On the Slate

July 1, 2001


Views of the past

Not long after the merger of Berlin’s Egoli Films and Tossell Pictures, Egoli Tossell Film AG has a rapidly expanding slate of docs on the go (possibly aided by the minority partnership participation of U.K. production company Mentorn Barraclough Carrey).

Among the projects in development is Hello Dachau!, a 90-minute (or 52-minute) look at the sleepy little Bavarian town which has become famous throughout the world for all the wrong reasons. However unlikely, the citizens of Dachau are fighting to free themselves from a past that is indelibly linked to Nazi Germany and an infamous concentration camp. Playing the roles in the film are townspeople, former camp inmates, right-wing politicians, a pub landlord and the ‘Don Quixote of Dachau’, who is the son of a former camp guard. Ready for summer 2002, the project has been commissioned by German broadcaster BR, and has the support of The film carries a budget of about US$250,000.

Also in development is Pierced Hearts and True Tattoos. This 90-minute (or 52-minute) film is a trip through the past on the wings of tattoos. Herbert Hoffmann, the 80-year-old owner of Germany’s oldest tattoo parlor, is the central character of the tale, leading viewers all over Europe to visit ink-covered friends, and telling stories of forgotten artists, long-gone eras and the dark side of the tattoo trade. The film is expected to wrap in summer 2002 at a budget of about $200,000.

Now in production is The Hermitage World, a unique series of short and long films that take a filmmaker’s view of the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, which is housed in the Winter Palace on the Neva. One of the first films from this series will be Waterloo, a 90-minute one-shot hd film by Alexander Sokurov, which will travel through the 300 years of history housed in the Winter Palace. The series is being coproduced with Martin Scorsese (of Cappa Productions in New York), The Hermitage Bridge Studio in St. Petersberg and Kopp Film in Brandenburg. The $700,000 series will wrap in March 2002, and is destined for WDR/ARTE. The series has the support of the Filmboard Berlin-Brandenburg and the film society for Central and East Germany, Mitteldeutsche Medienförderung.


Whacking the Easter Bunny

The dry flood plains of the Diamantina River in central Australia are pock-marked with long-abandoned burrows dug by one of Australia’s rarest marsupials – the bunny sized Bilby. Once running wild over 70% of the nation, the Bilby has been reduced to a population of only a few hundred as a result of the foreign animals that have been introduced to Australia’s shores: foxes, feral cats, cattle, and the biggest offender of them all, rabbits.

The Men Who Killed the Easter Bunny profiles the work of zoologist Peter McRae and (ex-professional kangaroo shooter) Frank Manthey. The pair have dedicated years to building a 25-square kilometer wire fence to protect 40 Bilbies. Their efforts don’t end there, however. McRae and Manthey raise money, lobby the government and generate publicity in the name of the Bilbies. They’ve even gone after the Easter Bunny – trying to get shops in Australia to switch to the Easter Bilby, and sell chocolate Easter Bilbies to help raise conservation funds.

Easter Bunny is being filmed on HD by Queensland’s Gulliver Media Australia. It should wrap in October, and will be available in 55-minute and 27-minute lengths. The budget for this conservational jab at an Easter icon is in the US$250,000 range.


If you’ve already been to Disney…

In Orlando, Florida, Mickey Mouse is the big attraction, but only a few miles away in Cassadaga, psychics draw the crowds. ‘The land in Cassadaga is owned by a special association, and you have to be a medium or psychic to live there,’ explains producer David Frank of San Francisco-based Indigo Films. ‘Tourists from around the world visit this place, and can get astrology readings, communicate with the dead and enjoy tea leaf readings. The town really is Psychic City.’

Cassadaga is just one of the mysterious places in the U.S. that Indigo plans to feature in Out of This World, a three-hour miniseries currently in production for The Travel Channel in the U.S. Frank says the idea for the series grew out of a visit to a tourist attraction in Santa Cruz, California, called The Mystery Spot. ‘It’s a fun and amazing tour that shows phenomenon that seem real on the surface – balls roll up hills, trees don’t grow straight and things seem to defy gravity. So, I decided to do a documentary on locations around the country that host some form of unexplainable activity.’

Budgeted at around US$110,000 per hour, the series will air on The Travel Channel towards the end of the year. Simon Bacal

Tales both strange and terrifying

Virginia’s Adler Media is looking to bend your brain with the mysterious and the creepy. Adler is distributing a 4 x 50-minute series entitled Mysteries of the Millennium, which uses modern science to tackle the enigmas surrounding four modern mysteries, with the goal of separating truth from myth. Those covered are: Easter Island and its mysterious statues; the body of Christ and recent rumors suggesting the Knights Templar may have removed it to France; the mysterious ring of stones at Stonehenge; and the ancient riddle of the Sphinx. Ready for November, this series is being produced by Crew Neck Productions in Los Angeles, and has found a home on TLC in the U.S. The series carries a budget in the US$1.4 million neighborhood. Of course, the answer to all these mysteries is…

Adler will soon deliver Tales from the Crypt, a 50-minute special from CS Films in Maryland. When William M. Gaines and Al Feldstein of Entertaining Comics (EC) started putting together horror comics in the ’50s, little did they understand what they were creating. Tales from the Crypt and other ghoulish titles became instant hits – except with parents and the establishment who wanted them banned. The fight went to the U.S. Senate, where comic book publishers announced they would take policing the industry into their own hands, forming the Comics Code Authority – which then banned the crime comic books that made EC famous.

At a budget of US$400,000, the project should wrap next month, with AMC in the U.S. as its initial destination.

