“An Honest Liar” claims MIPDoc pitch prize

Left Turn Films, the prodco behind Sons of Perdition, wowed judges at the MIPDoc International Pitch competition in Cannes with its latest project, which documents the life and exploits of master magician and "professional skeptic," The Amazing Randi (pictured).
March 30, 2012

Left Turn Films, the prodco behind Sons of Perdition, wowed judges at the MIPDoc International Pitch competition in Cannes with its latest project, which documents the life and exploits of master magician and “professional skeptic,” The Amazing Randi (pictured).

Other films that made the shortlist for the competition included Homo Touristicus from Roche Productions in France, Makio’s Dance from Sant & Usant Documentary film in Norway, The Afghan Warriors from Making DOC Producciones in Spain, The King of Mont Vertoux from Associate Directors in Belgium, and The New Plastic Road from Filmografik Productions in Greece.

An Honest Liar was the first pitch heard by the panel of jurors for this year’s competition, chaired by BBC ‘Storyville’ editor Nick Fraser and rounded out by SVT commissioning editor Axel Arno and VPRO commissioner for documentaries, Barbara Truyen.

Producer/director Tyler Measom enthusiastically put forward the story of the film’s central character, James “The Amazing” Randi, an internationally renowned 83-year-old magician and debunker of faith healers and psychics. Mixing Randi’s numerous television appearances over the years with footage of the magician today, the film depicts how Randi is on a mission of sorts to both protect the integrity of magic – an “honest” form of lying, he believes – and what he sees as the fraudulent practices of faith healers and psychics.

The team has been shooting for six and a half months, and the project has already received 45% of its budget through grants, donations and private equity. The project will pitch again to international commissioners in May, having been selected as an entrant for the Hot Docs Forum, as previously reported.

All jurors responded favorably to the pitch, with Fraser wondering how the producers would frame the activities of Randi today, as opposed to having the archive tell most of the tale. Measom said Randi’s current mission, to assemble an Oceans Eleven-style team to debunk an unnamed religious organization, would keep the film firmly rooted in the here and now.

Following Liar, the next pitch heard by the jury was from Roche Productions for Homo Touristicus, a project that aims to explore the history and evolution of the tourist. The producers intend to use a humor through incorporating social science experts and wildlife filming conventions to capture the tourist in action and comment on its behaviors. The jurors, however, didn’t seem to get the joke, with Fraser saying he felt the conceit would come off as “patronizing.” Truyen commented that she wasn’t clear on the focus of the film after viewing the beautifully-shot trailer, saying it seemed “in between genres.”

Maiko’s Dance from Norway was up next, telling the story of Maiko Nishino, the Japanese-born prima ballerina of the Norwegian National Ballet. Director Âse Svenheim-Drivenes said the dancer, who is fulfilling both her dreams and that of her mother by dancing, is at a crossroads, as she faces more competition at work from a younger set of ballerinas, and an internal battle between the demands of her career and her desire to have children. The team behind the project is currently looking for pre-sales and coproduction funds in the neighborhood of €50,000 (US$66,585).

Unfortunately, the pitch was plagued with technical problems, as the trailer wasn’t able to be viewed in the correct aspect ratio initially, and all-important translation of the Japanese dialogue wasn’t visible on screen. Still, jurors were enamored enough of the project and the pitch to give it an honorable mention.

Making DOC’s The Afghan Warriors follows young female boxers from Afghanistan as they train for the London Olympics in an environment that is still rife with sexism and intolerance. The film is shooting in London and Kabul, and the Making DOC team has 50% of its budget in place, and is on the hunt for coproduction funding and pre-sales.

While the jurors thought the trailer was set up well, Arno commented that the clip didn’t seem to illuminate the characters clearly.

Another project with a sporting angle, The King of Mont Vertoux, came with an elaborate transmedia angle. The project aims to document the history of competitive cycling through “an imaginary race across the boundaries of time,” featuring five modern-day cyclists vying to become the “King of Mont Vertoux.”

The project currently has 45% of its budget secured and numerous European broadcasters on board or expressing interest, but the jurors seemed unconvinced about the universality of the project, with Truyen asking what the entry point would be for those who weren’t cycling enthusiasts.

The final pitch came for Filmografik’s The New Plastic Road, which follows two characters – merchandiser Davlat from Tajikistan, and Chinese truck driver Liu – who meet regularly on the road between Murghab and the Qulma pass that unites the two countries.

While the jurors found the trailer well-shot, the question that met the last pitch returned: what would be the hook that would bring in an audience?

As winners of this year’s edition of the MIPDoc International Pitch, Left Turn Films receives editorial coverage from MIPTV’s Daily News and realscreen (a media partner for the event), a one-on-one meeting with a jury member during the event, free entry to MIPDoc 2013, and free submission of the winning program to the MIPDoc 2013 digital library.

About The Author
Jillian Morgan is the Associate Editor at Realscreen with a background in journalism and digital marketing. She joined the publication in 2019 after serving as the assistant editor to trade publications HPAC and On-Site. With a bachelor of journalism from the University of King's College in Halifax, she also works as a freelance writer and fact-checker.