On the Slate

The mummies of all mammals
September 1, 2004

The mummies of all mammals

It’s common knowledge that many animals were held sacred in ancient Egypt, but disturbing new archaeological evidence shows a different side to the Egyptians’ relationship with the creatures they considered gods. Millions of mummified animals have been discovered in an underground cemetery near the city of Tuna el Gebel. Within the maze of catacombs, one grave was found to hold 500,000 hawks, 500 baboons and 20 cows. Another contained the first mummified lion ever found in an Egyptian tomb. Egyptologist Dieter Kessler and archaeozoologist Dr. Joris Peters believe the animals were slaughtered in calculated mass killings. If that’s true, the Egyptians may have run huge operations to raise animals for the singular function of becoming mummies.

The 50-minute one-off Sacred Animals of the Pharaohs is being produced by Hamburg’s NDR Naturfilm, which specializes in wildlife as part of Studio Hamburg Documentaries. The show will be broadcast by Hamburg-based pubcaster ARD/NDR. London’s Parthenon Entertainment is acting as partner and distributor for the US$360,000 project, which combines blue-chip animal sequences, lush scenics and magnificent artwork of the ancient Egyptians. The international version is slated for delivery in August of 2005, and there are also discussions about a 90-minute version.

Another project NDR Naturfilm has in the works with the same partners is The Big Meltdown. This 50-minute one-off has Argentinean geologist Jorge Strelin exploring the glacial erosions in Antarctica’s Patagonian ice fields. As the water warms up and the ice melts, the film captures parts of the Perito Moreno glaciers giving way. Strelin also studies how the surrounding wildlife is affected by the meltdown. Budgeted for $420,000, the film includes footage of guanacos, elephant seals, orcas and penguins. Scientific research from the European Alps and Japan is also presented. Meltdown‘s international version will deliver in July, 2005.

NDR Naturfilm’s A Life with Bears is the personal story of German cameraman Andreas Kieling and his 10-year-old son Erik. The elder Kieling has followed the furry beasts for a decade and in this 50-minute one-off, he takes his son to Alaska to get up close to the enormous predators. The same partners previously mentioned are involved, as well as National Geographic International as partner and broadcaster. With a budget of $370,000, Bears is scheduled to air in Germany this Christmas.

Lastly Jungle Claws, a copro between NDR Naturfilm, Parthenon and NGCI, follows the mysterious lives of anteaters and sloths in Guyana. Scheduled for a November release, the 50-minute show has a budget of $350,000. AA

City of swimmers

When a larger-than-life Las Vegas resort owner teams up with one of France’s most extravagant event promoters to produce a live spectacle (the majority of which is performed underwater) at a brand-spanking-new $235 million facility, you can count on opening night being a must-see event. ARTE France and Paris-based API Productions, however, are betting that the 18 months of rehearsal and preparation the show requires before the curtain goes up will be as engaging as the show itself.

Le Reve, a 10 x 26-minute docusoap, follows the many and mixed personalities involved in bringing the extravagant brainchild of Steve ‘The King of Las Vegas’ Wynn and Franco Dragone to life. Shot from a fly-on-the-wall, insider’s POV, the series tracks the progress of 12 principal characters and six secondary characters ranging from a gymnastics coach to the head of the water set construction. Filming begins with the first rehearsals in Belgium and ends with opening night on the Vegas Strip.

ARTE and API have also teamed up with Brussels-based pubcaster RTBF and Dragone Productions to pool together the Le Reve‘s E1.4 million (US$1.7 million) budget. With half of the episodes shot in Europe and half in the U.S., the production team hopes to have the series ready for broadcast in autumn 2005. Danny Shenkman

Mo’ better boobs

Although primetime dramas like Nip & Tuck might offer the impression that plastic surgery is a legitimate form of recreation for the rich and bumpy, it’s really never all that safe to go under the knife. To prove this, Vancouver’s Insight Film & Video Productions is working on Vanity Insanity, a 4 x 1-hour series that will ‘put a new face on the plastic surgery phenomenon.’

