realscreen‘s MIPCOM Picks

This summer, we threw open our ftp site for clip submissions, and hundreds flowed in from around the world. The criteria was simple: the projects had to be new product that had not come to market in completed form before. (Previously pitched films were acceptable.) Each was screened in a three-stage judging process that narrowed the list down to the picks you find below. We've included a little bit of everything, but each is a notable project in its own right. We hope by doing this, we've saved you a bit of leg work.
September 1, 2006

This summer, we threw open our FTP site for clip submissions, and hundreds flowed in from around the world. The criteria was simple: the projects had to be new product that had not come to market in completed form before. (Previously pitched films were acceptable.) Each was screened in a three-stage judging process that narrowed the list down to the picks you find below. We’ve included a little bit of everything, but each is a notable project in its own right. We hope by doing this, we’ve saved you a bit of leg work.

Rich Bride, Poor Bride
There are lots of lifestyle shows out there. But when someone does it right, it stands out. Rich Bride does it right, perfectly capturing the drama, economics and entropy of that ‘special day.’ The characters are likeable and accessible, and they vary enough from show to show that the format doesn’t get tired from multiple exposures. Though produced in Canada, localisms are almost non-existent, ensuring the series will travel well. Check out this series, and you’ll likely say ‘I do.’
Partners: Buck Productions (Toronto), through Alliance Atlantis (Canada)
Aired previously on: Life Network (Canada), 2006
Length: 26 x 30 minutes
Rights available: Worldwide, except US

To Catch a Liar
The average person is lied to 100 times per day – journalists far more than that. Yet research shows fewer than one in 1,000 people know when they are being lied to. This special puts lie detection technology to the test, and examines the science of deception – it even shows a lie forming in the brain.

Liar is fun science: accessible and interesting. It even postulates that we developed bigger brains so we could be more deceptive, which is a useful excuse to have on hand.
Partners: Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Aired previously on: ABC TV (Australia), 2006
Length: 26 minutes
Rights available: Worldwide, all media

A Revolving Door
There’s something pathetically seductive about Tommy Lennon. Watching him is like waiting for an unavoidable car crash. He’s the quintessential blonde Cali beach boy, but he’s struggling with addiction, mental illness and a head injury he suffered while surfing. His parents credit the injury with a loss of impulse control that led to heroin and mania, then to homelessness, mental institutions and jail. It was in jail that doctors diagnosed Lennon as bipolar and delusional.

If that seems like a weighty subject, it is and it isn’t. Lennon’s likability dispels the blackness which would otherwise cloud the frame had the camera been trained on a less charismatic character. Braverman’s film will make you re-examine your beliefs about mental illness and drug abuse, and open a door to an incredibly complex character in a seemingly hopeless situation.
Partners: Braverman Productions (Santa Monica), through Peleton Entertainment for US rights, and Solid Entertainment for foreign. Educational/institutional through New Day Films
Wrapping: Completed
Length: 39, 46 and 55 minutes
Rights available: Worldwide, theatrical and television

The Sweet Soul Burlesque Road Show
Costumes, lingerie, hula hoops, fans, glitter, red velvet curtains and a big pink bus (with Jacuzzi). As Stan Lee once quipped: ‘Nuff said.’

Sweet Soul follows a troupe of sassed-out femmes bent on burlesque revival as they tramp from town to town. Not the ditsy, stereotypical pin-ups you’d expect, these women aim to undermine traditional standards of beauty and, in the words of one Sweet Soul, advise ‘flaunting your beauty and commodifying yourself.’

It promises to be a frivolous, feathered romp – providing the producers can find the partners they require.
Partners: ReThink Entertainment (Toronto)
Wrapping: Likely 2008
Length: 13 x 30 minutes
Rights available: Worldwide, all media

The Vampire Princess
At Schwarzenberg Castle, near the Czech town of Cesky Krumlov, archaeologists have found a 250-year-old skeleton of a woman, her decapitated head placed between her legs – themselves weighted down with stones. A rosary drapes the body, and the remains of a wooden stake protrude from the chest cavity.

