Production News

July 1, 1999


The threads of history

Nimpkish Wind Productions is an entity which formed in Vancouver, Canada, in 1994. Specializing in First Nation stories, Nimpkish Wind is telling tales few prodcos are prepared to tackle.

T’Lina: The Rendering of Wealth is a feature-length doc that should be ready for the fall of this year. Destined for Vision TV in Canada, and with a budget of approximately US$190,000, this doc tells the tale of a tiny fish that represents wealth and prosperity to a group of Native Canadians. (In the Kwakwala language, T’Lina is the name of an oil rendered from fish.) Every year director Barb Cranmer’s family has made its way to the fish’s spawning ground, but the species is now threatened by habitat loss and over-fishing. The film delves into what is not only an environmental but also a social challenge.

In August ’97, the Namgis First Nation of Alert Bay was devastated by an arsonist’s fire which destroyed the community Bighouse. The story is now a feature-length doc, Out of the Ashes, We Will Dance Again, which witnesses the rebuilding of the house and the opening celebration. The $170,000 production is being undertaken with Canadian broadcaster CanWest Global, and will be ready for early 2000.

We Weave Our History is a series the prodco has just begun developing. Ready for some time in 2000, this $240,000 effort is entirely shot in British Columbia, and follows the lives and work of six weavers who are bringing to life the almost forgotten traditions of geometric and chilkat weaving.

Looking to the future, the Vancouver company has also begun Nimpkish Wind Interactive with Vancouver’s DNA Productions. The two companies are planning a series of interactive documentaries on CD-ROM and on the Internet.

Love, Love him do

New York’s Travelfilm Company (which has just wrapped Dvorak and America, a look at the famous composer’s American life, featured in the June ’99 issue), is now hard at work on Dvorak In England, a one-hour companion and follow-up. Produced with Czech Television’s Radim Smetana, the new hour will be a dual portrait of London and Prague, as well as each country’s music in the late nineteenth century.

Dvorak was a huge celebrity in his time, much like the Beatles were in our era. In England, during the 1880s and 1890s, he was mobbed by crowds and played to sold-out houses. He played all the great halls and, at times, worked with orchestras of almost 900 pieces. The special is narrated in the first-person, using Dvorak’s own diaries to tell the tale.

Budgeted at US$350,000, Travelfilm is still on the hunt for more coproduction partners for the project. Dvorak In England will be shot in 35mm for future-proofing.

Following ancient pathways

TransAtlantic films in London has a new managing director in Corisande Albert and, just as important, a slate of new productions.

Scheduled to begin shooting in October of 2000, TransAtlantic is developing a 6 x 60-minute series called The Silk Road. The high-definition series has already attracted partners in the form of the China Film Corporation of Beijing, Natural History New Zealand and Los Angeles-based Mandalay Media Arts (the company for which Corisande’s brother, Justin Albert, left TransAtlantic). The series considers the myth and mystery of the `silk road,’ the pathway which served as a trade route between China and the West for more than a millennium – as well as an invasion route and supply line. The series is a combination of travel, culture and real history, and comes in at a budget of about US$3.9 million.

In an attempt not to relive the dark side of Olympic history (i.e. explosions in the Olympic park in Atlanta at the last Summer Olympics, or the murder of 11 Israeli athletes by Black September terrorists at the Munich Olympics), TransAtlantic producer Ravel Guest is in Sydney beginning work on a one-hour special about security for the 2000 Olympics. Dubbed Guardians of the Olympics, the special is being done with The Discovery Channel, and should begin filming in September of 2000. The budget lurks around $600,000.


The Alien 411

Alright, it’s time for the straight talk about little green men from other planets. No more hype, it’s time to talk turkey.

Well, at least that’s the intention of California’s Alice International Holdings (formerly Alice Entertainment). Their new 3 x 60-minute series, UFO and Aliens, is a factual and scientific assessment that aims to be the definitive source of data on the Alien question. Interviews will include expert representatives of the Jet Propulsion Lab at the California Institute of Technology. Topics tackled will include intergalactic travel, saucer technology, the possibility of alien encounters and what might be signals from outside our universe.

