Hollywood’s Most Dangerous Documentarians on Death Threats, Scientology and “Staging” Reality

“One thing I’ve learned is that the person who wants to hurt you does not send you a note in advance,” says Michael Moore, as he gathers with five other outspoken top directors — Alex Gibney, Amy Berg, Kirby Dick, Liz Garbus and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi — for THR’s Documentary Roundtable.

Liz Garbus, Alex Gibney, Kirby Dick, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, Michael

What is truth? That question was at the center of a heated debate among some of the most admired documentary filmmakers of our times during a roundtable that took place Oct. 29 in New York City — and their answers weren’t always what you might expect. Truth and facts aren’t necessarily the same thing, one argued; and “staging” reality might be OK in the service of a deeper truth, said another. Oscar winners Alex Gibney, 62 (Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief and Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine), and Michael Moore, 61 (Where to Invade Next, which looks at progressivism abroad), were joined by Amy Berg, 45 (Janis: Little Girl Blue, a Joplin biography, and Prophet’s Prey, an investigation into the Warren Jeffs cult), Kirby Dick, 63 (The Hunting Ground, about campus rape), Liz Garbus, 45 (What Happened, Miss Simone?, which traces Nina Simone’s career), and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, 36 (Meru, a mountaineering thriller), in a conversation that ranged historically from Shakespeare’s Henry V to Margaret Thatcher and geographically from a Himalayan mountain range to the halls of the Pentagon.

What personal price have you paid to be documentary filmmakers?

DICK When you make a strong film, if you don’t get that reaction, perhaps you haven’t made the film strong enough. You’re going into a territory — sexual assault, for example — that people want to cover up. If I haven’t made that impact, where it’s causing people to respond and even to come at me, I really haven’t told the whole truth.

GIBNEY That’s very important we engage, even if there’s hostility — and I certainly have experienced a good bit.

MOORE I wish I just got hostility. (Laughs.)

GARBUS That’d be awesome.

BERG No death threats?

MOORE One thing I’ve learned is that the person who wants to hurt you does not send you a note in advance. The death threats are great; it’s the half a dozen assaults and attempts on my life [that aren’t], including a man who built a fertilizer bomb to plant under our home to blow it up — he went to prison — and the others who assaulted me with knives and billy clubs. [In Florida], a really nicely dressed man in a three-piece suit comes out of Starbucks and sees me, and he just turned purple and the vein started bulging. I call it the “Limbaugh Vein” — you know, it’s like after they’ve had three hours of listening to Rush. And he takes the lid off his hot, scalding coffee and throws it in my face. And only because I had this security guy with me [was I safe]. He put his face in front of mine and took the hit. Got second-degree burns. We had to take him to the hospital, but not before he took the guy down on the sidewalk and handcuffed him. After my Oscar speech [for Bowling for Columbine] and Fahrenheit 9/11, I’ve lived a number of years with this kind of horrible situation.

Are you afraid?

MOORE Well, yeah, I’m afraid. Yeah, of course. But I reached a certain point where I had to just stop being afraid, and I got rid of the security. I couldn’t live that way anymore. It was difficult on our family. People around me were afraid they were going be the collateral damage. And so finally I just decided: I’m in my 50s, I’ve lived a good life. Nobody will say I didn’t make a contribution. And if it’s going to happen today, it happens today, and you just live with it. And, actually, it was kind of liberating, that day when I decided to get rid of the security.

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Award-winning film maker Kim Longinotto on the struggle for funding, low self esteem – and telling difficult stories

Kim Longinotto tells me several times during our interview that she has “very low self-esteem”, adding that “not being a very confident person” may have helped her 30-year career in documentary filmmaking.

It’s not the usual chitchat you’d expect from someone set to join the likes of Sir David Attenborough, John Pilger and Norma Percy in becoming the recipient of a Grierson Trustee Award for documentary film tonight. But then Longinotto has spent much of her career stuggling to get her work funded, let alone noticed.

Even her most recent film, Dreamcatcher, about the world of prostitution and sexual abuse of underage girls in Chicago, proved a tough sell. Her documentaries cost a modest £200,000 for 10 weeks of filming with minimal crew and swift editing, but when she asked the BBC for money to make Dreamcatcher she was turned down.

“I was honest, said I will do my best. It was risky. Everything is so insecure, they [the BBC commissioners] need reassurance as much as I do.” She eventually raised $175,000 from a commercial source and “paid them back almost immediately” when, after its premiere at the Sundance Festival in Utah, it was picked up by US cable network Showtime. Now the BBC have bought it, for more than she originally asked for and it will have its UK debut in BBC4’s Storyville slot on 11 November.

Longinotto has made more than 20 films, usually featuring inspiring women and girls at their core. She’s delved into female genital mutilation in Kenya (The Day I Will Never Forget), women standing up to rapists in India (Pink Saris), and the story of Salma, an Indian Muslim woman who smuggled poetry out to the world while locked up by her family for decades. But unlike many modern documentary makers her presence is rarely felt on screen. She uses handheld cameras to get up close to ordinary people – disarming them. “I want you to forget me, so there is nothing between you and them, so it looks like a fiction film,” she says. “Everywhere I go, I have never had a film which people didn’t want to be in.”

The approach is evident in Dreamcatcher, which explores its subject through the story of an ex-prostitute, Brenda Myers-Powell, who has rebuilt her life and set up a foundation to help escapees. “It was the last thing I wanted to make, it’s going to be bleak, where is the hope, the rebelliousness in it?” Longinotto thought, when a producer proposed the idea. “Then she showed me a clip of Brenda, it was love at first sight.” It has a heartbreaking scene where, one by one, a class of vulnerable teenagers tutored by Brenda talk about being sexually assaulted and raped. One says she was nine and unable to protect her four-year-old sister. “I was crying for pride in them. They were absolutely thrilled to have their stories told. I think with a lot of the TV programmes what we get is the negative side … they are taking from people … somehow we are robbing people of their stories. Whereas I feel the opposite. Those girls had never been listened to. Never been heard. Or have been disbelieved, or told off for telling. Here at last was someone [saying] ‘I’m on your side. You can do it’.”

