Controversial satirical series from leading Israeli channel now an international sensation.

New York, NY, February 23, 2009 — Richard Lorber has acquired the U.S. home entertainment rights to the controversial hit Israeli comedy series ARAB LABOR (Avoda Aravit), it was announced today. The deal was negotiated by Keren Shahar for Israeli producing broadcaster Keshet (Channel 2) and by Richard Lorber and Elizabeth Sheldon for Lorber HT Digital. The pact was facilitated by Steven Lawrence for Link TV, the independent television network which premiered the series on U.S. television this past fall to enormous success and media attention. The uniqueness and quality of the series also led to the unprecedented presentation of individual episodes at leading U.S. film festivals. The Los Angeles Times calls the series, “…groundbreaking and amazing,” and the San Francisco Chronicle calls it’s creator, Sayed Kashua, “The Palestinian Seinfeld.” Lorber and Link will partner in marketing and cross-promoting continued U.S. broadcast and DVD and digital download sales of the series.

Lorber states, “Our Alive Mind label is quickly growing into a powerful force in the international documentary market because we are populating a niche that fills an underserved demand for transformative cultural programming. By “transformative” I mean programming that changes the viewer through watching and provides that coveted “Ah ha” response, which in the case of ARAB LABOR becomes “Ha ha,” the rare laughter of relief from truth wrought into comedy that transcends all cultural barriers.”

Lorber will launch the complete first season of ARAB LABOR on the Alive Mind label on DVD, as a two-disc set with bonus material, and by digital download in the second quarter of this year.

Created by Sayed Kashua, a 32-year-old Israeli-born Palestinian journalist, ARAB LABOR (translated from the Hebrew “Avoda Aravit” which colloquially implies “shoddy or second-rate work”) focuses on Amjad, a Palestinian journalist and Israeli citizen in search of his identity as he seeks high status in the society into which he was born but where his car is searched everyday when he drives from his neighborhood to his job at a newspaper in Jerusalem. Poking fun at the cultural divide, Kashua and his characters play on religious, cultural and political differences to daringly depict the mixed society that is Israel. This show marked a milestone on Israeli television as the first program to present Palestinian characters speaking Arabic on primetime. ARAB LABOR has generated great controversy between Arab and Israeli media and Lorber, in partnership with Link TV, is bringing the show to a wide U.S. audience in order to offer a fresh perspective on Israeli-Palestinian cultural friction while presenting an unbelievably entertaining show that has made an international splash.

Steve Lawrence of Link TV added, “Just as American sitcoms like “All In The Family” and “The Jeffersons” broke ground a generation ago by probing class and race in America, ARAB LABOR appears to be doing the same in Israel.”

About the Series

In his search for acceptance, the brazenly witty and loveable Amjad goes to extremes to try to conceal his Palestinian identity. He buys a new car, sends his preschooler to a Hebrew-speaking school and drags his family to a Passover Seder where he fervently sings holiday songs along with his new Jewish friends, all in a hilarious attempt to pass as a Jewish-Israeli. In the midst of a walloping identity crisis, Amjad jockeys between two cultures as he tries to polish his image for his Jewish friends and colleagues while enjoying his own down-to-earth family life. The result is a raucous, irreverent, side-busting comedy that pierces the taboos surrounding Palestinian-Israeli culture, popping the politically correct bubble of acceptable language and humor surrounding the prickly, long-standing status quo in which Palestinian and Jewish Israelis live side by side.

ARAB LABOR (Avoda Aravit) is a production of Dori Media Paran, written by Sayed Kashua, directed by Roni Nino, and produced by Danny Paran. The cast features Norman Issa, Mariano Idelman, Clara Khoury, Salim Dau, Mira Awad and Fatima Yihia, Slwa Naara, Dori Media Paran.

