On the Slate

May 1, 2001


Rhythm and music

When Shostakovitch debuted Lady Macbeth of Mtensk in Moscow in 1936, he faced a tough crowd. In attendance on opening night was the reigning Soviet despot, Stalin, who clearly was not expecting such a performance. The opera depicted the ugly side of life in Russia, featuring multiple murders, rapes and beatings, as well as a corrupt police force. Outraged, Stalin banned the show.

Fast forward 65 years and shift locales to the Emerald Isle, where Dieter Kaegi, artistic director of Opera Ireland, is hoping his staging of Lady Macbeth of Mtensk has a longer run than the original.

The Irish production is the subject of Lady M. The Making of an Opera, produced by Blue Bag Films and distributed by Monster! Distributes, both of Dublin. The one-hour one-off, budgeted between IR£100,000 and IR£150,000 (US$114,000 to $171,000), will track the opera from rehearsal to opening night. Production will wrap by September 2001. The partners are currently negotiating with a U.K. broadcaster.

Monster! is also developing The Fathers of Reggae, a 52-minute special about such legends as Ken Boothe, Gregory Isaacs, Leonard Dillon and, of course, Bob Marley, men whose music influenced the likes of Sting, Dr. Dre and Eminem. UB40, which is recording a Fathers of Reggae album, is collaborating on the film. Also budgeted in the IR£100,000 to IR£150,000 range, Fathers is slated to wrap in January 2002.

Additionally, the fifth series of Monster!’s Planet Rock Profiles is now in the works for ITV. Gabrielle and Morcheeba are among the artists to be featured.

Tickle those ivories

NYC Entertainment is developing a 6 x 1-hour series called Sundays at Steinway, directed by Ken Druckerman of New York’s Straight Ahead Productions and co-directed and produced by Robert Flam.

Inspired by Flam’s visit to the 148-year-old Steinway & Sons piano factory in Long Island City (where the US$250,000 to $350,000 per episode series will be shot), Sundays explores the relationship between famous pop, jazz and classical pianists and their instrument. Each episode will look at a different musician – from Herbie Hancock to Billy Joel to Harry Connick Jr. – and will feature both jam sessions and wrap-around interviews.

The first episode of Sundays will be filmed in June and made available by first quarter 2002. New York-based Winstar Worldwide is distributing. While the programs will be shot primarily in 16mm, Flam prefers to use a mix of formats including dvcam and Super 8. Winstar is still in search of broadcasters. JH


Everest enigma

One person dies for every seven who make it to the peak of Mount Everest. Sadly, in 1999, 22-year-old U.K. climber Mike Matthews was among those on the losing end of the statistics. Matthews’ body has never been found and no one knows what caused his death. What is known is that at 29,028 feet, he would have felt the sting of jetstream winds and dealt with severely depleted oxygen levels.

In Death on Everest, Glasgow-based prodco Wark Clements follows one of Matthews’ original climbing

companions, Canadian Dave Rodney, and a special team of Sherpas as they attempt to recover Matthews’ body and unravel the mystery surrounding his untimely fate. In addition to this new footage (captured last month), the prodco also has access to 14 hours of film from the original expedition.

The U.K.’s Channel 4 and Australia’s Southern Star Factual are already on board as partners for the £210,000 (US$302,000) project, which is scheduled to wrap in July.


What did Darwin know?

In 1831, a 22-year-old Charles Darwin traveled aboard the HMS Beagle to Tierra del Fuego, Argentina. There he encountered the nomadic Yamana people, whom he promptly dismissed as primitive and simplistic, ‘the missing link between man and ape’.

Darwin’s assessment of the Yamana remained unchallenged – until now. Over the past 26 years, Argentinean archaeologist Ernesto Piana has studied the remains of this society that was wiped out in the early 1900s (following the arrival of the Europeans), and argues the Yamana thrived for 6,000 years in an inhospitable region because they were highly developed.

