On the Slate

Dynasties and dog men
September 1, 2005

Dynasties and dog men
When a bad hair day is bumming you out, try to remember it could be worse. You could have hypertrichosis. Those suffering from this dread disease – dubbed ‘wolf man syndrome’ – have the unpleasant tendency to grow excessive hair all over their face and body.

The first wolf man was diagnosed in 1556, although 40 cases have sprouted since. Nineteen people with the disease are still alive, and perhaps not surprisingly, they are all members of the same family. While others might think they are cursed by fate, they believe they have been blessed by God.

Produced by Birmingham’s North One Television and distributed by ALL3MEDIA of London, It’s Not Easy Being A Wolf Man is a 52-minute special destined for U.K. net Five that will introduce viewers to this unique family. The budget for the flick is US$280,000, stylists not included.

ALL3MEDIA is also bringing the less freakish – though just as furry – The Lion Man series to MIP. With new episodes wrapping for the market, this ongoing series from Great Southern Television Production continues to explore the relationship Craig Busch has with the lord of the felines. Busch created the Zion Wildlife Gardens on New Zealand’s North Island as a big cat refuge, and it now has over 29 residents, including white Bengal tigers and white lions. The new 23-minute episodes bring the series count to 40 segments, each budgeted between $70,000 and $100,000 each – ah, the benefits of producing in New Zealand.

In an entirely different vein, look for ALL3 to also bring Lion Television‘s Secrets of the First Emperor: The Man Who Made China to MIP. The film takes viewers to excavation sites that reveal the life of Qin Shi Huangdi, the man credited with creating a unified China. Included in the doc are digs for the Terracotta Army, conservation projects along the Great Wall, and the ruins of the gigantic Afang palace. The program will combine CG and re-enactments, and even shares props and costumes with the feature Hero, and a location used in Kill Bill 2.

Discovery U.S. and Channel 4 in the U.K. are already onboard, in association with Phoenix Satellite Broadcasting in China. The budget for this 102-minute epic tale will be close to $2 million. BC


Wolfing down reindeer
City dwellers are accustomed to pesky raccoons as unwanted visitors to garbage bins. But what to do when propagating clans of reindeer and musk ox take over in the arctic?

Such is the crisis on Wrangel Island, located a few hundred miles north of the Siberian mainland. Fifty years ago, reindeer and musk ox were introduced to the island’s fragile ecosystem, and their populations have since skyrocketed. One solution might come from the reintroduction of the arctic wolf, which was hunted to extermination last century.

Entitled Return of the Arctic Wolf, Toronto-based Ellis Vision‘s 4 x 1-hour series is set to wrap filming next spring, in time for the next generation of wolf pups to leave their dens. Underwritten by Ellis Releasing, the roughly CDN$1 million (US$820,000) series will be released Q4 next year. AA

A trusted trunk
Most buddy stories involve two characters – usually opposites – whose lives connect in some unusual or comedic way. Newly relocated Hertfordshire-based Parthenon Entertainment‘s upcoming 50-minute film is no exception, but there’s a kicker – the friends consist of a tattooed biker dude and an African bull elephant.

Chris Gallucci, an American who fled home at 12 and first landed in jail at 16, met his mighty friend Timbo on a movie set and the odd couple immediately became inseparable. Chris adopted Timbo and spent the next 30 years housing the elephant – at the time, the largest of its kind in the u.s. – until his floppy-eared friend went to the big circus in the sky in June.

A copro with Hamburg’s NDR Naturfilm, Tusks and Tattoos examines the duo’s relationship, and sees how Chris is coping after the death of his dear, wrinkled pal. The US$410,000 one-off is set to broadcast on Discovery U.S. in March, and on Animal Planet International. AA

Wild nightlife
While poets debate the splendor of sunsets, scientists speak of three different nights: the civil, the nautical and the astronomical. The first comes as the sun drops six degrees below the horizon; the second when magnitude three stars begin to show; and the last emerges as the sun drops 18 degrees below the horizon. These subtle variations mean little to humans, but to animals they are vital signals. The falling sun sends diurnal animals scurrying to shelter, but others rise to take their place – a metamorphosis that alters the population of the landscape and changes the entire ecosystem.

In At Night, All Cats Are Grey, Paris-based Les Films d’Ici and Vie Des Hauts will explore this transmogrified world through the course of a year, showing not only how life changes from day to night, but how it adapts through the year. Wrapping in 2006, the 52-minute film is funded by the CNC and will broadcast on France 3. The budget is about €250,000 (US$307,000).

Also from Les Films comes Prezwalski, The Return, a 52-minute look at the reintroduction of a tiny stallion to the Mongolian plains. The stallions – dubbed Przewalski’s horses thanks to the Russian Colonel who discovered them – nearly died out last century due to over-hunting. Likely the species that gave its genetics to every other equine in the world, the wee beasts are an important link to the past. Thanks to efforts by scientists, they may roam free once again. Wrapping for the end of this year, the special will air on France 3 and RTBF in Belgium. The budget approaches €300,000 ($370,000).

