On the Slate

November 1, 2001


Hearing voices

Delaware, U.S.-based Teleduction will tackle the origins of the phonograph in His Master’s Voice: E.R. Johnson and The Victor Talking Machine. This 60-minute film begins with Scott and Edison’s discovery that sound can be recorded onto a receptive surface. It then follows the twisted and sometimes scandalous tale of innovations, from Bell’s invention of the gramophone to Berliner’s innovation of the flat recording disk – which fellow inventor Eldridge R. Johnson described as sounding like ‘a partially educated parrot with a sore throat and a cold in the head.’ For all of the gramophone’s shortcomings, Johnson was so enthralled by it that he dedicated all his efforts to improving the invention, adding a regulated motor and turning the novelty into a commercial enterprise. It wasn’t long, however, before he ran into legal problems with Berliner. The two eventually reconciled, joining forces to form The Victor Talking Machine Company, symbolized by its internationally recognized mascot, Nipper, the terrier from Francis Barraud’s painting His Master’s Voice.

Ready for April of next year, the film is being shot on 16 x 9 widescreen Betacam, and is being produced with the cooperation of the E.R. Johnson Victrola Museum. The project carries a budget of about US$285,000.

The Mills Brothers were the first American act to perform on four continents and to reach a million sales for a single. They toured the world 16 times, appeared in 14 movies and sold more than 50 million copies of their 2,000 recordings. In The Mills Brothers: A Century of Song, Teleduction (with the cooperation of the non-profit Mills Brothers Society and its extensive archive), will profile the nearly 70-year career of the first U.S.supergroup. Exploding onto the music scene in 1931, The Mills Brothers were the offspring of a musical family that stretched back to the Civil War. Theirs is a story of obstacles overcome, from lack of professional training, to racism, to the death of one of the brothers – a tale that culminates in a recent Lifetime Achievement Grammy.
Ready for September of next year, this hour has a budget of about $380,000.

Natural History

Pig power

Connecticut-based CABLEready is working with Leo McWatkins Films and Renegade Productions (sister companies based in Hunt Valley, Maryland), to distribute My Hero, a 13 x 30-minute series demonstrating how animals can help children cope with disabilities. Each episode will include stories of kids who overcome and adapt to their disabilities thanks to their interaction with dogs and cats, and even pot-bellied pigs and stingrays. The series is being produced for about US$50,000 per half hour and is very early in production.

The same production team is also working on End Game, a 4 x 1-hour miniseries that exposes secrets from the Cold War. Also early in production, the series is being put together for about $150,000 per hour.

Small but mighty

Butterflies on the Moveis a trip through Europe on the back of one her most ethereal residents. Dutch filmmaker Josephine Hamming continues her life-long study of the butterfly by following them day and night, through a range of European territories. Hamming will use her subjects as a metaphor for the human experience: the small creatures are strong and adaptable and manage to overcome obstacles, while other species they interact with are tied to a single environment and are therefore vulnerable. The tale will demonstrate Europe as a
culturally strong but environmentally unbalanced region, attempting to give viewers a different point of view on European society. Produced by Amsterdam Business & Wildlifefilm, and scheduled to be completed by the end of next year, the film has a budget of about US$300,000. Butterflies will make use of CGI to create what can’t be filmed by camera.


Enigmas of history

General Field Marshal Edwin Rommel, the acclaimed desert warrior, managed to avoid being painted with the same brush as his Nazi cohorts. In the 3 x 50-minute series Rommel, however, the enigma of The Desert Fox is reexamined under the light of new evidence. Did Rommel truly live up to his warrior legend, or was he just another ambitious cog in a murderous machine? Produced by Munich’s True Stories, ard and mpr in Germany, the series will tackle Rommel’s history in three parts: ‘The Myth – From Tripoli to Tobruk: Rommel’s Desert War’; ‘The Duel – At El Alamein – Rommel vs. Montgomery’; and ‘Hitler and his General – Faithful and Fateful’. Ready for next year, the series carries a budget of about US$1.4 million.

