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Weekly Features
Letter from New York
Mathew Tombers is Managing Director of Intermat, Inc., ( a television company which executive produces programs and consults with industry companies on a variety of issues. Intermat, Inc. is currently involved in approximately thirty hours of television in various stages for a variety of networks. He is one of the Executive Producers of OFF TO WAR, a ten hour series for Discovery Times and for a one hour on international adoptions for Discovery Health. He has consulted a variety of companies, including Ted Turner Documentaries, WETA, Betelgeuse Productions, and Creation Films, Lou Reda Productions as well as many others.

February 5, 2006

Seeing the world through the eyes of non-fiction filmmakers

This past week, approximately 1200 non-fiction filmmakers, television executives and others who work in or around that business descended upon Washington, D.C. for an annual event, the REAL SCREEN Conference, named after the magazine that puts it together.

The networking is tremendous. At least a couple of dozen executives who didn"t register; showing up to simply work the lobby, to see old friends and have meetings because everyone was there. This is a conference that gives people in the business a reason for gathering in a fairly intimate setting and provides the opportunity to demonstrate that you are a player in the non-fiction world.

Probably not unsurprisingly, the conference had a fair amount of talk about 9/11, the fifth anniversary of which is coming upon us and any number of companies are out there with 9/11 non-fiction films, remembering the event, while buyers are telling producers they are looking for a "special" take on it. No one is quite sure they know what that means; they do know they are looking for a new way to see this history shaping event.

One of the companies I am working with has the exclusive rights to the archives of St. Paul"s Chapel, "the little church that stood." It was to this place that thousands of letters and memorials came, a repository of the world"s anguish over the event, including thousands of messages from children who expressed their feelings via art.

As we talked with executives or other producers about this project, I, once again, realized this event is a wound which has scabbed over but has not healed. An American born executive now living in the U.K. confided she has been unable to go back to lower Manhattan, where she once lived. A Canadian production executive got tears in her eyes when she started speaking of her reactions to it.

In describing our vision of the 9/11 show, I found myself having to exercise great self-control as I recalled watching a woman collapse in tears in front of St. Paul"s as she gazed at the makeshift memorial hung on the chapel"s fence in those dreary days in early 2002 when downtown Manhattan had just reopened.

It seems impossible 9/11 is now five years past. On some levels it feels as if it was yesterday and on others it seems as if it were a hundred years ago. Everything that has been shaping this country has followed from that day.

Non fiction filmmakers tend to be left of center and Real Screen provided an opportunity for many to be able to avoid the State of the Union address. Many commented they had reached a point where the very sound of Bush"s voice was like fingernails on a chalkboard.

Those who saw it, or studied it the following day, generally seemed to agree with the international press and its reactions: small substance and mediocre performance, coupled with a failure to genuinely address issues amidst clever phrasing.

"What we have here is failure to communicate," is the famous phrase from the iconic film, COOL HAND LUKE. I am afraid, having viewed a bit of the foreign reaction to the State of the Union that the world views us as having a government that is failing to govern. Rule, perhaps, but not govern.

It was also the week that saw the death of Coretta Scott King, widow of Martin Luther King, another link to that period severed, when the tumultuous "60"s provided us with shock after shock as JFK, Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated against the backdrop of a world crying for justice and peace.

The Baby Boomers, the generation which will NOT go quietly into that good night, should perhaps think of turning their twilight energy into once again addressing the sources of wrong which galvanized our youth. They still exist while we seek to lengthen our lives and derive full comfort from the sacrifices of our fathers. Politically, as a generation, we seem to be retreating into gated communities where we can blot out the issues we are leaving to our children and grandchildren.

If this is true, it will be an odd end for such a noisy generation.