On the Slate

In production this month.
April 1, 2003


Spare parts

The next time you renew your driver’s license, look closely at the organ donor card. Too few people sign this invaluable document, so a black market for human organs has sprung up to fill the need. The trade of kidneys is especially strong since we have two, but only need one to survive. Poor populations in underdeveloped countries are among those exploited for the valuable organ, their kidneys removed in exchange for a minimal reward.

Vancouver, Canada-based Paperny Films explores this controversial cycle of supply and demand in Transplant Tourism, a 60-minute documentary for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s ‘Passionate Eye’ strand.

The film is budgeted for approximately CDN$270,000 (US$184,000), and is scheduled to deliver in the fall.

Paperny Films’ doc The Boys of Buchenwald, about some of the Holocaust’s youngest survivors, recently aired on Alliance Atlantis-owned Canadian cable channel History Television. The CDN$240,000 (US$163,000) film is a one-hour one-off. KB

R&R is overrated

With the world’s problems broadcast daily over mass media, the instinctive reaction for many is to bury their heads in the sand. But, some individuals are trying to break out of their insulated lives and tackle the problems in the developing world. In Reach Out: Costa Rica, Raleigh, U.S.-based prodco Footpath Pictures follows three volunteers – Lisa, an American; Daniel, an Aussie; and Anna, a Brit – as they withdraw from their established lifestyles for three weeks and immerse themselves in a working holiday.

The trio of adventurers heads to San Carlos – a town in the northwestern corner of the Cordillera mountains of Costa Rica – where they are immediately put to use doing aid work. The experience changes each of them. Physiotherapist Lisa, for example, is inspired to look beyond the equipment and facility-driven mentality of modern medicine to help Jesus begin learning to walk again. A neglected stroke victim, he had been confined to a wheelchair for the past five years.

The 60-minute doc, which is also the pilot for a 13 x one-hour series, is budgeted at approximately US$85,000. Footpath, an indie that launched in October 2002, is self-financing the project; Costa Rica is its first doc. (The prodco plans to specialize in international-development and environmental projects.) Footpath says the project has piqued the interest of a number of distributors in the U.S., although no deals had been secured at press time. MS

The sunset years

The generation born after World War II is a hungry demographic giant. It has influenced everything from the economy to fashion since it learned to walk. In the 1960s, when these baby boomers were young and frisky, peace and love dominated their thinking. Now, as they get older, the problems of aging and mortality are the most pressing issues.

In Honor and Respect (w/t) – a four-part series consisting of a two-hour special and three hour-long episodes – Toronto, Canada-based J.S. Kastner Productions examines how families and communities are evolving

to care for their older citizens. Instead of focusing on demographers and expert testimony, however, this doc presents the larger picture by relaying the intimate stories of ordinary Canadians. For example, the first episode, ‘Living Dangerously,’ recounts the determination of two seniors to remain in their homes despite their children’s concerns for their health and safety.

Three years in the making, Honor and Respect is budgeted at CDN$1 million (US$680,000). It was fully commissioned by the CBC, with broadcast set for 2004. Toronto-based digi The Documentary Channel has taken second window.

One episode of Honor and Respect will screen at Toronto’s Hot Docs festival (April 25 to May 4, 2003) as a 90-minute stand-alone film titled Rage Against the Darkness. MS


Safe havens

With each passing year, human civilization extends to another untouched corner of the world, replacing fields and forests with houses and high-rises. In many – if not most – cases, the disenfranchised flora and fauna receive nary a thought from the interlopers. But, there are exceptions.

In Save for the Future, Poznan, Poland-based Atol Media explores some of the wildlife sanctuaries established in countries throughout southeast Asia. Episodes already filmed include visits to the Cuc Phoung and Cat Ba national parks in Vietnam, home to such diverse wildlife inhabitants as Asian turtles, golden monkeys and chamois (goat-like animals); and Kerinci Seblat in Indonesia, where Sumatran elephants and Asian tapirs are just two of the national park’s stars. Upcoming episodes will feature sanctuaries in Laos, Cambodia and the Philippines.

Originally planned as a 10 x 20-minute series, Atol has expanded the project to include 20 episodes (a 10 x 30-minute version will also be available). Scheduled to wrap in 2004, Save for the Future carries a budget of approximately US$12,000 per episode. At press time, the prodco was seeking buyers.

Atol is also developing a project about life in the Indian Ocean islands, off the west coast of Sumatra. Titled Offshore Islands Life, this series will consist of five 45-minute episodes and will also wrap in 2004. SZ

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

Gedeon Programmes of Paris, France, has several projects in progress, including a couple of natural history docs. The first takes a close look at one of the dark knights of the animal kingdom – the bat. Long reviled as ugly and evil, bats are increasingly recognized as natural marvels by scientists, not for their looks, but for their hearing.

