As cable channels and broadcasters scramble
to make their mark with issue-oriented environmental programming, one
network enjoying an already well-established reputation in that space
is Sundance Channel. And it’s showing no sign of slowing down.
Sundance recently reaffirmed its commitment to the cause by purchasing
a slate of documentaries—seven feature-length films and three
shorts—to premiere this fall. Almost all of them have at least
some environmental elements.
Ranging in tone from a humorous look at
the American lawn ("Gimme Green") to the nightmarish plight
of artist Steve Kurtz, who called 911 when his wife died in her sleep
and now finds himself awaiting trial as a bioterrorist after police
decided his art looked suspicious ("Strange Culture"), the
productions encompass a wide range of themes. Christian Vesper, senior
vice president of acquisitions and scheduling, said the network hopes
to "broaden viewers’ perspective by getting more political
Laura Michalchyshyn, Sundance’s
executive VP and general manager of programming, said the cable channel
remains committed to its weekly block of environmental programming.
"Our intention is to give people useful, intelligent ways to make
small changes," she said.
The Green—the U.S.’ first
block of prime-time programming dedicated exclusively to environmental
issues—launched April 17 with original programming plus commissioned
and acquired documentaries. Sundance just renewed the two mainstays
of the Tuesday night block, "Big Ideas for a Small Planet"
and BBC reality series "It’s Not Easy Being Green."
"Big Ideas for a Small Planet," produced by Scout Productions
("Queer Eye for the Straight Guy"), airs each week with a
complementary documentary. This year’s episodes have dealt with
alternative fuel sources and worldwide food production as well as lighter
subjects such as fashion and sports.
"It’s Not Easy Being Green" follows England’s
conservationist Strawbridge family to a three-acre farm in Cornwall.
The network also is airing a number of
first-person interstitials showing celebrities such as Daryl Hannah
describing the steps they’re taking to improve the planet. Although
it’s difficult to measure the impact The Green has had on viewers,
Ms. Michalchyshyn said, "We’ve launched the ‘eco-mmunity’
on our Web site, and we’ve had an incredible spike in traffic
on our online community. People are coming onto the Sundance site to
find out how they can take that information to make it work."
National and global environmental groups
such as Greenpeace, Oceana, TreeHugger and the World Wildlife Fund,
along with local organizations such as Sustainable South Bronx, are
partnered with the network and "share a commitment to enlighten
and provide viewers with tools to get involved," she said.
The network hopes the recently acquired documentaries will complement
and expand The Green’s impact.
"The original programming has direct
things you can do; it’s solution-based," Mr. Vesper said,
"while the acquired elements broaden the perspective even further.
We’re getting more political and issue-oriented. We want the mix."
In addition to environmental groups, the network relies on the Green
Advisory Committee as a sounding board for projects and series. The
board includes Laurie David, who produced the Al Gore film "An
Inconvenient Truth"; Pat Mitchell, president of the Paley Center
for Media (formerly the Museum of Television & Radio); and attorney
and activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
"We’ve been able to use them
for vetting and also for resources," Mr. Vesper said. "They’re
an advisory board in the truest sense."
Mr. Vesper acknowledged more networks are throwing
their hats into the environmental ring, but said the competition is
healthy. "We have a unique perspective and other networks have
their own perspectives, and at the end of the day we all do truly care
about the environment. The more people in place to get the audience
to make a difference, the better. There’s room for a lot of players.
"We’ve been working on this block for a while, and we’re
getting documentaries from Austria, Canada and Asia that involve stories
and art of indigenous people," he added. "It gives the audience
the full spectrum. It’s a year-round block for us, so we want
to keep finding entertaining programming."
"The [Green] block is not disappearing,"
Ms. Michalchyshyn added. "The issue is sustainability, and the
issue is not going away. What’s evolving now are the answers."
Here’s a look at Sundance’s recently purchased documentaries
* "We Feed the World"
Austrian filmmaker Erwin Wagenhofer traces the origins of the foods
people eat, traveling the world to show poverty and plenty.
* "Energy War"
Filmmakers Shuchen Tan, Ijsbrand van Veelen and Rudi Boon look at energy
supplies in a bleak future, where it’s every man for himself.
* "Radiant City"
Comedian Gary Burns and journalist Jim Brown co-direct a semi-mockumentary
travelogue on suburban sprawl.
* "Somba Ke: The Money Place"
In the 1940s the Canadian government supplied the U.S. with Arctic-mined
uranium to make bombs for the Manhattan Project. David Henningson’s
film shows there are those who want the mines reopened.
* "Wetlands Preserved: The Story of an Activist Nightclub"
Director Dean Budnick looks at Larry Bloch and a team of novices who
took over a Chinese-food warehouse just south of Manhattan’s Holland
Tunnel and turned it into a nightclub—with an emphasis on saving
* "Before the Flood"
Climate change and rising tides harbor grim news for the tiny island
of Tuvalu, which soon will be swallowed by the Pacific. Paul Lindsay
* "Strange Culture"
When Steve Kurtz’s wife died in her sleep, he summoned police,
who decided Kurtz’s art materials looked suspicious. Today the
internationally acclaimed artist and professor and his collaborator,
Dr. Robert Ferrell, a genetics professor, await a trial date on bioterrorism
charges. Lynn Hershman Leeson directs.
* "Texas Gold"
Filmmaker Carolyn M. Scott’s look at Texas shrimper Diane Wilson
and her fight against toxins in the Calhoun County water supply.
* "Gimme Green"
Writer-directors Eric Flagg and Isaac Brown take a humorous look at
the largest irrigated crop in America: the lawn.
* "Fridays at the Farm"
Filmmaker Richard Hoffman and his family participate in a community-based