In a light week, the lights are shining back at the previous seventeen years. Following a string of fascinating lists naming the best films of the 21st century thus far, the IndieWire team has put together their choices for the Top 25 Best Documentaries of the 21st Century, which, while arguing for some surprising recent releases (ALL THESE SLEEPLESS NIGHTS, KEDI) and not so surprising choices (THE ACT OF KILLING, STORIES WE TELL), importantly notes how technology has shifted our perception of what is possible from the form. Astutely put, “On one hand, digital technology has infinitely expanded our range of vision, and some of the modern era’s most essential docs have been shot on consumer-grade equipment like iPhones and GoPro cameras. On the other hand, these tools haven’t just granted us new ways of seeing, they’ve also galvanized our desire to look, which in turn has stoked an unprecedented degree of interest in the documentary format on the whole.”
As far as festivals go, we are in the mid-summer doldrums, post-Karlovy Vary, pre-Locarno. That said, a bit of coverage of this year’s AFI Docs came in from Christopher Llewellyn Reed over at Hammer to Nail. Reed interviewed Stefan Avalos, the director of STRAD STYLE, a film about a man trying to replicate Giuseppe Guarneri’s “Il Cannone” violin, which had its debut earlier this year at Slamdance. He also reviewed Reuben Atlas and Samuel D. Pollard’s ACORN AND THE FIRESTORM, and Amanda Lipitz’s much loved STEP, which heads into wide release thanks to Fox Searchlight in the coming weeks.
In a week in which scientists successfully actualized teleportation and Trump found himself mired in a Russian influenced campaign scandal, it may have been difficult to wade through the news stories to find the notable documentary related stories (light as they may be this week). Most noteworthy are the 2017 Emmy Awards nominations, which include AMANDA KNOX, THE BEATLES: EIGHT DAYS A WEEK – THE TOURING YEARS and 13TH among those in the running for Outstanding Documentary Or Nonfiction Special, and O.J.: MADE IN AMERICA, OKLAHOMA CITY and THE WHITE HELMETS up for an award for Exceptional Merit In Documentary Filmmaking.
Looking at the festival circuit, Basil Tsiokos noted that the 34th Jerusalem Film Festival is now in full swing (with a fascinating selection of docs in competition), while both the Melbourne International Film Festival and the Locarno Festival have announced their programs. More immediately relevant, today PBS is launching its 6th Annual PBS Online Film Festival where 25 films, including POV’s OUR VOICES ARE RARELY HEARD are available to stream through July 28th.
Though festival lineup announcements bring new feature length titles to the fore, PBS’s newly revealed fall lineup includes Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s 18-hour, 10-part series, THE VIETNAM WAR, which will have its world premiere on Sundays through Thursdays beginning September 17th. Other notable fall inclusions are Michael Collins’ ALMOST SUNRISE (which Glenn Kenny warmly wrote about at RogerEbert.com this week) and John Scheinfeld’s CHASING TRANE.
You may have noticed the lack of last week’s holiday styled memo, but this week we’ve returned with plenty of nonfiction news to get you up to speed. Up top we’ve got IndieWire’s Anne Thompson making her early predictions for what docs will be in the running for the 2018 Oscar for Best Documentary. Unsurprisingly, Matthew Heineman’s CITY OF GHOSTS (see this week’s slew of coverage on the film below), Agnès Varda’s FACES, PLACES, and Laura Poitras’ RISK are among the forerunners thus far.
In festival happenings, Ben Nicholson reported for Sight & Sound on this year’s edition of the Sheffield Doc/Fest, the first under its new chief programmer Luke Moody. At What (not) To Doc, Basil Tsiokos put forth his usual thorough overview of new nonfiction for the 35th edition of LA’s Outfest, noting a pair of centerpiece selections in Lori Kaye’s KEVIN AUCOIN: BEAUTY & THE BEAST IN ME and Katherine Fairfax Wright’s BEHIND THE CURTAIN: TODRICK HALL. Doc filmmakers should also take note that this coming Friday is DOC NYC‘s Extended Deadline for submissions for its 2017 edition.
Monday is upon us once again and as we look back at last week’s documentary happenings it seems that PBS’s announcement of its lineup for the 19th season of Independent Lens (via Variety’s Addie Morfoot) should take top billing in this week’s memo. The new season is set to kick of on November 6th, 2017 with John Scheinfeld’s CHASING TRANE and will run through February 26th, 2018, concluding with Peter Bratt’s DOLORES. Among the other selections are Nanfu Wang’s I AM ANOTHER YOU, Theo Anthony’s RAT FILM, Peter Nicks’s THE FORCE, and Jennifer Brea’s UNREST.
As Laura Poitras’s RISK, a complex, often unflattering film about Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, has reached theaters throughout the United Kingdom, it appears that Wikileaks has sent Cease & Desist letters to various distributors of the film, according to Timothy Geigner at Tech Dirt. Despite Wikileaks’s stated mission of open information, the exact wording in the letters were as such, “We therefore demand that you immediately cease the use and distribution of all images of the Named Participants and that you desist from this or any other infringement of the rights of the Named Participants in the future.” The film was released regardless, gleaning a thorough and thoughtful review from Danny Leigh in Financial Times.
Writing by Megan Scanlon. Megan works at the American University of Beirut. She is a frequent contributor to the DOC NYC and Stranger Than Fiction blogs; program coordinator at the Bronx Documentary Center; and teacher at Yoga to the People. She has written for the Journal of Community Engagement and Scholarship. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @meganscanlon5
New York City.
A fist of a city that could punch your lights out and then afterwards unfold its fingers and extend a strong grip to pick you up off your feet. Bowels of a city that are an affront to the olfactory senses. A lap of a city that needs no invitation to rest in its green spaces, offering respite from the hardness of the urban concrete-scape. Two hands of a city that will surprise you mid-conversation as it cradles your face, catches and holds your gaze, and kisses your forehead.
Though in some ways it may sound like a container for an abusive relationship, it’s really that New York City is the embodiment of every-thing and no-thing. It defines, cultivates, creates, resists, defies, and flows with change. This push and pull, this ebb and flow, this contraction and expansion is fluidly expressed in the time capsule that is One October. Inspired by Chris Marker’s Le Joli Mai (a portrait of Paris in 1962), director Rachel Shuman created a film that locates New York City in October 2008. For the NYC premiere, Shuman took the Stranger Than Fiction audience on a tour of a landscape on the brink of…well…change.