From True Stories and German prodco Viva Art comes Flying Aces, a 3 x 52-minute series that looks to the men who fought above the battlefields of WWII. Coming of age as a cutting-edge weapons platform in its own right, air power spread indiscriminate mayhem on the ground, bringing war to civilians on an unprecedented scale. Oblivious to what was happening below them, pilots struggled against other aces, facing death with every sortie, and living by a chivalrous code that made them appear larger than life. Flying Aces tackles some of those
legends and examines the everyday men behind them, telling highly personal stories and making use of some previously unseen color footage. Also ready in 2002, the series carries a budget of about $750,000.

In 1989, a bloody revolution toppled Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaucescu. It sounds like a simple story: a ruthless dictator overthrown by his own people because of bloody excesses. But was it really that simple, or was there something more to it? New evidence suggests that Romania may have been a pawn in an international conspiracy for power. The film uses the stories of Viorel and Dimitru, two youths shot during the revolution, as a device to re-examine the history. The investigation of public attorney Dan Voinea, a man determined to prosecute the murderers, becomes the central thread, his investigation piecing together a trail suggesting the victims of the Romanian revolution were victims of a global crime. Checkmate is a 52-minute film that is being produced by Germany’s Looks Film, True Stories, ORF and 3sat. Ready for next year, it carries a budget of about $360,000.

Finding refuge

Founded in Bilbao, Spain, in 1990, IDEM Producción Audiovisual is a production company that tackles many genres – docs, fiction, educational videos, publishing. Recently, idem made a significant mark with a non-fiction film called The Athletic Club of Bilbao: A Century of Passion, which was nominated for a Spanish Academy Award. Hoping to follow success with success, idem has a number of new docs on its slate, covering both local and international topics.

In 1936, General Franco began an insurrection that grew to become the Spanish Civil War. Barely a year later, aid poured into the fascist camp from Hitler and Mussolini, while Stalin propped up the Republic against them. On April 26,
1937, German bombers decimated the small town of Guernica, killing over
a thousand civilians (an event immortalized in the famous Picasso painting named after the town). In response, the Spanish government evacuated more than 35,000 children to Mexico, the Soviet Union, Britain, France and Belgium. While they
expected to be away for only weeks or months, some of the children never returned, disappearing into the vastness of the Soviet Union, or into the path of advancing Nazi armies in France. The 57-minute Guernica carries a budget of about US$145,000. Discovery U.S., Canal 22 Mexico and Basque TV have signed on.

A Few Righteous Men is a 57-minute special from IDEM recounting the efforts of Angel Sanz Briz and Giorgio Perlasca, two supporters of Franco’s fascist government who managed to save 6,000 Jews during the Second World War. Although it appeared to contradict their political ideologies, the diplomat (Sanz Briz) and soldier (Perlasca) manipulated Spanish laws to bring Jewish refugees to Spain in order to avoid an unjust fate. Ready for next year, the budget for this film is about $250,000.

On a different note, Balenciaga: Remaining in the Ephemeral is a 57-minute look at the designer at a time of radical change in the social position of women in the West. Ready for mid-2002, the film is being produced for Canal+ Spain, Euskal Telebista, Canal Sur, and Produce + (which is also acting as international distributor). The film carries a budget of about $150,000.

Down for the count

Next up for Liverpool’s Hurricane Films is the 4 x 60-minute The Art of Diving. Hurricane wrapped Warship (a 4 x 50-minute series for Granada and PBS) last year, so it seems only natural the next step would be to take cameras below the waves.

Diving will tell the stories of the brave (insane) men who pioneered underwater exploration, risking their lives to discover the technologies that would allow us to delve to depths previously unknown. A tale full of adventures and egos, the series is in four parts: ‘Skin Divers: The Way of the Native’; ‘Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea: The Early Trials and Tribulations of Diving Technology’; ‘Frogmen and Chariots: Military Uses for the Diver’; and ‘scuba: The Dawn of the Modern era’.