Dubbed a ‘medical reality series,’ Insanity will expose the painful and sometimes deadly side of plastic surgery gone wrong. Hidden cameras and tough interviews with both doctors and patients will put a human face on this reconstructive trend, where even the most banal procedures come with a set of risks many don’t take the time to uncover.

The series is being shot entirely in HD, with film rolling in October for a spring 2005 delivery. The CDN$1 million (US$760,000) project is being undertaken for the Global Television Network in Canada. BC

Death of diplomacy

Considering what passes for diplomacy these days (Dubya’s famous words ‘You’re either with us or against us’ come to mind), it appears to be a dying craft – a situation that makes the murder of Sergio Vieira de Mello all the more tragic.

Widely regarded as one of this era’s most courageous and intelligent diplomats, Vieira de Mello was killed on August 19, 2003 when a car bomb destroyed the un headquarters in Baghdad. One year earlier, he had been made the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights.

Born to politicos exiled from Brazil in the 1960s, Vieira de Mello grew up beyond the borders of his homeland – an experience that likely shaped his vigor for conflict resolution. He joined the un in 1969 and was quickly exposed to some of the world’s more desperate locations, including Bangladesh and Kosovo. His life was cut short at just 55 years of age.

Paris-based distrib Point du Jour and Rio de Janeiro-based broadcaster GNT Brazil will examine the delicate art of diplomacy in Sergio de Mello: Life and Death of a Diplomat, a US$500,000 copro. Planned for one-hour, the doc will also reveal de Mello the man, while tracing his achievements through Sarajevo, Iraq and elsewhere. Broadcasters showing interest, though not yet committed, include the BBC, ZDF and ARTE. Completion is scheduled for September, 2005. KB

Gods and mountains

Greece has long been a playground for the strong and mighty. Before the Olympics attracted those blessed with speed and agility, Olympus connected Heaven to Earth, providing a gateway for the gods of land and sea. At its peak stood Zeus, ruler of the gods, who reigned with thunder and lighting. Just below him dwelled Hades, the god of darkness, and Artemis, the goddess of hunting and wild animals. And there were others too: aquatic Poseidon, cultivated Demeter and urbane Pallas Athene.

Greece: Garden of the Gods - a E400,000 (US$490,000) copro from Amsterdam-based distrib Off the Fence and pubcasters ARD/WDR in Cologne, ORF in Wien, Austria and the BBC – will take a closer look at the flora and fauna still living in the deities’ mythical stomping ground. Today, healing plants thrive alongside orchids and peonies below Olympus’ 9,000-foot high tip, which is home to the eagle and the agrimi, a rare mountain goat. Here too slithers the European glass snake and horned vipers. The world’s smallest animal, the Etruscan shrew, scurries in Hades’ gloomy caves, while the red deer – Artemis’ favorite – picks its way through the oracles’ former abode. And let’s not forget the riches of Poseidon’s Mediterranean Sea. Produced by ORF Universum in Vienna and ScienceVision in Graz, Austria, the one-hour one-off will be ready for spring 2005.

And though the legends of the Appalachian Mountains descend from humans rather than heaven, the creatures that live there are no less fascinating. Appalachia: The Endless Forest, is a E30,000 ($37,000) one-hour one-off that investigates the bears, possums, hellbenders and cockroaches that inhabit this range, which extends from Georgia to Maine, U.S. With a script by U.K. filmmaker Steve Nicholls, the doc will also give a natural history of the area’s forests over the course of one year, from the viewpoint of the people who live in Appalachia’s peaks and valleys.

A copro between ORF, WDR and Off The Fence, the doc is produced by Vienna’s ORF Universum and AV Dokumenta. Delivery is planned for spring 2005. KB

Babes in Boyland

When choosing a profession, why not pick one that requires being surrounded by models? Or better yet, models in bikinis? So thought 27-year-old Enrique and Jean-Pierre, childhood friends who set out to make their first million by founding a swimwear company. Chronicling their efforts is New York’s Mighty Pictures, which is in production on the 10 x 30-minute series Bikini Boys. Budgeted for upwards of US$126,000 per episode, it promises an insider’s look at the grunge and glamour of the fashion industry – from California to New York and Miami. But the series isn’t just about the itsy and bitsy in yellow polka dot bikinis; it’s also an intimate portrait of a life-long friendship.

