The Advocates

W. Paterson Ferns
December 1, 2001

W. Paterson Ferns

Pat Ferns is only half joking when he says he lives on Air Canada. The Banff Television Foundation’s president and ceo spends so much time flying from event to event it’s rumored he has his own seat with the airline. Why Ferns so willingly takes to the skies is not reverse aviophobia; it’s an unwavering commitment to the TV industry as a whole and the doc form in particular.

Under Ferns’ stewardship, the Banff Television Festival has grown substantially. Anxious to preserve the fest’s intimate feel, he proposed spinning off a series of smaller, niche events. The idea was a hit. This year’s inaugural World Congress of History Producers and the well established World Congress of Science Producers each drew more than 300 delegates. An Arts Congress is in the works, with a tentative debut date set for 2003.

One of Ferns’ most successful innovations is the Market Simulation, which he pioneered at the Banff TV Fest in 1985, 10 years before he joined the organization’s staff. The idea caught on internationally, and Ferns has since moderated pitch sessions around the world.

A more recent spin-off of the Market Simulation is the Cyberpitch for new media producers. Spearheaded by Ferns, the Banff TV Foundation and the Banff Centre, the Cyberpitch is also catching on internationally. Keep adding up those air miles Pat. SZ

Freida Lee Mock

The board of governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences twice moved to eliminate the Oscar category for the documentary short film, in 1992 and 1999. The board reversed its decision both times and the award has remained in place. However, a tide of unease remained within the Academy where doc patrons and filmmakers were concerned.

That all changed in January when the Academy’s Documentary Branch was created and Freida Lee Mock was nominated as governor of the branch in July. Says Mock: ‘The life of documentary films in theaters really had a resurgence in the last 10 years and [the creation of the branch is] a recognition of that.’

A doc filmmaker in her own right – her Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision won the Oscar for best documentary in 1995, and she has other projects on the go – Mock’s appointment is a good indicator that doc-makers’ needs and issues will be addressed within the Academy. As governor, she plans to ensure programs like the Academy’s successful seminar series on docs, held in October, are a regular occurrence. ‘We feel, if I can speak for the community, a certain relief that there now appears to be a wonderful embrace of the [documentary] art form. It means that we can ankle forward.’ KV

The Sundance Five

Maybe it’s because the Sundance Film Festival is the first big fest of the year, drawing crowds to Park City every January. Perhaps it’s because House of Docs, founded in 2000 to address the needs of factual filmmakers, also succeeded in raising the profile of docs within the festival. Whatever the reason, and there are many, participating in the documentary competition at Sundance brightens the future of any project, arguably more so than Toronto, Cannes or Berlin.

Skimming through the titles of the 2001 competition is like reading a list of the year’s greatest hits. Among them are Edet Belzberg’s Children Underground, Kenneth Carlson’s Go Tigers!, Kate Davis’ Southern Comfort, and Trembling Before G-D by Sandi DuBowski. John Cooper, associate director of film festival programming for Sundance, explains that the competition films are selected by a committee of five, including himself. However, other than judging a film on its own merits and looking for projects that will play well in theaters, Cooper can offer little insight into why Sundance docs consistently rise to the top.

The obvious question is, will Sundance open its competition to international producers? The answer, at least for now, is no. ‘What we do for America feels right and we’re limited by the number of theaters available to us,’ explains Cooper. ‘You have to know your limitations.’ KB

About The Author