In Canoeros of the Tierra Del Fuego, a one-hour one-off, Rome-based GA&A Productions will focus on Piana’s archaeological discoveries and his interpretations. Budgeted in the US$350,000 to $400,000 range, the doc will include re-enactments and CGI. Currently in pre-production, the project has an approximate wrap date of June 2002.

GA&A is also busy developing another one-hour one-off, titled Nic & Bart. In the early 1900s, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti immigrated to the U.S. from Italy. Rather than grow old gracefully in this new land of opportunity, they were accused of robbery and murder by the state of Massachusetts and were put to death in 1927.

Even at the time, many regarded the trial as unfair, based not on evidence but on the men’s anarchist political beliefs. News of the case led to protests in the U.S., Europe and Latin America, though it was not enough to save Sacco and Vanzetti.

As the 75th anniversary of the execution approaches, Nic & Bart looks at the appalling injustices of the trial, how the case went on to effect changes to legislation in Massachusetts, and the ongoing efforts to clear Sacco and Vanzetti’s names.

Like Canoeros, Nic & Bart? is budgeted at around $350,000 to $400,000. The project will be delivered by August 2002. GA&A is currently seeking partners for both documentaries.


It’s elementary, Watson

The desire to solve a mystery or unravel a puzzle is intrinsically human. Those who enter the crime-fighting fields feel that desire particularly strongly, though limited time and resources sometimes force them to leave confounding cases unresolved. In Cold Cases, New Evidence, a 3 x 1-hour series from L.A.-based prodco Film Garden, they get a second chance.

Film Garden president Nancy Jacobs Miller describes the program: ‘It’s a reality crime series that pairs real life detectives, forensic scientists and other experts with criminal profilers, and uses new technology to open unsolved cases.’

The program, which is being produced for Discovery in the U.S., will examine DNA typing, toxicology, fingerprinting, the study of blood and the study of firearms and bullets. Explains coordinating producer Mason Funk, ‘Whereas most programs pop the conclusion onto cases that have already been solved, we don’t know the conclusion. Audiences generally want closure at the end of an hour, so we’re definitely taking a risk. At the same time, the sense of uncertainty is very intriguing.’ Funk is coy about discussing the specifics of the cases, but he notes that all are homicides involving young victims. Cold Cases is slated to wrap by fall 2001, and has a budget in the US$300,000 per hour range.

Film Garden is also producing Sexual Reassignment Surgery for Discovery. The 2 x 1-hour program will look at the latest surgical inventions for those seeking sex-change operations. Also in development is The Human Experiment – a series that will use social psychology experiments to observe human behavior – and the fourth season of TLC’s The Ultimate Ten. Simon Bacal

Around the world in 120 minutes

MIPDOC’s Market Simulation staged pitches from France, Israel, Germany and the U.S. Moderated by Banff TV Foundation’s Pat Ferns, it was attended by France 3′s Patricia Boutinard-Rouelle, Chris Haws from Discovery International and ZDF’s Wolfgang Homering. Here’s what they saw…


Although the child artists of the Thereseienstadt concentration camp did not survive, some 4,000 of their drawings were found after the Nazis fled the oncoming Red Army. The children’s artwork – depicting a multitude of butterflies – reflects the therapeutic influence of teacher Madame Dicker-Brandois on her class of camp-imprisoned students, who were eventually gassed along with her in 1944. Currently in development, Only Butterflies Get Across the Barbed Wire is a 6 x 52-minute series on the coping tactics of civilian populations that have been targeted in war. The US$1.2 million project is a copro between Palindromes and Little Bear (both in Paris) and has attracted interest from France 3 and La Cinquième.

Boutinard-Rouelle liked the idea, but felt it was a bit vague. Haws agreed that the theme needs to be strong and clear before the project will find a home. While he couldn’t suggest a place for it at Discovery, he urged the filmmakers to pitch BBC4, ARTE and the Soros Documentary Fund. Homering said ZDF could not take it, as a similar program is in the works.

