AT THE DEATH HOUSE DOOR
Steve James and Peter Gilbert, the award-winning makers of Hoop Dreams, produced and directed this look at the death penalty through the eyes of long-time Texas death-house chaplain Pastor Carroll Pickett. The audio tapes Pickett recorded on execution days show “the toll it takes on a man to watch another human being die”, says Gilbert.
Produced by Kartemquin Films for the Independent Film Channel (IFC), At The Death House Door has played at festivals including Hot Docs and Sxsw and won the Atlanta Film Festival’s best documentary feature award and the Full Frame festival’s inspiration award. Although it has no plans for a theatrical release, IFC is giving the film (which premiered on television in May) encore screenings through December and January. Al Jazeera is set to broadcast internationally.
THE BETRAYAL (NERAKHOON)
Noted cinematographer Ellen Kuras (Swoon, Shine A Light) makes her directorial debut - with Thavisouk Phrasavath co-directing - on this examination of one family’s struggle to start a new life in New York after escaping war-torn Laos. Shot over 23 years, the film is, says Kuras, “a culmination of many ideas that I’ve returned to during the course of making many other films”.
The Betrayal screened in 2008 at the Sundance, Berlin and Silverdocs festivals and won prizes including the Human Rights Watch Festival’s Cinereach award. It was recently named one of the year’s top five documentaries by the National Board of Review and was nominated for a Spirit award. Cinema Guild opened the film theatrically in the US in November and Celluloid Dreams is handling international sales.
BLESSED IS THE MATCH: THE LIFE AND DEATH OF HANNAH SENESH
Blessed Is The Match tells the story of Hannah Senesh, a Second World War-era poet who became a resistance fighter, and her mother Catherine. Set against the backdrop of the Holocaust, it is also “a mother-daughter love story”, says director/producer Roberta Grossman (whose TV documentary credits include the 500 Nations series).
The film was funded through private and foundation donations to non-profit Katahdin Productions (and with help from the Women In Film Finishing Fund) and has won awards at the Heartland and Hong Kong Jewish film festivals. It is set for a US theatrical release through Balcony Releasing early in 2009. TV and home video deals are also in the works. UK-based Indigo Film & Television is handling international sales.
ENCOUNTERS AT THE END OF THE WORLD
Werner Herzog’s latest documentary took the legendary German director to McMurdo Station, a US-run facility in Antarctica that serves as a hub for all activity on the frozen continent. There, Herzog interviewed quirky local inhabitants, shot footage of the landscape and blended these with his own experiences as narrator and commentator.
With initial backing from the National Science Foundation, Encounters was produced for Discovery Films and its parent cable television network the Discovery Channel. Screened at festivals including Telluride, Toronto, Docville, Tokyo and Edinburgh (where it won best docu-mentary), the film was named one of the year’s top five documentaries by the National Board of Review and was nominated for the documentary Spirit award.
GLASS: A PORTRAIT OF PHILIP IN TWELVE PARTS
A documentary film-maker before he scored a worldwide hit with his 1996 feature Shine, Scott Hicks returns to his roots with this ‘mosaic portrait’ of composer Philip Glass. Hicks followed Glass around the world and had access to the musician’s working process, family life, spiritual teachers and collaborators. The result, says the director, is “a highly personal look at a major artist”.
Originally cash-flowed by Hicks’ company and Independent Media, the film was funded by a group of private investors from the director’s hometown of Adelaide, South Australia. It screened at the 2007 Toronto festival and at events in the US, Italy and Poland during 2008. It had a brief, single-theatre US release last April through Koch Lorber Films and grossed more than $20,000. The Film Sales Company is handling international sales.
Based on the book Empire Of Debt, I.O.U.S.A.was made (before the global financial meltdown) by the husband-and-wife team of Patrick Creadon and Christine O’Malley (Wordplay). It examines the US national debt, mixing interviews with finance experts and politicians with archive footage and comic relief. Creadon says: “The idea was to find ways to make the complicated simple … I wasn’t setting out to make a movie for economists and politicians but one for ordinary people.”
After screening at Sundance, the privately funded film was acquired by the Peter G Peterson Foundation. It was released theatrically in the US last August by Roadside Attractions, taking around $807,000. London-based MercuryMedia is handling the UK and select other territories, with Cinemavault handling the rest of the international rights.
IN A DREAM
Jeremiah Zagar made his feature directing debut with this film about his artist father Isaiah, and the family crisis that unfolded during production. “What started as an exploration of my father’s life has exposed the secrets of our entire family,” says Zagar. “But I don’t think that’s a bad thing. We know now how imperfect we are, but also how much we need and love each other.”
With funding from private investors, Zagar and Jeremy Yaches produced through their Herzliya Films. In A Dream won awards at the Sxsw, Woodstock, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Full Frame festivals and is set to be screened next summer in the US by HBO (the producers are also hoping for a theatrical release in 2009). The international sales agent is California-based Roco Films.
MAN ON WIRE
Already a multiple award-winner, Man On Wire tells the story behind Philippe Petit’s 1974 high-wire walk between the twin towers of New York’s World Trade Center. Feature and documentary director James Marsh (Wisconsin Death Trip, The King) used dramatised re-enactments and contemporary interviews with Petit and his team to relate what he describes as “a fundamentally human drama … a comedy of errors, a love story, a story about friendship and its limits and a satire on authority and arbitrary rules”.
