On the Slate

Australia is famous for its remoteness and its rugged beauty. But like so many places, its beauty is threatened by civilization; even Tasmania, the island-state across the Bass Strait from mainland Australia, is not immune.
November 1, 2002


Call of the wild

Australia is famous for its remoteness and its rugged beauty. But like so many places, its beauty is threatened by civilization; even Tasmania, the island-state across the Bass Strait from mainland Australia, is not immune. Wildness is a 55-minute documentary from Melbourne-based prodco Big & Little Films that examines the legacy of two of Australia’s best-known wilderness photographers, Olegas Truchanas and Peter Dombrovskis, artists who used their talents to raise awareness of the fragility of Australia’s wild places, Tasmania in particular.

Truchanas and Dombrovskis leveraged public opinion to the cause of conservation from the 1950s to the 1980s, when the Hydro Electric Commission was clear-cutting Tasmania’s forest. They pursued their passions with an admirable focus right to the end – both men died on photo expeditions. Truchanas drowned in a boating accident in 1972; Dombrovskis died of a heart attack in 1996.

Central to the story are the photographers’ widows, Melva Truchanas and Liz Dombrovskis. They have picked up the torch of the cause to protect the natural beauty of Tasmania.

Wildness is being coproduced with Film Victoria, Screen Tasmania, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and Film Australia. Production of the AUS$400,000 (US$220,000) doc wraps in March 2003. The ABC will air the film later in the year.


Murder most foul

Aidan Minter was on his way to a business meeting in London, U.K., when he noticed an unusual object floating in the river Thames. As Minter stared at the form bobbing in the murky water, he suddenly noticed it was wearing orange shorts and had a navel. What Minter discovered that day in November 2001 was the headless, limbless body of a boy no older than six.

Adam’s Story , a 60-minute one-off by U.K. prodco 3BM Television, recounts the New Scotland Yard investigation into the boy’s grisly death (‘Adam’ is the name police assigned the corpse).

The condition of Adam’s body meant that detectives could determine little from an autopsy – he had black skin, was circumcised and was probably about 1.2 meters tall at full height. The police at first presumed they were dealing with a random serial killer. But, when no reports emerged for a missing boy fitting Adam’s description, the investigators began to suspect the child’s murderer was someone close to him.

Then, an interview with a professor of anthropology at Bath University turned their investigation upside down. Adam, the professor said, was quite possibly the victim of a harvester of body parts. Adam’s limbs might have been used in muti , a form of witchcraft practiced in southern Africa - similar to the practice of voodoo in Haiti – in which limbs and organs are used to create potions, he said. To their dismay, the police learned that child sacrifice was happening on their own shores.

U.K. pubcaster Channel 4 will air Adam’s Story , which carries a budget in the range of £150,000 to £200,000 (US$235,000 to $314,000), in January. C4 International, the broadcaster’s commercial arm, will distribute.


Kawabunga, dude

It may sound like a cliché, but too many of us rush to fulfill the obligations of our lives and forget to take a moment to look at the world we inhabit. By examining the lives of over a dozen athletes who compete in the outdoors, in particular surfers and snowboarders, Natural Selection: Of Land and Sea (w/t), a 100-minute one-off by Anchorage, U.S.-based Stewart Productions, takes that moment of reflection for viewers. Budgeted at approximately US$155,000 and coproduced with fellow Alaskan prodco Connections Film & Video, Natural Selection explores the everyday experience of those who find a sense of freedom and identity by popping through chest-deep snow and slicing down a tumbling wall of water. More than just an escapist travelog, the film explores how the great outdoors is both the office and the home for these (generally) amateur athletes.

Environmental concerns are discussed, such as the human pressures on the delicate islands in the Hawaiian chain and the effects of oil extraction in Alaska. Esthetically, the doc takes a warts-and-all approach, showing the boarders’ spills and wipeouts as well as their more graceful moments of physical prowess.

Natural Selection was shot throughout North America and in the U.K. and Japan. Production wraps in the first quarter of 2003. At press time, Stewart Productions was still looking for a distributor.

Two tires on the open road

Revolution on Wheels is an upcoming one-hour special from Ojai, U.S.-based production company Thomas Horton and Associates that revolves around the history of motorcycles, how motorcycles have changed society, and the ever-evolving designs of motorcycles.

