News in Brief

Sundance Channel creates new doc slot; Discovery Networks Asia launches doc pitch; Vivendi reduces staff
October 10, 2002

The Sundance Channel has created a new documentary slot, and purchased a package of 10 films to feature in it. DOCday will premiere on March 3, 2003 and will run every Monday from noon to midnight, with a feature doc premiere anchoring the 9 p.m. timeslot. The 10 films were purchased from Montreal, Canada-based Films Transit International, and include Tranceformer by Stig Bjorkman, and Automat Kalashnikov, by Hebert Habersack and Axel Engstefeld. The New York, U.S.-based company notes that DOCday does not replace the planned launch of a full doc channel, first disclosed last winter.

Discovery Networks Asia is launching a documentary-pitching forum as part of a US$7.5 million content development fund set up in conjunction with Singapore’s Economic Development Board. The Singapore-based broadcaster says Discovery Pitch will take place three times a year and will be centered on themes: the first pitch, taking place in October, focuses on food projects. The winning producer from the pool of 12 will then have her doc commissioned by one of Discovery’s three networks in Asia, namely the Discovery Channel, Animal Planet and Discovery Travel and Adventure. Discovery Asia also announced that it has commissioned Singaporean doc maker Tin Pin Pin (Moving House) to produce After Life, a 6 x 30-minute doc series that examines the diverse funeral rites practiced in Asia.

In other Discovery news, Discovery Networks Europe disclosed that its subscriber base in Europe, the Middle East and Africa has surpassed 100 million viewers. In these regions, the company broadcasts in 20 languages and in 51 countries.

Finally, the Discovery HD Theater network is looking to acquire factual projects shot on 35mm or in high definition. It’s interested in a variety of genres, including history, nature, health and science. This fall, Discovery HD Theater plans to air three Imax films: Africa’s Elephant Kingdom, The Human Body and Wildfire. The original 15 x 70 millimeter film formats have been transferred to the 1080 HD format, the first time Imax films have been re-formatted for television, says Discovery.

Debt-heavy French media conglomerate Vivendi-Universal announced October 10 that it is cutting its workforce in a bid to trim Euro 140 million (US$138 million) from its payroll. The cuts affect both its Paris headquarters and operations outside France. It noted that the Paris staff will be trimmed to 152 from 327. Vivendi didn’t provide further staff numbers in a prepared statement, but it noted there would be ‘a very significant cut in non-payroll costs (fees for external services, in particular).’ It also noted that its New York, U.S. bureau will be reduced to a ‘representative office.’

Star Image Media Group has been given the green light to operate in China. The Beijing-based company said in a prepared statement that the Beijing Broadcast Radio and TV Bureau formally issued the license in late September. Star Image told RealScreen that ‘most [broadcast] hours are dedicated to documentaries’ and roughly ’10 percent’ are slotted for feature films. It added that Star Image’s plans include pioneering reality formats in the territory.

U.S. broadcaster ABC has signed a multi-year agreement for at least two reality shows with Telepictures Prods, makers of The Bachelor. Telepictures is already in production with The Bachelorette, a dating format that revolves around a single woman out to find the mate of her dreams. The Bachelor focuses on an unattached man. The Bachelorette is slotted to launch mid-season.

U.K. broadcaster Channel Four has been criticized by Oxford University for dropping an episode of a documentary series on women at the famous school. According to BBC News, Oxford wants C4 to apologize for pulling the fifth installment of the six-episode examination of College Girls, a profile of St. Hilda’s, the university’s only all-female college. The broadcaster confirmed it dropped the episode in favor of concluding the series one week earlier than scheduled. Oxford is also angry because Channel Four didn’t give it prior warning of the decision.

Do wildlife films have any impact upon conservation? That will be one of the questions bandied about at the natural-history festival Wildscreen 2002 held in Bristol, U.K., October 13 to 18. According to event organizers, attendees will also have an opportunity to discuss the state of the business of wildlife filmmaking, as well as digest some of the issues raised at the Earth Summit in Johannesburg, South Africa, last summer. High-profile attendees include noted American scientist E.O. Wilson and BBC presenter Sir David Attenborough.

DocsBarcelona has increased the number of documentary projects that will be presented at its pitching session from 12 to 18, due to the high number of submissions it received this year. A total of 86 projects were submitted, 39% more than last year. Broadcasters that have confirmed their attendance on the panel this year so far include Discovery Channel (U.S.), Humanistische Omroep (the Netherlands), ORF (Austria), RTBF (Belgium), TVC (Catalonia, Spain) and YLE (Finland). This year, DocsBarcelona will take place from November 7 to 9.

The second annual Tribeca Film Festival will take place in New York City from May 6 to 11, 2003. The deadline for submissions is November 27, 2002. Filmmakers are encouraged to apply on line at //

The Independent Television Service has set the deadline of February 14, 2003 for its next Open Call, which is geared to unfinished projects in any genre. Programs, ‘should tell a great story,’ and ‘break traditional molds of exploring cultural, political, social and economic issues,’ the San Francisco, U.S.-based organization says in a prepared statement. Guidelines and applications can be downloaded at //

The annual ReelWorld Film Festival will be held in Toronto, Canada from April 2 to 6, 2003. The festival will focus on films that reflect and promote racial and cultural diversity. The deadline for submissions is December 6, 2002. For further information go to //

The annual documentary series Frame by Frame was held September 13 to 26 in New York City’s Screening Room. Run by HBO and the Association of Independent Video and Film (AIVF), the two-week series featured several Academy Award-nominated films (War Photographer and Murder on a Sunday Morning) as well as such festival circuit crowd-pleasers as Spellbound (about a group of would-be spelling bee champions) and No Dumb Questions (three young sisters deal with Uncle Bill’s transformation into Aunt Barbara).

The 38th Chicago International Film Festival is in full swing. Films being screened in the festival’s Docufest program include the Sundance audience-award-winning Amandla! A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony, A Wedding in Ramallah and Blind Spot: Hitler’s Secretary.

Michael Moore‘s controversial, Cannes-award-winning documentary, Bowling for Columbine, will open theatrically the weekend of October 12 and 13 in both New York and Los Angeles, U.S.

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