On The Slate

IDFA: psychadelics, strippers and rap
January 1, 2005

IDFA: psychadelics, strippers and rap
Breathe. Pitch. Show clip. Get pounced on or praised (and sometimes both) by commissioning editors from around the world. So goes the drill for producers at the Forum for International Co-financing of Documentaries, the 12th edition of which took place at the Paradiso theater November 22 to 24, 2004. The renowned pitching event, held during the International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam (IDFA), followed a dizzying, yet highly regimented schedule: 47 projects were presented of the record 189 applications received. A new, shortened day of pitches (an agenda which has been adopted indefinitely) ended at 2:30 P.M., giving filmmakers sufficient time to gather with commissioning editors afterwards for individual meetings. Moderators included Rudy Buttignol of Toronto’s TVOntario; the bbc’s Alan Hayling; Karolina Lidin of Copenhagen’s Filmkontakt Nord; Paul Pauwels of Brussels’ Periscope Productions; Jess Search of London’s Channel 4 (which she left in January); and Diane Weyermann of Salt Lake City’s Sundance Institute. All took their turns reminding funding-hungry producers to breathe.

From steel empire to swingers paradise
At one time, Sheffield was a leader in the steel industry. But when the steel biz folded, the city and its residents were left scrambling for an identity. The Attercliffe district of Sheffield is now home to the region’s newest moneymaker: the sex trade. The area has blossomed into a hotspot for adult entertainment – it even contains Europe’s most successful swingers club. But plans to erect a gigantic casino and accompanying leisure village threaten to run Attercliffe’s sex biz out of town.

Attercliffe Road, an 80-minute one-off from Sheffield’s own Picture Palace North, received positive feedback across the panel. ‘Sheffield rules. I’m in,’ said YLE Teema commissioning editor Leena Pasanen. ‘Brilliant pitch,’ remarked CBC CE Catherine Olsen, who was particularly taken with the stills shown of the city and its scandalous inhabitants. Others expressing their enthusiasm for the E800,000 (US$1.1 million) film included RTBF CE Bill Binnemans, Sundance Channel VP of acquisitions Christian Vesper, ITVS director of programming Claire Aguilar and SVT head of docs Ingemar Persson. Rudy Buttignol, creative head of network programming at TVOntario, liked the producer’s earlier work on Tales from a Hard City, another doc on Sheffield, adding he is very interested in Attercliffe. However, Michael Burns, director of programming at The Documentary Channel in Canada, vowed to compete with Buttignol for the rights.

As of the Forum, E550,000 ($734,000) of the budget had been raised, with a goal of collecting E100,000 ($133,000) more. Production starts in January, 2005 with delivery in March, 2006. Backers include arte France and Screen Yorkshire.

Getting ripped in Kabul
Noor and Hamid are best friends living in post-war Kabul. Amidst this chaotic environment, the trendy young men have devoted themselves to bodybuilding and have achieved extraordinary results, each having won national championships. Afghan Muscles, a 55-minute one-off by Haslund Film in Copenhagen, is a portrait of life in Kabul and follows the vibrant men through their everyday lives, from boogeying at weddings to pumping iron at the gym. Budgeted at E220,000 ($294,000), the film is slated for delivery in summer 2005.

Pamela Hogan, a series producer at Thirteen/WNET, said that while Muscles is an appealing vehicle, it would be difficult to connect the story of the local heroes with a bigger cultural account. Hans Robert Eisenhauer, deputy program director at ARTE G.E.I.E., sees potential in the film, and would like to see more of the two characters – their dreams and relationships with their families – in addition to bodybuilding competitions. Impressed by the clip, RTBF’s Binnemans specifically wanted to learn how the muscular men interact with women. While he said it’s a bit too soon for rtbf to get involved, he may be keen on an acquisition. TV2 Denmark and the Danida Fund were backing the film with a total contribution of E56,000 ($75,000) at the time of the Forum.