What we’ve got here is a vampire, folks. At least, that’s the theory. Could this young noblewoman be the origin of the vampire legends? Research says she’s the princess Maria Josepha of Schwarzenberg who, as a child, suffered from porphyry, a disease that turned even the smallest exposure to sunlight into agony.

Recreations and remarkable CGI make this a fun film to watch. And who knows? Maybe it wasn’t a count from Transylvania but a Bohemian princess behind the vampire myth after all.
Partners: ORF (Austria), looking for partners
Wrapping: Summer 2007
Length: Likely 50 minutes
Rights available: Worldwide, all media

The Henry Rollins Show
To be honest, this one is on the edge of realscreen‘s coverage, as it walks the line between a variety/talk show and lifestyle series, but it was so beloved by the judges that it had to be included.

Henry Rollins is the poster boy for the Gen X generation: he’s angry, angst-ridden and hilarious, and he’s got a more considered take on society and politics than most over-coifed, under-informed news jockeys. Giving him his own show/platform was an obvious choice. Add guests like Oliver Stone and Ozzy Osbourne, give him an opportunity to riff on the things that piss him off, and you’ve got yourself a show.
Partners: Swift Rivers Productions (LA) for The Independent Film Channel (US), available through iD Distribution (London)
Wrapping: Completed
Length: 20 x 30 minutes and 90 minutes
Rights available: Worldwide TV, cable, VOD and satellite

American Mujahideen
At age 17, Clevin Holt put a gun to his head and toyed with the trigger. Though exhausted by the violence of the Washington, DC ghetto he called home, Holt found a sudden inspiration that caused him to lower the barrel. From that moment, he began a spiritual journey into Islam which saw him reborn as Isa Abdullah Ali.

A physical odyssey followed, with Ali driven to defend Islam around the world. In the ’80s, he was the only American known to have fought in Lebanon’s civil war (where he was shot 14 times), then it was self-imposed deployment to Bosnia and other hot spots. Though dubbed a ‘known terrorist’ by the US Defense Department, Ali has never been charged with a crime.

Beyond its obvious timeliness, the pluralities of this film make it a must-see. It’s the personal story of a man who embodies a global clash of civilizations.
Partners: Christina Lowery (freelance, New York), Hype Media (New York), Jody Jenkins (freelance, La Coste, France), and The Educational Media Foundation (Savannah) through Louise Rosen Ltd. (Maine)
Wrapping: 2007
Length: 60 minutes
Rights available: Worldwide, all media

Dead Body Squad
This might be one of those films you’ll see and wish you hadn’t. It sucks you in and you can’t turn it off, despite knowing that if you were really a good person at heart, you probably should.

It’s an hour about a group of cleaners who scour away all traces of death from locations where bodies have been left to rot. Each year, this company based in the south east of England cleans up after more than 100 undiscovered deaths and suicides. Thing is, the gross-out factor is more than balanced by the humor, black as it may be at times. Most of the characters in the series, be they cleaners, family or the dead, have stories you want to hear, despite the sometimes gooey visuals. Besides that, you might even learn something about the science of death.
Partners: North One Television (London), through All3Media (London) for Channel 4 (UK)
Aired previously on: Channel 4 (UK), July 2006
Length: 60 minutes
Rights available: Worldwide television

Jonestown: The Life and Death Of Peoples Temple
‘Nobody joins a cult. Nobody joins something they think is going to hurt them. You join a religious organization. You join a political movement. And you join with people you really like.’ So explains a survivor of Jonestown in this Stanley Nelson film. If only humans were always that logical.

But, despite logic and the basic interest of self preservation, over 900 people committed mass suicide in Jonestown in 1978, prompted to collective madness by the viper’s tongue of Jim Jones. How was it that Jones could command such loyalty? What becomes of self when faith slips into zealotry? How is it that parents could be made to violate one of the basic precepts of humanity and poison their own children?

