On the Slate

The path to discovery is never easy. Travelers have attested to this truth time and again, but it didn't deter Alexandre and Sonia Poussin from embarking on a 16-month adventure of their own - a 10,000km walk from Capetown, South Africa, to the Sea of Galilee.
August 1, 2002


Journey to the ends of the Earth

The path to discovery is never easy. Travelers have attested to this truth time and again, but it didn’t deter Alexandre and Sonia Poussin from embarking on a 16-month adventure of their own – a 10,000km walk from Capetown, South Africa, to the Sea of Galilee.

When the Poussins began their trek on January 1, 2001, their goal was to retrace the steps of some of the earliest humans, as well as learn about Africa as it exists today. Along the way, the globe-trotting couple experienced their share of difficulties, but they also witnessed the beauty and diversity of the African landscape, and the hospitality of the continent’s people.

The Poussins kept a journal of their adventures, but used a camera instead of a notebook. The result will be a 5 x 52-minute travel/adventure series called Africa Trek, produced by Saint-Ouen, France-based Gedeon Programmes. The first episode of the US$445,000 series is wrapped, with the entire project scheduled for delivery by early 2003. French broadcasters Voyage and France 5 are copro partners.

Gedeon is also producing a second expedition program, but in a much cooler climate. The Inner Pole will follow Jean-Louis Etienne on his excursion to the North Pole aboard the Polar Explorer, an observation module. Budgeted at $331,000, the 2 x 52-minute doc will consider Etienne’s discoveries. The Inner Pole will be completed by the end of the year. Pubcaster France 3 and Canadian prodco Espace Vert are copro partners.


Island influence

What do musicians as diverse as Shaggy, Eminem, Lauryn Hill and Chrissie Hynde have in common? They all cite reggae as a powerful influence in the development of their music style and sound.

In a 52-minute documentary titled Reggae Rising, Dublin, Ireland-based Monster Distributes (the company behind Planet Rock Profiles) will explore the enduring appeal of this Jamaican music form and its creative influence. The film will feature interviews with contemporary artists (such as Shaggy, Eminem, Hill and Hynde) and classic reggae musicians, including Freddie McGregor. Since no film on reggae would be complete without Bob Marley, the prodco plans to incorporate vintage performance footage of him as well.

Reggae Rising has a budget in the £125,000 (US$191,000) range and is scheduled to wrap by October, in time for MIPCOM. Negotiations with broadcasters, including Channel V in Australia, are in the works.

Gone up to the spirit in the sky

Kurt Cobain would have turned 35 this year. Sadly, the front man for ground-breaking Seattle grunge band Nirvana never even reached 30. Although it’s been eight years since Cobain died, the fascination with him – and the circumstances under which he met his untimely demise – remains unabated.

Nirvana Teen Spirit: The Tribute to Kurt Cobain will explore the forces, both positive and negative, that allowed Cobain to reach superstardom, as well as the legend that has sprung up around him since his death. Under the direction of Steve Graham, this one-hour documentary will weave together interviews with Cobain’s peers, friends and family to tell the story of this musician’s short life. London-based International Motion Pictures Associated Creative Television (IMPACT) is producing the US$150,000 film, which will be ready for acquisition this fall.

Also from IMPACT comes the story of another 1990s rock star who died in his prime – Michael Hutchence of Australia’s INXS. Titled The Devil Inside, this 60-minute doc will trace the rise of Hutchence and his band from small Sydney bars to stadium-sized international venues, as well as the singer’s descent into the depression that led to his suicide. Graham has signed on as director and U.K. prodco ANM is on board as a copro partner. Like Nirvana, The Devil Inside will be up for sale this fall.

IMPACT will also be handling sales for Mix of Nations, a 26 x 30-minute series that aims to document global dance culture. ANM and Phat Planet Films are coproducers.


Recalling Jim Crow

With series The Civil War and Eyes on the Prize, PBS has covered some major events in American history. The former addresses the period in the U.S. when slavery was abolished, while the latter considers the start of the modern civil rights movement. However, Eyes on the Prize does not pick up where The Civil War leaves off; there is a gap of 89 years, from 1865 to 1954 – the post-Reconstruction segregation era. With The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow, a 4 x 1-hour series, PBS will finally have a bridge.

