Global Production

May 1, 2000


Oi, it’s the King already

Montreal, Canada’s Diversus Productions is working on a feature-length doc which explores Elvis Presley’s Jewish lineage. Entitled Elvis, King of Jerusalem, this quirky documentary harbors the following logic: Elvis’ maternal great-great grandmother, Nancy Tacket, was Jewish, and as Jewish law stipulates that Jewish identity is passed on matrilineally, Presley is thereby Jewish.

The film follows a real-life Canadian Jewish Elvis impersonator named Schmelvis who discovers that Elvis was in fact a Jew by birth, and who then embarks on a pilgrimage down Highway 61 to Graceland to say the Jewish prayer for the dead over the King’s grave.

The film is directed by Max Wallace, producer of On Thin Ice for the CBC, and is being produced by Ari Cohen and Evan Beloff of Diversus. So far, the film has been picked up by Channel 5 in the U.K. It should be completed for February of next year at a budget of about US$145,000.


The little engine that won’t anymore Bundy’s Last Great Adventure is not the name of the new Thomas the Tank Engine novel.

It’s the name of a new doc from Gulliver Film Productions in Brisbane, Australia. Queensland has the largest network of privately owned small-gauge railway tracks in the world, a historic tramway dedicated to the movement of sugar. For the film, a ‘puffing-billy’ named Bundy will travel up the coast of Queensland, from Nambour in the south-east to Mossman in the north. The 2,000km trip will be the last for Bundy, who has been in retirement since 1965 (but at least he’ll go out with what is certain to be a scenic farewell).

Filming begins with the start of the sugar season in August. The travel/adventure doc is scheduled for completion in December of this year. Beyond International is distributing the film, which comes in at about US$200,000. So far, the Seven Network in Australia has already bought passage aboard Bundy.

History lessons

The Hidden Child is a 52-minute journey back in time, told through the recollections of two accomplished history professors whose memories extend back to the Second World War.

Professor Saul Friedlander is a renowned Holocaust historian. His book When Memory Comes has been translated into twelve languages, and he has spoken on the subject around the world. Professor Jan Philipp Reemtsma is an equal authority on the Holocaust and is head of the prestigious History Institute he established in Hamburg, Germany.

Although they are similar today, their pasts are very different. Friedlander was placed by his parents in a convent in France, and given the name Paul-Henry Marie Ferland. Only days before being ordained a Jesuit monk he learned of his Jewish heritage. He fled, boarding a ship bound for Israel, never to see his parents again. By contrast, Reemtsma is the heir to a family fortune that resulted from his father being granted the monopoly for tobacco manufacturing during the Third Reich. Neither professor has been filmed talking about his past until this project.

The Hidden Child is about two men who are worlds apart, yet who are both victims. It is being produced by Omer and Yaniv Productions in Tel Aviv, and is scheduled to be finished in the late summer. The film has the support of National Geographic Channels, the Original Cable Production Fund in Israel, as well as the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial. With a budget of about US$240,000, Hidden Child is being distributed by California’s Powersports Millennium International.

Natural History

Swampland in Florida?

Spanning two million acres of wetland, the Florida Everglades might not strike you as the most desirable of dwellings, but it all depends on your point of view. The Everglades are jam-packed with exotic creatures, tropical plants, uncommon birds, rare wild cats and hulking aquatic creatures (which are thought to be behind the myth of the mermaid). Sadly, human encroachment has damaged the ecosystem, but efforts are on to both restore the area to its pristine condition, and to keep the endangered species in the area from disappearing forever.

An Everglades Adventure is a one-hour doc that looks at the Western Everglades, the last untouched part of the region. The film will explore above and below the water line, focusing on the swamplands and the coastal areas. It will also consider some of the endangered species, such as the Florida panther, the manatee and the wood stork. The hour is being produced by Maryland’s Holly Stadtler (Dream Catcher Films), and is a co-venture of the National Wildlife Federation and Turner Original Productions. Hosted by Ed Begley Jr., its immediate destination is Turner’s Wildlife Adventures slot.

Principal photography on the film will wrap in August, with the final product appearing on the screen in the U.S. in late September. The budget is in the US$300,000 ballpark.

On your marks…

Step aside Sydney, Hamburg distributor Igel Media is carrying a movie about the real gold medallists – well, if they were allowed to compete. Animal Olympians is a 52-minute project being undertaken by New South Wales’ Wild Visuals which will look at the incredible athletic skills and physical abilities of animals. The goal is to keep things light, but to also highlight the fact that animals must be in peak condition, not for medals, but for their survival (and without the help of steroids). Ready for August 2000, this US$330,000-plus film has some funding help from the Australian Film Finance Corporation.

Worm food info

Deadly Friends is a 52-minute one-off being undertaken by London’s TVF Productions. The hour looks at the use of insects in forensic investigations. Want to know whodunit? Ask the worms. The film concentrates on a case in which American forensic scientist Neil Haskell uses insects found at a murder scene to track down a killer. Ready for the end of 2000, the film has a budget of about US$300,000, and is being distributed by sister company TVF International.


Power, and ways to just look good

London’s British Movietonews is taking advantage of its extensive archive to produce two new projects, which should be ready for the world at the end of this summer.

Dressing for Power is a 52-minute film that considers the old axiom: Do the clothes really make the man? Among other examples, Movietonews plans to consider the mystique of the Nazi party – created in part due to its theatrical uniforms – and the simple effectiveness of Ghandi’s wrap. Dressing should be finished by the end of August.

The Special Relationship is a 3 x 52-minute series which looks at the special bond between the United States and Great Britain, two nations, some say, separated by a common language. Although the two are quite different, both politically and culturally, their partnership has stood the test of time. The series will be wrapped by the end of July.

