News in Brief

PBS rankles doc-maker behind Darkness at High Noon; ITV's Palestine gets people talking; BBC Worldwide and pubcaster ABC seal a programming deal
September 26, 2002

Documentary maker Lionel Chetwynd is angry with PBS for its handling of the September 17 broadcast of his film Darkness at High Noon: The Carl Foreman Documents, reports the Associated Press. According to the AP, Chetwynd is upset because PBS added an advisory at the start and an afterword to Darkness, which is about a Hollywood filmmaker blacklisted during the 1950s anti-Communist era (It also discusses Foreman’s High Noon, the famous Gary Cooper western made in 1952). Producer-director Stanley Kramer’s widow claims Darkness paints a negative picture of Kramer, who died last year. Chetwynd maintains Kramer was presented honestly. The PBS advisory noted that the documentary is ‘one point of view in the making’ of High Noon. The afterword consisted of ‘a roundtable of expert guests’ that explored ‘the legacy of the blacklist in the movie business and how power, politics and prestige often collide in the Hollywood of both the past and present,’ PBS said in a prepared statement.

A controversial Middle East documentary aired on ITV1 in the U.K. on September 16 has sparked a flood of calls to the production company responsible for the film. According to the Guardian, London-based Carlton has received ‘hundreds of calls’ about Palestine is Still the Issue, a film made by John Pilger. A Carlton spokeswoman said the telephone comments have been evenly split between criticism and accolade. The film reportedly takes a pro-Palestinian stance on the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. ‘Carlton stands by John Pilger’s program and its accuracy,’ director of factual programs, Richard Clemmow, told the newspaper. ‘It went through the normal channels of editorial scrutiny prior to completion and senior executives at both Carlton and the ITV network center approved its transmission,’ he added.

BBC Worldwide and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation have signed a major programming deal. The agreement, disclosed September 25 by the Beeb, includes the landmark natural history series Life of Mammals, and Elephants – Spy in the Herd, and Be a Shark!

Executives at AOL Time Warner and Walt Disney are in discussions to possibly merge the news operations of CNN and ABC, reports the Associated Press. The merger would cut costs and hundreds of jobs at AOL’s CNN and Walt Disney’s ABC. CNN chairman Walter Isaacson, in a statement sent to the network’s staff on September 24, said CNN’s newsgathering operation and international distribution complement a strong broadcast news unit. A deal is not close, Isaacson said. ABC News brings to the table a well-established, domestic news operation. CNN has built a large international news operation, and has backed significant current affairs docs, such as Cry Freetown, by Sorious Samura.

The inaugural New York Screenings, a new industry event ‘created to bring filmmakers and buyers together in a stress-free environment’ takes place October 1 to 3 at Pioneer Theater in New York, U.S. Peter Hargrove, the organizer of the event (and CEO of Hargrove Entertainment, producers of Yugoslavia, The Avoidable War), says in a prepared statement that the films were selected from submissions on a first-come, first-serve basis – with no pre-screenings – making it ‘the most democratic of all trade shows showcasing independently produced work.’ With just four weeks of organizing, as many as 568 buyers have been invited to Screenings. Just eight films will be shown. Documentaries to be screened include A Circle Of Women by Gayle Anne Kelley, as well as Cockfight and Change Up by Loren Mendell.

The International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam (IDFA) in the Netherlands has been selected by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) to nominate a candidate for the Academy Awards short documentary competition. The IDFA says the winner of its Silver Wolf competition will automatically qualify for the Academy Awards. As with last year, 20 short documentaries will compete for the Silver Wolf, a cash prize of €10,000 (US$9,800). The winning film is also bought by Dutch broadcasterNPS TV for broadcast on its Het uur van de Wolf program. The festival runs from November 21 to December 1.

The organizers of the Hot Docs documentary festival in Toronto, Canada, have selected the 14 Canadian independent documentary filmmakers to participate in its 2002 International Exchange. The delegation will travel to Sheffield, U.K. for the 9th Annual Sheffield International Documentary Festival (October 21 to 27). The delegates will take part in meetings and panel discussions. Among the group is Peter Wintonick of Montreal-based Necessary Illusions. The second phase of the exchange sees a U.K. delegation attending Hot Docs April 25 to May 4, 2003.

New York, U.S.-based documentary filmmaker Stanley Nelson (Marcus Garvey: Look for Me in the Whirlwind) has been awarded a US$500,000 fellowship by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Nelson was one of 24 recipients of the half-million dollar checks, which are paid out over five years and come with ‘no strings attached’ – meaning no constraints on creative direction – the Chicago, U.S. foundation says in a prepared statement.

