Monday Memo: More Sundance Films Announced


Among the films making it to this year's Sundance Film Festival are (T)ERROR from directors Lyric Cabral and David Felix Sutcliffe.

Among the films making it to this year's Sundance Film Festival are (T)ERROR from directors Lyric Cabral and David Felix Sutcliffe.

This week the Sundance Film Festival continued its announcements of films that made the cut for 2015. Adam Benzine of Realscreen wrote on the docs premiering at the festival, as did Filmmaker Magazine and Daniel Fienberg of HitFix Magazine, along with Casey Cipriani of Indiewire. Christopher Cambpell of Nonfics.com had a guide to Sundance documentary titles, while Realscreen’s Kevin Ritchie took a look at the festival’s short docs. Alexandra Zeevalkink of DocGeeks also had a round-up of Sundance doc selections.

A slew of “Best of 2014” lists came out this week. Paste Magazine’s staff named the best 12 docs of 2014, while Susan Gerhard listed the top 10 docs of the year at Fandor. At Indiewire, Anthony Kaufman named the best 12 docs of the 2014. Gregg Kilday of The Hollywood Reporter had a list of 15 docs from the year that must be seen.

Indiewire’s Paula Bernstein made a useful meta-post rounding up their coverage of documentary filmmaking advice from the past year.

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Monday Memo: CITIZENFOUR, LIFE ITSELF Placed on Oscar Shortlist


THE SALT OF THE EARTH was among the films named to the Oscar shortlist for docs this week.

THE SALT OF THE EARTH was among the films named to the Oscar shortlist for docs this week.

This week the shortlist for the 2015 Oscar doc race was released. At Realscreen, Adam Benzine had a rundown of the films on the list, as did Germain Lussier of Slash Film and Christopher Campbell of Nonfics.com. At Decider, Olivia Armstrong had a list of the shortlisted docs available for online screening. Gregg Kilday of The Hollywood Reporter wondered if Laura Poitras’ film CITIZENFOUR could become the first doc to earn consideration for the best picture award. Brooks Barnes and Michael Cieply took a look at the shortlisted films at the New York Times.

The Sundance Film Festival announced its U.S. and world competition docs this week. Writing for Realscreen, Adam Benzine had coverage of the announcement.

At The Hollywood Reporter, Rebecca Ford reported on the winners of the International Documentary Association (IDA) Awards, as did Manori Ravindran of Realscreen.

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Monday Memo: Spirit Awards Noms Go To STRAY DOG, CITIZENFOUR


STRAY DOG from director Debra Granik was among the films nominated for a Spirit Award this week.

STRAY DOG from director Debra Granik was among the films nominated for a Spirit Award this week.

This week the Film Independent Spirit Awards announced their nominations for best documentary, with nods going to STRAY DOG and CITIZENFOUR, among other films. Kevin Ritchie of Realscreen reported on the development, as did Christopher Campbell of Nonfics.com.

Also at Realscreen, Manori Ravindran reported on films up for awards at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA). Ravindran also had two reports on the IDFA forum, you can read part one here, and part two here. Writing for the POV blog, Kel O’Neill had his own report of the IDFA DocLab interactive conference.

Writing for Ion Cinema, Jordan M. Smith had a report on docs in production that are also Sundance hopefuls. Smith also had a roundup of doc awards nominees and winners.

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Capturing Stax Records’ soul and R&B legacy


STF Fall 2014: Only the Strong Survive

This post was written by STF blogger Krystal Grow.

The legendary Stax recording studio produced some of the finest and most influential soul and R&B music of the 60s and 70s. Now all that remains is a vacant lot in Memphis, TN. There’s a tarnished sign on the sidewalk that bears tribute to the former music mecca with a list of names that reads like a roll call of soul singers, from Otis Redding to Rufus Thomas, Sam and Dave to The Bar-Kays. In 1999, with journalist Roger Friedman in tow, DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus set out to find these legends, and document not only their impact on the development of an entire genre of music, but to preserve their legacy.

“We’ll probably never see anything like that ever again,” Pennebaker said following the screening of ONLY THE STRONG SURVIVE, the last film in Stranger Than Fiction’s eight-week tribute to the filmmaking duo. “I grew up on jazz. I had no idea this incredible music was right here in the middle of America.”

