TDF 2005: war, football and sex toys

Pump you up
June 1, 2005

Pump you up

A bigger penis; a smaller waist; hot women; lower interest – these are all things anyone with an email account has been offered through unsolicited marketing blasts. But rather than just delete his spam like most of us do, Toronto-based director Dave Manning plans to make the most of it. He’s going to reply to all of those hateful messages to see what happens. Spam: The Documentary will follow Manning as he visits spam-spewers themselves, such as Scott Richter, who calls himself a ‘high-volume email deployer.’ Manning will also travel to ‘spam hotbed’ Boca Raton, Florida in his efforts to strip the wires of the email marketing world.

Produced by Toronto-based Chocolate Box Entertainment and supported by CBC Newsworld and Telefilm Canada, the 40-minute one-off has a budget of US$227,000, and was looking for another $58,000 at theTDF. Set for delivery this October, Spam will be filmed in Canada, the U.S. and the U.K.

Appreciative of the use of humor in Manning’s clip – at one point he suctions his cheek with a penis pump – Andrea Meditch, senior CE at Discovery Docs, asked when Manning will wrap the story, to which he replied: ‘When my credit card runs out of money.’ SBS Independent’s acquisitions and development consultant Mark Atkin was concerned that too much comedy might obscure the message. He was interested in a longer version, as was Leena Pasanen of YLE Teema. ‘Length is never a problem for us!’ jumped in Chocolate Box producer Sally Blake. AA

Following the money trail

Filmmaker Allison Grace was tired of having debates with her boyfriend about whether donations to his sponsored child in Africa were actually getting to the boy. So, they decided to see for themselves. They plan to travel together to the Republic of Guinea to find Mamady, the boy Mark is helping to support, to see how his money is being spent. Along the way, they plan to explore the political and psychological reasons Westerners contribute millions to child sponsorship programs.

Just A Dollar A Day, produced by Toronto-based Fall From Grace Productions, is slated for a December delivery, and will show both Allison’s point of view (she calls herself a ‘committed skeptic’) and Mark’s (a ‘genuine believer’). With a budget of US$203,000, the hour-long film still needed a quarter of its budget as of the TDF. Vision TV, the Knowledge Network and the Canadian International Development Agency already back it.

David Rabinovitch, national production exec for Detroit Public Television, remarked that the investigation angle is ‘an absolutely great idea,’ and said the real story lies in the search for Mamady, not finding him. Nancy Abraham, HBO’s VP of original doc programming, noted that while Dollar is a possibility for her channel, she wants to learn more about the research that has already been done. Hans Robert Eisenhauer, head of Thema at ZDF-ARTE, agreed that sponsorship is an important subject (he’s doing a film on tsunami charities later this year), but thought Dollar ‘needs to have characters closer to [Europeans] and our experience’ for him to get involved. AA

Lost and found

Every year, about 50,000 Israeli soldiers are discharged from the army. Of that number, roughly 30,000 head east to blow off steam in India. It’s so common a destination that the Lonely Planet travel guides have a special section for such travelers. But the dark side is that over 90% of these young adults experiment heavily with drugs – casual drugs during the day, harder drugs at night. Every year, 2,000 of these ex-soldiers suffer psychotic breaks due to drug use and must be hospitalized in Israel. It’s such a regular occurrence that there are companies families can hire that specialize in bringing sick and confused children home.

In Flipping Out, a 90-minute HD special from Topia Communications in Tel Aviv, director Yoav Shamir (Checkpoint) will follow the soldiers from their rescue in Goa to their treatment in Kfar Izun (Balance Village), a psychiatric institute on the Mediterranean dedicated to their rehabilitation. The US$390,000 film has already attracted help from The New Israeli Foundation for Cinema and TV and Channel 2 Keshet, and the film is being distributed by Tel Aviv’s Cinephil.

SBS’ Mark Atkin wondered if the producers could put the number of Israeli soldiers flipping out in global perspective against those of other nationalities, and said the filmmakers needed to explain the ‘why’ behind the flip-outs. Channel 3′s Windhorst stressed the latter point, saying the filmmakers had to make clear the differences between just anyone flipping out and it happening to Israeli soldiers.