About Alive Mind

Alive Mind releases documentary programming in the areas of enlightened consciousness and cultural transformation. Alive Mind was launched by industry pioneer Richard Lorber as a specialty distribution arm of his new company, Lorber HT Digital. The company seeks to provide its audience with intellectually provocative work from leading filmmakers that delivers the “aha” response of a transformative experience. Current releases include the documentary film on the generation changing stage sensation Hair: Let the Sun Shine In; Academy Award winning director Jessica Yu’s Protagonist; and the internationally acclaimed FLicKeR about Brion Gysin, visionary artist and beat generation inventor of the “Dreamachine.” Upcoming theatrical releases include Antonio Ferrera and Albert Maysles’ landmark documentary THE GATES about Christo’s monumental Central Park Installation, and other titles to be announced during the first quarter of 2009.

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UserpicLorber's Alive Mind to Open «The Gates»
Posted by Elizabeth

The Gates posterNew label acquires Ferrera/Maysles Documentary about Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s iconic Central Park work of art.

New York, NY – January 6, 2009 – Alive Mind has acquired all North American rights to Antonio Ferrera and Albert Maysles’ landmark documentary, THE GATES. The acquisition was negotiated by Antonio Ferrera and Patricia Jones (on behalf of Maysles Films, CVJ Corporation, and Ferrera Films) and Richard Lorber and Elizabeth Sheldon on behalf of Lorber HT Digital for release on their new specialty distribution label, Alive Mind.

Alive Mind will open THE GATES theatrically in New York next spring, and it will play select venues around the country throughout 2009. The film will also be immediately available to educational institutions that have been clamoring for it since its gala debut at The Tribeca Film Festival.

Richard Lorber, industry pioneer and founder of Alive Mind, elaborates, “The release of this extraordinary new film about the epic journey of Christo and Jeanne-Claude creates the opportunity for all Americans to experience the transformation of New York City by two of the world’s greatest living artists. This remarkable adventure was chronicled from its inception thirty years ago by the world-renowned Maysles brothers and masterfully brought to fruition by Antonio Ferrera.”

Albert Maysles adds, “We are delighted that through our film Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s visionary achievement will find new appreciation long after The Gates have come down. We look forward to working with Richard and his Alive Mind team to keep the story of the long march to Central Park alive.”

About The Film

Albert Maysles and his brother David (who died in 1987), who are best known for such films as Salesman, Grey Gardens, Gimme Shelter and other landmark documentaries, began filming THE GATES in 1979 when internationally acclaimed artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude began actively pushing their installation project forward with the New York City government. The Maysles, Albert on camera and David on sound, captured the emerging controversy at community board hearings that pitted neighbor against neighbor over the appropriate use of Central Park. While Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s artistic vision sought to unite all of New York City, the public reaction was accusations of publicly financed defacement of a masterpiece, akin to putting a mustache on the Mona Lisa at tax payers’ expense. The proposal was eventually denied by Parks Commissioner Gordon Davis, but Christo and Jeanne-Claude were not to be deterred. Twenty-four years later, after 9/11 and the election of art patron Michael Bloomberg as mayor, the project was approved in January of 2003. The subsequent film, brought to fruition by Antonio Ferrera and co-directed with Albert Maysles, David Maysles and Matt Prinzing, chronicles the evolution of The Gates from concept to installation, ultimately overcoming public disapproval and transforming Central Park into a visual symphony of color, light, joy and beauty at an eventual cost to Christo and Jeanne-Claude of $21 million. The event, which brought over four million visitors from around the world to Central Park in mid-winter, is lovingly captured in this masterful film.

The Gates is now available for exhibition and with public performance rights from Alive Mind Education. Please contact me at Lorber HT Digital for exhibition or pubic performance rights inquiries.