The first episode, ‘Promises Betrayed’, will cover the years 1865 to 1896, when African Americans were free, but segregated and disfranchised by newly passed laws (known as Jim Crow). Episode two, ‘Fighting Back’ (w/t) will introduce figures such as W.E.B. Dubois, founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and examine the rise of the black middle class from 1896 to 1917. Episode three, ‘Don’t Shout Too Soon’, will look at the years between U.S. involvement in World War I and World War II (1918 to 1940), when mob violence, lynchings and massacres increased. The final episode, ‘Terror and Triumph’ will spotlight the rise of African American activism from 1940 to 1954.

The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow is a coproduction of New York’s Thirteen/WNET, Berkeley, U.S.-based Quest Productions and Videoline of New York, and carries a budget of US$3 million. The series will air nationally on PBS in October.

Saint or sinner?

In 1944, Dr. Rezsö Kasztner helped thousands of Hungarian Jews escape the Nazi concentration camps. He was part of a group known as the Vaada (Jewish Rescue Committee) and had learned that some members of the SS would spare lives in exchange for cash and goods. So, he set to work negotiating. Kasztner’s dealings ultimately resulted in more than 15,000 Jews being diverted from Auschwitz to a work camp in Strasshof, Austria, where 80% survived. And, he successfully arranged for the escape of nearly 1,700 Jews from Europe, aboard the ‘Kasztner train’.

Ten years later, Kasztner was not hailed as a hero in Israel. He was put on trial and accused of collaborating with the Nazis for personal gain. Although Kasztner was ultimately acquitted during an appeal, not everyone was convinced of his innocence – a gunman killed Kasztner in Israel in 1957, three months after the charges against him were dismissed.

Did Kasztner do his best to save some of Hungary’s Jewish residents, or did he sell his soul to the devil, as one judge stated in 1955? Marker Film of Budapest, Hungary, plans to tackle that conundrum in Train from Hell, a 52-minute documentary. Egon Mayer, a history professor at New York University, will be a key resource in trying to determine the truth. Mayer has been researching Kasztner for years and has a personal connection – his parents were on the Kasztner train.

Train from Hell has a budget of US$300,000 and an approximate wrap date of summer 2003. Marker Film is currently seeking copro partners for the project.

Himmler’s Norwegian legacy

For most people who lived in Nazi-occupied territories, the end of World War II brought an end to a period of misery and oppression. But for a select group in Norway known as the Lebensborn children, it signaled the beginning of a difficult life.

Lebensborn was an Aryan breeding program set up by Himmler to create ‘racially superior children’. Himmler introduced the program to Norway shortly after the Germans occupied the country in April 1940; the children were the offspring of German soldiers and Norwegian mothers. From 1940 to 1945, these kids – 10,000 to 12,000 in total – lived pampered lives. Afterwards, they and their mothers were shunned. The Norwegian government went so far as to declare thousands of the children and their mothers mentally unfit and put them in insane asylums.

Norwegian Brides, a 52-minute one-off, will expose this dark secret in Norway’s history and follow the attempts of some of these ‘children’, now in their 50s and 60s, to win justice. Among the survivors who will share their stories is Anna-frid Lyngstad, former member of Swedish pop group ABBA (she escaped to Sweden with her grandmother at the end of the war). London-based Café Productions is the creative force behind the project, which is being produced for Canada’s History Television and the U.K.’s Channel 5. Café’s parent company, AAC Fact, is in negotiations with ZDF/ARTE and Germany’s Spiegel TV. Budgeted at around £160,000 (US$250,000), Brides is scheduled to go into production this summer, with delivery by the end of the year.


Captain Kirk ain’t the only space cowboy

Sixty-year-old multimillionaire Dennis Tito has already been there and back, and Lance Bass, member of boy band ‘N Sync, is about to go, now that his doctor has given him clearance. What’s the latest hot spot for the rich and famous? Space.

Since the launch of the first manned spacecraft 41 years ago, the idea of civilian space travel has slowly shifted from the realm of the impossible to the plausible. Now that the first few brave (and wealthy) consumers have ventured forth, it seems it’s just a matter of time before we’re all lining up to rocket beyond the stratosphere.

For now, though, galactic travel is far from an everyday occurrence, which means the curiosity factor remains high. Inspired by this fact, St. Paul, U.S.-based prodco Bosch Media Group and Zero G Entertainment of Minneapolis, U.S., hatched the idea for Extreme Space, a 13 x 1-hour series that will profile upcoming space missions planned by governments and private groups around the globe. The series will go behind the scenes on projects already underway at the European Space Agency, NASA and the California-based Jet Propulsion Laboratory, among others, to consider the process, technology and possibilities for the future.