To get the young women and girls to open up, she had showed them another of her films, Sisters in Law, about two women in Cameroon who stand up to male abuse, and told them about her own experience of being gang-raped in her 20s while she studying at the National Film & TelevisionSchool in London.

“It is only in the last few years I’ve been able to say that in front of an audience,” Longinotto says. “I don’t care, it happens to us all. If people think it’s attention-seeking, weird, misplaced, I don’t care. Loads of people are abused as children, raped, why should we keep quiet? That’s what we want, people who speak out, not victims who are not embarrassed, not pathetic. That is what the media can do.

“I put my camera down, I said [to the women in Dreamcatcher], ‘it’s all right, you have got to let it go, learn to let things go’. We are survivors.”

The assault followed on from a sad start in life, a posh boarding school that sent her to Coventry, a cold family who pretended they were direct descendants of painter Edwin Landseer (her father was an Italian photographer), and a period of sleeping rough. She was in penury for seven years in the 1980s as she held out to make her sort of documentary, but her work has given her perspective on her own life. “You can’t watch Dreamcatcher and think you had it bad. I didn’t have a couple of kids at the age of 14.”

It was the arrival of Channel 4 that offered her a way into filmmaking via a workshop focused on making films in local communities. This led to a breakthrough commission, Divorce Iranian Style. She has never earned enough to buy a home, but says being able to buy “the best bike in the shop” means she is well-off, and “you don’t do this for the money” .

It does, though, take money to get her films made. She is used to making one film a year but that has dropped now it takes longer to get funding. She has used the BBC’s consultation on its next royal charter to argue the corporation should do more to help get documentaries made.

“There should be a fully-funded documentary strand on television,” she says. “I said fund Storyville properly. They get bloody good films, but they should be able to originate them. Have a budget. And the BBC should not be warring with ITV. They should be more public service. Strictly should not be against X Factor.”

However, she isn’t snooty about popular TV. “A lot of documentary makers tell me they don’t even have a TV, they look down on TV, only watch cinema films. Telly is my pleasure in life. I am addicted. I can’t imagine not living in England because of the telly. It is that bad.

“There are things that are wonderful, The Naked Choir, Gogglebox, The X Factor, these programmes really enrich our lives, the good ones feed into our culture and make our society more adventurous.” She credits Graham Norton, Grayson Perry and Eddie Izzard for making Britain “a more fun place to live”.

She now teaches at the National Film & Television School, “encouraging students to find how they want to do it, maybe film a little less. It is about very basic things, not art, things like how to create a scene.”

Longinotto says it is “wonderful” to be given the Grierson award, but her main priority is getting exposure for her work. “It feels like it’s not an award for me, but all the people in the films, these films are worth looking at. And it means more people will watch them.” Meanwhile she is waiting to hear whether the BBC will fund her next film, set in New York. Asked whether she is likely to succeed, her self-effacement resurfaces: “Who knows, they could easily say no. I probably messed it up.”

Maggie Brown – The Guardian – Monday 2 November 2015

Curriculum vitae

Age 63 Education Hampden House school, Buckinghamshire, Essex University (English and European literature)


1974 National Film & Television School

1976 first film, Pride of Place,shown at London Film Festival

1995 Shinjuku Boys judged outstanding documentary at the San Francisco Gay and Lesbian Film Festival

1998 Divorce Iranian Style

2002 The Day I Will Never Forget

2005 Sisters in Law

2007 Hold Me Tight, Let Me Go

2008 Rough Aunties

2010 Pink Saris

2013 Salma

2015 Dreamcatcher

Northern Pictures strikes the right balance

This week, Northern reprises one of its more notable successes with the second series of Changing Minds: The Inside Story airing through the week during the ABC’s “Mental As” series supporting Mental Health Week: Tuesday 6 October 2015, 8:32pm

When David Haslingden decided to return home to Australia a few years ago, he didn’t have a home.

After leaving his role as the president and chief operating officer of the US Fox Networks Group, the home to FX, National Geographic, Fox Sports and others, he emerged with a production company with operations in China, New Zealand and Singapore yet “nowhere to sit” in Sydney.

In three years, Haslingden has established more than just a seat at the Australian television table. After a friend suggested he meet factual producer Sue Clothier, who had recently established Northern Pictures and was in the midst of producing the natural history series Kakadu, Northern joined his RACAT Group of companies. And then Haslingden was appointed chairman of Nine Entertainment Co.

“It was very fast and Northern Pictures has continued on the evolution and expanded into other areas but really it was an absolutely perfect fit for me,” Haslingden says.

Haslingden laughs that his socially progressive documentary choices aren’t a reaction to the more tabloid programming on Fox’s US cable networks but rather moves into areas “I was most passionate about”. “I loved National Geographic, so when I had the opportunity to make a change I wanted to explore that,” he says.” I am very passionate about nature and social issues that impact many people that aren’t understood. Media is an incredibly powerful tool to assist in informing social change and awareness of things.”

Changing Minds did that, anchoring the ABC’s “Mental As” initiative last year.

Clothier admits “nobody knew how well it was going to go last year and going into production, we had no idea the sort of content we could actually expect as well” given the series follows mental health patients at Sydney’s Liverpool ­Hospital.

As the local production sector consolidates, Northern (Clothier is managing director and Haslingden chief executive) has struck a balance where it can deliver global series of great scale, such as Life on the Reef, as well as targeted, high-risk series such as Changing Minds.

He appears enthused and comfortable with his production stable, particularly NP, but also including NHNZ, Beach House Productions, Keshet Australia and ZooMoo.

Rumours of his possible move to become chief executive of Nine appear exaggerated, although he is equally bullish about television’s future, and consequently for Northern and Nine. If television can be described as an audiovisual experience that evokes emotion, he says, “that is a golden product that is getting more and more valuable every day”.

Michael Bodey – The Australian – October 05, 2015

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AIDC coming to Melbourne!

Breaking news from Adelaide! The Australian International Documentary Conference has found a new home – in Melbourne, Victoria.

Film Victoria and ACMI will jointly sponsor next year’s AIDC. And as Katrina Sedgwick told us at this year’s event, she brought the Documentary Conference to Adelaide when she was running the Adelaide Film Festival around 12 years ago. Katrina and Richard Sowada were present at the announcement and are obviously keen to hit the ground running and provide a terrific, reimagined conference next year.