The story of Jonestown has been told before, but not likely ever this well. Feature interviews with survivors, never-before-seen footage and audio recordings of Jim Jones should once and for all answer the question of whether or not this world is troubled by true evil.
Partners: Firelight Media (Cali/New York) for WGBH (Boston), in association with the BBC
Wrapping: Completed
Length: 90 minutes
Rights available: Worldwide, all media

The Greatest Tree on Earth
If you’ve ever wondered what people do in Oregon, we have the answer. They grow Christmas trees – lots of them. The state produces five million every year, and is the largest supplier in the US. And Oregon is only one of countless international spots where such trees are grown. It makes one wonder where all those trees go, and what sort of history led us to this strange custom.

Well, wonder no more. Greatest Tree looks at the development of the Christmas tree from pagan times to current day, stopping to look in on everyone from Martin Luther to a white witch. Some of the best tv makes you think about common things you have never considered before, revealing complexities you would have never guessed. This is certainly one of those specials, and it’s natural holiday programming.
Partners: Parthenon Entertainment (London) and NDR Naturfilm for Tonis (Russia), Oasis HD (Canada) and Rai (Italy)
Wrapping: Completed
Length: 60 minutes
Rights available: Worldwide, excluding German speaking territories and Finland

Urban Legends
So, this guy, he goes to Brazil and gets loaded. Totally blitzed. And he passes out, and – I swear to God – wakes up in a bathtub without his kidneys. Seriously. One of my friends told me. It’s true.

Or is it? Each episode of Urban Legends tells three stories, but only one of them is true. Using recreations, feature interviews, stock footage and a lot of humor, the stories are well told and don’t tip their hand until the very last minute. One of the strengths of the format is the familiarity of the stories, as well as the audience’s desire for them to be validated. It’s almost disappointing when you find out which one isn’t true. But then, you always knew that was a ridiculous story, didn’t you?
Partners: Cineflix (Montreal), NextFilm (Toronto) and Media Productions (London), in association with History Television (Canada), A&E Television Networks (US), Five (UK) and Fox International Channels. Distributed through Cineflix International Distribution (London)
Wrapping: September 2006
Length: 15 x 30 minutes
Rights available: Various

Reigning In Hell
When Milton said it was ‘better to reign in hell than serve in heaven,’ it’s doubtful he had America’s prisons in mind. But Milton didn’t have to come to the prison. The prisoners came to him.

The Aryan Brotherhood is a gang that rules the us prison system through intimidation and overwhelming violence, yet members write coded messages to each other using a method developed by 17th century British spy Sir Francis Bacon, and the gang insists recruits study everything from Greek philosophy to Oriental classics on the art of war. It’s a syndicate accused of hundreds of beatings and killings, racketeering and drug dealing – all behind the guarded walls of the federal penitentiary system.

In an attempt to take them down, officials have flown 40 of the Brotherhood’s leaders to LA for one of the biggest cases in us legal history. Over half the defendants face the death penalty.

Viewers are fascinated with anti-heroes, and this film has them to spare. Add unique access, never-before-seen footage and stills, and a court case that would have made even Milton raise an eyebrow, and you’ve got some appointment viewing on your hands.
Partners: Leopard Films (London), through Leopard International for Channel 4 (UK) and Court TV (US)
Wrapping: Completed
Length: 50 minutes
Rights available: Various

The Boys of Baraka
Strap yourself in, because you’re getting on a roller coaster. A group of young boys from one of the worst neighborhoods in the us are offered an opportunity to participate in a study abroad course in Africa. They’re handed a lifeline from the cesspool that is their daily life – only to have it yanked away a year into what was supposed to be a two-year course. Unstable local politics has made life at the school too tenuous. Question is: what happens to the boys of Baraka now?

