News in Brief

Fireworks launches factual division; The History Channel enters the Middle East; Discovery readies for the age of HD
June 13, 2002

Canada-based distributor Fireworks Entertainment is launching a North American factual division. Working with sister company Global Television, Fireworks Factual will begin with developing properties that can be priority programming with international applications. Marjie Woods, the former VP of Europe at Beyond Distribution, will handle acquisitions and international sales.

The History Channel will make its debut as a 24-hour network in the Middle East on June 14. Orbit Satellite Television & Radio Networks will offer The History Channel on its platform to 23 countries across North Africa, the Middle East and the Persian Gulf region.

HD Theater, Discovery Communications’ digital high definition channel, launches on Monday June 17.

U.K.-based distributor Just Action Group will acquire a majority shareholding in Target, a rights management and distribution outfit also in the U.K. The resulting company will handle production, distribution, rights management, licensing and merchandising for a variety of genres. Alison Rayson, Target’s managing director, will likely ascend to CEO of the merged unit, while Christopher Jones, currently vice chair of the Just Action Group, will become executive chairman. Target’s key properties currently include Popstars and The Chair.

Court TV will boost the non-fiction content of its summer primetime schedule, with the addition of Dominick Dunne’s Power, Privilege and Justice, a weekly series that explores the sinister side of high society, and The Elite, also a weekly series, about the men and women who serve in the top law enforcement organizations in the U.S. Power, Privilege and Justice debuts on June 19, The Elite on July 9.

Fine Living, a multi-platform channel from the Scripps Networks in the U.S., has added two new non-fiction programs to its fall lineup: Simplify Your Life, a half-hour series about how individuals can streamline and organize their existence; and Born American, a one-hour special about the things that make the American culture unique (think Wonder Bread and Barbie).

Debt-ridden Vivendi Universal is about to get a reprieve. Earlier this week, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. agreed (in a memorandum of understanding) to buy the Paris-based company’s full stake in Italian pay-TV platform Tele+. Completion of the deal will reduce Vivendi Universal’s US$30 billion debt by $1.1 billion. Jean-Marie Messier, Vivendi Universal’s chairman and CEO, noted that Tele+, which was part of the company’s Canal+ Group, was responsible for two thirds of the division’s cash losses for 2001.

The BBC and U.K. satellite broadcaster BSkyB are planning a joint bid for the digital TV licences freed up by the collapse of ITV Digital, The Guardian reports. The new digital TV operator would likely carry BBC4, the Beeb’s new arts and culture channel, as well as Sky News, Sky Sports News and Sky Travel.

Filmmakers currently working in or heading to conflict zones now have one more concern to consider. Jonathan Randal, a former reporter with The Washington Post, has been subpoenaed to testify before the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague, dealing a blow to the concept of journalistic privilege. The New York Times wrote Tuesday that the tribunal rejected his defence of the independence of journalists in war zones. Randal was called before the court about a 1993 interview with Bosnian Serb deputy prime minister Radoslav Brdjanin.

Following the success of The Osbournes, MTV is rolling out a documentary series centered on the pregnancy of R&B recording artist Brandy. An MTV spokesperson confirmed to Reuters that Diary Presents: Brandy – Special Delivery will drop into the former slot of The Osbournes in the U.S. starting June 18. At least four episodes are planned. Brandy is expecting her first child.

In related news, commercial terrestrial CTV has sub-licensed the Canadian TV rights to the first two seasons of The Osbournes from digicaster MTV Canada, which is currently airing the popular series. CTV will begin airing The Osbournes this fall. The reality series originated with MTV in the U.S.

Soldier-turned-personal-shopper Sandy Cumming attempted a daring roof top escape from Channel 4‘s Big Brother reality show Wednesday morning before producers talked him into leaving by the building’s back door. The second contestant to depart the program, Cumming’s fed-up flight – he bolted 12 hours before a self-imposed zero-hour – raises doubts about the show’s too-close-for comfort format.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has handed out the 29th annual Student Academy Awards. In the documentary category, Pin Pin Tan‘s Moving House (Northwestern) received the US$5,000 Gold prize; Eva SaksFamily Values (NYU) took the $3,000 Silver and Thomas BurnsRevolutions Per Minute (Stanford) got the $2,000 Bronze.

DADA, by Brazilian filmmaker Eduardo Vaisman, picked up the award for best doc short at the Worldwide Short Film Festival on June 9 in Toronto, Canada. Films winning awards in this festival are eligible for consideration in the Canadian Genie Awards and the American Academy Awards.

Hot Docs is sponsoring a tribute to the late Canadian filmmaker Don Haig on June 20 at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel in Toronto, Canada. The CBC‘s Hana Gartner will host the screening of a video made for the event, introduce some of Haig’s family and friends sharing their ‘Don Stories’, and outline a scholarship being made in his name.

The deadline for submissions to the Hamptons International Film Festival has been extended. Narrative features, docs and shorts submissions will be accepted until June 28. For more info, visit or call 212-431-6292.

The Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, Outfest, in Los Angeles, U.S., celebrates its 20th anniversary next month (July 11 to 22) with a record 241 films and videos from 30 countries. Strand Releasing, distributor of the doc The Cockettes, will receive the sixth Outfest Achievement Award on the festival’s opening night; it will be presented to the company’s co-presidents, Marcus Hu and Jon Gerrans. The Cockettes will screen on awards night at the open air John Anson Ford Theater.

At the National Association of Hispanic Journalists 20th annual convention in Tijuana, Mexico, and San Diego, U.S., this week, award-winning doc producer Paul Espinosa, was inducted into the association’s Hall of Fame. The convention kicked off June 12 in Tijuana and Espinosa’s award will be given at a ceremony in San Diego on June 13.

The Ojai Film Festival in Ojai Valley, California, U.S., (October 24 to 27) is accepting film and video submissions in all genres until June 15. The late deadline is July 15. For info and entry forms, visit

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