Back from the dead
Not many directors can say they’ve died and come back to life. But that’s not true of Emeka Onono. With E104,000 ($139,000) of funding from the BBC, the director and London’s October Films will explore Onono’s experience with Ibogaine, a strong psychedelic used by an ancient African cult. Derived from the bark of a shrub called ‘God’s Tree,’ the drug, which is banned in the U.S., gives users the opportunity to ‘die,’ see God, and return to life cleansed of their sins. Some experience dramatic hallucinations about how they will die – Onono saw that he will be murdered by a mob – while others meet deceased relatives. With a budget of E370,000 ($494,000), Onono plans to explore the scientific, religious and political impacts of Ibogaine in the 52- or 75-minute God’s Tree.

After she jokingly asked, ‘Where do you get this drug?’ ITVS’ Aguilar wondered how much of the film will be split between the director and science, and how the two elements will be interwoven. CBC’s Olsen mentioned the film may be a fit for CBC’s ‘The Passionate Eye’ strand. While SVT’s Persson deadpanned that Swedes are ‘more into heavy drinking and strong alcohol’ than experimenting with these types of drugs, he was also curious about how the story will be told. Onono replied that he will tell the story from his own point of view. Tree is slated for an August, 2005 release.

Fighting with foam
Sticky foam that traps people in place; gases that immobilize demonstrators by making them immediately vomit or defecate; nano-particles that cause cars and people to skid uncontrollably. Although civil rights activists are protesting them, these non-lethal weapons and ‘intelligent agents’ are being created to further protect law enforcement personnel and soldiers against assaults. Produced by Cologne-based Lichtfilm, the E390,000 ($520,000) Future Wars includes Dr. John B. Alexander, a supporter of these types of armaments, as well as opponents.

Krishan Arora, senior CE at the BBC, mentioned there has been a lot on this topic on British TV, so he didn’t think the Beeb would jump onboard. The Documentary Channel’s Burns had a philosophical concern – he said the intention of many of these weapons isn’t sinister since using a taser isn’t as harmful as using bullets and a gun. But producer/director Wolfgang Bergmann replied that the number of people being killed with non-violent weapons is increasing each year, and added that the story is more about the people who use the weapons rather than the equipment itself.

Available in 60- and 90-minute versions, Wars is set for a winter 2005 release, and is backed by ARTE G.E.I.E. and ard/wdr with a total of E110,000 ($147,000).

Props to the ladies
By now, most of the world is over the idea that hip-hop is about male performers rapping about getting paid and constantly laid. Sure, that side still exists, but women have always been part of hip-hop’s backbone, whether as don’t-mess-with-me divas, break dancing marvels or politically conscious MCs. Say My Name, a 60-minute one-off by Amsterdam-based Mamamess, explores women and respect in today’s urban music scene. Female rappers, spoken word artists and R&B singers in the U.K. and the U.S. will be featured performing, and also conversing about the theme.

First-time filmmaker Nirit Peled won one of the daily Moderator’s Hat draws, and her clip received enthusiastic applause. Peled was looking to raise the other half of the doc’s E204,000 ($272,000) budget. Dutch Filmfund and Thuiskopie Fund backed Name at the time of the pitch.

Ikon CE Margje de Koning loved the project, but also wanted to see women from Amsterdam portrayed. She asked for a better idea of the subjects the film will cover, to which the director replied: ‘Respect, bling, sisterhood and baby mommas.’ ITVS’ Aguilar said the existing characters were great, and added that since respect is a general issue, the character’s answers should be specific, ‘so that it’s more than a cheerleading piece.’

Anne Roucan, commissioning editor at France 2, liked the idea of mothers and daughters watching the doc together, and TVO’s Buttignol told Peled, ‘I think you’re worth putting some money on,’ and promised to talk with her about possibilities for his channel.

Porsche activist?
During Yugoslav president Tito’s trip to Cuba in 1979, something peculiar was happening in his country’s capital, Belgrade. An unidentified driver had stolen a white Porsche 911 and was performing high-speed, daredevil maneuvers each night in the city center. Bewildered residents began to gather in large numbers to watch the spectacle, some theorizing that the stunt was a socio-political protest against Tito’s communist regime.

