Make arts programs? Get to know Bravo!Canada

Bravo!Canada's acquisitions manager, Jonah Zalken, tells realscreen about the culture and arts-focused channel's new upcoming doc slot and his recent feature-length acquisitions. Plus, if you've got a performing arts-themed competition show, read on.
October 6, 2008

Bravo!Canada, which launched in 1995 and has almost 6.9 million subscribers, is home to cultural and arts programming. It airs roughly 800 documentary hours per year (including series and one-offs), with roughly 70 percent of its non-fiction programming being pre-licensed and 30 percent acquired.

Jonah Zalken, acquisitions manager at Bravo!Canada (pictured), says there are several times that docs air in the channel’s schedule. There’s the weekly Sunday night slot called ‘Bravo!Docs’ with Canadian documentary programming that has been either acquired or pre-licensed. ‘The subjects stem from various artistic disciplines including art, literature, dance, music and theater,’ says Zalken.

As part of the ‘Great Performers’ strand, there are also dance-related docs on Monday nights and music-related pieces on Tuesdays and Saturdays.

Looking ahead, February will see the launch of the ‘Documentary Film Festival’ slot, which Zalken says will showcase some higher-profile feature-length pieces, such as the recent Hot Docs winner Flicker, Ron Mann’s latest film, Know Your Mushrooms, and the TIFF hit Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey. Comprised of a combination of acquired and pre-licensed documentaries, Zalken says the slot will run Thursdays at 9 p.m. EST, starting with the world television premiere of Flicker on February 5, 2009.

The list of Bravo’s newest doc acquisitions shows a healthy range of arts-related fare. Take Paramount Pictures’ Neil Young: Heart of Gold, which will premiere on Bravo on November 1. As Zalken says, ‘This is Jonathan (Stop Making Sense, The Silence of the Lambs) Demme’s glorious concert documentary film of Neil Young’s performance at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. It’s got some of his classics from the ’70s, but also some beautiful tracks from his recent masterpiece ‘Prairie Wind.”

Then there’s A Bronx Dream from Beyond Entertainment. Zalken describes it as ‘A very charming doc about a group of public school children in the Bronx who are taught Irish dancing a la Riverdance.’ It shimmies its way onto Bravo on January 3.

The channel will also air recent acquisition Robert Lepage: Ex Machina In Russia from Montreal’s Filmoption International in the new year. This doc chronicles Lepage’s Ex Machina troupe as they present four productions at the Chekhov International Theatre Festival in Russia, explains Zalken. ‘The doc really follows him through the entire creative process as he mounts these quite elaborate theatrical pieces.’

With all this doc talk, you may be concerned that there isn’t enough room for your reality show on Bravo, but that’s not the case. ‘Because we develop a lot of documentary-style series through Charlotte Engel’s [Bravo production] department, on the acquired side we are often on the lookout for new reality formats with an artistic slant,’ says Zalken. ‘With the success of Idol, Dancing With the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance Canada, there is an increased interest in the performing arts, so competition series in that vein are a great fit for Bravo.’

This type of series seems like the right type of offering to draw Bravo’s main demo: adults 25 to 54. ‘While our viewership has remained flat over the past two broadcast years,’ says Zalken, ‘we have seen consistent growth among women in the past four seasons.’ He adds that Bravo currently skews 61 percent female.

One last (non work-related) note: if you happen to run into Zalken at an upcoming event, ask him about his passion for photography. The craziest thing he shot recently was the Flicker after party during Hot Docs, where a working example of Brion Gysin’s ‘dream machine’ was available for revelers to use. ‘Party goers sat around the spinning device emitting flickering light, eyes closed, waiting for that moment of Zen,’ recalls Zalken. ‘It made for some really amusing candid photos of the patrons.’

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