Lucky Melbourne!

After the SA government withdrew substantial amount of funding for this year’s Conference, it was morphed into a no frills version this year by outgoing Joost Den Hartog, who looked as though he really didn’t want to be there. The Conference, named Net-Work-Play, focussed on online delivery mechanisms and digital content as the way of the future.

Film Victoria’s Jenni Tosi also welcomed the arrival of AIDC to Victoria and is clearly a strong supporter of the move along with FV’s Jeni McMahon who was also there.

Screen savers: the untold story of US TV’s showrunners

They are the new masters of TV, a bunch of jelly-bean-eating hotshots who have ushered in a golden age. But what do showrunners actually do? Andrew Collins on a film that goes behind the scenes at everything from Boardwalk Empire to The Good Wife

‘Be entertaining’ … the writers’ room on Men of a Certain Age, featured in the new It’s a truism that TV is now better than the movies. So where does that leave Showrunners: The Art of Running a TV Show? It’s a movie about TV. Specifically, it’s the first feature-length documentary to take us inside the inner sanctums of critically acclaimed and commercially successful US series like The Good Wife, Sons of Anarchy, Bones, House of Lies and Boardwalk Empire.

The difference between the American and the British way of making TV drama is no more than the placement of an apostrophe. In the US, it’s all about the writers’ room. In the UK, it’s the writer’s room. Both methodologies are romanticised: the Showrunners film caffeinated, air-conditioned detention centre in Burbank where story arcs are “broken” and whiteboards incrementally filled by salaried Buffy fans juggling stress balls; and the shed at the bottom of an Oxfordshire garden in which a tortured author taps out every syllable of an eight-part masterpiece based on his own novel to the strains of Radio 3 until called in for supper. Perhaps it’s no wonder we mythologise the US system.

Ignoring the old saw about letting light in upon magic, Showrunners points an awed spotlight on to a species previously granted tongue-tied anonymity in a pre-internet age. As Tara Bennett, the author of the film’s companion book, writes: “Who would have ever thought that the pale, weary, self-deprecating talents plunking tirelessly on their abused keyboards would become the pin-up faces for the modern era’s latest Golden Age?”

The documentary’s director is Des Doyle, a voluble, black-T-shirted Dubliner who, after 12 years pulling focus in the camera department on everything from dragon apocalypse Reign of Fire to Barry Levinson’s sectarian wigmaking romp An Everlasting Piece, decided in 2010 to make a film of his own. A growing fascination for big, millennial, creator-led US shows like The X-Files, Buffy and Lost gave him his subject. “I’d waited diligently for a documentary to come along to explain exactly what a ‘showrunner’ did,” he says. “But it never did.”

For the next two years, Doyle and his modest crew stalked Los Angeles collecting firsthand testimony from almost 30 American showrunners – Joss Whedon (Buffy, Angel), Terence Winter (Boardwalk Empire), Shawn Ryan (The Shield), Ronald D Moore (Battlestar Galactica) – resulting in a blockbusting nature documentary in which mostly white, male, 40-50-something showrunners are glimpsed in their natural habitat, feeding as a group on jelly beans and ideas.

Terence Winter established himself by writing for televisual motherlode The Sopranos on HBO and graduated to running his own show, Boardwalk, for the same creatively empowering network. “I’m one of those people who buys a DVD and goes right to the DVD extras, the behind-the-scenes interview, the auditions,” he says, explaining why he loves Doyle’s documentary: “It’s always fascinating to hear people talk about the business and get a look behind that curtain.” He laments the fact that he rarely gets the chance to swap notes with fellow showrunners. “For the most part, the business of running a show is more than a full-time job.”

Since the job description isn’t even an above-the-line accreditation (you’ll see “created by” or “executive producer” scroll past in the opening credits, but never “showrunner”) what does it actually entail? In reality, you guard the creative vision while acting as a lightning rod for all production issues. Jane Espenson, who ran Battlestar spin-off Caprica, reckons “a showrunner has to have a bit of dictator in them”. Her former boss Ron Moore likens the job to being “a forest manager – I manage the forest, but someone else is out there dealing with all these trees, pruning them every day”. Winter says they’re “part psychologist, part motivational speaker. You’re a host at a dinner party trying to get everybody to open up a little bit.” Hart Hanson, avuncular creator of the long-running Bones, adds: “Most, but not all, have terrible posture.”

On Boardwalk, which after five grandly slow-burning seasons has just reached its finale, Winter ran his writers’ room just as David Chase had done on The Sopranos, with a sign on the wall based on a Chase dictum: “Be entertaining.” Averaging about five writers at any given time, he’d come in with “a broad-strokes roadmap of where I thought the season should go” and lead a process that involved “a lot of sitting around a table, eating potato chips, ordering lunch, a lot of digression. To the untrained ear, it may sound like a bunch of people bullshitting, but those are the things that get made into TV shows.”

For instance, the Brooklyn house Winter grew up in had fallen into a state of disrepair (“I was always embarrassed of it as a child”). When his mother, who still lived in it, passed away, he fixed up the entire house before selling it. “I didn’t realise it at the time, but what I was really doing was repairing my childhood.” In the writers’ room somebody said: “That would be a great story for Nucky.” That’s the show’s flawed lead, played by Steve Buscemi. Fans will recall that Nucky does the same thing in season one, episode seven. “He also burns the house down,” Winter laughs. “I didn’t do that.”

Doyle’s film is full of similar firsthand insight. Robert and Michelle King, the husband-and-wife team behind The Good Wife, credit their success to “the fact we don’t have resentful spouses at home”. On the subject of social-media interaction with fans, the heavily tattooed Steven S DeKnight, showrunner of Spartacus, recalls: “I’ve gotten into a dust-up twice where I found out later I was actually in a yelling match with, like, a 12-year-old.” Hart Hanson muses: “There’s a very small portion of the audience who think they know how the soup is made and give you advice on how much salt to put in it. I think they should be ignored.”