Lastly, Les Films is also bringing Animals Have a History to MIP. The series (either 2 x 52 minutes or 5 x 52 minutes) explores the separate histories of animals: the one they share with us and another that’s entirely their own. Produced with the aid of the CNC and Europe Audiovisuel Dévelopement, the series will air on ARTE France and France 5, and has a budget of about €725,000 ($891,000). BC


Through the lens of a child
In Let’s Talk About Us, viewers will get a first-hand look at the impact of domestic abuse. Toronto prodco Filmblac plans to put cameras into the hands of children who then interview their mothers (and one father) about their abusive spouse. The one-hour doc will examine the dynamics of the relationships, and the personal healing process that occurs between the abused partner and the children who are witness.

Directed by Deepa Mehta (Hollywood, Bollywood), the project will wrap late 2005 and will be distributed by Toronto’s Harbourfront Entertainment. The US$200,000 project enjoys complete funding from the OMNI Television Independent Producers Initiative. BC


Spies next door
The Safe House is a half-hour film based on the true life experience of writer/director Lee Whitmore. When Whitmore was a girl, the Petrovs – Soviet spies on the run, hoping to avoid an intelligence purge after Stalin’s death – moved in next door. It was a convoluted affair that saw Mrs. Petrov abducted in Australia by the Soviet secret police, before the Aussies stepped up and rescued her. All in all, it was an exciting time and Whitmore lived steps from the action.

House is told through a unique animation technique involving a mixture of paint and oil on glass plates, which is then digitally photographed.

Ready to wrap this December, the project is a Film Australia National Interest Program, produced in association with SBS Independent and scheduled to air on SBS in Australia. The budget on the project is AU$300,000 (US$225,000). BC


History of a vicious virus
Truly one of the scourges of our age, AIDS continues to wreak havoc around the globe. To refocus viewers’ attention on the subject, Boston PBS affiliate WGBH, Paladin Invision and Silverbridge of London are undertaking what they describe as the ‘definitive aids doc.’ Age of AIDS is a 4 x 56-minute series that should wrap in April, 2006. The producers plan to take a chronological look at the discovery and attempts to combat the virus. Archival footage and dramatic re-enactments of landmark events will be used to tell the story as an epic struggle against a foe that threatens lives around the world.

Distributed by Granada International, the series will be broadcast on WGBH in the U.S. and C4 in the U.K. The budget for the effort is in the US$3 million range. BC

Not just half a life
Is it a miracle of modern science, or just a plain miracle? American Rosemarie Holman has sacral agenesis, which means she was born with only half a body. Despite this incredible handicap, she is married, has a son and is living a normal life. In fact, she wants a second child.

Produced by London/Bristol/Washington-based Tigress Productions, Rosemarie is a 50-minute special that will wrap in October, 2006. It is being distributed by Granada International and already has Discovery Health, Five and Discovery U.K. signed on. Look for this £200,000 (US$360,000) film to explore the science behind Rosemarie’s condition and the complications it causes as she tries to give birth for the second time. BC

Nothing to sneeze at
Most don’t give the flu a second thought. After all, even the worst runny nose is only an inconvenience, albeit an unattractive one. But what would happen if 70% of those who contracted the flu died? Such an infection would have global social, political and economic ramifications. The world as we know it would cease to exist.

Such a calamity isn’t as far-fetched as we’d like to think. Epidemic specialists think a pandemic is entirely possible. (Consider even the limited impact of avian influenza, and you get the idea.) Race Against the Killer Flu, a 52-minute special from National Geographic Television & Film and Australia’s Electric Pictures, explores how such a pandemic might arise and what its impact would be. Using re-enactments and CGI, it proposes how science might combat a rapidly mutating virus, and offers viewers a peek into the ‘war room’ at the World Health Organization.

The roughly US$600,000 project will deliver at the end of 2005, and is being financed with the assistance of Australia’s Film Finance Corporation as well as Screenwest and Lotterywest. The film is being distributed by London-based National Geographic Television International.

Also from NGTI is NGT&F’s ominously titled Wall of Death. This 52-minute special considers life at the foot of the vertical cliffs that rise from the waters of the Dead Sea. There, giant ibex challenge each other in a ritual battle to the death, with leopards, wolves and hyenas preying on the winners. It’s an environment fraught with danger – not only do predators and prey face the daily struggle brought about by their respective positions on the food chain, they must also overcome the challenges of the battlefield: sheer cliffs and treacherous paths that separate the nimble and brave from the weak and careless. Wrapping for end of year, Death carries a budget of about $500,000.

Nature isn’t just a challenge for wildlife. The San Francisco earthquake of 1906 toppled 28,000 buildings and killed thousands. Crevasses opened to swallow people and homes, and whole sections of waterfront land liquefied. In the end, more than 200,000 people lost their homes.

The story of the Great Quake is often told in the past tense, but it’s a disaster likely to repeat itself. The Great Quake, produced by Toronto-based Cream Production in association with NGT&F, will tell the whole story of what happens to both a city and the development of scientific theory when the earth moves. Distributed by ngti and ready for the end of the year, Quake will be available in 52- and 90-minute versions, and carries a budget around $600,000. BC

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