Through a series of candid interviews and observations, as well as a healthy serving of live performance footage, Pennebaker, Hegedus and Friedman follow some of the most important figures in the evolution of Memphis soul music. Standing outside the site of the former Stax studio, Carla Thomas, the ‘Princess of Soul,’ and daughter of Rufus Thomas, tells the story of her entrance into the soul scene as a teenager, singing sugar-coated songs in a girl group, and later as a solo artist. Having left her music career behind to pursue a college education, she returns to the studio to record updated versions of her most popular songs, and like they did with the cast of COMPANY and Dave Lambert, Pennebaker and his team capture all the energy of a live studio session through their unobtrusive yet intimate lens.

Outside the studio, many of the Stax legends were still performing when the film was made in 1999. From venues with revolving stages to banquet halls in small southern towns, the smoldering sound resonates with the same intensity that soul music is known for. From Wilson Pickett to Mary Wilson, Pennebaker and Hegedus reveal a resilience in these artists that has traversed profound personal tragedies and the downfall of the Stax, the epicenter of the Memphis sound.

“I wanted it to go on forever,” Pennebaker said. “It was really amazing to see these performers, whose names I knew, but who I’d never seen perform, and didn’t know were still even performing.” Hegedus agreed,”Most of these performances weren’t in the biggest venues,” she said, “but everyone really just went for it and gave it their all.”

Valerie Simpson, of the influential Ashford and Simpson songwriting/production/performing duo, was in the audience at the IFC center for the screening, and during the Q&A said that while her memories of soul music were still strong, the film itself achieved something that few people could have accomplished.

“Your love of the music allowed you to have a relationship with people that other people couldn’t have had,” she said to Friedman, who helped Hegedus and Pennebaker gain access to the subjects they followed in the film. “I loved seeing the people I love in this film in their natural state, like they really were, and that was because of you.”

Stranger Than Fiction’s twenty-fifth season featured an eight-week tribute to the careers of D A Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

Krystal Grow is an arts writer and photo editor based in New York. She has written for TIME LightBox, TIME.com, LIFE.com, the New York Times Lens Blog, the Magnum Foundation and the DOC NYC blog. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @kgreyscale.


Monday Memo: CAIRO DRIVE Takes Home DOC NYC Prize


CAIRO DRIVE from director Sherief Elkatsha took home a prize at this year's DOC NYC festival.

CAIRO DRIVE from director Sherief Elkatsha took home a prize at this year's DOC NYC festival.

This week DOC NYC finished out it’s fifth year. Writing for Indiewire, Ben Travers reported that CAIRO DRIVE, HOMME LESS and MIRROR IMAGE took home DOC NYC’s jury awards this year, while THE HAND THAT FEEDS won the festival’s audience award. Manori Ravindran of Realscreen also had coverage of the awards. Also at Indiewire, Anthony Kaufman took note of DOC NYC’s emergence as a major documentary showcase. At the POV blog, Tom Roston covered Sundance Institute doc head Tabitha Jackson’s DOC NYC keynote address calling for increased focus on artistic practice in documentary, while Scott Macaulay covered the speech for Filmmaker Magazine.  Paula Bernstein interviewed Jackson following her address. Writing for Nonfics.com, Daniel Walber shared six discoveries from the festival. VOD platform VHX shared a slideshow presented at the festival. Finally, Indiewire compiled all of their coverage on one DOC NYC news page, containing a host of links to recaps of panels and other events (definitely worth a browse.)

At Realscreen, Kevin Ritchie reported on this year’s winners of the BRITDOC Impact Awards. The POV blog also recapped the winners. In a piece for Indiewire, director Joshua Oppenheimer shared his thoughts on the role of the documentary filmmaker and the idea of impact.

At the What (Not) to Doc blog, Basil Tsiokos provided an overview of the International Documentary FIlm Festival Amsterdam (IDFA) in two parts: part one and part two. Writing for Realscreen, Manori Ravindran covered an IDFA panel on the issues faced by female directors and other women in the doc world. Ravindran also spoke with festival head Ally Derks about the event. At the POV blog, Kel O’Neill spoke with IDFA DocLab head Casper Sonnen. Also, The D-Word documentary forum has a dedicated thread to the festival (registration and professional status required). And Inoo Kang spoke with Eline Jongsma about her immersive documentary project EMPIRE.

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