The Phantom, named after the moniker the public gave the infamous driver, is a 58- or 80-minute one-off by Belgrade-based Emote. With a E204,000 ($272,000) budget, the doc follows the story of the mystery driver, from his radio show call-ins taunting police to the crash that ended his glory days burning rubber in the city center.

ARTE France CE Christoph Jörg asked how the reconstructions would be handled, and was told reconstructed archived material would be used. Nick Fraser, CE of the BBC’s ‘Storyville’ strand, wanted to know how the film would be filled up ‘other than saying Tito and communism are crap.’ Still, he noted his affection for wacky stories that happened during communism. Olaf Grunert, a commissioning editor at ZDF/ARTE, also liked the absurdity of the story, adding ‘I think it could be something for me.’

As of the forum, YLE Teema, The City Council of Belgrade and the Jan Vrijman Fund had contributed a total of E35,000 ($47,000) to the doc, which is slated for release in November, 2005.
All IDFA coverage by Alicia Androich.


Mysteries historical and human
In non-IDFA news, Cardiff, Wales-based S4C is offering a helping hand to several projects wrapping in the coming calendar years. Each project has a budget of between US$250,000 and $300,000 per hour.

Ancient Discoveries 2 is a 3 x 1-hour series using CG and location shoots to demonstrate how ancient civilizations created amazing inventions long before we did. Coproduced by Brighton-based Wild Dream Films for S4C and The History Channel in the U.S., the series will wrap by October, 2005.

In Deserting the Land, Cardiff’s Opus Television examines what happens as the world’s population tops six billion, while the proportion of the world’s rural population goes into sharp decline. The 3 x 1-hour series will look at the reasons for the global population shift to urban centers and will also explore the impact on the regions left behind. Produced for S4C with the support of the European Broadcasting Union, the series will wrap late 2006. BC

Tulip tales
In June, 1940, seeking shelter from the hostilities, the Netherlands’ Crown Princess Juliana brought her two daughters to Canada. On January 19, 1943, her third daughter, Princess Margriet, was born in Ottawa – sort of. The Parliament of Canada temporarily handed over ownership of the delivery room at the Ottawa Civic Hospital to the Netherlands so the Princess would be guaranteed Dutch citizenship. The flag of the Netherlands was flown on Parliament’s Peace Tower and the Dutch anthem was played throughout the Canadian capital. Princess Margriet remains the only child of royal blood to be born in North America.

When the war ended, the Dutch royal family sent 100,000 tulip bulbs to Ottawa as thanks for providing shelter (also in recognition of the more than 7,600 Canadian soldiers who died to liberate the Netherlands). They have sent 10,000 more each year since, and Canadian vets march in Liberation Day parades in the Netherlands every May 5.

Tulips for Margriet is a 48-minute doc from Maple Tulip Productions. The film will feature interviews with the vets, Princess Margriet and other notable players in the tale. Wrapping by May, 2005 with a budget of CDN$155,000 ($130,000), the film is being distributed by Harbourfront Entertainment, a division of Canadian broadcast conglom Rogers, and will be broadcast on Rogers’ OMNI2 outlet. The film is part of OMNI’s Independent Producers Initiative, a plan that will see the net commit $32.5 million ($27 million) to ethnic, third-language doc and drama programs until 2009. As part of that commitment, the OMNI Television Documentary Signature Series will ensure that over 80 hours of docs are made in more than 26 languages. English and Dutch versions of Margriet are planned. BC


Fire in the Sky
From Toronto’s Summerhill Entertainment comes a one-hour science quest doc dubbed Riddle of the Polar Sky. Delving into the mystery and science of the aurora borealis, the filmmakers have uncovered a surprising threat that viewers dare not miss. Budgeted at CDN$425,00 ($355,000), the HD special will deliver in September, 2005. Broadcasters include ARD/NDR, The Science Channel, Discovery HD Theater, Discovery Asia, SRC, ARTE and others. Summerhill will distribute. BC

Building a new Eden
Plymouth, U.K.-based Denham Productions has been commissioned by BBC2 to make two one-hour specials: Gardening at Eden (w/t) and Tomorrow’s Eden (w/t) – the first two projects from the new Cornwall office. In Gardening, the producers will follow a team of 60 gardeners at the world’s biggest greenhouse as they plan and tend to ‘Eden,’ a U.K. gardening landmark that attracts millions of visitors each year. Tomorrow’s Eden examines how the spot reconciles its tourist and ecological responsibilities and will follow the construction of a new educational center that marries science, education and entertainment in an ‘architectural statement.’