This is not another film where white Americans discover that black Americans have problems and decide to follow them with cameras. It’s a complicated tale of hope offered and snatched away, and it’s well worth the 82 minutes. Plus, the DVD has a feature interview with Bill Cosby that’s as insightful as the movie.
Partners: Loki Films (New York), through CS Associates (Watertown), with funding from ITVS (US)
Aired previously on: PBS (US), September 2006
Length: 54 and 82 minutes
Rights available: All media, outside US

The Battle for Saddam & Milosevic on Trial (w/t)
They are two of the most high profile political court cases you’re likely to see, and both are being expertly covered by the same company. Not quite history, nor current events, the topics for both these films – the Milosevic and Hussein trials – are a tough tightrope to walk. Given the agonizing pace with which world events transform themselves into reliable, documented and well analyzed history, it would be easy for coverage to tack into sensationalism or tabloid journalism. Team Productions manage to avoid both, largely by gaining unique and immediate access to the players. The result is a detailed examination of the events as they take place. With the Milosevic trial, there is resolution (not necessarily justice), but viewers will have to wait along with the producers to see what becomes of Hussein.

Team Productions (Copenhagen), through TV2 (Denmark) for TV2, BBC (UK), ZDF/ARTE (Germany), SVT (Sweden), TSR (Switzerland), RTBF (Belgium). Additional funding from Media Plus, The Danish Film Institute
Wrapping: At end of trial
Length: 60 and 90 minutes
Rights available: Various

Team Productions (Copenhagen), through TV2 (Denmark) for TV2, BBC (UK), ZDF/ARTE (Germany), SVT (Sweden), NRK (Norway), YLE (Finland), TSR (Switzerland), RTBF (Belgium), VPRO (Netherlands), SBS (Australia), NFB (Canada). Additional funding from Media Plus, Sundance Institute, The Danish Film Institute
Wrapping: December 2006
Length: 2 x 60 and 90 min.
Rights available: Various

Killer Poet
Sometimes it’s hard not to root for the bad guy. That’s certainly the case when it comes to Norman Porter. Several decades ago, Porter escaped from Norfolk Prison in Massachusetts where he was serving time for a double murder. He managed to avoid capture for 20 years, living under the assumed name of JJ Jameson. (No one noticing, apparently, that he named himself after a Spiderman heavy…) In that time, Porter became one of Chicago’s most famous street poets. He was active on both the board of his church and in grassroots politics. He even became a radio talk-show regular.

When it comes to the penal system, the issue of retribution versus reformation is certainly contentious. This film will not make it any easier to decide, though the filmmakers do a good job trying to represent both sides of the argument in Porter’s case. Regardless of where you stand, it’s a hell of a tale. As the saying goes, truth is certainly stranger than fiction.
Partners: Northern Light Productions (Boston), through Louise Rosen Ltd (Maine)
Wrapping: Early 2007
Length: 60 minutes, with possible feature cut
Rights available: Worldwide, all media

Combat Diary: The Marines of Lima Company
As one marine points out, no one specifically told them they weren’t allowed to shoot video while stationed in Iraq. So they did. Lots. On digital cameras and phones, or any small, portable electronics they could get their hands on.

Vietnam may have been the first war brought into living rooms via the nightly news, but the second Iraq War will be the first brought to viewers on home video – unedited, very verité, as it happens. This special is built on some of that footage, namely the clips shot by the marines of Lima Company during their tour of duty in the suck.

While other clips like these are making their way around the Net, and driving the Pentagon and Defense Department crazy in the process, this is one of the first specials to make use of the footage for primetime. It’s guaranteed to surprise and educate.
Partners: Viewfinder Productions (Boston) for A&E Network (US)
Aired previously on: A&E (US), May 2006
Length: 120 minutes
Rights available: Worldwide, television and video

Gene Simmons Family Jewels
Comparisons to The Osbournes are inescapable. After all, both are reality series about the families of rock stars. But it’s an incomplete observation. Perhaps Gene Simmons is what The Osbournes could have been had Ozzy not inhaled so much while on tour.

