Documentary Preservation Summit: March 31 & April 1

Memory 570x317

DOC NYC and the International Documentary Association (IDA) will co-present the first “Documentary Preservation Summit” on March 31 and April 1 at IFC Center in New York. The event will gather filmmakers, preservation experts and others to address the risks of important documentary films being lost and strategies for ensuring their future. The speakers include Academy Award winning directors D.A. Pennebaker (Monterey Pop; The War Room) and Barbara Kopple (Harlan County USA; American Dream); Michael Donaldson, fair use attorney; Margaret Bodde, the executive director of The Film Foundation; and Sandra Schulberg, the head of the IndieCollect film documentation and preservation campaign. The event hashtag is #savedocs.

“We want to sound an alarm,” said summit organizer and DOC NYC artistic director Thom Powers. “Today all filmmakers have to serve as their own archivists, whether it’s for work on older formats or fresh footage on a hard drive. This summit will give filmmakers vital knowledge about how to save their work and make it available to the public.”

“Preserving access to great documentary films and ensuring they remain available to future generations is a sleeping-giant issue facing documentary filmmakers and aficionados alike,” said Marjan Safinia, IDA Board President. “Bringing the work of IDA’s GETTING REAL documentary conference to New York, this summit shines a light on critical issues related to preservation of our documentary history and the sustainability of documentary careers.”

Marcel Ophuls’ The Memory of Justice (1976), recently restored by the Academy Film Archive in association with Paramount Pictures and The Film Foundation. Restoration funding provided by The Material Wold Charitable Foundation, Righteous Persons Foundation and The Film Foundation.
The summit will kick off on Tuesday March 31 at 7:30 pm with the “Keynote Panel: A Call to Action for Documentary Preservation,” featuring Hudlin, Kopple, Pennebaker, Powers and Schulberg, that will highlight the risks facing precious films. The audience will get a sneak peak at the new IndieCollect Index, an attempt to catalogue the entire field of American independent cinema, supported by a grant from the Ford Foundation.

The following day, Wednesday, April 1, will feature four panels: “Earning New Revenue Off Old Films”; “Confronting Clearance and Legal Issues”; “How Does Your Film Become Preserved and Discoverable?”; and “Best Practices: Don’t Lose Your Footage in the Digital Age.” See below for further details.

Summit passes, good for all events on both days, are $25 (or $20, in advance, for IDA and IFC Center members). To purchase a pass in advance, click here.

Passes and tickets to individual sessions ($14) will be available in-person at the IFC Center box office, 323 Avenue of the Americas (at W. 3rd Street), starting March 31.

For full details, see below.

Continue reading…

TO TELL THE TRUTH: The Story of the Storytellers


How do you trace the origins of a medium that documents history itself, and how do you reveal the roots of a genre dedicated to telling untold stories? In a screening dedicated to producer Ali Pomeroy, Stranger Than Fiction welcomed filmmakers David Van Taylor and Cal Skaggs to the IFC Center to divulge the secrets of documentary history.

TO TELL THE TRUTH: A HISTORY OF DOCUMENTARY FILM is a multi-part series that explores the social, economic and political conditions that led to the rise of, and the need for, short films about real life and real people. Episodes 2 and 3, shown on Tuesday, look to the late 1920s through 1947, formative decades that saw the genre tackle The Great Depression, labor strikes, and World War II.

In 1930, a group of renegade filmmakers founded the Workers Film and Photo League, an organization dedicated to capturing the struggles of everyday people during the harshest days of the Great Depression. Working against the precedent set by newsreel footage, which largely ignored current events in favor of flashy footage with little substance, the WFPL captured the discontent of the general public at a defining moment in American cultural and socioeconomic history.

The rise of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal and reform-based social programs led to the production of a number of documentary films that attempted to give a narrative structure and dramatic arc to the issues facing the nation, while also drawing connections between urban poverty and rural drought and famine. Former members of the WFPL, led by writer/director Pare Lorentz, produced The Plow That Broke The Plains, released in 1936 to critical acclaim as not only a groundbreaking expose of the uncontrolled agriculture industry, but as a new method of informative, provocative filmmaking.

In the wake of Pearl Harbor and the onset of World War II, documentary film making became intertwined with political propaganda, as Nazi Germany exploited the medium with startling success. Led by Leni Riefenstahl‘s controversial yet visually striking film Triumph of the Will, which glorified Hitler’s rise to power, documentary film making became a powerful and persuasive wartime communication tool.

TO TELL THE TRUTH continues to explore the connection between propaganda and documentary, and raises important questions around whether the two are really all that different, and that the answer perhaps lies in the motivations of the filmmakers. In the Q&A following the screening, Van Taylor added that the goal of the series was to tell the story of the storytellers, and that while the genre of documentary filmmaking has grown and evolved over the years, the core values have remained the same.