Female showrunners remain rare, although the likes of Shonda Rimes (Scandal), Espenson and Dee Johnson (Nashville) are making a difference. According to a 2012- 13 study by San Diego State University, women still only account for 24% of US “series creators” (it’s 34% for writers). Janet Tamaro, showrunner of TNT’s female buddy crime series Rizzoli & Isles, observes in the film: “Some people – both male and female – have an easier time being told what to do by a man.” When staffing his room, Winter abides by the law of what he calls “hangability – these are people you gotta want to hang out with”. He used six female writers on Boardwalk.

The British showrunner is even rarer, due to shorter series and tighter budgets, although Chris Chibnall (Broadchurch), Neil Cross (Luther) and Jed Mercurio (Line of Duty) are taking the baton from Russell T Davies and his successor at Doctor Who, Steven Moffat, who emulate the American model. At an Edinburgh TV Festival session in August, ITV’s new drama controller Victoria Fea dampened buccaneering fantasies about become the showrunner on a British series: “We have lots of authors in this country who sit in their garrets and write in splendid isolation. That doesn’t necessarily go with running a production meeting.”

Winter, a fan of everything from The Singing Detective to The Hour, has better news. “Whatever you guys are doing over there in England, it’s working pretty damn well. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”

Watch the trailer here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=aYWRgqRcSO4

Showrunners: The Art of Running a TV Show is available to purchase from Friday at www.showrunnersthemovie.com

Andrew Collins – The Guardian, Tuesday 28 October 2014

$2 million-plus pledged for Oz docs

In a single, extraordinary day more than $2 million in donations was pledged to seven Australian feature-length documentaries on Wednesday. The scale of the financial support stunned the organisers of the first Good Pitch Australia event, which aids social impact documentaries.

Equally surprised were the recipients. “I am speechless,” said producer Marguerite Grey, who is collaborating with director Belinda Mason on Constance on the Edge,which looks at the struggles of a Sudanese refugee, Constance Okot, and her six children in Wagga Wagga. The docu was the biggest single recipient with pledges of more than $500,000 for the production and an initial outreach strategy which includes hosted regional film screenings and education and training resources.

Screen Australia provided $15,000 for research and development in March and in September Screen NSW gave $10,000 for filming a trailer for Good Pitch and for broadcasters to help secure project finance. However the ABC and SBS rejected the producer’s initial requests for investment, stating the project did not suit their programming priorities.

Grey was overwhelmed by the responses to their Good Pitch presentation from the philanthropic foundations, private philanthropists and corporate foundations who were among the audience of 300 at the Opera House.

“Following our seven-minute pitch, Susan Mackinnon from Documentary Australia Foundation, who is executive producer of Constance on the Edge, kicked off the table discussion by announcing philanthropic support of $100,000 had already been pledged. A foundation on our table generously added $25,000 and then someone at a microphone said they represented two donors who had pledged $50,000 – all within a few minutes.

“Then a man stepped up and pledged $200,000 to audible gasps from many in the room including Constance, and it kept going from there. It was as though Susan had struck a match and our funding took off like a grass fire. Many people including other filmmakers made very personal pledges for a range of amounts, $1,000, $20,000, $5,000, with some saying it was because they understood the difficulties of being an Australian with a refugee background. Suddenly our struggle to stay in production had ended and we knew we could make our film.”

Good Pitch is the international documentary forum devised by BRITDOC and Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program. Good Pitch Australia is an initiative of Shark Island Institute and Documentary Australia Foundation.

More than 150 grants were made by philanthropic foundations and individual donors on the day. Among those who committed their support are NAB, The Fledgling Fund, Australian Women Donor’s Network, GetUp, YMCA, The Funding Network, The Caledonia Foundation, White Ribbon, The Westpac Group, The George Institute for Global Health, Diabetes Australia, Inside Film, Dumbo Feather, Lock The Gate, Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care, AIME, the Sydney Film Festival, Chicken & Egg Pictures, Chicago Media Project, Impact Partners, Philanthropy Australia, Pro Bono Australia, Documentary Australia Foundation and the Shark Island Institute.

By Don Groves INSIDEFILM [Fri 10/10/2014]

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Screen Australia Invests Over $3.8 Million In 13 New Documentaries

In the final round of documentary funding for this financial year Screen Australia is pleased to announce 13 projects will receive over $3.8 million in support, generating production value of more than $13.2 million.

The projects selected under the National Documentary Program and General Documentary Program include eight one-off documentaries and five series. The documentaries will appeal to a diverse audience covering areas across science, arts, sports, history and religion, and will be accessible broadly through public, free-to-air and subscription broadcasters.

Screen Australia’s Senior Manager of Documentary, Liz Stevens, said, “We are excited about this final round of well-researched projects that will entertain and inform.

Appealing to a wide audience the projects should stimulate conversation about contemporary concerns such as parenting, poverty and identity.”

Three projects will be supported through the National Documentary Program.

From Blackfella Films comes DNA Nation, an epic story of genetic time travel, written/produced by Jacob Hickey and produced by Darren Dale for SBS. It is a story about our origins and how we are all related to one another.

Writer/director Paul Clarke’s Priscilla: Monster in a Party Frock is an observation of the history and development of celebrating gay culture. This one-off documentary from Jungleboys FTV will be produced by Jo-anne McGowan, Jason Burrows and Jen Peedom for the ABC.

Stop Laughing, This Is Serious is a three-part one-hour series exploring the history of Australian comedy, by writer/producer Paul Horan and Paul Clarke with Screentime for the ABC.

Ten projects will receive funding through the General Documentary Program.

Battlefields is an account of the ANZACs’ encounter with and defeat of the enemy on the Western Front. Written by Michael Cove, produced by Michael Tear and Harriet

Pike, and directed by Serge Ou, the six-part half-hour series by For Valour will broadcast on Foxtel’s History Channel.

A moving examination of the growing trend of broken families and fatherlessness, Call Me Dad, is about fathers that have come together through a men’s program to transform themselves with a focus on reconnecting with their children. Writer/director, Sophie Wiesner, producers Madeleine Hetherton, Rebecca Barry and Ester Harding with Media Stockade will make the one-off documentary for the ABC.

