News in Brief

H5B5 files for insolvency protection; Germany and Luxembourg sign a copro deal; Niche U.S. cables see promising numbers in upfront ad market
June 20, 2002

Munich-based production firm H5B5 Media filed for insolvency protection on Tuesday June 18, which caused the company’s shares to drop about 50% by the end of the day, closing at €.10 (US$.09). The German firm asserts the filing became necessary after United Stardust in Hamburg withdrew from coproducing a 26-part computer-animated series. H5B5′s Welt Der Wunder documentary label, although part of the H5B5 Media Group, is not affected by the claim as it is a separate comany with its own contracts and profits. CFO Frank Winnenbrock says the company’s non-fiction business and graphics department (Circle and Lines) are both stable.

The governments of Germany and Luxembourg have signed a free-trade agreement of sorts covering coproductions. The two countries will begin to flow subsidies previously earmarked for domestic productions into films shot in either country. The deal, much like one signed last year between Germany and France, is part of a broader plan by the European Union to promote pan-European copros.

U.S. cablecasters are still in negotiations with advertisers over upfront sales, but the early indicators are promising. According to a report in The New York Times, analysts are predicting a 12.5% to 15% improvement over last year -to US$4.5 billion or $4.6 billion from $4 billion – though they add that the wealth won’t be spread out evenly. Niche channels such as HGTV and the Food Network are expected to come out ahead of general-interest programmers.

Submission deadlines for next year’s Sundance Film Festival (January 16 to 26, 2003) have been announced. Early submissions for American and international features are due July 26. Regular deadlines are as follows: the shorts submission deadline is September 27, American features is October 4 and international features are due October 11.

Cineflix, a Montreal, Canada-based prodco, is opening a London, U.K. office to handle overseas distribution. Cineflix International will be headed by managing director Paul Heaney, a veteran of the factual business who has stints at BskyB, NBC Europe and Southern Star under his belt. Cineflix also has an office in Toronto and produces more than 40 hours of content a year; its series include Dogs with Jobs and Birth Stories.

London-based Temple International has agreed to find documentary production financing on behalf of Devillier Donegan Enterprises through copros and pre-sales in the U.K., France and German television markets. The projected programming output for Washington, D.C.-based Devillier from the agreement is about 20 hours a year. Buena Vista International Television remains the international rep for Devillier’s program library.

Atlas Media of New York has signed an exclusive deal with performance-art engine The Knitting Factory. KnitMedia, The Factory’s entertainment and marketing division, will oversee the development of music and performance-related reality programming with Atlas. The first project being pitched is Wanna Be A Rocker, a half-hour series that allows celebrities to show off their hidden musical talents in front of a live audience. Other ideas for programming include reality competitions, ‘all-access’ doc series, and other celebrity-centric specials.

Artisan Pictures has acquired the North American distribution rights to Amandla! A Revolution in Four Part Harmony, the South African documentary exploring the role of music in the campaign to end apartheid. The film, which won this year’s Sundance Audience Award, the Freedom of Expression Award, and premiered at home last weekend at the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, shows how lyrics and song were instrumental in building solidarity for the cause. Lee Hirsch and Sherry Simpson produced and directed the film in association with HBO/Cinemax.

U.K. broadcaster Channel 4 is in the hot seat again over one of its documentaries. The program in question is Gigolo, a film about male escorts, which was produced by London-based prodco Diverse and aired in C4′s Cutting Edge slot last week. According to a report in The Guardian, the owners of escort agency Lush International (which was featured in the doc) allege that Diverse faked parts of the show. A C4 spokesperson says the channel believes Diverse acted honorably and supports the indie prodco.

U.S. cable channel The History Channel has signed a product-placement deal for its Hit The Road Week series with Ford Motor Co’s Jaguar. The series is slated to debut on July 29.

Vivendi Universal’s Canal+ Group has sold its 50% stake in Canal Digital, a Nordic digital T.V. platform, to Telenor Plus, which now becomes the sole owner of Canal Digital. As part of the deal, Telenor agreed to continue providing exclusive distribution of the Canal+ Group channels on Canal Digital in Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark.

J. Carter Brown, co-founder and former chairman of U.S. cable channel Ovation – The Art Network, died on Monday June 17 in Boston. Brown helped launch Ovation in 1996 after serving as director of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., for 23 years. He was 67.

Ingmar Bergman has given the Swedish Film Institute a pile of material to archive, including manuscripts, notebooks, plot summaries, sketches and photographs. The landmark filmmaker’s donation filled 45 cases – a documentarian’s dream come true.

Billy Corben’s doc Raw Deal, which garnered attention at last year’s Sundance Film Festival for its controversial story about a rape at a university frat party, has been dropped by distrib Artisan Entertainment. Artisan acquired the North American rights to the film at last year’s fest but recently dropped Raw Deal because of music rights issues. Artisan has transferred its stake in the film to Miami Film Enterprises.

Wildscreen 2002 (October 13 to 18) in Bristol, U.K., has introduced new features for this year’s festival. Two new awards have been introduced: Panda in the Pocket, for an outstanding production which doesn’t fall into any award category, and Best Presenter-Led Show. The gala Panda Awards ceremony has also been moved to mid-festival to give delegates more time to view winning films and talk to winners. As well, two new sessions have been added to the line-up: Inside Story, which examines the frustration and excitement behind making a particular film, and 15 Minutes of Fame, which is an opportunity for newcomers to the wildlife film industry to discuss their ideas.

At the Florida Film Festival (June 7 to 16) in Orlando, the grand jury prize for best doc feature went to David E. Simpson’s Refrigerator Mothers. The film tells the story of mothers who were blamed for their children’s autism in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. The audience award for best doc went to Daddy & Papa by Johnny Symons. The grand jury award for best doc short was given to Robert A. Nakamura’s Toyo Miyatake: Infinite Shades of Gray. The special jury prize for documentary filmmaking went to Freestyle: The Art of Rhyme, directed by Kevin Fitzgerald.

At the 28th Seattle Film Festival (May 23 to June 16), the Golden Space Needle award for best doc went to American Deborah Dickson for her film Ruthie & Connie: Every Room in the House. Best short went to Australia’s Nicolas Tomnay for The Host.

The Manchester Film Festival (June 27 to 30) in Vermont, U.S. presents an impressive lineup of docs in its Doc’s Palace showcase this year. Two American World Trade Center-themed films, Ted Ciesielski’s Requiem 2001 and The First 24 Hours by Etienne Sauret, will be screened, as will Toyo Miyatake: Infinite Shades of Gray, which recently won the best doc short at the Florida Film Festival. Films from France, the U.S., Russia, Mexico, the U.K. and Canada round out the doc offerings. An award for best documentary will be presented at the MFF Battenkill awards ceremony on closing night (June 30).

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