In Superbat, a one-hour one-off, Gedeon focuses on the nocturnal creature’s ability to detect objects as thin as a human hair in total darkness using sound instead of sight. If scientists can crack the bat’s echo-location techniques, the benefits could range from revolutionizing submarine sonar to forging new tools for the visually impaired.

Budgeted at 380,000 euros (US$410,000), Superbat is a copro with European broadcaster ARTE and London, U.K.-based Oxford Film and Television. It is slated for delivery

in November.

Also in the works from Gedeon is Killer Croc. In Burundi, strange disappearances on the shores of Lake Tanganyika went unexplained for several years, until reptile hunter Patrick Faye finally identified the source – a seven-meter-long, man-eating crocodile. With skin impenetrable even to gunshots, this croc must be captured alive. Faye decides to undertake the task, with support from Burundi’s government and help from international specialists. Killer Croc follows his attempt.

French channels Canal+ and France 3 have already signed on as copro partners for this one-hour one-off doc, as well as Washington, D.C.-based Devillier Donegan Enterprises. The budget is in the 460,000 euros (US$497,000) range, and delivery is slated for the end of the year. SZ


I scream, you scream

Whether it’s alone on a cone or in a dish under lots of whip, ice cream is loved by people the world over. Turin, Italy-based Stefilm gets the scoop on this frozen favorite in Ice Cream, a one-hour doc being shot this summer.

France’s Louis XIV, whose 17th-century court was renowned for setting culinary trends, was among the first to delight guests with the sweet treat. Ice cream won a similar distinction in 1809, when first lady Dolly Madison (wife of U.S. president James Madison) served the dessert in the White House for the first time. Other interesting facts – such as why ice cream vendors were blamed for spreading disease in the U.K. at the end of the 19th century, and the serendipitous circumstances that led to the invention of the waffle cone during the World’s Fair in 1904 – are also explored in the film.

The project carries a budget of approximately US$325,000 and has already won over the taste buds of equity financier Infinito in Italy and public broadcaster avro in the Netherlands. Pubcasters RaiTrade in Italy, SBS in Australia and NHK in Japan have also shown interest. Delivery is set for January 2004. KB


One man, one vote

The ability of U.S. political consultants to stage-manage electoral campaigns has been documented before – 1994′s The War Room (produced by New York’s Pennebaker Hegedus Films), for example, revealed James Carville’s behind-the-scenes maneuvering to help Bill Clinton win the 1992 U.S presidential election. The untold story, however, is that American political advisers have been selling their services to candidates in states such as France, Ireland, Nigeria and Israel for decades.

The Race (w/t), a 90-minute doc by New York, U.S.-based Boynton Films, peers into the world of international political consultancy, shedding light on this shadowy U.S. cultural export. The story joins Carville and a group of consultants in 2002, as they fly to Bolivia to help Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, the country’s president from 1993 to 1997, seek reelection. They carefully control Sanchez de Lozada’s every comment. Later, the consultants help the new president weather political turmoil.

Produced for about US$275,000, The Race is a copro with Montreal, Canada-based distrib Films Transit and will be ready by January 2004. The BBC is also on board.

Films Transit also distributes Hollywood and the Holocaust (w/t) and The Man Who Stole My Mother’s Face, two docs profiled in RealScreen’s February 2003 issue. MS


Quest for a cure

In 1999, 33-year-old Stephen Heywood, a Newton, U.S.-based craftsman and builder, was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (als – also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease). The news was devastating. Those afflicted with the degenerative neurological disease generally die within two to five years of diagnosis. Control of muscle movements is the first to go, followed by the ability to walk and, ultimately, to breathe.

Despite the odds, Heywood and his family decided to fight back, and formed the ALS Therapy Development Foundation, which is dedicated to finding new drugs to combat the disease. Heywood’s brother, Jamie, even quit his job so he could devote himself to the mission full time.

The Heywood Boys is a two-hour doc about the family’s efforts to find a cure for ALS. Boston, U.S.-based filmmakers Steven Ascher and Jeanne Jordan, of West City Films, have been shooting the cinéma vérité film since 2000. They expect to wrap production at the end of 2003.

Budgeted in the US$500,000 to $1,000,000 range, The Heywood Boys is being produced in association with Boston-based pub channel WGBH, the BBC in the U.K. and Germany’s ZDF. Louise Rosen Ltd., also of Boston, is distributing. Simon Bacal

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.