Movietonews will be handling international distribution themselves. The budget for these programs is in the £100,000 (US$ 160,000) per hour range.


Shootin’ hoops

During initial filming of She Walks on Air (w/t) – a feature doc about the dramatic highs and crushing lows of the University of Maine’s women’s basketball team – producer/director Dana Rae Warren (of Maine-based Moody Mountain Films) spotted horror novelist Stephen King and his wife Tabitha in the stands. Fans of the Black Bears, the Kings often come out to show their support of the team. Nine months into the production, they agreed to lend their support to the film as well. The Stephen and Tabitha King Foundation fronted part of the US$400,000 budget, but more significantly, Tabitha signed on as coproducer to help complete the project. Set to wrap by the end of the summer, Warren says they are currently seeking TV broadcast deals. SR


Alphabet Soup

Offering a detailed examination of the people, places and situations that lead up to headline news events, Minute By Minute, a series of 3 x 60-minute

specials, is just one of three projects currently in production at L.A.’s LMNO (Leave My Name Off) Productions.

The remaining two new offerings are: Commander in Chief, 3 x 60-minutes that explore the U.S. presidency during times of war and conflict; and the third season of The Greatest, 10 x 60-minutes that examine iconic and outstanding people, places and monuments. All three projects, budgeted around US$300,000 to $400,000 per hour, will be seen on TLC in the U.S. At press time, no definite air dates had been confirmed.

‘Minute By Minute covers three important topics: JFK JR’s recent death; Susan Smith, the mother who murdered her two children; and the bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City,’ says LMNO CEO Eric Schotz about the series. The episode about the bombing includes interviews with Ronald Norick, the former Mayor of Oklahoma City, and state trooper Charlie Hanger, who arrested Timothy McVeigh, the perpetrator of the bombing.

Meanwhile, the latest episodes of The Greatest include explorations of Mount Rushmore (the greatest monument); the space shuttle (the greatest space vehicle); and the Boston Underground (the greatest building project ever undertaken by a city).

Commander In Chief devotes 60 minutes each to Presidents Nixon, Bush and Clinton. The Nixon hour includes interviews with Anthony Lake, former National Security Advisor and Special Assistant; former FBI-CIA Director William Webster; former Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney and military historian Dr. Lewis Sorley. Interviewees have not yet been confirmed for the Bush and Clinton specials.

‘We’re looking at the President as Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces,’ says Schotz. ‘We gain a first hand experience of what happens in the Oval Office. The door’s shut. There’s no press. The President has to make crucial decisions that can result in American servicemen being killed. What’s the heated conversation? That’s what this series attempts to explore.’

Formed by Schotz in 1990, LMNO maintains an agreement to share and develop programming with Britain’s London Weekend Television. Simon Bacal

UFOs and other flying objects

Are we alone in the whole of the vast universe as the only intelligent life capable of exploring the stars? Considering the billions of planets and solar systems that exist, it doesn’t seem very likely. But as practical (okay, skeptical) creatures, we want proof – hence the human obsession with unidentified flying objects.

The Shag Harbour UFO Incident (w/t), a one-hour one-off produced by Halifax-based Ocean Entertainment, investigates the mystery surrounding the crash of one such curious vessel off the coast of Nova Scotia, Canada, in 1967. According to Ocean VP Michael MacDonald, the Shag Harbour case is one of the most documented ufo sightings ever (though Roswell gets better press). Part of the program will focus on joint Canada-U.S. UFO cover-up operations since 1947, using archives, testimony from witnesses and ‘secret’ documents. MacDonald is directing, while Ocean president Johanna Eliot is producing. They are hoping to get Star Trek’s William Shatner to narrate.

Set for delivery by mid-July, the CDN$160,000 (US$110,000) program has been picked up by Canadian broadcasters Space: The Imagination Station, the Saskatchewan Community Network (SCN) and CBC Atlantic. Regina, Canada-based Mind’s Eye International is the distributor.

Ocean is also busy developing a similarly themed multi-part series called Flying Saucers and Science (w/t), which will feature nuclear physicist Stanton Friedman (the original Roswell researcher) as the presenter. No broadcasters are attached so far, though MacDonald is seeking pubcaster support.

Not to ignore flight activity originating within the Earth’s airspace, the Halifax prodco has two other aerial-themed projects in the works. The first is Barker V.C., a CDN$280,000 (US$193,000) one-hour one-off about Canada’s most decorated war hero, a WWI flying ace. Peter Raymont, of White Pine Pictures in Toronto, is exec producing. History Television has first window, with a premiere set for Remembrance week in November, while Vision, SCN and Knowledge (all based in Canada) have subsequent broadcast licenses. Mind’s Eye will distribute this doc internationally as well.

The second project is a 3 x 60-minute series called Mission: Possible (w/t), a history of the air war in Kosovo, from the perspective of the Canadian pilots who flew the mission. MacDonald says the doc will be based on a book being written by the Canadian Defense Department. ‘I have exclusive access to the people and to the footage of the war,’ he says, adding that the airforce’s history and heritage unit has agreed to cooper-ate with the production. Budget and broadcasters are still to be determined.

Rounding out the slate with what could be called flights of fancy (work with me here…), Ocean is developing a 3 x 60-minute series called Rituals on how ritualistic practices affect people’s lives. The CDN$600,000 (US$414,000) program already has licenses from Vision, SCN and Knowledge.

The prodco is also currently shooting the third series of The Inn Chef, a 13 x 30-minute cooking series with master chef Michael Smith, on location in Prince Edward Island. The CDN$552,000 (US$380,000) airs on Canadian specialty channel the Life Network. Susan Rayman

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