From Cordell Jigsaw Productions, Go Back to Where You Came From returns with a third series, by producer/director Rick McPhee. The three-part documentary for SBS, will challenge six Australians with strong views about the government policy on illegal immigration and boat arrivals.

360 Degree Films’ one-off documentary The Great Australian Fly, written/produced by Sally Ingleton and written/directed by Tosca Looby for the ABC, examines the annoying pest and the influence it has had on shaping Australia.

Harry is the story of a poor young Brazilian immigrant who rises to become an Australian AFL celebrity and struggles to understand a different culture and establish his identity along the way. Jotz Productions’ one-off documentary will be written and directed by Jeff Daniels and produced by Tom Zubrycki for SBS.

From writer/producer/directors Tosca Looby and Alex Tarney, and producer Sally Ingleton, comes Kids Unplugged, a life lesson from Carl Honore teaching three busy families techniques to turn their fast-paced lives into relaxed and happy existences in five weeks via the power of ‘slow’. The one-off documentary from 360 Degree Films will go to air on the ABC.

Licketty Split’s Missing Ingredient explores the ramifications of donor-conceived children and donor dads not being allowed to find each other because of existing laws.

The one-off documentary will be written/directed by Lucy Paplinska and produced by Lisa Horler for the ABC.

A documentary about a celebrated comedian and writer travelling to the East to discover the oldest religion in the world to help him better understand his own relationship with God, Artemis International’s SMGR will be written/directed byRussel Vines and produced by Celia Tait and Brian Beaton for SBS.

KEO Films’ three-part series, Struggle Street, observes the voices and stories of a cross-
section of the western Sydney community struggling to get by while facing overwhelming personal and social challenges. The three-part series by producers Leonie Lowe and David Galloway will be broadcast on SBS.

WKCR is a documentary about a murder investigation and trial that affected many in the community. Produced by Artemis International with writer/director Michael Muntz, writer/producer Celia Tait and producer Brian Beaton, it will be screened on the Seven Network.

Screen Australia’s documentary funding programs are currently under review to ensure that they continue to support the unique qualities of Australian documentary in an evolving ecosystem of screen production and consumption. Drawing on the submissions to the Discussion Paper, Stories that Matter, Screen Australia will be publishing draft guidelines shortly for industry feedback.


DNA NATION (working title)

3 x 52 mins

Blackfella Films Pty Ltd

Producers Darren Dale, Jacob Hickey

Writer Jacob Hickey

Broadcaster SBS

Sales SBS Distribution

Synopsis This is an epic story of genetic time travel. A story about who we are, where we

came from and how we are all related to one another.


1 x 57 mins

Jungleboys FTV Pty Ltd

Producers Jo-anne McGowan, Jason Burrows, Jen Peedom

Director Paul Clarke

Writers Paul Clarke, Alex Barry

Broadcaster ABC

Sales ABC Commercial

Synopsis Monster in a Party Frock is the story of how an unlikely film changed the

course of history and brought a celebration of gay culture to the world.


3 x 57 mins

Screentime Pty Ltd

Executive Producers Jennifer Collins, Bob Campbell

Producers/Writers Paul Horan, Paul Clarke

Broadcaster ABC

Sales ABC Commercial

Synopsis Stop Laughing:This Is Serious is a documentary series exploring the history of

Australian comedy for ABC1.



6 x 24 mins

For Valour Pty Ltd.

Producers Michael Tear, Harriet Pike

Director Serge Ou

Writer Michael Cove

Broadcaster FOXTEL History Channel

Synopsis How the ANZACs met and defeated the main force of the enemy on the

Western Front.


1 x 57 mins

Media Stockade Pty Ltd.

Producers Madeleine Hetherton, Rebecca Barry, Ester Harding

Director/Writer Sophie Wiesner

Broadcaster ABC

Synopsis In the midst of a silent yet devastating epidemic of fatherlessness, this is a film

about fathers at risk of or struggling with broken families whose children are vulnerable.

Now, through a men’s program, they each have the chance to regain what’s lost, to

transform himself and earn another shot at the title, ‘Dad’.


3 x 52 mins

Cordell Jigsaw Productions Pty Ltd

Executive Producers Nick Murray, Michael Cordell

Producer/Director Rick McPhee

Broadcaster SBS

Sales Cordell Jigsaw Distribution

Synopsis With major changes to government policy on boat arrivals, six Australians with

strong views on the issue, embark on a life changing journey which will challenge their

opinions to the very core.


1 x 57 mins

360 Degree Films Pty Ltd

Producer Sally Ingleton

Director Tosca Looby

Writers Tosca Looby, Sally Ingleton

Broadcaster ABC

Sales ZED Sales

Synopsis How a national nuisance helped shape Australia.


1 x 52 mins

Jotz Productions Pty Ltd

Producer Tom Zubrycki

Director/Writer Jeff Daniels

Broadcaster SBS

Synopsis The story of an immigrant boy from Brazil who becomes an AFL star. A black

man in a white world, Harry searches for his own identity in a country and culture that

he feels never really accepts him. From the slums of Rio de Janeiro to the dizzying

heights of Australian celebrity this is the story of a boy who becomes a man by forging

his own perilous path through other’s expectations.


1 x 57 mins

360 Degree Films Pty Ltd

Executive Producer Sally Ingleton

Producers Sally Ingleton, Alex Tarney, Tosca Looby

Directors/Writers Tosca Looby, Alex Tarney

Broadcaster ABC

Synopsis ‘Slow coach’ Carl Honore has five weeks to turn three busy families from

stressed and hectic, to happy and unhurried – via the power of ‘slow’.


1 x 57 mins

Licketty Split Pty Ltd

Executive Producer John Moore

Producer Lisa Horler

Director/Writer Lucy Paplinska

Broadcaster ABC

Synopsis Missing Ingredient is an intimate and cautionary tale about secrets

surrounding sperm donation … and the donor conceived adults – and donors – who are

demanding some answers.


1 x 52 mins

Artemis International

Producers Celia Tait, Brian Beaton

Director/Writer Russel Vines

Broadcaster SBS

Synopsis Celebrated comedian and writer journeys to the East to discover the oldest

religion in the world to help him better understand his own relationship with God.


