On the slate

Projects on the slate from around the world
November 1, 2003


An Olympian effort

In any given year, the level of preparation needed to pull off an Olympics is enormous. For the upcoming 2004 Summer Games in Athens, however, efforts have reached monumental proportions. As the site where the modern Olympic movement began in 1896 and as the mythic cradle of Western civilization, Athens – and by extension Greece – is taking on the grandest and most symbolically loaded Games ever held. In Athens Through the Hoops, London-based production company Mosaic Films partners with Greek director Amalia Zepos to examine the preparations.

Among the challenges and concerns the Olympics planners face are whether the government and the Games’ corporate backers can ready the facilities and upgrade the city’s dated infrastructure in time, and if the Games will be successful. Additionally, the film probes how the return of the Olympics to its ‘home’ is forcing introspective Greeks to question ‘Greekness’ – if the Olympics are the most international of all sporting events, does Greece today have a unique connection to the games? The doc will include archival footage of the 1896 games as well as a study of how advertisers and the government wield images of Greek culture to support their marketing efforts.

A US$400,000 one-hour one-off, Athens Through the Hoops is backed by the U.K.’s BBC (‘Storyville’), ZDF in Germany and French/German broadcaster ARTE. Greek pubcaster ERT is also on board. It has been pre-sold to Australia’s SBS and TV 2 in Denmark, which is also handling international distribution. It will be ready in July. MS

Run for it

Another doc pegged to next year’s Olympics is Marathon: The Long Run to Democracy. Mainz, Germany-based ZDF TV Network will use reenactments to illustrate the Greek world of 490 B.C. – the ‘Golden Age’ of Athens – and tell the story of Pheidippides, the messenger whose 42.2-kilometer journey from the battle of Marathon to Athens ultimately set the distance for all modern-day marathons, beginning with the 1896 Olympics.

As well as visiting the cultural landscape Pheidippides passed on his famous run, Marathon will examine the significance of his mission: he was carrying word from the greatest crisis in the early development of the West, the battlefield where the outnumbered Greeks defeated a Persian army set on destroying Athens. Legend has it that on arrival he cried, ‘Rejoice! We have conquered!’ and dropped dead. The film will also spotlight the contribution of Miltiades, the general who won the day.

To make the reenacted sequences more authentic, the actors will speak ancient Greek, with voice-over translation; the story will also include interviews with historians. The 43-minute one-off is a copro with Discovery International in Silver Spring, U.S., and Mainz-based ZDF Enterprises, which is also its distributor. Marathon, budgeted at about 300,000 euros (US$354,000), wraps in May. MS

When in Athens…

Not to be left out, Paris-based Gedeon Programmes is mounting The Champions of Olympia, a reality series that will meld history, adventure and sports to re-create the first Olympics, right down to the toga-wearing spectators.

Champions will follow real athletes representing six or seven different countries as they train and compete in the same style as their ancient Greek predecessors. The Olympic village will consist of tents, replicas of ancient stadiums will house the competitions, athletes will use equipment similar to that available in 776 B.C., and the victories and losses will be very real. But unlike the first Olympic Games, the final competition will be a live broadcast.

The 10 x 26-minute series carries a budget of 2.7 million euros (US$3.1 million), and at press time, French/German broadcaster ARTE was on board. Gedeon will offer 52-minute and 100-minute versions of Champions, or other lengths to suit broadcasters’ needs. The series is scheduled for delivery in June 2004. Vanessa Mariga


Where art and science meet

Spanish artist Salvador Dali infused his paintings with surreal themes and off-the-wall observations of the world. But, his creations were inspired by more than just imagination – scientific theory fueled his work too.

The Dali Dimension, a one-hour one-off by Barcelona-based prodco Media 3.14 and Montreal-based Cine Qua Non Films, examines Dali’s interest in the trends and discoveries of science that coincided with his life (1904 to 1988), including Freudian psychoanalysis, DNA, atomic physics and advanced optics (little surprise, there). Dali followed scientific developments like a sports fanatic, even though the image he presented to the world was that of a bohemian artist (to help drive up the price of his art). The doc will also show that by befriending many of the people

at the forefront of 20th-century science – such as analyst Jacques Lacan, physicist René Thom and DNA discoverers James Watson and Francis Crick – Dali, in turn, influenced their thinking.