UserpicMy lunch with Claire
Posted by Elizabeth

Early in October during MIP COM in tawdry Cannes I caught up with Claire Aguilar, vice president of programming for ITVS over a bowl of truffle ravioli that was all the more delicious due to the weak dollar (oddly enough, I discovered that the frugal food of choice was a dozen oysters from Astoux et Brun with a glass of white wine, reminding me that one hundred years ago in New York oysters were the poor man's food because they were so abundant on the Sound, a briny contrast to their status today as a delicacy, but I digress...)

lTVS, based in San Francisco, is a CPB and foundation backed fund for independent producers that is open to both Americans and international producers, first time directors and producers as well as Tefflon industry veterans. ITVS green lights 40 projects a year that can be submitted either to the International Call, for funds up to $150,000 or Open Call, with budgets of up to $350,000. ITVS also commissions and acquires approximately 50 hours per year. At the moment, ITVS has approximately 50 programs in the pipeline and seven projects showing at the IDFA Film Festival and one being presented at the IDFA Forum in November.

As we relaxed at our sidewalk cafe, astutely ignored by the wait staff which allowed us ample time to chat while sipping our Pellegrino, I asked Claire to talk about the fund, what types of programs they are funding, how much they are funding, what funds they have, their other funding partners, the funding review process, and some of her favorite projects that she has funded.

I'll start by saying that I first met Claire a little over a year ago at the French Screenings in St. Tropez, where we were the two lone American buyers and found ourselves seated next to each other over a three-course gourmet meal in a private courtyard shaded by oak trees. Claire is active in the international market, flying to Africa, Portugal, and France (and that's just in the last eight weeks) to find projects that meet her programming needs, encouraging international producers to submit to the International Call as well as meeting with her international colleagues. The only requirement for submission to the International Call is that the topic cannot be about or by Americans; it is for international producers addressing global topics. Rather than ask her to describe the fund's objectives, I asked what her two favorite recent projects are; with no hesitation she replied, "stranded.jpgThat's easy: Stranded and Waltz with Bashir."

Stranded: The Andes Plane Crash Survivors is a documentary featuring the remaining survivors of the Uruguayan soccer team whose airplane crashed in the Andes. They survived for seventy-two days. According to Claire, what makes the doc so compelling is the personalities and their survival stories.
Likewise, Waltz With Bashir is an animated doc about an Israeli soldier's attempt to remember his involvement in the Sabra and Shatila massacre in Lebanon in 1982. Unusual as it is animated, the doc's strength is it's a personal story that has historical and current relevance.

Two other docs that Claire cited as coming directly out of the International Call were House of Saad and Cuba: An African Oddyssey. Both broadcast internationally and were co-produced with Nick Fraser of the BBC, who is frequently a partner along with other European broadcasters, such as TV2 in Denmark. The next submission deadline for the International Fund is February 1st.

On the domestic front, the next deadline for submission to the Open Call Fund is January 11th. The deadline for the International Fund is February 1.For both funds, ITVS receives roughly 300 submissions of which 30 are recommended and sent out for review. The review panel is a mix of commissioning editors, scholars, and media professionals. The reviewers recommend 10 from the 30 and then convene to discuss and finalize the recipients. The process from submission to release of funds takes five months.

Budgets submitted to Open Call go as high as $350,000. On average, Claire shared that a PBS budget is $600,000 per project with the majority of the money going above the line and that it is not unusual for there to be three executive producers attached to a project. A similar project from the U.K. would be made for $300,000. ITVS believes in providing enough money for a filmmaker/producer to pay themselves but often suggest that filmmakers also approach the NEH, the Sundance Fund, and POV for additional money as well consider seeking international co-pro partners if appropriate.

ITVS's funds have increased over the last eight years, even though under Michael Pack's time at the CPB there was pressure to fund and commission 'conservative films.' As Claire wryly pointed out, while they canvas for ethnicity and gender, it would be awkward to ask about a producer's political beliefs and integrate that information into their review process.

Leaving politics aside, as well as producing as a career for the wealthy as we polished off our pasta, we moved on to the thorny issue of contracts, schedules and deliverables. Since ITVS is a funding source and broadcaster rather than a grant agency, they ask for exclusive U.S. broadcast rights for a 4-7 years period as well as a credit and revenue share based on the contribution of the net. Many docs that they fund broadcast on the Sundance Channel, Nat Geo and Link TV in addition to PBS.

As our bill arrived I thanked Claire for her time and her support of MyFilmBlog.

