On the Slate

Real road warriors
In the fictional world of James Bond, a sexy sports car capable of generating a smoke screen, an oil slick or a satellite-guided distress signal comes as no surprise. In real life one would hardly expect to find such a vehicle on the road. But, look in the rearview mirror again. The latest armored cars feature these innovations and many more.
February 1, 2003


Real road warriors

In the fictional world of James Bond, a sexy sports car capable of generating a smoke screen, an oil slick or a satellite-guided distress signal comes as no surprise. In real life one would hardly expect to find such a vehicle on the road. But, look in the rearview mirror again. The latest armored cars feature these innovations and many more.

In Armored & Dangerous, a one-hour special, New York-based production company KPI will address the three most pressing questions about these high-end security vehicles: how are they made, what can they do and who uses them?

With a focus on the most recent technological advancements, the documentary will walk viewers through each stage of the automobiles’ development, from initial design to road testing. It will also give a brief history of these cars, which are largely owned by dignitaries and top executives.

Budgeted at US$200,000, Armored & Dangerous is scheduled to begin shooting in April, and will be delivered to the Travel Channel in June. SZ

High-rise in the sky

Skyscrapers, suspension bridges, superhighways – at one time, these were all considered impossible structures to build, until imaginative engineers proved otherwise. What, then, will such innovators be capable of constructing in the future? Powderhouse Productions of Somerville, U.S., presents some of the possibilities in Extreme Engineering, a 10 x 1-hour series.

Using computer animation, some episodes will present hypothetical projects, including: an 80-km-long bridge across the Bering Strait that connects Asia and North America; a transatlantic tunnel from New York, U.S., to Paris, France, featuring 8,000-km-per-hour trains; and a ‘sky city’, consisting of skyscrapers suspended over Tokyo Bay, Japan. Other episodes in the series will consider existing engineering feats, such as the Hong Kong International Airport (which sits 25 km out at sea), the Panama Canal and Holland’s complex system of dikes.

Extreme Engineering carries a budget of US$5.5 million and is backed by the Bethesda, U.S.-based Discovery Channel. Powderhouse will deliver the series in May. SZ

How did they do that?

For Ancient Inventions, London, U.K.-based Windfall Productions and Toronto, Canada’s AAC Fact armed archaeologists and engineers with period-specific tools and formulas to unravel – once and for all – various mysteries of design and construction. Budgeted at CDN$525,000 (US$343,000) per hour – and in a nod to living-history programming – the 4 x 50-minute series pits rival theories and theorists against one another as they re-create four timeless marvels.

Episode one, ‘Chariots of Fear: The Assyrian Chariot’, considers how, at the beginning of the first millennium B.C., the Assyrian Empire rode to superpower status on a wheeled platform hitched to a trusty steed. Episode two, ‘Flinging Fire: How the Warships of the Byzantine Empire Won with Fire’, looks at how the Byzantine rulers managed to catapult balls of fire off wooden ships. In episode three, ‘The Turtle: The First American Submarine in the American War of Independence’, a submersible used by U.S. revolutionaries against British ships is re-created. Lastly, episode four, ‘Cathedral Crane: The Quest for Light’, illuminates how masons and carpenters constructed the middle-ages equivalent of the skyscraper.

Copro partners include Canada’s History Television, the Discovery Channel, the U.K.’s Channel 4 and Paris-based pubcaster France 5. MS


Sifting the sands of time

Thousands of years ago, in what is now the heart of Sudan, the kingdom of Nubia thrived to the point of holding dominion over all of ancient Egypt. Today, most of the remnants of that once prosperous civilization are buried deep under the sand. Two years ago, however, archaeologists Julie Andersen and Selah Ahmed unearthed a remarkable find – a 2,000-year-old Nubian city called Dangeil.

Over the course of the two-year dig, Andersen and Ahmed excavated a temple to the god Amun, who was believed to protect worshippers from the burning sun and punishing sandstorms. They had hoped to uncover clues to the city’s abandonment and met with some success, finding evidence of a massive fire.