Born in Columbia, Enrique and Jean-Pierre have vastly different approaches to building an empire. Enrique comes from a wealthy sugar cane family and is a true entrepreneur. Whether it’s schmoozing celebrities into wearing his tiny suits, lunching with magazine editors or haggling for a better deal on a location shoot, he tackles the task. Jean-Pierre is more laissez-faire, figuring if he lives the life of luxury and manages to get noticed, perhaps that’s enough. The contrast provides for both drama and humor.

Bikini Boyshas already gained interest from both the male-targeted U.S. net Spike TV, and MTV. A one-off version is also under consideration. KB

In case of yukai, yell

Most English-speaking Gen-Yers boast a Japanese vocabulary limited to domo arigato (Mr. Roboto, domo…domo). Now, a bizarre story of political abduction is set to expand this repertoire by at least one word: yukai. Japanese for ‘kidnapped,’ it’s also the title of a one-hour one-off currently in development at Bondi, Australia-based Hilton Cordell Productions.

The tale begins at the end of the Cold War and stretches into the present campaign against the ‘Axis of Evil.’ Like any good intrigue, it has all the requisite protagonists: unwitting victims, in this case three Japanese families caught up in a political storm that has thundered on for 25 years; an ethically questionable mastermind, played by North Korea; the reluctant insiders – captured North Korean spies who deliver startling testimonies; and a cast of supporting characters – politicians, media organizations, right-wing support groups – most with hidden motives that give the story its twists and turns.

Scheduled to deliver in January, Yukai! The Japan-North Korean Abduction Cases has piqued interest from Australian pubcaster SBS and Finland’s YLE, as well as Montreal-based distributor Films Transit. The budget is approximately AUS$440,000 (US$320,000).

Also targeting an early ’05 delivery is The Colony, Australia’s first living history series. Presently shooting, the 6 x 60-minute production is giving a group of English, Irish and Australian ‘pioneers’ a chance to experience Oz exactly as its first settlers did. Some will morph into convicts, others will become farmers, inn-keepers and other town folk.

Hilton Cordell is producing the AUS$3.6 million ($2.6 million) program. Partners include SBS, Ireland’s RTE, The History Channel in the U.K., and London-based RDF International. KB

Knights of the roundel tableau

Night after night, the RAF’s Bomber Command filled the skies above occupied Europe with machines and metal, fulfilling their slogan: Strike hard. Strike sure. But they themselves were not immune to the hazards of war. During WWII, Bomber Command lost more than 55,000 airmen in the line of duty, and more than 10,000 became prisoners of war.

Following on its Spitfire Ace project, London’s RDF Media is producing Bomber Crew for an end-of-year delivery to Channel 4 in the U.K. The 4 x 60-minute series will recount the history of Bomber Command during WWII, interviewing dozens of veteran airmen to discover what it was like to hang in the air above fields of exploding flack on their way to deliver their payloads. The series will also delve into the controversy that dogs the veterans of this elite branch of the service – volunteers all, who have never been given a campaign medal for their efforts.

Bomber Crew wraps at the end of this year and is being produced for £190,000 (US$350,000) per episode. RDF International will handle distribution. BC

About The Author
Managing editor with realscreen publication, an international print and online magazine that covers the non-fiction film and television industries. Darah is an award-winning journalist who has spent over two decades covering a wide range of issues from real estate and urban development to immigration, politics and human rights, primarily with The Vancouver Sun. Prior to joining realscreen, she was editor of Stream Daily, realscreen's sister publication covering the dynamic global digital video industry. She also served a stint as a war reporter in Afghanistan for television and print, and was a national business blogger with Yahoo Canada.