On The Slate

Freaks of the deep and diminutive
November 1, 2004

Freaks of the deep and diminutive

Never before have the spineless appeared so ferocious. Commanding the secret world inside a sofa cushion, defending the darkened corners of a kitchen cupboard or even storming the surface of one’s skin, backboneless creatures regularly assume the roles of predator and prey to fight a life and death battle that has played out over centuries. Yet, although these clashes sometimes involve armies of thousands, they go largely unnoticed by their human hosts – until now.

Life of the Undergrowth is a 5 x 50-minute coproduction by the BBC‘s Bristol-based Natural History Unit and Animal Planet, U.S. that will take viewers inside the bizarre yet beautiful world of invertebrates. Using new technology to reveal the habitats of antler moths, desert locusts and cockroaches alike, Sir David Attenborough will guide the audience through the mysteries of this miniature universe. One tidbit sure to make your skin crawl: these critters outnumber humans 200 million to one.

Destined for BBC1, the series carries a per-hour budget of approximately £1 million (US$1.8 million) and is being produced by Mike Salisbury, Steven Dunleavy, Peter Bassett and Bridget Appleby, and exec produced by Mike Gunton. Production is scheduled to wrap in late October, 2005.

Venturing from the unseen to the unknown, the Beeb’s NHU is also hard at work on the five-part series Amazon Abyss. Scientists recently discovered that the world’s largest river hides 400-foot deep plunge pools that house bizarre creatures that date back to the last Ice Age. Abyss will shine a light on these mysterious beings, some for the first time, by following underwater cameraman Mike de Gruy and presenter Kate Humber down into the river’s deep dark depths. Brazilian researchers will also tag along, swimming through snakes and diving past pools of vicious fish and predatory piranhas to record their findings. Scientists already discover about 250 new species of fish in the Amazon each year. Maybe one will take the heat off the delicious Chilean sea bass. KB


Plane confusing

Hours before World War II ended, Lieutenant Hampton Gray made a choice that has bewildered historians for nearly 60 years. As a senior pilot flying for Canada, he was supposed to lead eight Corsairs in a fighter attack against airfield and shipping targets on the Japanese island of Honshu. Instead, Gray made an unexpected move and began a brave assault that took out a destroyer. Unfortunately, he was killed along with 113 others. This kamikaze-style feat garnered him a rare military distinction – the Victoria Cross.

White Rock, Canada’s Parallax Film Productions traces Gray’s final mission and explores its extraordinary legacy. The last Canadian to die in battle in World War II, Gray has surprisingly been raised to hero status in Japan. His monument was the only one permitted to be built for a foreign combatant. The Last Battle of Hampton Gray is a 50-minute one-off with financing from the Canadian Television Fund. Set to wrap in June, 2005 the CDN$400,000 (US$314,000) project will be broadcast by History Television.

Parallax is also working on Sinking an Aircraft Carrier, a 50-minute special to be broadcast on Discovery Channel U.S./International. It follows the planning behind the sinking of the Oriskany, a decommissioned U.S. aircraft carrier, to be used as an artificial reef off the coast of Florida. With a budget of CDN$560,000 ($440,000), Carrier is set to wrap in April, 2005.

Also on Parallax’s slate is Iceberg Cowboys, a 50-minute one-off that witnesses ‘berg cowboys as they lasso, break up, and distribute hunks of ice that endanger ships and oil rigs. Some of these bergs weigh two million tons and can crush boats before you can say Titanic. Iceberg is slated to wrap in March, 2005. With a budget of CDN$415,000 ($326,000), it will be broadcast on Discovery Channel U.S., International and Discovery Canada. AA


Hot stuff

Four years ago, the U.S. Global Change Research Program reported that ‘average annual temperature rose nearly a full degree Fahrenheit over the past 100 years.’ Noting the quick pace at which the climate is changing, the document opined that without ‘major interventions’ to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions, temperatures in the U.S. will rise by as many as an average of nine additional degrees in the next 100 years. At the current rate of global warming, Arctic summer ice will totally melt away by 2040.

L.A.-based Sierra Club ProductionsOn the Brink: Solutions to Global Warming will analyze this critical situation in spots such as Alaska and Greenland. To be released April 21, 2005 – the 35th anniversary of Earth Day – the 75-minute film is a copro with the On the Brink Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to the creation of enviro programming.

