Monday Memo: Cannes Kicks Off, Asif Kapadia’s AMY Leads Charge


Anyone with an interest in cinema and an internet connection surely is aware that the Cannes Film Festival is currently in full swing with a full week of auteurist-driven cinephelia left to go. Swirling around in that first wave whirlwind of festival news is word that SENNA filmmaker Asif Kapadia’s latest archival driven docu-portrait AMY is apparently quite the masterwork. In his review for The Guardian, Peter Bradshaw calls the film “a tragic masterpiece”, meanwhile Variety’s Guy Lodge writes that it is a “reserved yet profoundly felt film”. Stephen Dalton of The Hollywood Reporter, The Independent’s Geoffrey Macnab, Indiewire’s Kaleem Aftab and The Wrap’s Steve Pond all gushed about Kapadia’s raw portrait of the late singer Amy Winehouse. Only Sophie Monks Kaufman of Little White Lies, who called the film “melodramatic” and “opportunistic”, and the singer’s much blamed father Mitch Winehouse, who spoke with Emine Saner at The Guardian about his disdain for the film, had anything truly negative to report.

Nancy Buirski’s autobiographical BY SIDNEY LUMET, which grew out of a never-before-seen interview shot in 2008 produced by the late filmmaker Daniel Anker, also premiered at Cannes over the weekend, alongside Gabriel Clarke and John McKenna’s STEVE MCQUEEN: THE MAN AND LE MANS, which ruminates on McQueen’s involvement with the troubled Lee H. Katzin picture from 1971. At, Ben Kenigsberg concludes that Buirski’s film is a bit loose, but remains insightful. David Rooney of The Hollywood Reporter also favored the film, dubbing it “illuminating”. On Clarke and McKenna’s film, Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter thought their picture “fascinating”, but lacked the punchiness of its decisive star. An in-depth preview of the film was also published at The Independent prior to its premiere.

Most interestingly for the doc community, for the first time in the festival’s history, a new documentary prize dubbed the Oeil d’Or (Golden Eye) that comes with a prize of 5,000 euro will be handed out at the festival’s closing ceremony. The prize will be awarded by a jury presided over by Cambodian filmmaker Rithy Panh, whose own THE MISSING PICTURE premiered at the festival two years ago. Richard Mowe detailed the prize over at Eye For Film. At the same time, Daniel Walber speculated on the inaugural prize winner, debating the potential of the 14 features eligible for the award at Nonfics.

While the cinematic deluge abroad continues, here at Stranger Than Fiction we will be forging ahead with our Spring Season tomorrow with director Marah Strauch’s spectacular debut SUNSHINE SUPERMAN. Rich with stunning 16mm archive footage, well-crafted re-enactments and state-of-the-art aerial photography, the TIFF premiered film tells the story of BASE jumping pioneer Carl Boenish. Both Strauch and producer Eric Bruggeman will be on hand for a post-screening Q&A at tomorrow’s showing at the IFC Center.

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Monday Memo: DOK.fest Begins, Sheffield Doc/Fest Line-up Announced


Generally speaking, all was fairly quiet on the home front as far as documentary news was concerned this past week, though that’s not to say that there wasn’t some exciting moving and shaking to report. This weekend marked the start of Munich’s DOK.fest where films like Pawel Siczek’s HALF THE TOWN and Jens Schanze’s LA BUENA VIDA will screen as part of the competition. At What (not) To Doc, Basil Tsiokos wrote an extensive overview of the offerings at this year’s festival, while Giorgia Del Don pointed out the incredible number of Swiss productions included in this year’s program (18!) at Cineuropa.

Just prior to the start of DOK.fest, another major European doc mainstay in the Sheffield Doc/Fest announced their 2015 line-up. Stacked with 150 films and scheduled to kick off on June 5th with Joshua Oppenheimer’s THE LOOK OF SILENCE, the festival will also pay tribute to Albert Maysles, as well as feature the world premiere of director Benedikt Erlingsson’s THE GREATEST SHOWS ON EARTH: A CENTURY OF FUNFAIRS, CIRCUSES AND CARNIVALS, with a score by Georg Hólm and Orri Páll Dýrason of Sigur Rós, reports Elle Leonsis of Indiewire and The Guardian’s Benjamin Lee. At the BFI, Georgia Korossi posted a preview of the festival’s offerings, as well as a trailer for the fest itself.