Mathieu Cabanes, of Les Films du Village in Paris, pitched The Man Who Wants to Save the World: Hugo Chavez, the President of Venezuela. The 52-minute one-off examines the life of this political figure, whose devotion to Simon Bolivar, Christianity and the underprivileged in Venezuela has marked him a revolutionary leader in Latin American history. Planète has offered FF260,000 (US$35,000) of the estimated FF1 million (US$134,000) budget. With Chavez in pre-production, Cabanes is seeking international partners before shooting in September.

Haws expressed concern that Chavez could try to turn the film into a promo piece. Boutinard-Rouelle agreed. Homering promised to show it to his ZDF colleague in contemporary history. Ferns suggested CNN as a possibility and Haws

concurred that the cablecaster would be worth approaching.

In other French production news, Boulogne Billancourt-based Theophraste is in development on Iceberg Highway, a 52-minute one-off tracking the pathways of icebergs as they break free from glaciers on the west coast of Greenland. Budgeted at about FF4 million (US$550,000), the doc will be enhanced with 3D animation, enabling viewers to observe what cannot be captured on digibeta. The prodco also plans to commission original music from a well-known composer, and has attracted the interest of France 2 and La Cinquième, French prodco Leeloo Production and Paris-based distributor Terranoa Worldwide. Theophraste is also in negotiations with Discovery and Alizé Production in Belgium. Production will be completed in about two years.

Haws revealed that Discovery is already involved with the project and said they were attracted to the film’s level of scientific investigation. The doc may air in Discovery India’s summer strand ‘Beat the Heat’.


Munich-based Leykauf Film is in pre-production on The Secret Life of Geisha and Bar Hostesses, a 52-minute one-off that strikes a comparison between geisha and bar hostesses, their alleged modern equivalent. Director Janice Sutherland gained access to three geisha: Masami, the top geisha of Kyoto, her young trainee and Mineko, a former geisha turned bar hostess. Budgeted at US$350,000, Leykauf Film is still in search of one third of their production costs. The original film will be shot on hd in Japanese, but English and German versions are also on the slate. Shooting is scheduled to begin this autumn, with delivery set for spring 2002. The prodco is in negotiations with ZDF and ARTE, and has also garnered interest from NRK in Norway and RTBF in Belgium.

Boutinard-Rouelle commended the filmmakers for getting away from stereotypes. She noted, however, that France 3 would hesitate to come on board if ARTE is involved. Haws suggested People & Arts or The Travel Channel from within the Discovery family.


Tel Aviv-based GN Communication presented Yona Brothers, a film in mid-production that centers around Ya’akov Yona, an Israeli social activist and former member of a ’70s movement led by immigrants to Israel who rebelled against Israel’s elite. The Israel Broadcaster Association has already partnered on the US$174,000 project.

Haws said the project has potential, adding a one-hour version is the way to go. Homering noted it might not fit the German humor, and cautioned translation might dilute the nuances of the story.

The film has since garnered interest from Discovery International’s ‘Slice of Life,’ China Entertainment Television, Lichtpunt (a human rights fund in Belgium), WNET in New York and France’s Planète. GN is working on two versions – a 6 x 24-minute series for the Israeli market and an international 52-minute one-off. Production will wrap in April 2002, and the prodco is still seeking additional copro partners and pre-sales.


Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue is the most popular jazz album of all time. The famous recording was born of the New York City jazz scene in the ’50s, when the young Davis was mentored by legends like Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie who nurtured the growth of Davis’ unique brand of jazz. The Mill Valley Film Group in California is in production on Miles Davis: Making Blue, a 60-minute one-off that will strive to recreate the atmosphere of the time period through interviews and archival footage. Budgeted at about US$530,000, the prodco is still in search of coproduction funding. Negotiations with Sony Music are in the works for the distribution of the dvd and home video. The film is set to wrap in spring 2002.

Homering liked the project, but said ZDF doesn’t have enough to come on board as a coproducer. Haws was also supportive and suggested talking to PBS, Bravo and HBO. JH

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