Social Issues

Dying for a cure

Autopsy of a Known Catastrophe is a one-hour look at a subject which seems to have dropped from the headlines in the first world – AIDS. With expensive drugs available to fight the disease, Western society has let the issue slip to the back burner, but 53 million people are now infected globally, with 15,000 new cases added every day. Over 90% of those cases are in the south – Africa, Asia and South America. In South Africa alone, 50% of pregnant women now carry the virus.

Autopsy looks at how the emergency has evolved. Evidence indicates that the first world predicted the current situation (including the CIA, which conducted a study in 1990 accurately forecasting the condition), but did little about it. The pharmaceutical companies make 80% of their profits from the G7 countries, and show little interest in lowering the monthly US$1,000 price tag that accompanies the drugs, although some third world scientists have proven they could be made for as little as $83. Autopsy is a look at how the people with power have chosen to ignore the problem.

Produced by Dominant 7 in Paris, this project should be wrapped by the end of the year. The US$320,000 film is being partially funded by ARTE and French funding body, the CNC.

This just in…

When Attica Prison fell to rioting inmates 30 years ago, few could have predicted the outcome of the conflict. Beyond the rebellion and the resulting deaths, the event has grown to become part of the American social lexicon. The name Attica now stands for not only race division, state cover-ups and corruption, but also initiatives to improve the lot of prisoners in the U.S.

Ghosts of Attica, a 1 x 90-minute film (or 2 x 60-minute series), offers what the producers term a ‘definitive account’ of the events and their repercussions, from the tumultuous hours in the prison, to the years the inmates (and some guards) have fought to learn what really happened, and claim the justice denied them. Produced by Lumiere Productions in New York, the film has been picked up by Court TV in the U.S., CBC in Canada and the BBC in the U.K. The film has a sales agent in Films Transit in Montreal, as well as the financial backing of both the Soros Documentary Fund and Antidote International Films. The producers hope to have the project completed by the fall of this year.

Also from Lumiere is a new series called Local News. News plays an integral part in shaping viewer opinions – especially in the U.S., where 75% of Americans say their main source of information is their local news coverage. We’ve learned to trust it as a vital source of information, but what are we putting our faith in?

Local News is a 5 x 1-hour series that goes behind the scenes at WCNC-TV (NBC’s Charlotte affiliate), to follow reporters, news managers and the stories themselves to see how the news gets covered, what influences are at work, and how decisions are really made. The episodes cover every aspect of modern news, including struggles between news personnel, reporter ethics, race issues, focus groups, as well as external market competition.

Produced by Lumiere and Thirteen/WNET in New York, the series will begin to air this October. The budget for the series (including outreach) is in the US$2 million range, and it enjoys the support of The Ford Foundation, The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, PBS, CPB, The Jacob Burns Foundation, and the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation.

Capital tales

ITVS is offering a number of filmmakers a helping hand with their projects, including New York director/producer David Peterson. Peterson and coproducer Mridu Chandra’s Let the Church Say, Amen is a 60-minute film examining the poverty afflicting the U.S. capital. While Easter in Washington means the annual egg hunt on the lawn of the White House, only a few blocks away families in one of the nation’s poorest neighborhoods look to the holidays as a reason for hope. The film uses a storefront church as its central focus, following four families who frequent it as they prepare for the holiday season – confronting poverty, racism and criminal prosecution – doing what they can to stave off despair. The film will wrap in January, at a budget of about US$280,000.

ITVS is also helping fellow New Yorkers Katherine Leichter and Jonathan Skurnik with their film: A Day’s Work, A Day’s Pay. The Big Apple has one of America’s largest welfare-to-work programs, with about 200,000 welfare recipients required to work for less than minimum wage, performing menial tasks like cleaning streets and bathrooms. The film follows three welfare recipients trying to organize themselves within the system to achieve fair wages and safe conditions while they struggle to get off welfare. Ready for early fall, the one-hour film has a budget of about US$125,000.


Around the world the strange way

Unfortunately, they didn’t manage to get the dung spitting in (no, really… really), but Atlas Media of New York promises that the 2 x 1-hours of Things You Have to See to Believe will be worth every minute. Produced for and with the Travel Channel in the U.S., the series looks at things you have to witness to believe are possible. Episode one demonstrates a crucifixion ritual in the Philippines, and the Coney Island sideshow (among other things). Highlights from the second episode include a sandcastle competition in Texas, and a festival for twins.

Also on the Travel Channel’s slate from Atlas are a number of one-hour one-offs: Eccentric Towns, which includes a look at the shoe capital of the world; The Top Ten Most Expensive Hotels, including the Venetian in Las Vegas (if you were at NATPE you already know that); and The Top Ten Places to Spend a Fortune.

These series and one-offs will be in production through February of next year, and carry budgets that ballpark between US$200,000 and $300,000 per hour.


Stop or I’ll shoot. Again.

Alexandria-based Hoggard Films is revisiting a subject that has been very successful for them in the past – commandos. American Commandos: The Green Berets was their first shot at the topic in 1998, and it proved to be one of the highest rated shows for Discovery that year. They’ve come back to do two more hours: American Commandos II: Airborne and American Commandos III: Nightriders. The second hour will follow a trainee through Fort Benning Airborne school to his graduation, and will air on Discovery at the end of August. Nightriders, set to air in September, will focus on the men and women of the Air Force Special Operations branch. Like the Green Berets or Navy Seals, these soldiers are the most highly trained, specializing in rescue missions and special operations in any conditions. The hour will also recreate two tragic but successful rescue missions (one in Vietnam and one in Bosnia). Although the producer could not comment on the budget, Hoggard is also working on Dirt Detectives for Nat Geo, a 6 x 1-hour series ready in the second quarter of 2002 for about US$250,000 per hour.

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.