Tomorrow at 8pm, we here at Stranger Than Fiction will welcome directors Alan and Susan Raymond to the IFC Center for a screening of THE POLICE TAPES, their groundbreaking, experimental video documentary that revealed the life of a South Bronx police precinct in 1977, one of the most tumultuous years in the history of New York City. This past week in The L Magazine, Mark Asch called the film “a more emotionally involved heir to Wiseman’s Direct Cinema masterwork LAW AND ORDER”, while in The New Yorker, Richard Brody celebrates the filmmakers’ participation in the intense situations on screen and an especially impassioned monologue by borough commander Anthony Bouza “regarding the inherent resentment of the presence of the police and the trauma and rage of poverty—that should be engraved on the halls of justice. “should be engraved on the halls of justice”. What tickets still available for the screening can be found here.

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AILEEN: Life and Death of a Serial Killer


In a special appearance in the IFC Center’s Stranger Than Fiction documentary series, director Nick Broomfield screened AILEEN: LIFE AND DEATH OF A SERIAL KILLER. “Of all the films I made maybe it was one of the most affecting,” Nick shared.

Aileen leaves its audience in a murky wake that questions how society treats the incarcerated, views the death penalty, and addresses mental health. Aileen exposes the surreptitious ties between the media, the election process, and the United States justice system. It begs a deeper, honest exploration of the driving forces behind what justice is, and what it looks like in American society.

On October 9, 2002 Aileen Wuornos, a former homeless, hitchhiking prostitute was executed by lethal injection for the murder of seven men. In her first trial in 1992, the jury bears witness to Aileen’s searing testimony of a man who poured rubbing alcohol into her rectum and eyes before raping her. She killed him in self-defense, but was found guilty and sentenced to death. Upon sentencing, Aileen, visibly distraught and angry, had the unmistakable look of someone betrayed.

Trust did not play an integral role in Aileen’s difficult life. Her girlfriend and local police tried to sell her story to Hollywood. When one cop objected to selling her story, he was taken off the case, and no proper investigation was ever conducted. The timing of Aileen’s execution corresponded to Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s reelection trail. Bush endorsed her execution, and his running mate Brad Thomas, an advocate for a swift death penalty, said, “Bring in the witnesses, put them on a gurney and let’s rock and roll.”

Aileen did trust director Nick Broomfield. In a rousing Q&A, Broomfield shared, “We had the distinction of being the only film crew that had been strip searched before they went in, and Aileen thought we were tremendous. She thought we were part of a—I mean this is just how crazy it was—she thought we were part of a band that were playing that night in the prison, and I said ‘no Aileen we’re actually here to interview you today’, but she just decided we were great, we had driven all over the lawn, we’d upset the guards, so she was kind of wonderfully open from the beginning.”

In the span of her ten years in jail, Broomfield witnessed how Aileen Wuornos changed her story from self-defense, to murder in cold blood, thereby expediting her death sentence. In an interview scene with Broomfield where Aileen does not know Broomfield’s camera is on, he asks her why her story changed and if her first murder was in self-defense. She whispered, “Yes but I can’t tell anyone, there’s nothing I can do about it, they would never do me righteous. I would never be able to handle a life sentence, they’re evil to people who are incarcerated.”

In Broomfield’s last interview with her she was convinced that since 1997 she was tortured via sonic pressure on her head, she was ready for her execution, and that death would be “more like Star Trek and I know it will be good because I didn’t do things as bad as they said I did.” Broomfield asked her what got her to kill the seven men, and her voice pained and heated, she exclaimed, “I was a hitch hiking hooker and if there was physical trouble I would hurt them. Couldn’t get a fair trial, couldn’t get a fair investigation. Movies, books, reelection–you sabotaged me society, a raped woman gets the death sentence!”