Neil Burger’s Spellbound was named the top doc at the third annual Woodstock Film Festival‘s awards ceremony. An honorable mention went to Matthew Ginsberg for Uncle Frank. The award for best short doc went to Howrah, Howrah, directed by Till Passow, with an honorable mention going to Tanaz Eshaghian and Sara Nodjoumi for I Call Myself Persian.

Middleburg, U.S.-based technology company StageTools has released a new version of its MovingPicture image pan-and-zoom software. Version 3.09 features include the ability to support Photoshop PSD files, a variety of image preparation options, and fully adjustable eases. StageTools says MovingPicture is designed specifically for documentary and industrial filmmakers to pan and zoom on high-resolution images.

Cable channel FX has come up with American Candidate, a reality television series that lets viewers pick a candidate for U.S. president. According to Associated Press, the program will launch in early 2004 (an election year) and peak with a live broadcast on July 4 – Independence Day – at The Mall in Washington D.C. ‘We think it’s a marriage of a tried-and-true concept, as shown by American Idol, with a down-home political spin to it,’ Peter Liguori, FX president, told AP. It will be produced by R.J. Cutler, who previously produced The War Room (1992) which documented the Clinton campaign.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation has expanded its ABC Asia Pacific TV broadcasts to all of Japan. The move represents a first, as no other Australian channel is available nation-wide in the country, says ABC. The re-broadcasting of ABC Asia Pacific is possible through an arrangement with Les Amis Co. – a Japan-based satellite provider.

Chronicle DTV, a new U.S. digital television network that offers a blend of documentary and reality programming 24-hours a day, is moving forward on its plan to launch in several additional U.S. markets. In a prepared statement, the company says it has signed carriage agreements with multiple system operators, but does not say where. The service was pioneered in Miami. The company also disclosed it has engaged Credit Suisse First Boston to secure secondary financing and distribution agreements from cable and satellite operators.

Vivendi Universal disclosed on September 25 that it is speeding up sales of assets to streamline its focus to entertainment and telecommunications and has shuffled its board of directors. According to The New York Times, the financially troubled Paris, France-based media conglomerate disclosed the sale of its Telepiu pay-TV network in Italy to News Corporation for €1 billion (US$980 million). However Fox, the newspaper reported, later issued a statement saying that no final agreement had been reached. As for the composition of the board, Vivendi said in a prepared statement that six members had resigned. One person, Fernando Falco y Fernandez de Cordoba, was elected as a non-executive director. The final tally is 12 members, providing ‘a more streamlined’ voting group, it said.

The U.S. Justice Department has recommended that the government block the proposed $US11.2 billion merger of DirecTV and EchoStar, the two largest satellite television broadcasters in the country, because it would be anti-competitive, the New York Times reported September 24. Citing lawyers close to the review, the newspaper says if the government accepts the recommendation, it could give the green light to Australia-based media company News Corporation to attempt to purchase DirecTV again. News, headed by Rupert Murdoch, is a key player in the satellite TV markets of the U.K. and Asia. The lawyers told the newspaper that the antitrust division had opposed the deal because in many markets it would reduce competition from three companies – the two satellite providers and a cable television company – to just two. Competition for satellite service in rural areas – many of which are beyond the cable grid – would be eliminated, the lawyers say.

Buzz Aldrin, one of the U.S. astronauts famous for taking part in the first manned moon landing in 1969, had charges against him dropped September 21 for allegedly punching a documentary maker. Aldrin reportedly struck Bart Sibrel after Sibrel approached the former astronaut outside a hotel in Beverley Hills, U.S. and demanded Aldrin swear on a Bible that the landings were not fake. According to the Associated Press, police dropped the charges for the September 9 altercation because witnesses said Sibrel had aggressively poked Aldrin with the Bible before Aldrin struck out. Sibrel claims his documentary, the name of which was not available, will prove the Apollo 11 landings were faked by the NASA.

The deadline for applications to the Toronto, Canada-based Documentary Studio is October 1, 2002. Six Canadian documentary filmmakers will be selected to participate in the Studio, the brainchild of doc-veteran Allan King, which aims to facilitate and ‘nourish creative independence.’ Each filmmaker will be expected to develop a one-hour documentary that will then be presented by Canada’s Documentary Channel. For more information, visit

DocBuenos Aires 2002, a documentary production workshop, will take place at the University of Torcuato Di Tella from October 2 to 4. The workshop’s objectives are to encourage the development of documentary film production in Mercosur countries (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay) by promoting an exchange of ideas between local filmmakers and producers and French, Canadian and Swiss documentary professionals. A selection committee will choose the works of 15 Argentine documentary filmmakers or producers for presentation. In addition, local commissioning editors will be invited to participate. For more information, send an e-mail to

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.