Destined for TLC’s `Alien Invasion Week’ in February of 2000, the series has a budget of about US$1.2 million.


Songs from a Latin choir

Based in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Grifa Cinematografica is perhaps best known for their cultural and natural history programming. New to the roster for next year is a 27 x 6-minute series which focuses on the music, culture and history of Brazil, as told through the songs of her children.

Brazilian Songs, selects one child from each of the countries 27 states, and gets them to sing a song from that specific region. Based on the language and accent of the child, and the landscapes depicted, the face of Brazil is revealed to the viewer.

Shot in Super 16, the production is being undertaken over a period of about a year and a half, but will be wrapped for some time in 2000. The budget for the entire series is approximately US$1.5 million.

My brother’s keeper

Lumiere Productions of New York is at work on a 4 x 60-minute series delving into the work of two parts of the American melting pot. Aiming for a winter, 2000 wrap, Justice, Justice: Jewish-Black Collaboration for Civil Rights 1930-1988 looks at how the collaboration between the two groups has led to key changes in the social and justice systems in the U.S. It has not, however, been a smooth path of mutual affirmation. The series will explore the highs and lows of the relationship.

The estimated US$2 million budget for the series is being partially underwritten by the PBS/CPB Challenge Fund, Samuel Rubin and Joyce Mertz-Gilmore Foundations (a private, charitable foundation that provides grants to non-profit organizations concerned with the environment, human rights, peace and security, and New York City civic and cultural issues), and the New York Council for the Humanities.


Natural born killer whales

Russian Killer Whales is a 52-minute special aiming to do a few things that haven’t been tried very often. The first is to film the wildlife around the Chukotka peninsula, the point on earth where the Pacific and Arctic Oceans meet. The second is to film killer whales at work in their hunting grounds.

The Chukotka peninsula has the world’s highest density of marine mammals, not to mention a few killer whale delicacies: walrus, seals, bowhead whales, belugas and grey whales. The film follows a year in the life of the whales, and tracks them as they migrate through one of the harshest and most unspoiled parts of the earth.

Ready for July of 2001, the film is being produced by Survival, and has already been sold to ITV in the U.K. Distributed by ITEL in London, the special has a budget in excess of £400,000.


Break a leg

In an effort to prove that they’re just as crazy as their southern cousins, a number of New Zealanders will be doing odd things in the name of fun and adventure in the coming months. Adventure Central is a 13 x 30-minute production from Natural History New Zealand and The Travel Channel. (Eventually, the producers are aiming for 26 episodes, with 13 to be ready for early 2000, and the rest for later in the year.)

Filming began in May and will last for four months, resuming in October. The producers are hoping to catch Queenslanders bungy jumping (leaping from things with a rubber band tied around your legs), base jumping (…or without the rubber band), skiing, snow boarding, climbing, fly-fishing (potentially dangerous if you really put your heart into it), wine-tasting, jet boating, diving, etc.

The price tag for this first season of insurance-bating is in the US$1.3 million range.


Start your crock pots

Hide her suitcases, because grandma’s going Hollywood. Toronto’s Indivisual Productions has plans for her.

Loving Spoonfuls (w/t) is a 13 x 30-minute documentary/comedy/cooking show celebrating the best cook (not chef) in the family. In each episode, the show spends time with a different grandmother – shopping, preparing and cooking all her favorites. There is no studio audience, and the producers are using small digital cameras and tiny mics so that the grandmothers will feel completely comfortable.

Allan Novak, the principal at Indivisual has a resume which includes comedy and drama writing, and directing credits which include CBC’s Life and Times and The Newsroom. The wrap date for this new project is yet to be determined, but the pilot is finished. The first series is being entirely shot in Canada, but plans for subsequent series include worldwide locations. The series comes in at about US$17,000 an episode. Talks are on with several broadcasters, but nothing had been put on paper at press time.