New York-based prodco Engel Brothers Media followed Andersen and Ahmed on the dig, and the result is The Forgotten Kingdom of Nubia, a one-hour one-off that incorporates computer- generated images and creative reenactments, along with the footage from Dangeil. Shot in high definition for the Discovery Channel, the documentary will be delivered in July. It carries a budget in the US$500,000 range.

In addition to Nubia, Engel Brothers is currently working on the third season of The Mummy Road Show for the National Geographic Channel U.S. and National Geographic Channels International. Budgeted at $130,000 to $160,000 per episode, the series will wrap in December. SZ

Japan’s secret weapon

During World War II, only days after Japan ambushed Pearl Harbor, Japanese admiral Isoroku Yamamoto announced plans to attack the U.S. mainland. It was not an idle threat. Yamamoto and his team secretly began work on sentoku, 120-meter-long I-400 submarines that could carry up to three aircraft and a 26-meter catapult capable of hurling the planes into the air for kamikaze missions. The admiral’s vision was to use the subs to launch incendiary or chemical bombs at major U.S. cities, such as New York. First, however, he was under orders to target the Panama Canal.

Japan came dangerously close to fulfilling its mission. But, while the sentoku were en route to the canal, the Allies surged ahead and Japan surrendered; the subs were ultimately turned over to the Americans. After studying the technology employed on the I-400s, the U.S. sank the subs off the coasts of Hawaii and Japan. Recently declassified documents show that the Allies were almost completely unaware of Japan’s planned attack.

In Sen Toku: The Search for Japan’s Secret Arsenal, White Rock, Canada-based Parallax Film Productions follows marine archaeologist Brett Phaneuf on an expedition to find the scuttled I-400s. Using underwater video and rare war footage, the prodco will bring to light this little- known story from WWII. A one-hour one-off for Discovery Channels International, Sen Toku carries a budget of US$350,000 and is slated to wrap in November.

Parallax is also in production on Lost in Antarctica: The Search for Byrd’s Lost Flyer, a $400,000 one-hour for Discovery Channel U.S. that will wrap in May. RealScreen earlier reported that Munich, Germany’s True Stories is producing this documentary, but the company is, in fact, distributing the film for Parallax in select territories. SZ

The horror

The 20th century will be remembered for many things, but two of the more profound developments were American cinema and the Nazi genocide against Jews. In Hollywood and the Holocaust (w/t), New York-based filmmaker Daniel Anker traces the evolution of Hollywood’s depictions of the Final Solution and World War II through four distinct phases: 1933 to 1941, when the studios made films marked by ambivalence; 1941 to 1945, when the studios tackled the war head-on; 1945 to 1978, when movies either treated the mass killings as metaphor or denied them altogether; and 1978 to 2001, when films such as Sophie’s Choice and Schindler’s List focused on the survivors’ stories.

For the doc, Anker interviewed some of Hollywood’s most powerful people, such as Steven Spielberg, for their take on the portrayal of the Holocaust in movies. The film will also show archival footage from Auschwitz, but only at the doc’s conclusion.

Hollywood, which is produced by Anker Productions, is the filmmaker’s encore effort; he previously made Scottsboro, An American Tragedy. Budgeted at US$400,000, the one-hour one-off will wrap in June. Broadcasters attached to the project are the BBC, the Hollywood-based AMC and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. MS


Praise be to Akhenaten

Europeans and their descendants for centuries traced their roots to the early Greeks and the Judeo-Christian experience. But, there may be more to the story. In Ancient Egypt: Legacy of the God-Kings, a one-hour doc, Toronto, Canada-based Re:Source Media reconsiders the contribution of the Nile River civilization to future generations. The film also explores the controversial theory that the God of Christianity and Judaism may have originated with Pharaoh Akhenaten, ‘the Heretic King.’

Budgeted at approximately US$125,000, the doc is expected to wrap in late May. Stamford, U.S.-based CABLEready is distributing.