To make the film, the prodcos will use interviews with the artist’s surviving contemporaries, as well as art and science experts, and blend them with archival footage and shots from Dali’s haunts (he frequented London, Paris and New York). Budgeted at approximately 412,000 euros (US$486,000), The Dali Dimension is backed by several sources, including Catalan-language broadcaster TV3 in Spain and the Dali estate. It will be completed by April, in time for the 100th anniversary of Dali’s birth. MS


From beauty to bedlam

The Miss World beauty pageant graced Africa for the first time last year when it was held in Nigeria. But, things turned ugly when an article in a local newspaper said that the Prophet Mohammed would have gladly married one of the beauty queens. The remark sparked anger in the Nigerian Muslim community and spurred mass riots. The violence ended with the deaths of more than 200 people, the destruction of the newspaper office, and the Miss World 2002 contestants being airlifted to safety.

Through testimonials from contestants and an exclusive interview with the journalist (who has since been in hiding), Glasgow, U.K.-based production company Wark Clements’ Beauty Queens and Bloodshed explores what went wrong and how the contestants have been dealing with the aftermath of the experience.

Beauty Queens is the first installment of a two-year, four-doc deal signed between Wark Clements and U.K. broadcaster Channel 4. Produced and directed by Ross Wilson, the £150,000 (US$250,000) doc is scheduled to air in late 2003. A distributor has yet to be confirmed.

The second commissioned project of the Wark Clements/ C4 deal is Missing From the Missing List. Every few months a story about a missing child grips the media’s attention, while thousands of others receive little coverage. By examining specific cases and talking with police forces, the one-hour doc tells some of these other children’s stories while seeking to uncover a reason for why they go unnoticed.

Also produced and directed by Wilson, the documentary carries a budget of £150,000 ($250,000) and will likely hit Channel 4 in spring 2004. VM


Lost at sea

In December 1872, the captain of the Dei Gratia, David Morehouse, spotted merchant ship Mary Celeste moving erratically about 10 kilometers off his own vessel’s port bow in the mid-Atlantic. Suspecting the boat was in distress, Morehouse sailed closer and ordered three of his crewman to row over to investigate. When the crew climbed aboard, they found the Mary Celeste deserted, and no obvious signs of violence, accident or disaster. What happened to the freighter’s seven-man crew, its captain (Benjamin Briggs) and his wife and daughter has never been solved.

In Ghost Ship: the Mystery of the Mary Celeste, a 52-minute one-off, London-based Moondance Films considers the possible turn of events. Were they victims of a perfect storm or marauding pirates? Did the crew of mostly German sailors mutiny, killing the English captain and his family? Was the highly combustible – and at 93.35% proof, highly toxic – cargo of industrial-use alcohol to blame for their disappearance? If they abandoned ship, what was their fate? Moondance will recount how these questions were addressed in an inconclusive four-month investigation in 1873, and also reexamine the mystery using the latest in forensic science and nautical physics to perhaps finally determine the truth about the Mary Celeste.

The doc carries a budget of about US$330,000 and is scheduled for delivery to U.K. broadcaster Five in the summer. Boston-based Louise Rosen Ltd. has signed on to distribute and is helping to raise funds; as of press time more than two-thirds was already secured. MS


Home improvement

Interior design can have a powerful effect on how one feels – walk into a cluttered room and your mind becomes cloudy; walk into a minimally furnished room and you are somehow refreshed. But, is there more to this connection between décor and the human experience than meets the eye? According to the 4,000-year-old Chinese philosophy of feng shui, everyday objects exert a paranormal force on the people around them. Whether or not Copenhagen-based prodco MTV Mastiff International (no relation to the Viacom-owned music channel) agrees, the prodco at least believes this spiritual system provides the foundation for a successful lifestyle format.

Creatively titled Feng Shui, the show’s concept sees nine couples agreeing to have their homes evaluated by a feng shui ‘master’ in the hopes of improving their lives in one of nine realms, including love (and sex), health, career and money. For example, the upper-right corner of a dwelling is the area that influences love; if that room is messy, chances are the couple is having marital problems. The master – who receives no advance information about the inhabitants whatsoever – and a team of assistants then have 24 hours to reconfigure the furnishings and perhaps throw on an appropriate coat of paint while the residents are away for the weekend. The show ends with a follow-up scene, in which the couples say whether or not their lives have improved since the makeover.

MTV Mastiff says the show could be produced for as low as US$80,000 per hour (but would be transmitted in 30-minute episodes), depending on a broadcaster’s budget. At MIPCOM, the company landed its first deal for the format with Danish pubcaster TV 2. MS

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