Produced by the UK’s Wall to Wall and Red Box for Discovery Films, the BBC and the UK Film Council, Man On Wire shared the International Documentary Association’s top feature award and is up for a Spirit award. It was released theatrically in the US last July by Magnolia Pictures and grossed more than $2.8m. The Works International is handling foreign sales.
Previously shortlisted for his 2002 documentary OT: Our Town, director/producer Scott Hamilton Kennedy describes the subject of The Garden as “both simple and wickedly complex … a fascinating story about the many layers of America”.
The film follows a group of urban farmers, most of them Latin American immigrants, in their struggle to save a South Central Los Angeles community garden from destruction.
Winner of the Grand Jury Award at the 2008 Silverdocs festival, the film also screened at the Los Angeles Film Festival. Originally self-funded, it was completed with help from the Katahdin Foundation and finishing funds from Impact Partners. US rep Lantern Lane is in talks with prospective domestic theatrical, TV and video distributors and Gallant Films is handling international sales.
The film-making debut of environmental activist Josh Tickell, Fuel is an expanded version of Fields Of Fuel, which won the 2008 Sundance audience award for best documentary. Incorporating interviews with Richard Branson, Woody Harrelson, Julia Roberts and Neil Young among others, the film goes on the road with Tickell and his ‘Veggie Van’ to look at the pros and cons of biofuels and to investigate the US’s addiction to oil.
Produced by Blue Water Entertainment and Open Pictures, Fuel was mostly self-financed. Other awards have been won at the Sedona, AFI Dallas and Santa Cruz festivals and the film has also screened in Jerusalem, Montreal, Stockholm and Zurich. A US theatrical release is set for early 2009 through Intention Media and talks are underway regarding TV, video and international sales arrangements.
CRIPS AND BLOODS: MADE IN AMERICA
Stacy Peralta, director of the award-winning 2001 documentary Dogtown And Z-Boys, made this examination of the gang world of south Los Angeles. Blending archive footage and interviews with gang members and others, Peralta set out to look at why young African-Americans “have been involved in this spiral of death for over four decades with no viable solution in sight”.
The film, funded by producer and former basketball star Baron Davis and Balance Vector Productions, screened at Sundance and the Los Angeles Film Festival and is set for a self-distributed US theatrical release in New York and Los Angeles in January. PBS’s Independent Lens will screen the film on TV in May and Docurama will release on DVD. TNC Pictures of Santa Monica is handling international sales.
PRAY THE DEVIL BACK TO HELL
Producer Abigail Disney’s Fork Films financed this account, directed by Emmy-winning documentarian Gini Reticker (A Decade Under The Influence), of a small band of Liberian women who came together during their country’s bloody civil war and won a long-awaited peace in 2003. Reticker admits that when Disney first approached her she had some trepidation, but after meeting one of the women involved, she says: “All my trepidation turned instantly into unfettered enthusiasm.”
Reticker and Disney’s project won the best feature documentary prize at the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival and was released theatrically in the US by Balcony Releasing in November, making more than $30,000 in its first month. The film is set to air on US TV as part of PBS’s Wide Angle series and Roco Films is handling international sales.
THEY KILLED SISTER DOROTHY
The 2005 murder of a 73-year-old Catholic nun in the Amazon region of Brazil is at the centre of this film from director Daniel Junge (Iron Ladies Of Liberia). As well as following the murder trial and exploring Sister Dorothy Stang’s work against illegal logging on behalf of the dispossessed peoples of the Brazilian rainforest, Junge negotiated access to individuals on all sides of the story, allowing him to present the environmental issues concerned “with the kind of cinematic treatment and drama the story deserves”.
Mostly funded by non-profit group Just Media, the film won awards at the Sxsw, Chicago and Brasilia festivals and was acquired by HBO, which is set to screen it in the US in March. The Film Sales Company is handling international and MovieMobz will release the film theatrically in Brazil.
STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURE
Oscar-winning director Errol Morris (The Fog Of War) describes his film about the actions of US soldiers at the Abu Ghraib prison during the Iraq war as “a non-fiction horror movie”. Regarding the notorious photographs of prisoner abuse taken by the soldiers, he adds: “The imagery is designed to take the viewer into the moment the photographs were taken, as well as to evoke the nightmarish, hallucinatory quality of Abu Ghraib”.
Backed by Sony Pictures Classics and Participant Productions, Standard Operating Procedure won a Silver Bear at Berlin and screened at the Tribeca and Edinburgh festivals. It was released theatrically by Sony in the US last April (grossing $229,117) and has had runs in several overseas territories, with Sony Pictures Releasing International handling distribution in most cases.
TROUBLE THE WATER
Winner of the documentary Grand Jury Prize at last year’s Sundance among others, Trouble The Water presents a look at Hurricane Katrina’s devastating effect on New Orleans. Director-producers Tia Lessin and Carl Deal (producers of Fahrenheit 9/11) use footage shot by residents Kimberly Rivers Roberts and husband Scott and document the couple’s return to the city after the storm. Lessin says: “We wanted to know why the city had not been evacuated … and why help was so late in coming. We wanted to make sense of it all.”
Initially funded with help from Kodak, George Soros’ Open Society Institute and the Sundance Documentary Programme, the film was completed with backing from Danny Glover’s Louverture Films. It received a US theatrical release through Zeitgeist Films last August (grossing more than $465,000). Maximum Film International is handling the rest of the world.