With the aid of a contemporary soundtrack, the US$1 million doc will use digital visual effects and 3-D climate visualization models to explain how climate change happens and what can be done to slow it down. AA


Behind the pages

Producing a magazine is much like creating a film; there are plenty of creative personalities involved, and it’s rare that everyone agrees on how to finish the product. Inside the Great Magazines, a 3 x 1-hour series by Montreal’s DLI Productions, will reveal the mayhem involved in getting some of the most well known pubs to the newsstands. Scheduled for a May, 2005 wrap and delivery in July, 2005, Inside will include an interview with Helen Gurley Brown, style icon and founding editor of Cosmopolitan.

The CDN$1.8 million (US$1.4 million) series is divided into three themes: ‘The Power of the Image’ reveals the battle between photographers and advertisers; ‘Igniting Social Change’ features trailblazers as they change our political and social surroundings; and ‘Mags Inc. International’ probes the challenges presented by the Internet and multimedia.

Being distributed by Montreal’s Films Transit, Inside is backed with funding from the Canadian Television Fund, SODEC, Telefilm Canada, the Quebec Tax Credit and the Federal Tax Credit. Canadian broadcasters Global, Tele-Quebec and TV Ontario will be broadcasting, along with ABC Australia. AA

Ain’t it grand?

While American art was once overlooked because of its noticeable European influence, by 1950 it had its own aesthetic and had started to garner attention from museums and collectors. Henry Geldzahler, the first curator of Twentieth Century Art at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, further raised the profile of U.S. artists over the course of his remarkable career.

In 1969, Geldzahler organized a centennial exhibition at The Met called ‘New York Painting and Sculpture: 1940 to 1970.’ The show’s size stirred controversy – it filled over 35 galleries and contained more than 400 works by 43 artists. As part of his quest to sharpen his artist eye, Geldzahler would personally visit studios of emerging talents to assess their creations.

Scheduled for a May, 2005 release, Henry - an 80-minute, US$350,000 one-off from Peter Rosen Productions and Muse Film and Television in New York – will show how the famed curator left his signature on the art world.

Jumping from curators to crescendos, Peter Rosen also plans to release In the Key of G, a 56-minute special for PBS, in June, 2005. Coproduced with Grand Rapids-based affiliate WGVU, Key showcases the 2004 Gilmore Keyboard Festival in Kalamazoo. Some of the festival’s previous award winners were invited to perform at this year’s event. Funded by The Gilmore Foundation, Key’s budget is $260,000.

Another music-related project, this one coproduced and funded by the Washington, D.C.-based Library of Congress, is slated for release in July, 2005. Great Conversations in Music is a $250,000, 4 x 1-hour series featuring behind-the-scenes conversations between famous international composers, conductors and musicians, including Yo Yo Ma. Conversations is a PBS broadcast via Washington, D.C.’s WETA. AA


Bad boys, bad boys

In the U.S., boys commit nine out of 10 alcohol and drug law violations, as well as 95% of juvenile homicides. They also gobble up 80% of the world’s supply of Ritalin – a figure that has grown by 500% over the last decade. And while girls’ academic performance has been rising over the last 10 years, boys’ grades have been slipping.

Raising Cain, a two-hour special by Somerville, U.S.-based Powderhouse, explores the lives of boys in order to help parents raise their sons to be happier, responsible young men. The program will consist of two main segments (one following American boys from birth through elementary school-age, and one that focuses on their high school years), as well as some mini segments that will show lads in different countries.

Child psychologist Dr. Michael Thompson, a partner on Cain, is featured in the special as he conducts in-depth interviews and interacts with a group of youths and their families. Thompson has counseled boys for more than 20 years and has a son of his own, so he’s got a strong understanding of what it’s like for them to grow up in a time when the Columbine High School shootings have caused a reevaluation of male teens.

To be broadcast on PBS (which is also distributing the roughly US$650,000 doc) and coproduced with Oregon Public Broadcasting, Cain is slated to wrap production in summer 2005. AA

Digit debacle

American lawyer Brandon Mayfield was thrown in jail last May after bombings in Madrid killed almost 200 people and injured 2,000 others. The FBI initially said his fingerprint matched one found on the bag of detonators used in the horrific explosions. Weeks later, however, the Bureau admitted to misidentifying the print.