Presently in development, this US$1.5 million series has already garnered the attention of a major U.S. cable network, but Hurricane is on the hunt for more partners.


Little crossroads

The Sacred Child is a series of films that focus on three children and their religious training. Each is at a crossroad between the secular and theological worlds, and must find a way to cope in an unfamiliar environment.

Part one is titled ‘The Little Dancer of Krishna’, and highlights the experience of Hari, a 14-year-old boy who has lived in a monastery for almost a decade, learning a sacred dance called Gotipua, and trying to achieve a state of absolute perfection. He is almost ready to leave the monastery, but faces an uncertain future in the world outside his sanctuary.

In ‘The Mystic Whirl’, nine-year-old Maria begins learning the ways of Candomblè, a matriarchal Afro-Brazilian faith born among African slaves. Mixing Christian and animistic beliefs, Candomblè seeks to reconcile people with their environment.

Ten-year-old Tenzin is faced with an important life choice in ‘Colours of Kathmandu’. Raised by Bonpo monks in Tibet since the age of five, Tenzin’s whole life is the monastery in which he has grown. But Tenzin feels he must choose: to return to his family’s village, to go to the city, or to remain in the temple.

The films will be 26-minutes long, with a 52-minute one-off available. The series is being produced by Paneikon and L’immagine (both of Rome) and Monterosi-based Blu Film SS for Italian broadcaster RAI. Ready for April of next year, the films will run to about US$180,000.

Seen at the IFP

From September 30 to October 5, New York’s Angelika Film Center dedicated its screens to the films chosen to participate in this year’s Independent Feature Project. Here’s a glimpse of some of the in-progress doc projects looking for partners.

In 1974, author Donald Goines was shot to death while sitting at his typewriter. He was working on what would have been his 17th novel about life in America’s ghettos during the 1960s and 1970s. Today, Goines’ books continue to gain influence, especially among America’s hip hop culture.

Los Angeles-based filmmaker Kevin Williams’ production company Maddmen is working on a one-hour single that studies both Goines and his impact on readers young and old. A full-time heroin addict, part-time pimp and occasional drug dealer, Goines drew on real life experiences for much of what he wrote in his books. Dopefiend, Whoreson and Blackgirl Lost are among his titles. Donnie’s Story is budgeted for about US$75,000 and will feature interviews with artists such as Ice-T, Snoop Dogg and E-40. Approximately 30% of the funding is already secured.

Filmmaker Heddi Vaughan Siebel’s grandfather was among the expeditionists who, in 1903, set out for the North Pole on the Ziegler Expedition. When their ship was crushed by ice, the men were stranded for two years on the Franz Josef Land islands in the Russian Arctic. The journey was led by photographer Anthony Fiala, who produced thousands of stills and shot the first motion picture film of the Arctic region.

In The Expeditionist, a $580,000 film, Siebel – armed with family journals and photos – travels to the location of the men’s isolation to tell their story. Along the way, she reveals the Ziegler Expedition as an artistic triumph, and recaptures the landscape in her own paintings. Planned for 60 minutes, the film is being produced with the Center for Independent Documentary in Newton, U.S., and has received funding from several foundations, including the J. William Fulbright Foundation in Washington, D.C. Siebel hopes to wrap by 2003, in time for the 100th anniversary of the journey.

Venus of Mars invites a 60-minute peek into the life of a mid-western, glam rock musician who is between genders. Steve (aka: Venus) has been married for 15 years to his (her?) high school sweetheart Lynette. Steve is also taking female hormones, but doesn’t plan to have a sex change, and so shares the physical attributes of both sexes. The result is a truly contemporary love story.

Budgeted for US$100,000 the film is being produced and directed by Emily Goldberg of Media Gratification in Minneapolis, u.s., and is expected to wrap by Spring 2002. Partial funding was received through a Jerome Foundation Media Arts grant.

About The Author
Jonathan Paul is a Toronto-based writer into creativity, content, advertising, tech, comics, video games, film, TV, time and space travel.