Monday Memo: CAMERAPERSON Comes Out On Top (again) At Sheffield Doc/Fest


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Being that this past week we wrapped up another successful season here at Stranger Than Fiction, there was much less doc news than last week’s jam packed agenda, and it just so happens to be my birthday, I’m going to attempt to keep this week’s memo brief. That said, the most reported on event this past week was the Sheffield Doc/Fest, which wrapped up Wednesday evening, unsurprisingly awarded Kirsten Johnson’s CAMERAPERSON with the Grand Jury Award, and gave HBO’s Sheila Nevins the Creative Leadership Award for making “an essential contribution to the international documentary industry.” Alongside Nick Fraser, commissioner for BBC’s Storyville, Nevins also took part in an ‘In Conversation’ event at the festival, which Realscreen’s Manori Ravindran dutifully covered. At IndieWire, Chris O’Falt spoke with six doc filmmakers who have successfully pitched projects at the Sheffield Doc/Fest MeetMarket in the past about what worked and what didn’t. Taking a broader look at the fest, Ros Cranston reflected on the formal and technical aspects of filmmaking that were on display in Sheffield for the BFI.

Just as Doc/Fest wrapped, Brooklyn’s BAMcinemaFest was gearing up. Touching on the festival’s offerings, including the various high profile docs lining the program, A.O. Scott wrote a preview feature of the fest in The New York Times, as did Calum Marsh in Village Voice, Matt Prigge for Metro, the staff at IndieWire and Basil Tsiokos at What (not) To Doc. Tsiokos also previewed the Edinburgh International Film Festival, which began the same day as BAMcinemaFest, and San Francisco’s Frameline, which concludes Sunday, June 26th.

A few weeks back, Robert S. Boynton of The New York Times reported that The Museum of Modern Art had “wrongly canceled the New York debut of UNDER THE SUN, a documentary about North Korea that has been criticized by that country and Russia,” which was previously scheduled to screen as part of the Doc Fortnight festival back in February. According to reports from Graham Winfrey at IndieWire and Artforum, in seemingly reactionary fashion MoMA has fired Assistant Film Curator Sally Berger, who has been with the museum for 30 years and made the decision to pull the film. In Filmmaker Magazine, Howard Feinstein has lionized Berger, lovingly stating that “nothing can take away from Berger’s record of nonconforming achievements, ahead of their time in an environment hardly known for its artistic courage, especially before MoMA’s acquisition of P.S. 1.,” while reminding that she was a driving force in the development of Doc Fortnight and the promotion of postmodern and avant-garde non-fiction.

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Monday Memo: Ezra Edelman’s O.J.: MADE IN AMERICA Becomes Next Binge Watching Doc Phenom


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A couple months back, Anthony Kaufman predicted that Ezra Edelman’s towering five-part ESPN series O.J.:MADE IN AMERICA would follow in the footsteps of THE JINX and MAKING A MURDERER to become the next media hyped documentary phenomenon. This week, that forecast came to fruition as the series has gleaned twice as much (or more) rave coverage as any other doc released this year to date, and the series has yet to have been released in full. There seems to be no shortage of rhapsodic quotes coming in like Salon’s Andrew O’Hehir proclamation, a “magnificent work of journalism and storytelling from producer and director Ezra Edelman, which now belongs on the short list of the greatest television documentaries ever made,” or Slate’s Jack Hamilton who aims to soften one’s doubts, “Forget your O.J. Simpson fatigue—ESPN’s 7½-hour documentary is a revelation.”

The praise continues to mount, with reviews from the likes of gushing reviews coming in from Noel Murray of AV Club, Brian Tallerico of RogerEbert.com, and Scott Tobias at Vulture. The Washington Post published a lavish profile of Edelman by Eric Hynes, who astutely distills the series as “a heady, five-part, half-century-spanning epic that…posits the story of O.J Simpson as a Rorschach test for the American psyche. Hero or villain, creator or creation, denier or exemplar of his race, how we view O.J. says as much about ourselves as it does the enigma currently languishing in a Nevada prison,” while Hank Stuever called it “nothing short of a towering achievement” in his review for the same publication. Also in the Post, Connor Schell and Aaron Cohen have composed a syllabus of other O.J. related materials to check out, just as Vanity Fair’s Laura Bradley listed five other docs on Simpson to watch in the wake of Edelman’s production.