Beyond Simmons and his co-habitrix (not wife) of 23 years, Playboy Playmate Shannon Tweed, the family boasts two articulate children who never incite the urge to kick them (repeatedly), as Ozzy’s spawn do. There’s also a thread of more advanced humor woven into the series – even on the part of Tweed, which is great vindication for those fans attracted to the more tangible qualities she demonstrated in 1981. Some of the situations are contrived, and if this is ‘real life’ (as A&E bills it), we all should have spent less time cramming for exams in college, but it’s a fun series that will suck viewers in and could be with us for a while.
Partners: The Greif Company/A Day With, Inc (LA) and the Gene Simmons Company (LA) for the A&E Network
Aired previously on: A&E Network (US), August 2006
Length: 13 x 30 minutes
Rights available: Worldwide TV and video

Circus of God
Circus of God is the perfect title for this peek inside the tent revival movement. It’s not confined to the back woods of America, and this film proves it, with characters like Ron Hooper, a 70-year-old Canadian who has been ministering since 1952; and Todd Bentley, a 20-something fire-breather who travels from North America to Africa to spread the word as energetically as the superstructure of the stage will allow.

Let’s face it, most of us can appreciate good ‘there but for the grace of God go I’ viewing (pun intended), and this is it. This is a world most North American viewers live on the edge of and have probably wondered about. This film gives them unique access.
Partners: Partners In Motion (Regina), through Harmony Entertainment Management (Regina) for Vision and SCN (both Canada)
Wrapping: Completed
Length: 60 minutes
Rights available: Worldwide, excluding Canada

Two words: phenomenal access. There are points during this film when you can’t help but wonder what the hell the people on screen were thinking. Why would anyone allow themselves to be immortalized like this?

Slippin’ is a feature film about the Bloods of South Central Los Angeles, or more specifically, about some members of a sub-gang called the Rollin’ 20s. The film follows them from 1993 to 2003, as drugs and violence devastate this illegal and dysfunctional collective. The access is remarkable: from crackheads explaining schemes to raise money for their next score to Beretta-wielding dealers elucidating on the need for a clean drop weapon. All this madness is scored to performances by the likes of Afrika Bambaataa, Grand Master Flash, Run (of Run DMC), Ying Yang Twins, and Kurtis Blow, who also serves as coproducer on the doc.

At the end, there is salvation for some, violent death and incarceration for others. You may think you’ve seen this before, but you haven’t. Not like this.
Partners: Indies Tommy Sowards and Joachim Schroeder (LA), through ReThink Entertainment (Toronto)
Wrapping: Completed
Aired previously on: Showtime (US), September 2006
Length: 90, plus TV format
Rights available: All media, outside of US

Waltz With Bashir
This one is obviously a realscreen favorite, as we picked it to pitch at the last MIPDOC. Waltz With Bashir is an animated journey into Western Beirut during the Sabra and Chatila massacre in September 1982. Beyond being a timely and fascinating topic, the first-person narration over animation is a unique way of telling a tale that could easily bog down in gory clips or he-said/she-said politically charged interviews. This is simply the story of one man’s observations.

From the list of partners already attached, it’s clear we aren’t the only ones who see the promise in this film. But there are important territories still up for grabs.
Partners: Les Films d’Ici (Paris) and Gang Production for The New Israeli Foundation, arte France, Channel 8 (Israel), DR (Germany), ITVS (US), RTBF (Belgium), SVT (Sweden), SBS (Australia), TSR (Switzerland), YLE (Finland)
Wrapping: September 2007
Length: 60 or 80 minutes
Rights available: Worldwide, except Australia, Belgium, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Israel, Sweden, Switzerland, and US

Nigel Marven’s Ugly Animals & Nigel Marven’s Rhino Adventure
Like legions of viewers around the world, our judges obviously have a thing for Nigel Marven, because they recommended two new specials from the Brit naturalist of the ‘Wot’s all this then?’ accent.

