News in Brief

Discovery puts US$65 million into HD doc series; Europe's SBS Broadcasting picks the brains of indie prodcos; doc-friendly U.S. theater chain goes digital
April 10, 2003

Discovery Communications is planning a US$65-million documentary series to help boost the audience of its Discovery HD Theater channel. Called Atlas HD, the five-year project consists of 30 two-hour episodes on ‘the greatest destinations and countries of the world.’ Production of the first program, profiling India, will begin soon. Discovery notes that by the end of this year it will triple the size of its HD library to more than 300 hours of original programming.

Luxembourg-based pan-European SBS Broadcasting has launched an initiative to help small and independent production companies develop new television programs. Called SBS Brain Station, it includes input from commercial filmmakers, advertising agencies and art schools, among others. The initiative features six to eight teams vying for development contracts and 10,000 Euros (U.S. $10,800). The goal is to address the fact that ‘the television business is short on good ideas and new creative blood,’ SBS states. The first Brain Station was held in Oslo, Norway, at the beginning of March. The broadcaster is planning other station stops in its market, which includes Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Hungary and Poland.

The Landmark Theaters chain is equipping all 177 screens of its 53 venues in the U.S. with digital cinema playback systems. The Los Angeles-based indie movie house touts the move as ‘the largest digital cinema theater circuit installation’ in the U.S. It is borne of a deal with Redmond, U.S.-based Microsoft Corp. Landmark exhibits documentaries, as well as foreign-language and independently produced films.

In other theatrical news, New York, U.S.-based pay-TV channel HBO is releasing the feature-length documentary Elaine Stritch At Liberty to U.S. cinemas before its television premiere in 2004. The doc, about a Broadway performer and her one-person show, is coproduced by HBO, the BBC, Bristol, U.K.-based Iambic Productions, and New York-based Pennebaker-Hegedus Films.

In related news, New York, U.S.-based distributor ThinkFilm has acquired North American rights to Bus 174, and HBO has taken the pay-TV rights. The film, by Brazilian prodco Zendo Entertainment and director Jose Padilha, is about a violent altercation in Rio de Janeiro. ThinkFilm and HBO are also collaborating on the release of Jeff Blitz’s Spellbound.

New York, U.S.-based MTV Networks is following the success of last year’s The Osbournes with a slew of new reality programs. MTV has greenlighted a yet-to-be named reality series that follows singers Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey as they get married, move into a house under construction and record an album. Several pilots include the doc program High School Stories: Scandals, Pranks and Controversies, The Scene, a multi-part verité series, and Roomates, a search-for-the-perfect-mate (as in mating) show.

Washington, D.C., U.S.-based National Geographic Channel is developing an international reality series for the fall of 2003. Called Worlds Apart, the premise consists of taking a number of middle-class American families and dropping them into remote locations to see how they cope with the cultural and technological challenges of life in the developing world. For example, the pilot episode, transmitting April 13, features a suburban New Jersey family dropped into a remote farming village in Kenya. (No Starbucks, video games or cell phones – and no electricity, plumbing or roads).

The European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, held a special closed-door screening of The Trials of Henry Kissinger on April 8. The acclaimed documentary was followed by a presentation by producer/director Eugene Jarecki on the topic of global justice in the new climate of transatlantic relations. The doc and Jarecki’s comments were part of a debate on current U.S. foreign policy. The documentary examines Kissinger’s role in U.S. government decisions from the 1960s to 1980s.

Knoxville, U.S.-based Scripps Networks, has secured distribution deals for its lifestyle channel Fine Living in Sweden, Iceland and Thailand. Pact partners include Sweden’s Titan Media (on behalf of channel TV4 Plus), United Broadcasting Corporation in Thailand, and Iceland’s Screen One. Scripps’ channels (including HGTV and Food Network) now penetrate 33 countries.

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.