Life in the underground

By Simon Bacal

Beneath the teeming streets of New York City, the daily masses who constantly travel on the New York subway system are frequently treated to performances from a plethora of drummers, guitarists, saxophonists, singers and dancers. The daily lives, inspiration, goals and accomplishments of such entertainers are now explored in Lost Legends of New York’s Underground, a 90-minute documentary currently in production in the Big Apple.

‘I’ve been riding the subways my entire life,’ says Jason Scianno, the project’s director, producer, and writer, ‘so I see these guys all the time. Their worlds are completely varied – some are working professionals, while others spend their entire day performing in the subways.’

Scianno is amazed and intrigued by the variety of performers who can be seen showcasing their artistic talents. ‘For the last ten years, I’ve constantly seen a guy dancing Mariachi with a doll which looks like a woman,’ Scianno continues. ‘Everyone stops and watches this guy because he’s absolutely fantastic – they don’t know that he’s dancing with a doll unless they look really close. There’s also a group of kids, aged 14 to 20 who walk through the subway singing soul. Sometimes, 30 kids will be involved. In addition, there’s many harmonica and guitar players, and Korean, Japanese and Chinese people who play weird little home made box instruments. One can also see accordion players, people who enhance the atmosphere with a nice Italian touch, and plenty of operatic singers – it’s pretty amazing.’

Production on the project, budgeted in excess of US$70,000, is expected to last until October. Look for the production at next year’s Sundance Film Festival.

The Holiday Inn this ain’t

By Simon Bacal

In 1994, Robert Young Pelton wrote The World’s Most Dangerous Places, a comprehensive travel guide to the world’s most troublesome flash points.

‘I always thought that a travel guide should be for those places where it was really needed,’ Pelton says. ‘I didn’t think that anyone needed a travel guide for Florida, New York or any other obvious tourist destinations – so I decided to write a safety guide to those places where people get killed easily. When I finished the book, I thought that I had made a big mistake because booksellers didn’t think that anyone would buy a travel guide to places off limits to most people. Upon release, however, the book sold out within two weeks. Then it was reprinted four times within the first year. Whenever I visit trouble spots, I always bump into people who use my guide since it really is the only guidebook to the world’s war zones and nasty places.’

Thanks to Los Angeles-based production house 44 Blue Productions, Pelton’s book, which is updated annually, is being transformed into a series of six one-hour episodes, each budgeted in excess of US$180,000. In production until December, Robert Young Pelton’s The World’s Most Dangerous Places, which will begin airing in October on The Travel Channel in the U.S. and The Discovery Channel worldwide, charts Pelton’s trips to flash point locations such as Kosovo, Iraq, Lebanon and the South Philippines.

‘The island of Tawi Tawi in the South Philippines is probably among the most dangerous place for Western travelers since it’s plagued by kidnappers,’ says Pelton, who serves as the show’s executive producer and host. ‘We traveled there and interviewed some kidnappers about their reasons for kidnapping people and the best ways to avoid being kidnapped. In that part of the world, tricycles are used as taxicabs – so they’re always assigned a special number. Apparently anyone who picks a tricycle without a number is likely to find himself or herself kidnapped and whisked into the mountains or some little village. Most of these kidnappings are money motivated – these guys want cash quickly. If you pay them, they’ll actually drive you back to your hotel. If you don’t pay them, you’re likely to lose some fingers.’

In other episodes, Pelton flies over a killing zone manned by Russian forces, contends with natural disasters, comes up against corrupt politicians and braves land mines. ‘I snuck into Afghanistan and dug land mines out of the ground, so when people get upset about land mines they’ll know exactly what they are and how they’re dug out of the ground. Instead of being political, this show, which is clearly grounded in reality, prompts viewers to be adventurous, explore the world and understand different things.’

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.