News in Brief

Draft Communications Bill shakes up U.K. broadcast sector; Toronto's Hot Docs awards Frederick Wiseman; International Cinematographers Guild remains concerned over Discovery's credits policy.
May 9, 2002

For indie producers who have been craving change in the stagnant U.K. broadcasting sector, their wish is about to come true, following the release this week of the British government’s Draft Communications Bill. Among the most significant announcements: restriction on foreign ownership of British broadcasting companies will be lifted (which opens the door of possibility for U.S.-based media heavyweights such as AOL Time Warner); cross-media regulation will be reduced (a nod to Rupert Murdoch, head of News Corp and founder of satcaster BSkyB, who has long coveted a stake in a terrestrial TV operator) and single ownership of ITV will be permissable (paving the way for the long-anticipated merger between Carlton and Granada).

Toronto’s Hot Docs festival wrapped up last Sunday after a week full of screenings and schmoozing. At the closing night awards ceremony, Norwegian director Even Benestad walked away with the Gold Award for Best International Documentary for All About My Father (Alt om min far), while New York filmmakers Whitney Dow and Marco Williams snagged the Silver Award for Two Towns of Jasper. Montreal director Carole Lagniere earned the Gold Award for Best Canadian Documentary for The Fiancee of Life (La fiancee de la vie). Veteran filmmaker Frederick Wiseman received a standing ovation when he stepped up to accept his Lifetime Achievement Award, which he later quipped could be renamed the ‘QBC’ – ‘Quick Before He Croaks’.

Discovery Networks’ softened stance on eliminating program credits hasn’t appeased everyone. The International Cinematographers Guild issued a statement earlier this week calling on Discovery to make an ‘unambiguous and long-term commitment to airing complete title credits for all non-fiction programs.’ While the ICG acknowledged that Discovery’s policy ammendment is a step in the right direction – The Bethesda-based cable company had considered instituting an across-the-board policy in which most credits would move off the air and onto the web, but ultimately decided to offer producers a choice (as reported in Plus last week) – Guild members are clearly still concerned.

If U.K. cabinet minister Tessa Jowell has her way, the BBC is soon to be held more accountable. According to a report in The Guardian, Jowell – whose portfolio includes responsibility for broadcasting – told The Observer that the Beeb will face much tougher regulations on its public service remit and possibly even fines. Unlike commercial public service broadcasters such as Channel 4 and Channel 5, the BBC is currently not subject to financial sanctions if it fails to uphold standards of accuracy, decency or taste.

The pace is picking up for the conversion to digital TV in the U.S. Last week, ten cable operators – including AT&T Broadband and AOL Time Warner – promised to commit resources to speed the transition to digital. As part of their pledge, they promised to carry the signal of up to five commercial or public TV stations, or cable networks that provide HDTV programming during at least 50% of their primetime schedule, at no cost to the broadcasters. Some channels are already responding. As previously reported in Plus (April 18, 2002), Discovery plans to launch a 24-hour HD channel, called HD Theater, in June.

Paula Lumbard, founder of Film Bank and a former Sekani exec, has jumped on the high definition bandwagon and set up FootageBank, a footage house stocked with material shot by HD pioneers. Lumbard is based in Los Angeles.

Silicon Valley, U.S. pubcaster KTEH and Stanford University have signed a partnership to jointly produce programming, including documentaries, for both national and regional audiences. The partners hope to tell stories resulting from Stanford’s research in areas such as engineering, medicine, international affairs, race and gender, history and law. Bill Free of KTEH and Stanford’s Randy Bean will executive produce the projects.

U.S. broadcaster ABC has announced plans to set aside its normal schedule on September 11, instead offering a full slate of commemorative programming on the first anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

The New Zealand Film Technology workshops scheduled for June 5, 6 and 11 in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Banff (at the Banff Television Festival) have been cancelled, Investment New Zealand confirmed. The five multi-media and film companies that were scheduled to participate pulled out citing immense time pressures. The workshops were intended to showcase New Zealand’s post-production capabilities.

The 2002 Florida Film Festival (June 7 to 16) has announced its lineup. Among the films vying for the Grand Jury Prize, which includes US$100,000 in goods and services, are docs Daddy & Papa (directed by Oakland, U.S.-based Johnny Symons), Lifetime Guarantee: Phranc’s Adventures in Plastic (from Cleveland native Lisa Udelson) and Thoth (from New Yorker Sarah Kernochan).

Organizers of the DISCOP Program Showcase (June 27 to 29 in Budapest, Hungary) say 182 buyers and 64 sellers have registered to attend the event, as of May 1. DISCOP, which will celebrate its 10th anniversary this year, is primarily targeted at broadcasters and pay-TV operators in Eastern and Central Europe.

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.