Even various publications typically unrelated to documentary films published serious criticism on the series, like Brian Raftery‘s essay at Wired, Sarah Weinman‘s piece at New Republic, and Edwin Rios‘ reflection at Mother Jones. Other worthwhile pieces included James Andrew Miller‘s “Why ESPN Gave Director Ezra Edelman Nearly Eight Hours for O.J.: MADE IN AMERICA,” found at Vanity Fair, Stephen Battaglio‘s feature in The Los Angeles Times, NPR’s pair of pieces by Eric Deggans and Linda Holmes, as well as Alan Pergament‘s interview with Edelman in The Buffalo News. Flavorwire’s Lara Zarum may have been the most critical by running the headline, “Yes, O.J.: MADE IN AMERICA is a Triumph of Documentary Storytelling — But it Has a Troubling Blind Spot Around Domestic Violence in the NFL.” And let’s not forget, Stranger Than Fiction’s own Thom Powers spoke at length with Edelman in the latest episode of his new documentary focused podcast, Pure Non Fiction.

While O.J. may be the hot topic on small screens everywhere this week, on Wednesday on the giant screen at IFC Center we here at Stranger Than Fiction will really wrap up our spring season with a very special screening of COUSIN BOBBY, at which Oscar winner Jonathan Demme will appear to present his long unavailable 1992 documentary. Tickets for the show are currently available here.

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THE WITNESS: Seeking truth, finding flawed narratives


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The story of Kitty Genovese is emblematic for modern day society. There have been lectures given on the topic, books written on the significance, and psychological research taken in pursuit of explanations. Behavioral psychologists have coined phrases like “diffusion of responsibility” and “the bystander effect” largely stemming from the tragic case. And while it may now be a symbol for bystander apathy, the story is not what was written.

A documentary 11 years in the making, THE WITNESS recounts the March 1964 murder of 28-year-old Kitty Genovese. The infamous murder captured the world’s attention. A girl brutally stabbed to death in Queens, New York only half a block from her home, while 38 witnesses watched the attack in silence. Or so was reported on the front page of The New York Times, an iconic piece for the paper that led to the story’s notoriety.

But audiences soon come to find that parts of the narrative that would offset the premise of a murder witnessed by silent bystanders were dropped from the story. Indeed, the entire documentary comes to revolve around the idea of flawed narratives and how they come to control one’s life.

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Monday Memo: Distribber & IDA Launch New Distro Grant, THE WITNESS Receives Warm Reception


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Last Thursday, Realscreen’s Daniele Alcinii broke the news that the “GoDigital-owned digital distributor Distribber.com has partnered with the International Documentary Association (IDA) to launch a quarterly grant program that will allow filmmakers the opportunity to distribute their content to major online platforms and retain rights and revenue.” No Film School’s Emily Buder followed up, “The catch? You can’t apply cold. The program is only open to a film already receiving fiscal sponsorship from the IDA, Pare Lorentz grant recipients, or films nominated for the IDA Annual Documentary Awards.” Josh Fox‘s HOW TO LET GO OF THE WORLD (AND LOVE ALL THE THINGS CLIMATE CAN’T CHANGE), which debuted at Sundance earlier this year and is set to be shown on HBO on June 27, has been selected as the first film to receive the grant.

The Full Frame Documentary Film Festival celebrated ten years of its Garrett Scott Documentary Development Grant with a special presentation at New York’s Film Society of Lincoln Center this past week featuring  Ian Olds, Esther Robinson, Rachael Rakes and Thom Powers who helped establish the grant. Graham Winfrey of indieWIRE reported on the event.

While you may have thought our screening of THE WITNESS was our final screening of our Spring Season, we made a surprise addition with a very special Wednesday evening screening of Jonathan Demme’s 1992 documentary COUSIN BOBBY to take place on June 15th. Demme himself will be on hand to discuss his film centering around his cousin Robert Castle, an Episcopalian priest known for his work in the black communities of Jersey City and Harlem. Tickets now on sale to the public here, while STF Spring Season passholders get in for free.

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IN TRANSIT: Intimacy and discovery aboard the Empire Builder


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“Have I told you about my train film?”
–Albert Maysles

“It’s not down in any map; true places never are.”
–Herman Melville

A fitting farewell, Albert Maysles’ last film, IN TRANSIT, follows the Empire Builder, an Amtrak passenger train stretching from Chicago to the Pacific Northwest. The three day journey is a moving panorama that rolls through, around, and with the ecological textures and manmade thumbprints of the United States. Towns and cities that mark the route are dwarfed by sweeping prairie fields, plains, rivers, and mountain ranges that keep time for passengers traveling to begin new lives, leave old stories, and for others, to take one last ride.

Directed by Lynn True and Nelson Walker, and produced by Erika Dilday, IN TRANSIT is a film Maysles pitched for thirty years, fueled by his love of trains. During the post-screening Q&A Dilday said, “He felt that there was this intimacy on the train. You’re in this space that’s so shared and so private yet so personal, and you have this ability to be so close to someone but know that the moment is fleeting, that this intimacy is going to disappear quickly, and that it allows strangers to become friends–he loved capturing that intimacy.”

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