Says Thomas Horton, president of THA, ‘We’re charting the development of the motorcycle over a period of 120 years, but we’re not getting bogged down with the technology.’ For example, he explains, ‘Motorcycles were frequently used by dispatch riders [during World War I] who constantly rode back and forth to give reports to generals behind the lines. The ’20s and ’30s saw a great growth in motorcycles. They were also used by the Germans and Italians during World War II.’

A major motorcycle boom also occurred after the end of World War II, Horton notes. ‘Germany and Japan were completely destroyed. To rebuild those countries, people needed transportation. That’s how motor scooters and mopeds came about – people constructed them from all forms of junk material.’

Revolution on Wheels, which is being shot in high-def, has a budget in the US$250,000 to $280,000 range. It will air on Discovery’s Travel Channel next year. Simon Bacal


Following the stars

In Celebrities and Their Cities, some of the world’s most famous VIPs lead viewers on a private tour through their favorite hot spots.

‘Each program will be narrated and hosted by a celebrity,’ says Chris Valentini, chief operating officer and VP of production for Tremendous Entertainment. ‘They take us through their cities and highlight their local hangouts and haunts. For instance, Lisa Marie Presley will probably start out at Graceland. Then, we’ll follow her to other spots around Memphis. She will then interact with other people who frequent these places.’

Budgeted at US$270,000 per hour, Celebrities- which is being produced by Minneapolis, U.S.-based prodco Tremendous Entertainment in association with Los Angeles-based Krystal Productions – is currently in pre-production. The 10 x one-hour series will air on the Travel Channel next year.

Tremendous Entertainment is also in pre-production on Lifeline at The Mayo Clinic – four one-hour episodes that will examine medical breakthroughs at the famous American medical research and treatment facility, which is based in Rochester, Minnesota. The series, which carries a budget of $250,000 per hour, will explore the clinic’s expertise in areas such as pain management, organ transplants and neurology. Lifeline at The Mayo Clinic begins production in November and is scheduled to air on Discovery Health next year. SB

A scary place to call home

Originally produced as a one-hour special, The World’s Most Dangerous… is now being developed into a weekly half-hour series. ‘The special, which was recently sold to the [London, U.K.-based] Middle East Broadcasting Company, explored six topics, including the world’s most dangerous job, food, natural disaster and ritual,’ says Larry L. Higgs, head of TeleProductions International, the Chantilly, U.S.-based prodco behind the program.

Each episode will focus on one topic. For example, one installment will explore the most dangerous weapon, first considering contenders, such as nuclear bombs and bioterrorism, then focusing on the ultimate threat.

Notes Higgs, ‘With The World’s Most Dangerous…Weapon, we decided that anthrax tops the list, because it’s the ‘cheap man’s weapon.’ Though it can be created in a short period of time with little money, it can cause extensive damage. Our research found that it would cost $100,000 to [cause] 1,000 casualties in a nuclear attack, but it would take only a dollar to inflict anthrax on thousands of people. If it’s sprayed over a large stadium, people will show flu-like symptoms within 48 hours. Death follows if you’re not treated within three or four days of the attack.’

The World’s Most Dangerous… series carries a budget of US$85,000 to $90,000 per episode and is scheduled for delivery by early 2003. At press time, the program had not been sold to a broadcaster. SB


At the crossroads

Toronto, Canada-based prodco Barna-Alper Productions has two projects wrapping in early 2003. Turning Points of History (13 x 60 minutes), now in its sixth season, airs in Canada on History Television and Historia, in English and French respectively. Carrying a budget of about CDN$2.4 million (US$1.5 million), this package of Turning Points includes a look at several events that were formative in the history of the Canadian army.

However, Turning Points doesn’t only focus on Canadian themes. For example, one episode looks at the World War II battle of Guadalcanal, in which the U.S. saw 1,500 men killed in action, while Japan lost roughly 15,000. Another episode considers the first trans-Atlantic flight, conducted by British pilots John Alcock and Arthur Brown in 1919. Turning Points is distributed by Toronto-based AAC Fact.