First up is Ugly Animals, which exposes viewers to everything from warthogs to vultures, hagfish to ghost-faced bats. With mugs only mothers could love, these animals may actually survive and thrive thanks to their odd looks – much like Paris Hilton.

Next is Rhino Adventure, which sees the natural historian fondling rhinos in a way one really shouldn’t if one wants to retain use of one’s limbs. But it seems to work for Marven, and he survives long enough to teach viewers about rhino physiology, as well as the fate of endangered species such as the black and the white rhino. Plus, there’s some time spent exploring the nature of the extinct woolly and dwarf rhinos, which is worth the price of admission alone.
Partners: Image Impact (Bristol) and Thirteen/WNET (New York), through Fremantle International Distribution (London)
Wrapping: Completed
Length: 60 minutes each
Rights available: World, excluding Austria, Germany, Italy, Switzerland (German and Italian), UK and US for both

You’ll likely approach this film with visions of Spellbound dancing in your head, but it won’t take long to disavow misconceptions that this is simply a clone. There’s a great story here, and it’s got something to do with a toy you’ve probably forgotten about.

The Rubik’s Cube seems like it should have gone the way of the legwarmer by now, but here it is, back with a vengeance. Cubers follows the path of six ‘speedcubers’ as they work their way through competition, vying for the title of ‘World’s Fastest Cuber.’ It takes some of these characters less than 10 seconds to solve a cube – like chess players, they have grand master-like strategies that have been passed down between cuber (cubist?) generations. They are intelligent, they are legion, and many of them are out there on the edge, waving back with disconcerting smiles on their face.

Combine Trekkies with Spellbound, add the sound of a few hundred Rubik’s Cubes clattering towards solution, and you have an idea of what this film’s about. Freaky and fascinating.
Partners: Red Cube Productions (Halifax/Toronto), through ReThink Entertainment (Toronto) for the CBC (Canada). Additional funding in place.
Wrapping: November 2006
Length: 60 minutes and feature-length
Rights available: Worldwide, excluding Canada

Countdown on the Yangtze
If you pardon the expression, there’s been a flood of Yangtze projects up for grabs of late. Many filmmakers are telling stories of cities being swamped by rising water, or the forced relocation of farmers and towns, and audiences are certainly interested. But what Countdown has that most others lack is perspective.

In 1995, filmmaker Thomas Weidenbach filmed on the Yangtze, the result being his prize-winning doc Land unter am Jangtse. Weidenbach and his film partners have returned to see how the project is progressing, and will therefore be able to offer filmed comparatives so viewers can judge for themselves. Add to that their already established access, illustrated with some solid cgi animation, and you have a film guaranteed to tell the story of the river so closely intertwined with the soul of China.
Partners: Laengengrad Filmproduktion (Cologne), through German United Distributors (Cologne) for WDR (Germany), ARTE (France)
Wrapping: Early 2008
Length: 52 or 75 minutes
Rights available: Worldwide, excluding Germany and ARTE window

Samurai Sword: The Making of a Legend
While the US Secret Service might obsess about its JAR (which, oddly enough, stands for ‘just another rifle’), nothing compares to the love, admiration and legend that has grown around the sword of the Samurai. Tied to a spiritual and social structure that lives on into our own time, the chief weapon of the Japanese warrior class was also a tool of technological perfection that seen few rivals.

This examination includes great explanations and recreations, and is a story which (to our recollection) has not been told before. With audiences inundated by footage of world conflict and coverage of complex weapons systems that sometimes fail when needed most, this film makes for a great counterpoint, recalling a day when warriors had nothing save their wits, their blade and their honor.
Partners: attention! films and Parthenon Entertainment (London), in association with NDR/ARTE (Germany), for National Geographic Channels International and ARTE
Wrapping: Completed
Length: 60 minutes
Rights: Worldwide, excluding France and Germany

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.