UserpicThe Prisoner, Or How I Planned to Kill Tony Blair
Posted by Elizabeth

The Prisoner, Or How I Planned to Kill Tony Blair is a quiet film. By this I mean that there is no hyperbole, no drama, just one man's story about how he was falsely arrested and imprisoned for nearly nine moths by the American forces in Iraq. His story is a simple one, detailing faulty intelligence, a prison system based on an assumption of guilt, and finally his anti climatic release, accompanied by a "Sorry" from an American general.

It reminds me of Kafka's The Trial, even down to the epithet of "dog," that an American guard repeatedly hurled at Yunis during his interrogations. Fortunately, Yunis was released rather than executed "Like a dog!" and he tells his story to Michael Tucker, who filmed Yunis's initial arrest in 2003 while shooting Gunner Palace.

Unlike Josef K. in The Trial, Yunis is never brought before a judge, nor does he have a lawyer, since apparently he has no rights. What good is a lawyer when you are arrested, presumed guilty just because you are arrested, and there is no judge or jury?

Yunis is arrested, interrogated, and finally released. During his stay at Ganci 6, a camp next to Abu Ghraib, for prisoners deemed of "low or no importance," there is no hope of justice, just survival-the odds, however, are not good as the food is rancid, there is disease, and the resistance frequently hurls grenades into the camps, which then erupt into riots and shooting by the U.S. guards in a futile attempt to keep order and calm. Yunis is by training a journalist and was imprisoned as well under Saddam Hussein. In both instances of imprisonment, there is no trial, and upon release, he simply returns to his family and civilian life.

Abu Ghraib is internationally synonymous with humiliation and abuse: both forms of torture, one psychological, the other physical. As I watched Yunis speaking, I was struck by his dignity in the face of degradation. Again I was reminded of Kafka's novel and Herr K's final lament, "Like a dog!" Imprisonment without due process-without the assumption of innocence-robs people of their dignity and humanity. Perhaps dignity is one emotion that separates us from animals, or is it our elaborate legal system?

Yunis maintains his dignity throughout the telling of his story. As he speaks you see that for him his dignity is more important than refuting the false accusation, which amounts to nothing less than plotting to kill Tony Blair. At the end of the film he quips that he and Tony Blair are forever inseparable, connected like twins separated at birth by history: one a powerful man, the other an anonymous man swept up by events, quite literally a mere number in the machinery of U.S. policy in Iraq and our war on terrorism.

I'd like to think that Yunis's story is unique, an anomaly, an aberration; that like Herr K's trial, it was all a mistake. Yet the film suggests that all of Camp Ganci was populated by other Yunises: even his two brothers were yanked from their homes by American soldiers in the middle of the night, after a wedding party, loaded onto trucks, and sent for interrogation. When they did not supply confessions of their guilt or corroborate the evidence gathered by INTEL, off they went to Abu Ghraib or Ganci, which at one point had a population of 6,000.

No, Yunis was not unique. He most certainly was not alone. Due to his training as a journalist, he could speak English, a skill that he put to good use at the camp, working with the guards, and one in particular, Specialist Thompson, to keep the peace. If it were not for Thompson, the veracity of Yunis's story would be questionable as there is no official record of prisoner number 151186 in detainment.

Thompson's testimony lends the film its powerful objectivity. Specialist Thompson, a new recruit and former real estate agent, finds himself at Ganci. He describes the deplorable conditions and the efforts that he made with Yunis's help to ease the physical discomfort and keep calm in block 6 among rampant fear of attack, hunger, and sickness due to malnutrition and lack of sanitation. Thompson's testimony regarding Yunis's imprisonment and his role in helping to keep calm and order among the prisoners paint a picture of people in dire circumstances and tell how two individuals managed to penetrate the metal fence between guard and prisoner for their common good.

Yunis's story is one of quiet victory: His freedom is restored, and he receives an apology from the American general. The presence, however, of Thompson and his willingness to talk on camera about his experience at Ganci remind one that while bureaucracy under the guise of any ideology can be inhumane, and that guards can and do abuse prisoners, there are individuals who do not succumb to the lure of power because they have a gun or the anonymity of a uniform.