‘Storyville’ CE Nick Frasier said he was definitely interested in the project, and noted it ‘should be as big and ambitious and moving as possible.’ Flemming Grenz, executive producer of coproductions at DR TV Denmark, summed up his thoughts by saying: ‘Even I can’t find any reason not to accept this – if this film can do half as well as Checkpoint, I’m satisfied.’ BC

Shoot ‘em up

It’s hard to believe today’s violent first-person fighter video games stem from the same industry that released Pong and Super Mario Brothers. Forget idly munching away an afternoon playing Pac Man, today’s games center around beating prostitutes for money and capping opponents at point blank range.

It’s been predicted that in 2006, video games will be a US$20-billion industry. Interested in exploring this phenomenon, Toronto-based prodco Red Apple Entertainment is filming Blood, Sweat and Code, a 2 x 1-hour doc about the culture of these games and how they’re changing the world. As Red Apple notes, some groups in the Middle East use suicide bomber games as a method of training, and the U.S. military also embraces game technologies in its ‘Future Combat Systems’ initiative. With a $1.1 million budget, Blood will be shot in HD, and released in September, 2006. At the TDF, it was backed by the CBC, CTF and tax credits.

NHK producer Takahiro Hamano thought the Japanese audience would be interested in the doc, and asked if the big players in the gaming industry will comment in the film. (The producers are in discussions with Sony.) Although France 5′s head of acquisitions and international coproductions Ann Julienne didn’t know where the doc would fit in her sked, she liked the idea and wanted to talk further with the producers. AA

Troubled minds

As with most rebel factions, whether one views the Tamil Tigers as terrorists or freedom fighters depends on your politics. But politics have become so ingrained in Sri Lanka that many are willing to die fighting for them. If that means becoming a suicide bomber, so be it.

In My Daughter…, a 52-minute film from Snitt Film Production in Oslo, the lives of two prospective suicide bombers are profiled. Both are bright, idealistic young women who are willing to do anything to further their cause, including detonating a claymore strapped to their bodies in the hopes of killing their enemies. The film will use both the guerrilla’s own and originally shot footage to explore their past lives, as well as that of their families and their victims.

With a budget of about US$400,000, My Daughter… has the support of TV2 Denmark and the Freedom of Expression Fund. The HD film could be delivered by June, 2006.

Catherine Olsen, EP at the CBC and CBC Newsworld, thought the filmmakers had identified two interesting women, but she was concerned the film not romanticize their actions. Nathalie Windhorst of Channel 3 in the Netherlands said she might consider the film as an acquisition, but observed that the pitch sounded like it was describing a situation and not telling a story. She also said the title suggested it was the mothers telling the story, not the daughters. TV2 Denmark CE Mette Hoffmann Meyer said the way the story is told will ultimately depend on the footage the filmmakers capture, but stressed the film would be a critical look at the situation and not a propaganda doc. BC

Cleese and cleats

With football (aka soccer) fans around the globe anxiously counting down to the 2006 World Cup finals, it’s decidedly prime time for a comprehensive film on the sport. Using the alphabet as the basis for a discussion about some of the key terms in football, Frankfurt-based prodco Hermann Vaske’s Emotional Network hopes to score with The Art of Football – From A to Z, a 90-minute one-off to be hosted by Monty Python alum John Cleese. Cleese will lead viewers through each letter – like D for defense and L for luck. The HD film will also investigate hooliganism, which is now as common to the game as corner kicks.

Supported by the German Football Association Cultural Foundation and ZDF-ARTE, the producers were looking to net just over half of the roughly US$2.2 million budget.

Keith Brown, VP of news and docs at Spike TV, was interested in an acquisition and asked if any sport legends will be featured. (Biggies such as Pelle and Beckham will appear). SBS’ Mark Atkin, who joked that one ‘S’ in SBS stands for soccer, asked if the film would be available as three 26-minute shorts, and was told: ‘Nothing is impossible.’ Bill Binnemans, head of docs at RTBF, noted that football is an institution in Belgium, adding, ‘This is a green card – we’re in.’ AA

Blood is thicker than love

In the Gaza strip, it is estimated that 70% of Muslims are united in badal marriages – arranged unions in which a brother and sister from one family marry the sister and brother of another. In theory, this is a delicate pact in which no man can wrong his wife without harming his sister. In practice, the arrangement further oppresses women, keeping them in near servitude. Rather than face the prospect of destroying two families, the women stay in unhappy – and often abusive – marriages.

