The International Public Television (INPUT) conference was hosted this year by Independent Television Service (ITVS). Held in a different country (and hosted by a different public media outlet) each year, INPUT serves public television executives and
independent producers from around the planet through screenings and discussions about some of the most innovative and controversial programming being done today.
Flashmob: The Opera, from the BBC, featured a full-scale opera during commuter hours in Paddington, Britain’s busiest railway station, and was a particular favorite among attendees. As was Danes for Bush, where two Danish comedians hit the campaign trail in support of the reelection of President Bush. On the controversial side, George Gittoe’s Soundtrack to War about what kind of music US troops are listening to in Iraq provoked fervent conversation.
“Public Television often provides the kind of work that incites and excites conversation,” said Orlando Bagwell, Ford Foundation’s program officer for media, arts and culture. “The next stage is to engage that conversation and bring people into the room that have opposing points of view.”
Following many shows, US delegates said that while they liked some of the international programming they would never be allowed to air it on US public TV—subject matter such as sex, religion, and politics often put certain works out of reach. Lust, a film about a Dutch sex worker who gets paid by social services to give mentally and physically handicapped clients a massage with a masturbatory, so-called happy ending would almost certainly be rejected by US public television stations. And it’s also unlikely that members of Congress would take part in a game show and debating contest on the most emotive issues of day—whereas “The Pyramid,” a show that features politicians debating each other in real time, with the audiences deciding the winner by calling in their votes, is very popular in Croatia.
It could be argued that US public television has developed a very narrow mission insofar as what it can present to its viewers [see Matt Dunne’s Policy piece, page 54]. “Public Television in the US seems to be somewhat limited to documentary and performance art,” said Clare Duignan, director of programs for Ireland’s public service broadcaster RTE. “We are of the view that if we don’t attract a significant portion of our audience from the younger viewers, then we will become irrelevant very quickly.”
Other shows worth mentioning are “bro’Town,” a New Zealand animated series that pushed the limits of the politically incorrect to comedic effect; “Geography of Desire,” a Chilean drama about four 30-something women that makes “Desperate Housewives” look tame and vacuous (which, of course, it is); Hardwood, Hubert Davis’s movie about his father and former Harlem Globetrotter Mel Davis; and a German feature called Pigs Will Fly, a film set in Berlin and San Francisco about domestic abuse.
All very well and good, independent producers may argue, but why, apart from wiling away a few days watching TV, should they be interested in INPUT? “It’s not a market nor a festival but it’s something in between,” said Claire Aguilar, director of programming for ITVS. “The business aspect has been kept out intentionally, but on the other hand we tried to create opportunities so that independent producers can talk openly to broadcasters.”
It’s a dialogue that will help independent producers become more aware of the kind of programming that broadcasters are looking for. “While it’s not really considered the place for producers to pitch new ideas, it happens all the time because they are sitting elbow to elbow with broadcasters,” Aguilar said.
ITVS recently announced its new international fund for which the organization is looking for pitches from international producers on non-US topics. “In the race to the bottom, many US viewers interested in international issues are being neglected,” Aguilar said. “On the one hand, there are fewer and fewer venues for international material. And on the other hand, we get a tremendous response when we screen a film like A Wedding In Ramallah on Independent Lens.” Aguilar said that ITVS is looking for compelling stories from regions such as Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and particularly from Indonesia.
Independent producers not only get the chance to carry out international market research and watch what is considered to be leading edge films at INPUT, but also to meet many of the movers and shakers from the international programming community in an informal setting.
Rudy Buttignol, creative director of Network Programming of TV Ontario, was one of the many commissioning editors in attendance, along with Nick Fraser, editor of BBC’s “Storyville” [see page 36]; Mette Hoffmann Meyer, commissioning editor of TV2 Denmark; Pat van Heerden, commissioning editor of SABC in South Africa; Lucas Schmidt commissioning editor for ZDF in Germany; Debbie Lee, commissioning editor of SBS in Australia; and Alan Collins, director of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
During one panel discussion on international co-production, Buttingnol, Hoffmann Mayer, and Fraser said that they sometimes call each other and recommend a particular film. “It is not ‘If Nick Fraser likes it, then I will like it,’” Buttignol said. “It’s more ‘If Nick Fraser likes it then I’ll look at it.’” Later during the conference, Fraser told an audience that documentary director Eugene Jarecki (The Trials of Henry Kissinger, 2002) was standing in his living room when he pitched Fraser the idea for his latest film, Why We Fight, about the US Military Industrial Complex. So how does an independent producer/director get from the local café, where they’re procrastinating writing the next proposal, to Nick Fraser’s living room? Easy. All they need do is produce or direct an award-winning film.