News in Brief

Seattle, U.S. PBS station cuts production and jobs in major reorganization; Hollywood rolls out The Real Cancun reality theatrical film; C4 rushes out doc on SARS
April 24, 2003

Citing financial losses, Seattle, U.S.-based pubcaster KCTS unveiled April 17 that it is reorganizing by ‘dramatically’ reducing program productions and eliminating up to 35 positions. Additionally, long-time president and CEO Burnill Clark is resigning. Noting that preliminary results indicate an operating loss of US$1.25 million in 2002 and that it expects a loss in fiscal 2003, the station is abandoning programming for the national Public Broadcast System when current productions are completed. Most of the job cuts are in production and will see the station’s staff shrink by approximately 25%. KCTS docs include The Perilous Fight: America’s World War II in Color.

Touted as Hollywood’s first reality theatrical feature, The Real Cancun will be released by New York-based New Line Cinema in North American theaters April 25. Produced in partnership with New York-based FilmEngine and Van Nuys-based Bunim/Murray Productions (the prodco behind MTV’s reality series The Real World and Road Rules), the movie follows ‘real people ready to explore reality’s barriers beyond the limits of television while on the ultimate Spring Break vacation.’ (Read: lots of beer, babes and bozos). It was filmed in Cancun, Mexico in March and posted in less than two months. Sponsors include Sunsplash Tours, cosmetic giant Clinique and Bollé Sunglasses.

Just as the illness captures international headlines, U.K. broadcaster Channel 4 will air a one-off doc on severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). Produced by London-based prodco Pioneer Productions and distributed by Channel 4 International, the one-hour SARS: Killer Bug will be transmitted in the U.K. April 28.

Toronto, Canada-based doc-maker Ellis Entertainment has formed a joint venture to develop, produce and distribute original factual television programs for the international market with Toronto-based cable-caster VisionTV. Called Vision TV International, the company will focus on cultural and religious programming. Several projects are already underway: Spirit Talker, a 10 x 1/2-hour paranormal series; Sacred Sites, a 6 x 1-hour travel series, and Zarathustra: Prophet of Light, a 4×1-hour examination of Zoroastrianism. Ellis Entertainment’s president Stephen Ellis and head of production Kip Spidell will head the organization.

Boston, U.S.-based pubcaster WGBH announced April 21 it is producing a documentary on Fidel Castro, mere days after pay-TV channel HBO disclosed it has withdrawn a high-profile doc of the Cuban leader from its May schedule. The two-hour WGBH project is slated for the ‘American Experience’ strand (aired across the U.S. on the Public Broadcast System). Filmmaker Andriana Bosch, whose credits include ‘American Experience’ biographies Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan is heading the project; it is slated to air next year. HBO pulled Oliver Stone’s Comandante in mid-April, citing it needed updating. (See RealScreen Plus, April 17).

London, U.K.-based ITN Archive has taken over the operation and sales of British Pathe’s film archive. The five-year deal, agreed between Independent Television News and British Pathe’s owner Daily Mail and General Trust, results in ITN’s holdings containing approximately half a million hours of historical material dating back to the 1890′s.

Washington, D.C. U.S.-based National Geographic Society has entered into a five-year agreement that sees it promoting the work of the New York, U.S.-based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). Nat Geo will employ its various media outlets, including the National Geographic Channel, to show the WCS’s various eco-friendly initiatives, and includes program coproductions. Based at the famous Bronx Zoo, the society was established in 1895 and today runs more than 350 conservation projects in 53 countries.

The National Film Board of Canada and the Winnipeg, Canada-based Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) have concluded a wide-ranging agreement that includes documentary coproductions. On the non-fiction front, the deal includes the launch of an NFB strand on APTN, and outreach initiatives, in addition to developing and producing docs.

The Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, U.S. is rolling out an exhibition this summer that will include feature-length docs. Called ‘The American Effect’, it will focus on ‘perceptions of America in works of art made since 1990′, the year in which the U.S. emerged as the only global superpower. The doc component includes Sandeep Ray’s Leaving Bakul Bagan, Marlo Poras’ Mai’s America, Sherine Salama’s Wedding in Ramallah and Gail Dolgin’s and Vicente Franco’s Daughter from Danang. The exhibit runs from July to October.

Johannesburg, South Africa-based pubcaster SABC is inviting submissions from local producers for 12 new productions, including documentaries. The 38 million rand (US$5.3 million) initiative includes an increase in non-fiction programs on SABC2, with an emphasis on lifestyle documentaries and a history and biography strand. For details, go to

About The Author
Jonathan Paul is a Toronto-based writer into creativity, content, advertising, tech, comics, video games, film, TV, time and space travel.