Re:Source peers at another wonder of the ancient world in Empire of the Mist: The Mystery of Machu Picchu. Among the most visited travel destinations in South America, Peru’s awe-inspiring mountain city was only discovered by Europeans shortly before World War I. Using digital footage shot in fall 2002, Empire documents the meaning of the ruins to the region’s current inhabitants and presents the latest expert theories on the site.

Produced with the backing of the Peruvian Instituto Nacional de Cultura, Empire is also 60 minutes, budgeted at roughly $125,000 and distributed by Cableready. MS


No justice, no peace

In 1988, white South African Laura Henkel was 59 years old and lived in Orange Grove, an affluent suburb of Johannesburg. Two days before Christmas that year, her peaceful life changed. Henkel opened her door to a teenager (also a white South African) passing through the neighborhood who asked if he could use her bathroom; 30 minutes later, she was near death, having been beaten and raped by the boy.

Despite clear evidence of a savage attack – Henkel’s face was so badly smashed she was barely recognizable, even to her family – police refused to take the case seriously. Neighbors and Henkel’s own son blamed her for the crime.

Henkel’s doc-maker daughter Cathy recounts this sad tale and adds an epilogue in the 55-minute film The Man who Stole My Mother’s Face. Armed with her camera, Cathy Henkel (who lives in Australia with her mother) seeks out the attacker and confronts him.

My Mother’s Face is produced by Clunes, Australia-based Hatchling Productions and carries a budget of AUS$325,000 (US$190,000). Backed in part by the Australian Film Finance Corporation and Sydney, Australia-based pubcaster ABC, the doc will wrap in June and premiere at the International Human Rights Conference in Byron Bay, Australia, in July. MS

A job’s a job

Professional crime is big business in the U.K. – £20 billion to £40 billion (US$32.3 billion to $64.5 billion) per year, in fact. Ranked alongside other commercial undertakings, it’s the fourth largest industry in Britain. For some, this line of ‘work’ is only a sideline, something to supplement legitimate earnings. For others, however, crime is an everyday job.

The Crime Game, a 15 x 30-minute series from London, U.K.- based prodco Zig Zag, goes inside this underground world to answer questions such as who does what, how long one trains, what the risks are and how much money one can make. Each episode will focus on a different criminal role – the hit man, the heavy, the getaway driver, the drug dealer and so on. Interviewees will include lawyers, police and criminal profilers, as well as ex-criminals.

Budgeted at £418,000 ($670,000), the series is slated for delivery to Bravo U.K. in May. SZ


Do you like what you see?

Webcamming is one of the many ways the Internet has changed how people see the world. With the right software and a few peripheral devices, any DV cam can make what’s local suddenly global. Incidentally, the majority of webcammers are women.

In WebCam Girls, a one-hour one-off, Vancouver, Canada-based Producers on Davie probes the female fascination with webcamming. Does it empower women because they control the show, or does it reinforce generations of sexual stereotyping? For WebCam Girls, Producers on Davie borrows a page from the webcammers themselves and uses webcam-like camera techniques to find out. Budgeted at CDN$265,000 (US$172,000), the doc is headed to Toronto, Canada- based W Network and The Documentary Channel in November.

In another project for the Documentary Channel, and in cooperation with Toronto’s Life Network, the Vancouver prodco takes a different look at what it means to be a woman. 100% Woman profiles Michelle Dumaresq, a downhill-mountain-biking phenom. She has won some of the toughest female bike competitions in Canada, and had the honor of representing her country on the national team. However, her biking isn’t the only thing turning heads.

Michelle was Michael until she began the process of gender reassignment 10 years ago. Many people support Dumaresq for her personal decision, but just as many in the tight-knit bike subculture think she has no business in the sport. The one-hour doc is CDN$235,000 ($153,000) and wraps in January 2004.

Also from Producers on Davie comes Linton Garner: I Never Said Goodbye, a one-hour special that listens to the Canadian jazz artist as he reflects on the life of his younger brother Erroll, a musical genius who died in 1977. Produced for the ‘Opening Night’ strand of Canadian pubcaster the CBC, the CDN$285,000 ($185,000) doc wraps in October. MS

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