“The filmmaking era we’re living in now seems so different from what [filmmakers] Ricky Leacock and Al Maysles knew, but the techniques that were pioneered here are in fact quite dominant today,” Van Taylor said. “They strive to be as visually beautiful as possible, but they all still have a propagandist intent from beginning to end.”

From military training films in the US to avant-garde portraits of coal miners and mail carriers in the UK, documentarians are charged with telling many different versions of the truth, but their biggest challenge is in how to faithfully express and expose the truth as they see it. “Filmmakers are just instruments,” Skaggs said. “We may try to find and persuade subjects and struggle to build a structure, but what we really want to do is convey what we think is true. And if we’re good, that’s what we are – pure, clear instruments.”

Stranger Than Fiction’s Winter 2015 season closing night is Tuesday March 24th, with THE MUSES OF ISAAC BASHEVIS SINGER. The series takes place each Tuesday night at the IFC Center. The season features an eclectic mix of sneak previews and retrospectives, including appearances by filmmakers Marc Levin, Ian Olds, Liz Garbus and film subject Seymour Bernstein.

Writing by Krystal Grow is an arts writer and photo editor based in New York. She has written for TIME LightBox,,, WIRED Raw File, The New York Times Lens Blog and the DOC NYC blog. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @kgreyscale.

Videography by Steff Sanchez, a filmmaker and designer based in New York City. Twitter @steffsanchez.

Photography by Lou Aguilar, a photographer based in New York City. Twitter @Luberta.

SEYMOUR: AN INTRODUCTION, Musician, Mentor, Sage & Poet

Film subject Seymour Bernstein participates in a Q&A following the screening of Ethan Hawke's directorial debut, SEYMOUR: AN INTRODUCTION.

Film subject Seymour Bernstein participates in a Q&A following the screening of Ethan Hawke's directorial debut, SEYMOUR: AN INTRODUCTION.

Seymour Bernstein is a brilliant pianist who never received fame to match his talent. He rose to notability in the 1960’s, but retreated from the spotlight in 1977 to begin a career of composition and teaching to a loyal following of piano students. But in the film, SEYMOUR: AN INTRODUCTION, we learn that Bernstein is more than a musician, composer, and teacher; he is a sage and a poet.

In Tuesday’s screening of Seymour, Bernstein watched the documentary among audience members who were wooed by his soothing disposition and deep philosophical meanderings.

Actor, Ethan Hawke, met Bernstein at a dinner party of one of his pupils, and a budding friendship developed. SEYMOUR is Hawke’s documentary directorial debut, in which he paints an intimate portrait of Bernstein. There are scenes of Bernstein in his humble Upper West Side studio apartment where he has lived for almost 60 years. He converses over coffee with one of his long-time students about his early life, and he tells stories of his time served in the Korean War with tears in his eyes.

Hawke puts himself in the film, and we quickly realize that Bernstein is a mentor to him. It was Hawke who asked him to perform in a comeback recital, the first time in 37 years that he has performed publicly. Bernstein told the audience after the screening, “There’s something about Ethan; you can’t say ‘no’ to him.”

During the Q&A session, Bernstein chuckled, “Have you ever heard of someone becoming a movie star at 88 years old?” Even at this ripe age, he is still incredibly articulate, funny, and charismatic. He entertained listeners with stories of his witch-like piano teacher as a young student, and of his two favorite pianos in the world, one in Hamburg, Germany and the other in the basement of Steinway & Sons in New York City.

Above all, Bernstein’s responses made it clear that he has gained enormous fulfillment from his role as a teacher, “I’ve learned everything from my students.” And his desire to mentor feels very sincere, “I want to help my students feel good about themselves,” he said.

Bernstein ended the Q&A by stating what he feels is the point of the documentary, “The true essence of who you really are resides in your talent. You must find that talent, and take it into your life, so there is no separation between the artist and the world.”

Stranger Than Fiction’s Winter 2015 season runs from February 3rd to March 24th, taking place each Tuesday night at the IFC Center. The season features an eclectic mix of sneak previews and retrospectives, including appearances by filmmakers Marc Levin, Ian Olds, Liz Garbus and film subject Seymour Bernstein.

Writing by Maya Albanese, a New York City based multimedia reporter, writer, producer, and filmmaker covering social and environmental sustainability as well as innovation in the arts, food, and technology worlds. Maya has produced content for print, digital, and broadcast media, including The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, NBC Nightly News, The Today Show,, Fresh Cup, Coffee Talk, Heritage Radio and TellurideTV. In 2015, she is producing two documentary films and will receive a Masters degree with an emphasis in Documentary Filmmaking from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. Twitter @mayaalbanese.

Videography by Steff Sanchez, a filmmaker and designer based in New York City. Twitter @steffsanchez.

Photography by Lou Aguilar, a photographer based in New York City. Twitter @Luberta.