Tucker and Epperlein's film is powerful because it does not exaggerate, seek to accuse, or manipulate the viewer. Yunis tells his story in a stoic voice, occasionally pausing as he seeks to find the best English word, at one point even resorting to Arabic. He does not cry but he smokes continually. His voice is even and soft.

As an American viewer listening to his story, I experienced the emotional complements of Yunis's dignity: shame, guilt, and embarrassment. He never criticizes America or the American people, being very precise to distinguish between the army as an instrument of the American government's policy in his country and America as an ideal and its citizens.

Yunis is generous, even funny when he quips that the Americans have mistaken him for Rambo, given what he is accused of plotting. The comment is even funnier as he is physically slight, with glasses and a goatee speckled with gray. He is clearly no gun toting terrorist or assassin, just a journalist, a son, a brother.

This article originally appeared in The WIld River Review.

UserpicDIY Distribution Is Here Now
Posted by Elizabeth

Peter Kaufman in Indiewire writes that DIY distribution will be a viable option for independent producers in 2014. My question is: Why wait for the year 2014? The scenario described is here now... but with an unexpected twist.

I agree that the days of traditional distribution are coming to an end as
distributors face decreasing box ticket returns from theatrical releases and
DVD sales and the promised pot of gold at the end of the proverbial digital
rainbow remains a mirage. Sundance, and top tier and some emerging niche
festivals, will remain key to generating recognition for independent films.
But the days of large advances from an independent distributor who relies on
DVD sales to recoup the theatrical cost from big box names, brick and mortar
outlets and online sales are waning. DIY distribution is already here and
is being successfully implemented… by a distributor.

Lorber HT Digital, founded by Richard Lorber in 2007, has been quietly
honing its distribution strategy using guerilla DIY distribution strategies
for its new Alive Mind label. “Our mission is to deliver smart and
stimulating work with the “aha” factor of a transformative experience”
explains CEO & President Richard Lorber. We releases a high quality
selection of documentary programming in the areas of enlightened
consciousness, secular spirituality, women’s issues and cultural change.”

The acquisition team at Lorber HT Digital looks for docs with built-in niche
audiences which the filmmaker has already built, from non-profit
organizations who might have contributed to the funding to political groups
who support the film’s message. The Lorber team then partners with the
filmmaker to take the film beyond the initial core group through a
semi-theatrical release to independent film theaters, such as Film Forum and
the Roxie, to cultural centers and college and university theaters as well
as grass roots outreach to community groups, who can easily be found online
with new social networking sites such as BraveNewTheaters.

At the same time, Alive Mind has built a network of review sources from
online reviewers to traditional print to independent bloggers to generate
general awareness of their films. Alive Mind’s online strategy embraces
niche audiences and organic cross-promtional opportunities. Alive Mind hosts
their own communities in their four primary content areas, where the
filmmakers and recognized writers publish content that attracts readers
interested in the general themes of reason, spirituality, sex and women.

Simultaneous to the semi-theatrical release, if appropriate the film is made
available with public performance rights for several hundred dollars to
colleges, universities and libraries. A current example is Glass: A Portrait
of Philip in Twelve Parts
that has been short-listed for an Academy Award.
When it is broadcast later in the year on PBS, it will then be made
available direct-to-consumer via Alive Mind and its affiliate network. And
finally, the film will be released into retail through Koch Entertainment
Distribution, whose customer network includes Netflix, iTunes, Amazon and
traditional brick and mortar outlets.

The key is the continued involvement of the filmmaker, who is a partner in
the entire process. What Lorber brings to the table is the marketing
knowledge and tools, a dedicated team that will take care of everything from
building websites, servicing screenings to manufacturing DVDs and
fulfillment, allowing the filmmaker to do what filmmakers do best: make
their next film… while earning money from the distribution of their last

Elizabeth Sheldon

Vice President, Acquisitions & Business Development

Lorber HT Digital