3 x 52 mins

KEO Films Australia Pty Ltd

Producers Leonie Lowe, David Galloway

Broadcaster SBS

Sales Hat Trick International

Synopsis A three-part observational documentary series that will feature the voices and

stories of a cross-section of struggling western Sydney residents and families as they try

to get by, despite overwhelming personal and social challenges.


1 x 55 mins

Artemis International Pty Ltd

Producers Brian Beaton, Celia Tait

Director Michael Muntz

Writer Michael Muntz, Celia Tait

Broadcaster Channel 7

Synopsis A murder investigation and trial divides a city, and the legal fraternity.

Screen Australia Media Release = Friday 6 June 2014

The Australians who set 60s Britain swinging

Brilliant Creatures: Rebels of Oz tells how Clive James, Germaine Greer, Barry

Humphries and Robert Hughes helped spawn Britain’s counter-culture

The England of the 1960s was in the vanguard of cultural change. In music, fashion,

art and satire, it seemed to set the pace and, even today, the “swinging” status of that

era is seldom challenged. But according to a new documentary presented by the

novelist Howard Jacobson, it was the Aussies what swung it.
Without four key arrivals from Australia: the writer and critic Clive James, the

academic and feminist Germaine Greer, the satirist Barry Humphries and the

cultural historian Robert Hughes, the 60s wouldn’t have been the same.

Brilliant Creatures: Rebels of Oz, which premieres at the Sheffield Documentary

Festival next week, makes the case that the impact of these four Australian

immigrants has never been properly acknowledged. Before their arrival in the early

60s, Jacobson argues, Britain was still hamstrung by caution and sorely in need of

bold interventions from down under.
“In postwar England, and that was still the mood in the 1960s, we were very

reverential,” said Jacobson this weekend. “England was peculiarly receptive to the

ideas of these people, perhaps because it badly needed to change.” Jacobson went out

to Australia just as Humphries, Greer, Hughes and James were each travelling the

other way and so he examines the reasons the foursome felt, one after the other, that

they had to journey to the northern hemisphere to pursue their careers.
“They had been quite deferential to traditional British culture, but they got here and

found they had to teach the supposedly cultured British how to do it,” he said. “In

some ways it was up to them to bring some of the European sense of intellectual life

back here.”
James, who along with Greer and Hughes had been part of an innovative cultural

movement in Sydney known as “the Push”, was disappointed to find less going on in

London. “So Clive came over here and created the salon life he had expected to

discover,” said Jacobson. “He had his famous lunches with Martin Amis and

Christopher Hitchens. He made it happen.”
In the documentary, screened in two parts on BBC Four this summer, Jacobson

places the foursome at the centre of an enduring moment of change for Britain. He

also talks to the surviving three as they approach the end of their creative lives –

Hughes died in 2012. It is a valedictory homage, Jacobson admits, and he asks them

how they will face their own ends. “There is a certain elegiac quality to the film,” he

said, “because one of them is dead already of course and Clive is very ill. Germaine

and Clive are 75 and Barry is 80, so there is a sense of something passing, although

Barry says he will be doing farewell performances for some time to come.”
James, Jacobson said, does not seem frightened, although he is suffering from both

emphysema and leukaemia. “He is very evasive, but brave. He feels it would be bad

manners not to be like that after such a good life. He is strong on manners,” said

In the documentary the writer asks Greer where she would like to be buried, but the

feminist, who wrote the groundbreaking bestseller The Female Eunuch, in 1970, and

who now crusades to preserve a section of the Queensland rainforest that she owns,

told Jacobson she might decide not be buried. “She told me she might prefer to be

eaten by the goannas [lizards] on her land – because they would eat up everything,

even the rings on her fingers.”
Jacobson first met Greer just before he graduated from Cambridge in 1964. He was

about to leave for Australia to take up an academic post in Sydney that Greer had just

vacated. “I was just going and she was just arriving. I thought immediately: ‘This

woman is going to take the country by storm’. We had never seen anyone like that,

although there wasn’t time to ascertain whether she had good ideas. She was fearless

and she had cheek. She sat on the ground and unfolded herself like a long snake. I

had not seen anything like it. If you had a woman round in those days, then they sat

on a chair and you offered her crumpets and tea. They didn’t unfold themselves on

the floor.”
After the screening of the first part of Jacobson’s film in Sheffield this month, Greer

will recount her own part in the story. Jacobson, a long-time fan of Australia, said

that when he arrived in Sydney he found other women who shared Greer’s combative

spirit. “She was tough because she had survived in Australia where it was still

common for blokes to jeer at girls. However remarkable Germaine is, and she

certainly is, when I got to Australia I found there were other women just as fearless.

You see more women like her there. They really had to fight for their chances and so

they became acerbic.”
Humphries created a subversive role for himself in British culture, before going on to

create aliases as the monstrous Australian superstar housewife, Dame Edna Everage,

and the spoof Australian cultural attaché, Sir Les Patterson. “Barry, like the others,

had longed for British sophistication,” said Jacobson. “Yet he had to come over and

beat us at our own game. He became a European dandy.”

Once they had arrived, their native Australian sense of having been culturally

deprived disappeared. “They brought with them many of the European ideas of

intellectualism and sophistication. They were very well read, all four of them. I

always say, if you want to know which gallery a famous picture hangs in, ask an

Australian. They studied them. They knew them, although they had not seen the real

Hughes, who like James once wrote for the Observer, is best known for his book The

Fatal Shore, which tells the story of the white man’s conquering of Australia, and for

his landmark TV series about modern art, The Shock of the New.
Jacobson said all four of his subjects enjoyed going back to Australia, but felt that

they could never go back for good. “For a start, there was a hostility to them there, a

feeling they were the ‘tall poppies’ who would return only if their careers were

flagging. They were attacked for their success. So at that point they cut their ties.

“Germaine, I think, feels an obligation to Australia now, at least to the land. Robert

Hughes also used to go back to fish. They each felt they belonged here, although they

have flirted with Italy. They never felt they had used it all in Britain. Once here, there

was no sense they were anywhere but where they should be.”
Vanessa Thorpe – The Observer, Sunday 1 June 2014

British TV is learning to love the arts – but it can love them too much

TV’s new passion for the arts should be good news for culture enthusiasts. But are critical voices being drowned out by applause?