The other Barna-Alper project on the go is Frontiers of Construction (13 x 60 minutes), which is now in its fourth season. The series is co-produced with Moncton, Canada-based Fiddlehead Entertainment for Discovery Canada and Montreal, Canada’s Canal D. Frontiers is about engineering and building, and spotlights how humans have used concrete, steel and bulldozers to reshape the world. Each episode focuses on one specialization, from underwater construction and blasting to ‘virtual’ engineering and robotics. Production of the series is budgeted at CDN$2.7 million (US$1.7 million). The first episodes of Frontiers will be delivered in January. The distributor is Montreal-based Filmoption International.


Workin’ IFP

By Kimberley Brown

Of the 92 documentaries chosen to screen at the 24th annual New York IFP Market (September 27 to October 4), a whopping 60 were works-in-progress. Established and emerging filmmakers alike are tackling topics ranging from legendary New York City rock-and-roll nightclubs (SqueezeBox: The Movie, from Moving Forward Pictures in New York) to the plight of Sudanese refugees (A Great Wonder, by Two Shoe Productions in Ashland, U.S.). Here’s a glimpse of what’s in the production pipeline.

In their upcoming doc Sweat – A Story of Solidarity, directors Jim Keady and Leslie Kretzu juxtapose familiar images of a healthy, wealthy Tiger Woods – dressed comfortably from head to toe in clothes adorned with Nike’s swoosh, thanks to the golf pro’s five-year US$100-million endorsement deal with the sports gear company – with lesser known footage of the poverty-stricken neighborhoods that Nike factory workers in Indonesia call home (wages equal about $1.20 per day). The film uses Nike as a case study, but addresses the larger issue of questionable labor practices perpetrated by U.S. companies once their operations leave American soil. Approximately $220,000 is needed to finish post-production; about $250,000 is being earmarked for grassroots marketing and education programs. Sweat is a coproduction between Educating for Justice and Rainlake Films, both U.S.-based companies, and will be available in 90-minute, 60-minute and 30-minute versions. The project is looking for interest from broadcasters and distributors.

The Farmingville Project (w/t) is a 90-minute documentary that puts a human face on the cost of poorly considered national policies. Filmmakers Catherine Tambini and Carlos Sandoval of Camino Bluff Productions in Amagansett, U.S., produced the film in the verité tradition, moving into the suburban New York, U.S., neighborhood of Farmingville for the shoot. They took up residence shortly after the hate-based beatings of two Mexican day laborers pushed the town into a war over immigration that made U.S. headlines. The film is budgeted for $500,000; the Sundance Documentary Fund confirmed a $50,000 grant during IFP (other foundations have also contributed). Tambini and Sandoval are in discussions with several distributors and broadcasters, but no contracts have been signed.

Most RealScreen readers would admit that the most intriguing drama in the doc business takes place in the offices of independent producers around the world. It turns out the same can be said of theater producers. U.S. bicoastal prodco Zanzibar is in post-production on Meet the Producers, a 60-minute, $110,000 doc that takes viewers behind the curtain of an off-Broadway show. The brother/sister team of Mitchell and Victoria Maxwell has won Tony awards, but their last production was a $7-million flop, and their new musical effort is struggling to meet payroll. Can they pull it off? Zanzibar (also behind The It Factor) is betting that either way, people are interested – the prodco is pitching the concept as a 13 x 30-minute series, with producers from the TV, film and theater world ready to take their turn in front of the camera. (Broadcasters and distributors, you might be next, so be nice.)

Washington, D.C.-based filmmaker Parvez Sharma has teamed up with producer Andrew Herwitz of No Budget Films for In the Name of Allah, a feature-length doc that deals with the complex personal, community and religious issues that arise when homosexuality intersects with the Muslim faith. Completion funds are about $100,000, and Sharma expects to wrap by the end of 2003. Filmmaker Sandi Simcha Dubowksi (Trembling Before G-D) has joined the project as consulting producer. The film is still looking for broadcast and distribution commitments.

The history and questionable future of New York’s 28th Street flower market is the subject of filmmaker Ian Ross’s $35,000 doc Street of Flowers. The film, which will be 30 minutes long, features an original music score and is expected to wrap this fall. Ross is currently hunting for broadcasters and distributors intrigued by the rise and fall of this historic city landmark.

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.