On the Slate

Zero degrees to everywhere
August 1, 2004

Zero degrees to everywhere

It took Jules Verne 80 days to get around the world, but don’t expect Kiwi production outfit NHNZ to keep to that pace. The Dunedin-based prodco is in the works on a wide range of natural history and history adventure shows, including the 6 x 1-hour series, The Equator. Two-years in the making, the series circles the globe at zero degrees longitude, taking in the sites of this 40,000 km-long swath of the earth that features the incredible diversity of South America’s Andes Mountains, the Rift Valley in Africa and even the depths of the ocean off the Galapagos Islands. Although the equatorial region represents only six percent of the world’s surface, 65% of all known animal and plant species live in this unique ecosystem.

Coproduced by NHNZ, Japan’s NHK, France 5 and Discovery’s HD Theater, The Equator will shoot in 21 countries and on three oceans. In particular, the film will examine the impact the sun has on the evolution of the region’s creatures and explore why species there adapt faster – and in more extreme ways – than elsewhere. The high definition project is budgeted at approximately US$800,000 per hour and is set to wrap by late 2005. Amsterdam’s Off the Fence is handling distribution.

Among the other projects also upcoming from NHNZ is The Diva Mummy. The one-hour one-off is a multi-pronged copro that counts Washington, D.C.-based National Geographic International, Nat Geo U.S., China’s Viewpoint, the U.K.’s Five and ARTE in France as partners, and carries a budget of about $415,000. Part science, part sleuth story, it will follow forensic experts as they try to discover the ancient methods used to mummify aristocrats during China’s Han Dynasty. Discovered in the ’70s, the 2000-year-old wrapped bodies were remarkably well preserved, their skin still elastic and the blood in their veins still red.

And nothing says red-blooded quite like growling engines. Power Tool Drag Racing (w/t) and Ice Pilots (w/t) shift the action from mystery to motors. The first is a 4 x 1-hour commission for the Discovery Channel in Silver Spring, U.S. that looks at the quirky inventors who crank-up household machines and then race the reworked tools at an annual event in San Fran. Ice Pilots, on the other hand, gets inside the U.S. Air Force’s Hercules LC-130s. What this aircraft lacks in glamour it makes up for in guts, successfully challenging the world’s most difficult flying terrain, from Greenland’s ice caps to Antarctica’s chill landscape. The one-hour single, now in post-production, has a $300,000 budget and will be distributed by Off the Fence. KB/MS

King Congo

Congo, the central African country named after one of the longest rivers in the world (both formerly Zaire), is a place of superlatives, its wildlife and natural resources nearly unrivaled in their plenty. But having been pillaged at the beginning of the 20th century by Belgium’s King Leopold II and at the end by homegrown despot Mobutu Sese Seko, Congo’s history and economic outlook are nearly unrivaled in their grimness.

After focusing on its tragic legacy in two previous docs, Zaire: Cycle of the Serpent and Mobutu: King of Zaire, Belgian doc-maker Thierry Michel now returns to capture Congo’s beauty and the people’s resilience in Congo River: Beyond Darkness (w/t). In a nod to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, the film’s narrative will be pegged to Michel’s journey up the river.

Budgeted for about E1.5 million (US$1.8 million), the HD doc will be available from Liege, Belgium-based Les Films de la Passerelle in September 2005, as both a 90-minute feature and a 3 x 52-minute series. Copro partners with Passerelle are Paris-based prodco Les Films d’Ici and many broadcasters, including France’s Canal+; Belgium’s RTBF; Finland’s YLE; the Netherland’s VPRO and VRT, and Switzerland’s RTSR. MS

All hail the hymen

In stark contrast to the popular belief among most teenage boys that virginity is a curse that must be lifted asap, The Big ‘V’ presents virginity as a sexy and empowering right.

Vancouver-based Artizan Productions, Toronto-based VisionTV and Regina, Canada’s The Knowledge Network are producing the one-hour doc, which will feature men and women who’ve kept their ‘V-cards’ well into their adult lives, many of whom are proud to still have their cherry intact. The film will also profile a doctor who performs hymen re-attachment surgery (a.k.a. hymenoplasty). In addition to tackling virginity from both religious and secular angles, the doc will hit the streets to incorporate the perspectives of society’s average Joes.