In the history of television, the areas of British life that have most regularly complained about the lack – and, in recent times, reduction – of airtime are religion and the arts. But, while bishops may still be bitter, artists now seem to have cause to applaud. This week Channel 4 announced a large increase in its arts programming, just over a month after BBC director general Tony Hall revealed the ambition to put arts “at the heart” of the schedules.

The broadcasters will hope for an unreserved cheer from producers and consumers of culture, but there is reason for concern that the type and tone of coverage being promoted may prove rather more beneficial to the creators of the arts than to those who have to pay to see them.

Channel 4’s new commissions include, for example, Random Acts, a showcase for short films by visual artists and film-makers, which is a collaboration with Arts Council England (Ace), an organisation that also featured in the BBC plans, as co-funder and co-producer of The Space, a website on which, again, brief films will be screened.

These cases of Ace teaming up with TV are examples of the current fashion in cultural broadcasting for “creative partnerships”. The BBC has announced co-productions with institutions including the National Portrait Gallery, Tate Britain and the National Galleries of Scotland. The biannual Manchester international festival will become another “creative partner”, with its director, Alex Poots, becoming one of a number of creative figures who will advise the BBC on its coverage. Sir Nicholas Hytner(National Theatre boss until March next year) has joined the BBC’s board as a non-executive director, with Sir Nicholas Serota, head of Tate, chairing a separate “sounding board” of arts supremos.

The fact that almost all these new projects involve actual or virtual art galleries –

with Channel 4 commissioning, as well as Random Acts, a series on modern

portraiture – has revived complaints about the tendency of arts coverage on

television to favour the visual arts over other disciplines. But while it understandably

annoys literature and theatre, this bias is less ideological than technological: a

picture, sculpture or photograph can be represented on screen more or less as it

looks to a gallery-goer, so the viewer can see exactly what is being discussed. In

contrast, any programme dealing with a book or play is able to give only a hint –

through a brief reading or dramatisation – of the material being featured.

This structural difficulty explains the lack of any dedicated theatre or books

programmes on British TV, a frequent cause of lament from fans of those arts.

Although it should not be forgotten that the most enduring and successful arts

programme of modern times – Melvyn Bragg’s The South Bank Show, which ran on

ITV between 1978 and 2010, and has now been revived by Sky Arts – managed to

cover all of the artistic disciplines in rotation, through interviews or documentaries.

Interviewing and film-making, however, are acts of mediation, and potentially of

criticism. The biggest concern about the new generation of arts shows proposed by

Channel 4 and the BBC is not just the preference for pictorial forms, but that they

seem to offer the TV screen as an annexe to the art gallery, with external curators

having at least as much power as internal producers.

Some pundits have pointed to the apparent paradox that the BBC’s commitment to

more cultural coverage was bracketed by the reduction or removal of long-running

arts programmes. Twenty years after it began as Late Review, The Review Show was

cancelled last month without fanfare, just weeks after Radio 3’s Nightwaves was cut

from four nights to three and renamed Freethinking to reflect a more generally

intellectual rather than specifically artistic brief.

One of the BBC’s senior managers recently told a meeting: “We don’t want arts

programmes that say: ‘Should you see this?’; we want programmes that say: ‘You

should see this.'” This small reversal of words reveals a large and significant shift of


Over its two decades, the Review studio was known for often witheringly direct

dismissal of the work under discussion; there are still writers and artists whom I

would fear meeting on a dark night after critiques they received on editions I chaired.

Judgment was also a key element of Nightwaves, which would often make a noisy

point about featuring first-night reviews of London theatre productions.

Now, though, there are strong suspicions that broadcasters are less interested in

reviewing plays than in co-producing them: another of the recently announced BBC

initiatives promises to screen “the best of British theatre”. There is a sense of

editorial energy moving, in footballing terms, from the press box to the terraces.

And sporting metaphors are apt. When announcing that the BBC arts brand would be

given greater prominence in the credits of programmes, executives acknowledged

that they were following the example of the sports department, which closes each

transmission with a lingering picture of its logo.

And the arts/sports comparison has frequently been made over the years by

members of the cultural community. “Why can’t television support arts in the way

that it does sport?” curators and artistic directors would plead.

But this analogy is problematic. Although propagandists for more arts on television

often talk of TV “promoting” or “getting behind” sport, the coverage of football in

particular has become progressively more analytical. Pundits on Match of the Day

were encouraged to be more critical of players and referees, while, on Radio 5 Live’s

after-match phone-in 606, it is almost unknown for managers or officials to be


If arts broadcasting were truly to become more like sport, there would be regular

shows in which punters shouted that “Damien Hirst is a total waste of money,” or

“David Hare was just diabolical tonight”.

There is also, though, another intriguing connection. BBC sport began its policy of

aggressive branding at a time when the corporation was rapidly losing attractions

(cricket, rugby, live football) to rival bidders, especially Sky. So the self-
advertisement was that of a rapidly shrinking man frantically measuring his

remaining height.

In the same way, the pumped-up budgets and publicity for culture at Channel 4 and

the BBC reflect a fear that artists and the big national institutions have alternative

outlets. Digital democracy means that creators and curators can easily make their

work available on-screen without the intervention of TV networks. So provision of

platforms for visual artists – in Random Acts and The Space – can be seen as a hedge

against that trend, while collaborating with the National Portrait Gallery for series

fronted by Grayson Perry (Channel 4) and Simon Schama (BBC) may delay a future

in which the NPG itself produces and distributes such projects.

Live drama already demonstrates television’s loss of a screening monopoly. Last

year’s Globe theatre production of The Duchess of Malfiwas not regarded by most

reviewers as one of the highest achievements of British theatre; and, as its main

design feature was being lit by candles, it does not seem obviously suited to TV

transmission. However, the BBC has chosen to broadcast it.

One reason for this is that the biggest hits of the National, Royal Shakespeare

Company and the West End during that period – such Helen Mirren in The

Audience and David Tennant’s Richard II – were screened in cinemas as part of the

NT Live project pioneered by the National. Those shows neither needed nor wanted

TV. Meanwhile, galleries, including the British Museum and Tate, have started

transmitting guided tours of new exhibitions into cinemas and online.

