May 2008

As Sundance Sells to Cablevision, Filmmakers Ponder the Future

Is the $496 million deal good or bad for independent filmmakers who rely on the channel for a sense of community and crucial distribution?

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Bigfooted: Cole Gerst's "Yung Yeti" appears on the Sundance Channel, which was just acquired by Cablevision.

On Wednesday, May 7, the Sundance Channel announced that it had been acquired by Cablevision—the nation's fifth biggest operator, the parent of IFC and AMC, and a big player in the Northeast—for nearly $500 million. Robert Redford would remain affiliated with the network under the terms of the deal. So what does this mean for filmmakers who view the channel as both a key distribution outlet and a place that creates a sense of community for them? The Independent's Mike Hofman asked a few filmmakers for their views on the deal. Do you have an opinion? If so, read the article and then add your comment.

The Sundance Channel was scooped up by Cablevision's Rainbow Media for $496 million on May 7. That division of Cablevision also owns the IFC Channel, AMC, Fuse, and We. In announcing the deal, officials took pains to quash speculation that Cablevision would combine IFC and Sundance, the channel founded in 1996 by Robert Redford and partially owned by Redford, General Electric's NBC, and CBS Corp.

The Doc Doctor's Anatomy of a Film: "Plagues & Pleasures on the Salton Sea"

Chris Metzler and Jeff Springer braved camera-melting heat to film their documentary

A Shore Thing: Chris Metzler and Jeff Springer spent four years filming "Plagues & Pleasures on the Salton Sea."

The Independent's Doc Doctor Fernanda Rossi analyzes the success of Plagues & Pleasures on the Salton Sea (view the trailer), directed by Chris Metzler and Jeff Springer. The filmmakers talk about sleeping in their car, having a camera melt in the heat, landing John Waters as a narrator, and re-editing their film after its world premiere at Slamdance. Also, check out Rossi's last "Anatomy" column on The Longing. Attention Colorado Filmmakers: The Doc will be conducting her signature workshops on story structure and trailer mechanics in Denver on May 17 and 18; she is also speaking at the Boston Media Market on May 30. For details, visit

About this column: Many filmmakers ponder in anguish, How do other people—celebrated people—do it? Am I taking too long to make this documentary? Does everybody spend as much money as I am spending, or am I spending too little? And when filmmakers share their lessons learned in interviews in the glossy trade magazines, their tales seem to follow the arc of otherworldy heroes rather than real documentary makers, i.e. human beings like you and me. So each month, the Doc Doctor will go out into the world (this real world) of filmmakers who are successful and find out how they made it. The "Anatomy of a Film Column" is a chance to learn from filmmakers' hits and misses in real life examples. —Fernanda Rossi, story consultant a.k.a. the Documentary Doctor

To Shoot "Flying," Jennifer Fox Gave Up Control of Her Camera

An interview with filmmaker Jennifer Fox about her six-part documentary series "Flying: Confessions of a Free Woman"

"Flying" in South Africa: Khosi (middle), shown with her grandmother and her son, in their Soweto home.

Most documentaries are shot by a DP or the director. Few subjects, if any, get to participate in the actual process of filming. But as Jennifer Fox began to make her latest film, she decided to experiment with a democratic approach that she has come to call "passing the camera." The technique makes Flying: Confessions of a Free Woman personal and intimate, as many documentaries are — but also unconventional and strangely universal. The Independent's Michele Meek takes a look at the six-hour series (view the trailer), which airs on the Sundance Channel this month.

As an award-winning director, producer and camerawoman, Jennifer Fox is certainly well-versed in all the conventions of ‘proper’ documentary filmmaking – introduce the camera slowly, don’t talk about your own life, “create a neutral plane they can project on,” as she says.

The Trailer for "Plagues & Pleasures on the Salton Sea"

The film, directed by Chris Metzler and Jeff Springer, explores a bleak corner of California


The film, directed by Chris Metzler and Jeff Springer, explores a bleak corner of California

Blogging Hot Docs: A Few Wise Words from Richard Leacock

Filmmaker Paul Devlin wraps up the 2008 Hot Docs festival in Toronto

Lifetime Achievement: In accepting his award, a self-deprecating Richard Leacock commiserated with his audience.

Wrapping up his blog from Hot Docs in Toronto, filmmaker Paul Devlin writes about some of the memorable conversations he has had this past week with filmmakers from around the world. He also reflects on a charming speech given by Richard Leacock (pictured at left), the 86-year-old documentary legend who was awarded a lifetime achievement award. Plus: A few thoughts on Paul Rowley's Seaview (view the trailer), Astrid Bussink's The Lost Colony (view the trailer), and Tanaz Eshaghian's Be Like Others.

The most memorable moments at film festivals are often encounters with other filmmakers. Making non-fiction movies can be isolating, especially during the post-production phase. To emerge from that to re-discover an international community of like-minded artists can be very re-energizing.

Blogging Hot Docs: Playing the Pre-Sale, Co-Production Game

Filmmaker Paul Devlin finds that filmmakers are struggling to woo commissioning editors

Hot Doc: Geoffrey Smith's film "The English Surgeon" focuses on surgeon Henry March (pictured.)

Still euphoric over his film's reception at Hot Docs, filmmaker Paul Devlin heads over to the Toronto Documentary Forum where a sober mood prevails among his fellow documentarians. Among the 30 participants invited to pitch future projects to commissioning editors around the world, only Eugene Jarecki mustered much enthusiasm (for a Ronald Reagan project.) Devlin also met up with Geoffrey Smith, director of The English Surgeon (said surgeon is pictured at left; view the trailer), who had smart advice for filmmakers on budgets, editing, and shooting.

The Toronto Documentary Forum is a high-powered, pressurized event that happens alongside the Hot Docs film festival. A couple hundred commissioning editors and broadcasters from around the world gather for two days of project pitching.

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