Telefilm Canada, BC Film and the CTF’s Broadcaster Performance Envelope all co-financed this roughly CND$128,000 (US$94,000) doc. Shooting is scheduled to start this summer, with the big reveal planned for December. Danny Shenkman

Listen up, punk

At a time when the curse-laden speech of Ozzy Osbourne is celebrated in primetime, it’s hard to imagine that punk rocker Johnny Rotten’s infamous 1976 live TV utterance, ‘You dirty bastard… You dirty fucker… What a fuckin’ rotter,’ spurred concerts to be cancelled, tvs to be smashed and tabloids to rise to eloquence with headlines such as ‘The Filth and the Fury.’

Shock value aside, the Sex Pistols and the punk phenomenon they personified were a product of a violently turbulent era, with roots that trace back to the mid-1960s.

In Punk: An Attitude (w/t), London-based Metropolis Productions gives the movement context by exploring its place in the counter-cultural traditions of the U.S and the U.K. The 90-minute film will feature punk musicians past and present – including The Ramones, The Clash and The White Stripes – but will get beyond the safety pins and kohl-rimmed eyes to show that punk is much more than hard music and questionable fashions.

London-based distribs 3DD Entertainment and Fremantle Home Entertainment are coproducing the US$500,000 project, with the latter also creating a special four-hour DVD. Don Letts, once a DJ at British punk club The Roxy, will bring an insider’s view to the film’s direction. Delivery is set for December. KB

Secrets of the script

Armed with US$1.2 million, L.A.-based prodco Night Fire Films is adapting Michael Coe’s book Breaking the Maya Code for a one-hour doc that will air on PBS in 2005.

For 1,500 years, Mexico’s Mayas recorded their history and culture using hieroglyphic script. But, the sophisticated glyphs became unreadable after the Spanish deliberately wiped out the know-how to read the symbols within a few generations of their arrival in Mexico. Breaking the Maya Code, the doc, will trace the dramatic events that eventually led historians to decipher about 90% of this writing system, thereby trigging a reassessment of Mayan history.

Watertown, U.S.-based CS Associates is distributing the fully funded doc (the NEH contributed about $640,000). Production wraps next spring. KB

Fighting against war

In 1965, a GI movement protesting the conflict in Vietnam began with a few individuals refusing duty. By 1971, whole units were declining battle, ground troops were deserting, and anti-war demonstrations were being held at every major army base. L.A.-based filmmaker David Zeiger of Displaced Films witnessed much of this activity, which will be the focus of his upcoming doc We Gotta Get Out of this Place!

Combining archive material with first-person accounts, the us$550,000 doc will show the impact of this movement on both the military and the Vietnam war. Like any good history doc, it will also link past and present; production for We Gotta began in May, around the time Staff Sgt. Camilo Mejia was sentenced to one year in jail and slapped with a us$30,000 fine after refusing to return to Iraq to fight.

Boston-based Louise Rosen Limited is handling distribution, and delivery is set for May 2005. Both a feature-length and a one-hour version are planned. KB

Dad, whalin’ is an adjective

Cynics in Canada contend that many Americans know little, if anything, of their neighbors to the north. Ironically, inhabitants of northern Canada say the same about their neighbors below. In a bid to raise awareness of Inuit values and traditions, Vancouver’s Big Red Barn Entertainment and MacKenzie Delta Films are making My Father, My Teacher.

A CDN$250,000 (US$184,000) one-hour one-off, the doc centers on the life of Victor Allen, the 75-year-old Innu grandfather of MDF’s director, Dennis Allen. With only one year of formal education, Allen has negotiated land deals with the Canadian government and, as a frequent speaker at international conferences on indigenous issues, bears eloquent witness to the tremendous changes his society is undergoing. Many Inuit still live by hunting and whaling out of migratory camps, but younger generations are influenced by mainstream society, and multinational corporations covet the natural resources to which natives hold claim.

Though still seeking a distributor, 65% of the financing is in place, about 50% courtesy of the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network in Winnipeg and the CTF. Delivery is set for January. MS

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