Mayfield’s troubling case is featured in New York-based Music for Television‘s One Nation under Surveillance. With no distributor or broadcasters currently in place, filmmakers Catherine Tambini and Allan Miller are coproducing the 90-minute one-off, which is set to wrap in May, 2005. Showing stories of individuals whose lives have been negatively impacted by the U.S. Patriot Act, the film will illustrate how the law affects American citizens. Surveillance will also follow a group of Huntington, N.Y. residents as they work to pass a resolution against the act in their town. Using new and archival material, the US$500,000 film will also recount how the Patriot Act was passed. AA

Festival Wrap

IFP/New York continues to draw heavyweight buyers from around the globe. From September 19 to 24, industry players and producers pounded the pavement between panels and works-in-progress screenings. New York doc veteran Albert Maysles drew a particularly impressive crowd with a 20-minute excerpt from his upcoming In Transit, but emerging talent also got attention with quirky subjects, such as director Robina Marchesi‘s Gumby Dharma, about the creator of that loveable green character. Here are a few other projects to keep an eye on:

Been Rich All My Life was pre-bought by YLE Finland during the market. Directed and produced by Heather Lyn MacDonald of N.Y.’s Toots Crackin’ Productions, it presents the five ‘Silver Belles’ – tap dancers who first met as chorus girls at the Apollo Theater and the Cotton Club in the 1930s. Still clicking their heels at ages 84 to 96, they defy conventional notions of old age. Unfortunately, they are not immune to the ravages of time, a fact poignantly caught on film. Currently in post-production, the 85-minute doc carries a budget of US$250,000.

The Sundance Documentary Fund contributed $60,000 to Anne Makepeace‘s $560,000 feature doc Refugee Dreams. It follows two Somali Bantu families during their first year in America. Filming is set to wrap March, 2005 and both PBS and HBO are said to be considering the doc.

Immy Humes is directing a biography of her father, literary figure Harold Louis ‘Doc’ Humes, titled No Ordinary Asshole. The $200,000 film is being produced by N.Y.’s The Doc Tank and promises to go beyond the man behind The Paris Review to show the cultural history of post-war America. ITVS (pbs) has U.S. broadcast rights for the doc, which is in final edits.

Lastly, A Life Without Pain profiles three-year-old Gabby, one of only two dozen people in the world unable to feel pain. In the $185,000 doc, Melody Gilbert of St. Paul, U.S.-based Frozen Feet Productions captures Gabby’s family’s struggle to cope with and care for her. Production is scheduled to wrap in spring 2005. KB

Nordisk Panorama, this year hosted in Reykjavik from September 24 to 29, cemented the city’s hip reputation. Sigur Rós performed at the doc fest’s opening ceremony, and the event’s 15th anniversary was celebrated with Kai Nordberg‘s Watercolours, a film about swimming lessons that was screened at a thermal pool while the audience bobbed around in the warm water. The Nordisk Panorama Market offered close to 300 titles from the event’s five participating countries: Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Iceland and Norway. And, the 11th Nordisk Forum for Co-financing of Documentaries boasted more than 36 ces and financiers from each of these countries, plus Estonia, France, Latvia and the Netherlands. Below are two standout projects from the two-day pitch.

High in Afghanistan

Faryal forever altered her viewpoint when she shed her burka. Now this determined young woman hopes to change her perspective by taking to the skies as a pilot. Helping her with this quest is Copenhagen’s Flying Enterprise Production and Cosmo Doc. The 90-minute Crossing Line: Wings Across Afghanistan begins in September, 2002 and follows director Simone Aaberg Kern, herself a pilot, as she first searches and finds Faryal and then gets caught in the gap between Western and Afghan culture.

Pubcasters ZDF/ARTE, DR TV and SVT are already aboard the E642,000 (US$810,000) project. During the pitch, Eva Faerevaag of the Nordic Film and TV Fund promised to support the project. Peter BØe of the Norwegian Film Fund was excited about the doc’s commercial potential, and Tore Tomter of NRK expressed interest in a series version.

Birds of Paradox

Belfast Girls is a one-hour from Malmo, Sweden’s WB Film that tracks the experiences of six young women living on either side of the peace walls in Belfast. Whether mothers, expecting mothers or teens coming of age, all struggle with the city’s divisive politics.

Everyone was impressed with clip shown. The prodco announced that ARTE France had stepped in and that The Documentary Channel in Canada had given development money. As well, SVT was newly aboard, and the budget had doubled from its original E180,000 ($225,000). NRK‘s Tomter said he would do a pre-buy. Heimir Jónasson of Iceland’s Channel 2 was happy to finally see a doc that felt edgy and commercial, but wondered if there were enough humorous moments to keep the film light. KB

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