Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Documentary makers decry Smithsonian deal

Sat, 01 Apr 2006 16:29:45 EST


CBC Arts

Two well-known American documentary filmmakers have come out against a recent agreement between the Smithsonian Institution and Showtime Networks Inc.

The New York Times reports Ken Burns, who directed The Civil War, Jazz and Baseball documentary series, called the deal "terrifying." Burns said the agreement means he would have been prohibited from making some of his documentaries that rely on archival material from the institution.

The agreement, cemented in early March, restricts film and television shows which are using Smithsonian materials from offering their work to public television or other non-Showtime broadcast outlets, unless they first offer it to Smithsonian on Demand, the institute's new broadcast outlet, or Showtime.

Burns told the newspaper the Smithsonian has "essentially optioned America's attic to one company."

Filmmaker Laurie Kahn-Leavitt said she had been told that her film Tupperware! - a historical recreation of the rise of the food-storage containers - would have fallen under the deal. The documentary was shown on PBS.

Kahn-Leavitt said a public archive should not be used on "an exclusive basis to anyone," reported the New York Times.

Jeanny Kim, vice president of media services for Smithsonian Business Ventures, said the agreement would affect a small number of works — ones that draw heavily on archival material.
Kim said documentaries using a few minutes of pictures or elements of the Smithsonian collection would be outside of the agreement.

Details of the contract have been left hidden. Smithsonian officials said they would not release it publicly and said outlines of the agreement have been left deliberately vague to allow the institution to consider projects on a case-by-case basis.

Margaret Drain from WGBH, the Boston public TV station, said programs such as Nova and American Experience would suffer under such restrictions. Drain said she was "outraged" by the deal.