Monday Memo: Robert Durst Arrested After New Evidence Surfaces In Andrew Jarecki’s THE JINX

Robert Durst arrested, photo by Orleans Parish Sheriffs Office

Robert Durst arrested, photo by Orleans Parish Sheriffs Office

Months back when news broke that HBO was to premiere Andrew Jarecki’s long awaited return to non-fiction in the form of a six part serial mini-series on Robert Durst, I don’t think anyone could have predicted this: Jon Herskovitz of Reuters, Emily Shapiro of ABC News, Ashley Southall and Charles V. Bagli of The New York Times and the staff at Variety have reported that Saturday the son of the one of New York City’s largest real estate barons was arrested in New Orleans on a murder warrant issued by police in Los Angeles related to the death of his friend, Susan Berman. After the fifth episode of Jarecki’s THE JINX: THE LIFE AND DEATHS OF ROBERT DURST aired last Sunday, revealing the discovering of new evidence in Berman’s murder case, The New York Times ran an article by Charles V. Bagli that dropped the bomb that the district attorney in Los Angeles had recently reopened an investigation into Berman’s death. The Guardian also ran a piece on Saturday in which Andrew Gumbel outlines the possibility of Jarecki and his team actually solving the murder case through the medium of investigative documentary filmmaking. The series concluded its shocking six episode run on HBO last night in which Durst unknowingly admitted, “Killed them all, of course”. Late last night, Charles V. Bagli and Vivian Yee reported on the horrifying reveal for The New York Times, as did Ben Williams for Vulture and Jessica Contrera and Peter Holley for The Washington Post.

Jarecki is a Stranger Than Fiction alumnus, with his doc classic CAPTURING THE FRIEDMANS having screened as part of our Fall 2013 season. Our current season continues tomorrow with a special screening of TO TELL THE TRUTH: A HISTORY OF DOCUMENTARY FILM (1928-1946) dedicated to Ali Pomeroy, who produced the film and tragically passed away February 27, 2015 after a 2 1/2-year struggle with cancer. Both David Van Taylor and Cal Skaggs, the film’s co-directors, will be on hand for a post-screening Q&A.

Continue reading…

Monday Memo: A Documentary Titan Falls – Albert Maysles Dies at 88

Albert Maysles at DOC NYC 2014 where he received the Visionaries Tribute Lifetime Achievement Award

Albert Maysles at DOC NYC 2014 where he received the Visionaries Tribute Lifetime Achievement Award

Last week I said I’d be skipping the Monday Memo until next week due to the fact that I’d be at True/False Fest all weekend, but despite being thoroughly drained from the incredible films I took in and festivities I took part in, there is yet news that must be addressed, albeit briefly. As I’m sure you’ve heard by now, Albert Maysles, a documentary pioneer whose work includes such classics as GREY GARDENS, SALESMAN and GIMME SHELTER, passed away late last Thursday night, just after it was announced that IN TRANSIT, what will now be his final film, will have its world premiere next month at the Tribeca Film Festival. Word spread like wild fire both on Twitter and through the various Qs throughout True/False Friday morning. During the festival’s celebratory March March through downtown Columbia, MO, filmmakers took to the streets with portraits of Maysles and film stills from his monumental oeuvre pinned to their jackets in tribute to their fallen hero.

Mourning the loss, articles revealing the news of his death and detailing the filmmaker’s life and career showed up at The New Yorker in a loving piece by Richard Brody, in an article by Matt Schudel in the Washington Post, the New York Times thanks to Anita Gates, as well as at The Dissolve in an obituary by Keith Phipps. For Slate, Charles Loxton wrote a piece on the filmmaker’s passing, while Matt Zoller Seitz wrote up a list of 8 things about Al over at For this week’s Indiewire Podcast, Eric Kohn and Anne Thompson discuss why Maysles mattered. Christopher Campbell also paid tribute and passed along the statement released from the Maysles Documentary Center over at Nonfics.

Maysles died just prior to the theatrical rerelease of GREY GARDENS, which Alex Simon of The Huffington Post had recently interviewed him about. Andrew O’Hehir had also reported on the film’s restoration for Salon, while Katey Rich of Vanity Fair released a 2001 Phone Call Between Little Edie of GREY GARDENS and Maysles earlier in the week. Just prior to boarding a plane to True/False and hearing the news of Maysles passing, Farihah Zaman had submit an article on GREY GARDENS to The Talk House.

Over the years, Al Maysles was a guest of and mentor to Stranger Than Fiction and it is with great sadness that we must say our goodbyes. Our conversations with Al about SALESMAN and GREY GARDENS can be viewed at the links.

This week is rare in that we hosting a double header with SEYMOUR: AN INTRODUCTION playing tonight at 8 pm, while A DANGEROUS GAME will screen Thursday at 8 pm, both at the IFC Center with post-screening Q&As, as usual.

Continue reading…