In Badal, Tel Aviv’s Trabelsi Productions will examine the badal phenomenon from a personal perspective. The filmmaker’s aunt, Um Waji, has proposed a badal marriage for her widowed son and his daughter, who at 21 risks becoming an old maid by local standards. The 58-minute film will follow the charismatic Waji as she wheels and deals in the courtyard outside their home, attempting to find the best wife for her son.

Badal will revolve around life in the courtyard, including what the prospective bride and groom think, but it will also step back to examine the phenomenon writ large with the help of a divorce lawyer who specializes in badal cases. The US$200,000 film has the support of Channel 2 Keshet in Israel, as well as $93,000 in funding from the Spirit of Freedom competition from the Jerusalem Film Festival.

Most of the CEs in attendance agreed with PBS’ Pam Hogan when she noted that the pitch was impressive, especially given the aunt’s obvious personality, but it needed to reveal more about the other characters in the film. Leena Pasanen, CE at Finland’s YLE Teema – who quipped that her mother still believed in arranged marriages – commented that although the angle was new, the subject of arranged marriages isn’t. Still, she noted, the pitch was impressive, especially given that Waji is obviously a ‘mother from hell.’

‘Hey,’ responded filmmaker Ibtisam Mara’ana, ‘she’s my aunt!’ BC

Playing the odds

Passed from parent to child, Huntington’s Disease causes a degeneration that leads to uncontrolled movements, emotional turmoil and loss of intellectual ability. Children of those affected have a 50/50 chance of inheriting the gene. A new film named for these odds will show some of the ethical issues linked to the incurable disease.

The Levinson/Fontana Company, a New York-based prodco and financier of the US$290,000 film, will use both dramatic and documentary techniques to show the toll this crippling disease has on its victims by having actors interact with patients. Producer/director Theodore Bogosian was looking for the remaining half of his budget.

Melanie Wallace, senior series producer for ‘Nova’ at Boston pubcaster WGBH, was concerned with the balance of fiction and non-fiction – a technique Bogosian said will be used to enhance the drama elements. Jennifer Hyde, director of development for CNN Productions, added that she had seen the rough cut of 50/50, and had ‘absolutely no

idea what was fictionalized,’ which she said might be problematic for a news channel. Bogosian said video effects and transitional elements will be used to identify which parts include actors. AA

What’s in a name?

For Toronto-based filmmaker Jamie Kastner, the question ‘Are you Jewish?’ opens a whole world of implications. As simple as they may seem initially, notes Kastner, the words raise the ghosts of allegiances past, blame, history and racism. So, he’s decided to pursue them.

In the spirit of the 1964 film Black Like Me, Kastner and his Cave 7 Productions prodco are setting out to film the 90-minute Kike Like Me, a film exploring the question of ‘Jewishness.’ He plans to talk to everyone from famous Jewish comedian Jackie Mason to Kabala convert Madonna. He will interview frontline Israeli soldiers, the makers of Jewish beer He’Brew, and characters such as the disillusioned Jew who is trying to grow his foreskin back through the use of weights. (We’ll leave that one to your imagination…) The film could be completed by June of 2007.

Kastner is beginning this idiosyncratic journey with the help of TV Ontario, which has contributed to the US$240,000 film. Although TVO CE Rudy Buttignol said he hates the title – and refers to it as KLM for official purposes – he says Kastner has established himself as a skilled satirist through such films as Djangomania!, and he’s looking forward to the filmmaker’s take on the subject. Sinai Abt, head of Channel 8 in Israel, said he likes the approach, but suspects that when Kastner comes to Israel he will be considered a Canadian, and no longer a Jew. The BBC’s Frasier, Alberta Nokes (director of indie production and EP at Vision TV in Canada), and Nancy Abraham at HBO all loved the pitch – and unanimously agreed the title had to go. Bill Binnemans at RTBF noted that anyone approached by Kastner for funding finds it impossible to say no, which seemed to hold true. Jean-Pierre Laurendeau, VP of programming at Canal D, said his channel would love first window in Canada – but he might have to compete with Catherine Olsen of the CBC, who said she also wanted the film, despite the complications that arise when two domestic pubcasters work together. 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.