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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.

June 21, 2007

Slipping through SILVERDOCS

This week the AFI, the American Film Institute is making headlines because, for the first time in ten years, they have updated their top 100 movies of all time – CITIZEN KANE is number one. Less well known of the things that the AFI is involved with is its participation in SILVERDOCS, a documentary film festival held in Silver Spring, MD right across the street from the worldwide headquarters of non-fiction behemoth Discovery Communications. Five years ago they teamed up to create this Festival, which brings to the AFI Silver Theatre in Silver Spring some of the most thought provoking documentaries made on earth.

I have attended four of the five years and have moderated a panel or two for the last three years. This year I did two. One, the kick off panel for the conference portion of the Festival, was called INSIDE DISCOVERY, four producers from various sized companies explaining to other producers how to [possibly] crack the Discovery nut. It was an interesting panel – the goal was to make the it a dialog with the audience and I think we achieved that. I followed that with a Silver Session, which was a small group, called THE BUSINESS OF THE BUSINESS which I did with Clark Bunting, President of Discovery Studios, the in-house production unit for said behemoth. Clark and I have known each other lo these many years, since I worked at Discovery and have remained friendly. We cooked this up one day over coffee in his office; we both knew great producers who were terrible businessmen and who had sailed straight into a financial iceberg. We knew several good folks who had produced themselves into bankruptcy.

For a film festival, I didn’t do very well. I only saw one film, the opening one about Pete Seeger, folk singer, political activist, nonagenarian. The best part of it was not just the story of Mr. Seeger, it was the American backdrop against which he lived his life. It made me realize that as much as I find these times troubling in the history of our country, there have been other troubling times.

The McCarthy era, the age of HUAC [the House Un-American Activities Community] was a shameful, painful time in the history of this country, the brutality of which we tend to forget until films like the one about Pete Seeger remind us that there was a time in which voices were silenced and people were punished by losing their jobs and having opportunities denied – for speaking their minds, having flirted with socialism or Communism or failing to name names. It was a time we should not forget – we need to be reminded that there have been other troubling times in the history of the Republic and that we have somehow survived and bettered ourselves in the process.

Another remarkable film was screened, A WALK TO BEAUTIFUL, a film produced by friends at Engel Entertainment [producers of The Dan Ho Show, Runway Moms and The Sara Snow Show]. It takes us into the world of Ethiopian women who are shunned because they suffer from fistula, an injury from child bearing that results in the woman constantly leaking urine, resulting in her generally becoming a village pariah. The film chronicles these women’s efforts to reach a hospital where they can be cared for.

It reminded me how fortunate I am to be living in a western country where, even in our health care challenged nation, this is a problem that would be fixed.

Many of the films were like Pete Seeger: The Power of Song and A Walk To Beautiful, films that cause us to think and call us to action.

The downside of this wonderful festival and conference is that most, if not all of these films, could not find a home on any commercial network. They are too thoughtful, too topical, not the kind that will generate ratings, drawing in crowds. These kinds of films once could have found a home in cable but I doubt that most cable networks would touch these films now. That doesn’t change the fact they deserve a broader audience.