Stamford, U.S.-based distributor CABLEready has partnered with Bosch and Zero G Entertainment to produce the series, which has a budget in the US$150,000 per-hour range. Extreme Space is scheduled to be up for sale internationally in time for the 2003/2004 season.


Breaking the silence

Cooper Rock Pictures of Regina, Canada, has a penchant for personal stories, particularly those with a subject who manages to achieve a long-held goal. This being the case, Janice Waddington’s tale – intertwined with the related but separate story of Melanie Broom – is a perfect choice for the prodco’s next documentary.

Waddington spent much of her adult life in near silence; by her mid-30s she had lost her hearing save 2% in one ear. She managed to get by through lip reading, interpreting body language and relying on her German shepherd, Belle. But, at age 36, Waddington re-entered the hearing world after receiving a cochlear implant. She has since reached a stage where her listening abilities make it possible to carry on a telephone conversation. Broom, who has about 30% hearing in one ear and has struggled with hearing aids, is now in the process of getting a cochlear implant. She’s about to embark on the journey Waddington has already traveled.

Through Waddington and Broom, Learning to Hear will illustrate the struggles faced by the hearing impaired and what it means to have this sense restored. Budgeted at CDN$51,000 (US$33,500), this one-hour one-off is slated to wrap by March 2003. Canadian broadcasters WTN and SCN have already signed on. The CanWest Western Independent Producers Fund and the Canadian Television Fund are also contributors.


Move over Sherlock

If real-life criminal investigations developed like a good mystery novel, clues would appear at regular intervals, eyewitnesses would be plentiful, and there would never be a shortage of evidence. Alas, that’s rarely the case. But, there is a real-life equivalent to fictional super-sleuths like Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie: criminal profiler Dayle Hinman.

Special Agent Hinman trained under the FBI’s legendary John Douglas and today is one of the top criminal profilers in the U.S. Over the course of her 30-year career, she has drawn on her training in forensic science and psychological evidence to solve hundreds of cases that had stumped police. In Body of Evidence: From the case files of Dayle Hinman (w/t), a 13 x 30-minute series, viewers will witness firsthand the deductive expertise of Hinman and her team as they work to decode the minds of criminals.

Washington, D.C.-based Story House Productions is making Body of Evidence for U.S. cablecaster Court TV. The series, which has an overall budget in the high six figures, will be ready for delivery in late fall.


Beyond Belief

Australia’s Beyond Productions is already ramping up for MIPCOM in October with three 60-minute projects destined to inspire a mix of awe and horror: Human Prey (w/t), Lives Restored (w/t) and When You’re Asleep No One Can Hear You Scream (w/t).

In Human Prey, a coproduction with Discovery Channel U.S., the method and mechanics of two animal attacks will be recreated with the aid of 3-D graphics and the personal accounts of the survivors. Ever wonder what it feels like to face the wrath of a disgruntled hippo? Paul Templer, a professional wildlife guide, found out firsthand in March 1996 as he paddled along Africa’s Zambezi River. Templer was violently shaken, repeatedly dunked, punctured and gored, but he lived, losing one arm. The same could not be said for one of his companions.

Bram Schaffer’s challenger was a grizzly bear 16km north of Yellowstone National Park in the U.S. in 1995. The bear ripped up the then-18-year-old’s upper left leg and bit his head down to the skull. He too managed to escape… but just barely.

Lives Restored, a coproduction with TLC, focuses more on recovery than affliction. The story revolves around the reconstructive surgeries of three patients born with facial abnormalities. In the first instance, doctors create an ear using cartilage obtained from the patient’s rib area. The second example involves the removal of a birthmark that covers a large portion of a child’s face. The third plastic surgery corrects a malformation caused by Apert syndrome, which generally prevents the skull from growing normally and causes the midface (from the middle of the eyes to the upper jaw) to appear sunken.

When You’re Asleep tends heavily toward the horror side, with its tale of patients who regain consciousness and/or pain perception during surgery. In the most horrifying cases of anesthesia betrayal, patients feel and hear everything happening to them – from incisions to operating room chatter – but remain paralyzed and therefore unable to scream or move. (If you can’t trust drugs, what can you trust?) When You’re Asleep is a copro with Discovery Health Channel.

All three projects are budgeted in the US$350,000 to $400,000 range and are slated to wrap by the end of the year.

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