Both projects will be delivered in summer 2005, with distribution being handled by London-based TVF International. The budget for each sits at about £250,000 ($475,000). BC


H’wood bound
Upcoming from L.A.’s DeepFocus Productions is the feature-length The Chinese in Hollywood Project (w/t). This look at Tinseltown through the lens of the Chinese-American experience will show the ways in which American film has included and portrayed the Chinese. One of the many discoveries made so far includes the first known Chinese-American indie film from 1916, called The Curse of Quon Gwon. Rare film clips will be combined with interviews, like that of 93-year-old Viennese Hollywood legend Luise Rainer. Rainer reminisces about portraying a Chinese peasant in The Good Earth (1937), a role that won her the first of two consecutive Oscars.

The Chinese in Hollywood Project will be between 90 and 120 minutes and is set to wrap in June, 2005. With a budget of more than $750,000, contributors to date include the NEA, the National Asian American Telecommunications Association and the CPB. A distributor was not confirmed as of press time, although the film will broadcast on PBS. Helmed by award-winning filmmaker Arthur Dong, this doc, like his previous Forbidden City, USA, will be a comprehensive look at how pop culture affects perceptions, and misperceptions, of the Chinese in America and the world. SM


A simple cure
New York-based prodco Engle Brothers Media is trying the big screen on for size with its first feature doc A Walk to Beautiful. Known for popular TV series such as National Geographic Channel’s The Mummy Roadshow, the EB crew nonetheless noted the improved market for theatrical docs around the same time it made contact with Dr. Catherine Hamlin. A feisty 84-year-old gynecologist, Hamlin emigrated from Australia to Ethiopia more than 44 years ago and opened a hospital devoted to curing women who’ve been shunned by their communities because they suffer from obstetric fistula. Caused by a difficult childbirth, the condition is characterized by incontinence due to a hole torn between the vagina and the bladder. Though often curable by a simple surgical procedure (obstetric fistula was eradicated in the U.S. in the 19th century), an estimated two million women in the poorest countries in the world suffer from the condition’s ghastly symptoms – the constant drip of urine and sometimes feces down the leg, causing a horrible odor – because they can’t get proper medical treatment.

EB’s Mary Olive Smith is producing and directing the $650,000 HD doc, which is set to wrap this summer. Women Make Movies is a fiscal sponsor, and the prodco intends to launch the film on the 2006 festival circuit. KB

A better pill
With the help of both the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The Amgen Foundation, Santa Barbara-based Crosskeys Media plans to do what few U.S. politicians seem prepared to do – tackle America’s health care issues. Remaking American Medicine is a $5 million, 4 x 1-hour series for San Francisco-based PBS affiliate KQED that will air in early 2006. Remaking will examine the current state of medicine in the U.S. and where it could be. The producers are working with more than 50 medical and advocacy organizations in order to craft this series and the two-year long outreach effort that accompanies it.

In the first hour – ‘Transforming Acute Care’ – the filmmakers look at the system as it is, and examine why hospitals have become such high-risk places. (It is estimated, for example, that 48,000 to 98,000 patients die annually due to preventable errors.) ‘Patient at the Center’ examines how the system is being overwhelmed by patients with chronic illness, and how that affects the doctor/patient relationship. In ‘Perfect Care for Everyone,’ the new hospital model is examined, although the filmmakers demonstrate how economic, social and political barriers obstruct substantive changes to the system. Finally, a doctor’s tradition-bound education is challenged in ‘Remaking Medical Education,’ and new institutions are profiled, ones that offer cutting-edge training intended to create an entirely new medical culture.

Outreach will precede the broadcast and will include a website and web database, an intranet and online newsletter, as well as a national lunch event that will be webcast.BC

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.