Sheila Nevins, executive VP of original programming at HBO, has a reputation for knowing exactly what she wants. One member of her staff has fondly dubbed her ‘a documatrix’. Nevins is a self-proclaimed control freak – and filmmakers love her.
Nevins is responsible for overseeing the development and production of all docs (and family programming) for Home Box Office and Cinemax, as well as their multiplex channels. She has been exec VP since 1999, and was the senior VP for the four preceding years. The 150-plus doc hours Nevins commissions annually are among the most coveted by feature doc-makers, particularly in the U.S.
As to why the devotees of the non-fiction form are drawn to HBO, Nevins says frankly, ‘I think we have more money than other people.’ But, she adds that HBO has a genuine respect for docs and doc-makers. Under Nevins’ leadership, no filmmaker is ever subordinated by the network. ‘We want a film to be by somebody, not just a film on HBO,’ she says. As a result, the pay TV channel has been a part of several Academy Award-winning productions, including Big Mama (Tracy Seretean) and King Gimp (Susan Hadary and William Whiteford).
Nevins’ guiding principle when selecting non-fiction films for HBO is surprisingly simple: passion.
A documentary must evoke emotion. ‘They move you either to laugh or to cry, or to change something. They’re not inert or passive. I don’t like couch-potato documentaries,’ says Nevins.
She’s also not afraid to treat serious subjects with the solemness she feels they deserve. For cancer: evolution to revolution, Nevins advised filmmaker Joseph Lovett to ‘dare to be dull’. She explains, ‘We are trying to reach a broad audience, but I think when we deal with something so serious and so important and so specific, you have to tell it without fanfare.’ SZ
What’s the key to being one of the industry’s top factual programming gatekeepers? A filmmaking background helps, and it is perhaps this background that makes Peter Dale, head of docs at Channel 4 (U.K.), aware of the need to foster new talent. He says of his involvement in Alt tv, a strand for new filmmakers: ‘I’m very keen on building another generation of brilliant documentary makers. One of my jobs is to bring the next generation on.’
Dale directed his first documentary film in 1980 and continued to make docs for 18 years, including The Dead in 1994, a film that won the Royal Television Society documentary award. Since Dale joined C4 in May 1998 as commissioning editor of documentaries and became head of docs in November 2000, his filmmaking days have been fewer.
But, as someone who commissions films, he says it might be best to keep his filmmaking passions to himself. ‘I try hard not to think like a filmmaker. It’s impossible to transfer one’s own passion to someone else.’ KV
Catherine Lamour & Anna Glogowski
In October 2001, Catherine Lamour left her post as director of documentaries at Canal+ for a managing role with the Canal+ group in charge of all channels and services in Europe. ‘That’s close to 40 different channels, if you include the thematic channels,’ says Lamour. She will oversee cultural events for the European outlets, a duty that distances her from producers.
Lamour’s departure from the Paris-based doc department ends a 17-year working partnership with Anna Glogowski, Lamour’s successor and former deputy.
Producers working with Glogowski have access to international financing through the Canal+ sister channels. Glogowski will also encourage the feature film division to pick up a project she likes, but cannot schedule. The Pinochet Case and Made in the USA, both of which screened at Cannes 2001, are among the films that have benefited from Glogowski’s ear bending. KB