capital Region, and communications work in Melbourne, Australia and Toronto. You can follow him on Twitter at @danielealcinii.