Perhaps the BBC’s new tranche of “creative partners” could advise on this contest for

content? Or can they? Under a strict reading of the BBC’s conflict of interest rules,

future work produced by either Hytner or Serota should not be reviewed or broadcast

by the BBC.

To invoke again the sporting comparison, it is hard to imagine Manchester United

boss David Moyes being appointed as a non-executive director of the BBC to

supervise football coverage, or West Ham’s Sam Allardyce becoming a “sounding

board” for the makers of Match of the Day.

Several newspaper journalists – including Richard Brooks in the Sunday Times and

the Evening Standard’s Anne McElvoy – have expressed concern that arts television

will become an electronic stage for the UK’s cultural producers rather than a

journalistic scrutineer in the way that it operates towards, say, politics or business.

And the Channel 4 plans seem, on paper, to continue a move from mediation to


Certainly, whether or not this was the intention, the cancellation of The Review Show

spares the BBC the difficulty of having to explain to “creative partner” Alex Poots

why Paul Morley or Julie Myerson has just said on television that a production at the

Manchester international festival was a “waste of time”. There is a danger that, in TV

arts coverage, criticism is being downgraded in favour of uncritical jingoism.

Mark Lawson – The Guardian, Saturday 19 April 2014

iBook version of AFI History

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iBook Production: how to enter new terrain
by: Mark Poole
Screen Hub
Wednesday 29 January, 2014
Lisa French and Screen Hub correspondent Mark Poole have turned their history of the AFI into an iBook just in time for the third AACTA Awards. He explains the process. “Shining a Light: 50 Years of the AFI” is a book first published in 2009 by ATOM. Since then, the AFI has morphed into AACTA, wrestled with its sponsorship issues and rebadged the awards. So we were delighted to be able to upgrade the book, and release it on Apple’s iTunes store just in time for the 3rd AACTA Awards.

The sheer accessibility is amazing. We have a defined audience focused on the combat of the awards, and for a pretty modest $5.99 they can read it on their iPhone, iPad, or Android device.

We are familiar with traditional publishing, and digital film production, but we could see that combining the two would be a challenging learning curve. This is some of what we learnt.

So why make an iBook?

Shining a Light was the ideal candidate for the digital realm, because it would bring the book alive with snippets of the interviews the authors have done with many of Australia’s iconic filmmakers they talked to for information about the book: people like John Flaus, Bob Weis, Denny Lawrence, Annette Blonksi and many others.

Putting the book onto the Apple store allows people to access it whenever they need information about Australia’s makers of film and television content. Because the AFI is such an integral part of the screen sector, the book is far more than a narrow account of the institution. Spanning 54 years, from 1958 to the present, It maps the progression of our industry, particularly since the revival in 1970 to today, and the interviews accumulate to an important oral record of our film history.

Barry Jones, speechwriter for Prime Minister Sir John Gorton, explains in the book how he and Phillip Adams sold the notion of supporting a film industry when Gorton unexpectedly became PM after Harold Holt went missing off Portsea. It was Gorton who began the revival with an initial capital investment of $1 million, in 1970. This enabled the AFI’s Experimental Film and Television Fund, the first film funding organisation, to support such iconic filmmakers as Bruce Beresford, Scott Hicks, Paul Cox, Yoram Gross and Peter Weir.

How is an iBook different?

The main thing is the accessibility to a global audience. These days everyone has a smartphone in their pockets, and many have other devices too such as iPads that are capable of downloading books in digital form. Even your 87-year old Dad can use an iPad and for many, the tablet is a more accessible way of reading books, in part because you don’t have to physically drag several weighty tomes around. As well it’s often easier to search an electronic version of a book than it is to sift through an index in the hope that what you’re seeking can be found there.

Ever since the AFI decided on a name change to the AFI/AACTA Awards, the authors knew they would have to update our history. This edition of Shining a Light includes a new chapter on the AFI’s initiative in establishing the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts Awards in 2011, and its implications. As well, this new edition has updated its database of AFI/AACTA award winners and nominees spanning from 1958 to 2013. And since every year a new set of AFI/AACTA Award winners and nominees come out, an iBook makes it possible to update the database, and purchasers will be told that they can download the latest version as soon as it becomes available.

How much does it cost to make?

For the adventurous and digitally astute, you can make an iBook yourself using appropriate software. For Shining a Light, the authors chose to pay others to do the encoding, design work and uploading necessary. Peter Tapp, publisher of ATOM, is familiar with the process and sponsorship was raised to engage the appropriate technical support staff to make it happen. The fact that the book was already in digital format via Adobe InDesign software was a help.

That contract was signed a while ago, and prices have changed. He pointed out that it was a large project, with many pages, a lot of clips, and additions to the existing text. The price range depends very much on the number of interactive elements such as galleries and music clips. At the moment it will range from $3500 to $7000, depending on scale, and what the client can afford.

How long does it take?

As with the price, the time the process takes depends on how complex is your material, how much needs to change and the additional extras you include. Shining a Light has more than 60 video clips from our interviewees. The process of selecting the clips from the hundreds of hours of material we had at our disposal took a while, and the clips had to be encoded to Apple’s specs so they would play back via iOS devices. We were determined to include them for their oral history value.

So what are the takeaways?

Firstly, if you’re embarking on a book project in the 21st century, you should futureproof it. If you are recording interviews as you go, consider videoing them, using high quality gear. It’s not rocket science, but you do need to know the basics. Being filmmakers, we used broadcast quality equipment and one or two lights to light the interview subjects, and broadcast quality audio equipment to record pristine sound.

We also made sure interviewees signed the appropriate releases.

Secondly, consider getting the advice of a publisher as early as possible. Think ahead. If you are amassing stills to augment your work, consider digitising them at high quality and in colour.

Thirdly, who is your audience? Are they iPad savvy, or technophobic? Ipads are pretty easy to use but some people resist technology – yes, some people still don’t possess a mobile phone, and there are probably more in that category than you realise.

Was it worth it?

You be the judge. It will only cost you $5.99, the price of a latte and a muffin, to find out!

Shining a Light: 50 Years of the AFI