Asked about his ethical considerations in documenting footage without her knowledge, Broomfield said, “it goes in a sense to the heart of my involvement as a witness. We managed to catch her saying something like ‘I killed the first one in self defense’. I felt this was really the essence of the whole thing. She was somebody who had killed once in self-defense, she then got into killing, and I think the other people she killed was for money. I don’t think she was a proper serial killer. The number made her a serial killer but she wasn’t into the fetish of killing. That justified leaving that footage in there, because for me, it told the world who Aileen Wuornos really was.”

Broomfield beautifully and charismatically concluded the evening on the power of spontaneity and the craft of documentary making. “I think the style of making documentaries currently is very much beautifully composed shots with people sitting in chairs and then cutting between them and kind of chucking a few pictures of graphics in between, which I don’t think is great documentary film making. I think reality is so fascinating, and people are so unbelievably weird and incredible, the way they deal with things, the cast of characters in this film you could never really write them, and I think that is the power of documentary I’m so pleased to film.”

The Stranger Than Fiction Spring 2015 season runs through June 2. The line-up includes sneak previews of highly anticipated docs such as SUNSHINE SUPERMAN and THE WOLFPACK along with revivals of classic docs such as Alan and Susan Raymond’s THE POLICE TAPES (1977), The series takes place each Tuesday night at the IFC Center.

Writing by Megan Scanlon. For the last decade Megan has been working in the field of education both internationally and domestically. She has written for the DOC NYC blog as well the Journal of Community Engagement and Scholarship, and is a volunteer at the Bronx Documentary Center.

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

Monday Memo: Hot Docs 2015 Wraps


Over the last 11 days, North America’s largest documentary film festival and doc conference, Toronto’s beloved Hot Docs, hosted 452 public screenings of 210 films on 17 screens throughout the city. Today they announced that directors Michael Beach Nichols and Christopher K. Walker were awarded the 2015 Filmmaker-to-Filmmaker Award for their Sundance preemed white supremacist portrait WELCOME TO LEITH, while the Phillip Baribeau’s UNBRANDED took home this year’s Audience Award. Reflecting on the offerings of this year’s Hot Docs, Indiewire’s Anthony Kaufman wrote a piece explaining exactly what makes Hot Docs such a spotlight for under-appreciated films, as well as an outline of his favorite eight discoveries from the festival. At Doc Soup, Tom Roston also wrote up his discoveries of the past week – both writers making note of Kristof Bilsen’s THE ELEPHANT’S DREAM and Andreas Koefoed’s THE ARMS DROP.

While the public and much of the press take in as many films as is humanly possible in the 11 day stretch (I think the most I’ve manage to see is 45?!), hundreds of people in the industry descend upon the famed Hot Docs Forum to watch filmmakers pitch their projects in hopes of securing funds for production. Extending his coverage of Hot Docs, Anthony Kaufman wrote up a feature on his top eight pitches from the forum as well as tips for first time filmmakers at Indiewire, while Realscreen’s Manori Ravindran covered the forum over the course of three days – the highlight possibly being doc legend Frederick Wiseman’s first ever pitch for his new film IN JACKSON HEIGHTS, which, from the sounds of it was more like public performance than pleading pitch. While Wiseman was there in hopes of funding, he was also on hand to take part in a live discussion along with his long-time producer and distributor Karen Konicek and CBC journalist Piya Chattopadhyay. Kevin Ritchie recounted the various lessons learned from the live chat over at Realscreen.

Back in 2012, we here at Stranger Than Fiction showed Andrew Berend’s DELTA BOYS. So, we are extremely pleased to welcome back Berend with his latest film MADINA’S DREAM, which tells the story of rebels and refugees fighting to survive in Sudan’s Nuba Mountains and will screen tomorrow at 8pm at the IFC Center as part of our Spring Season of Stranger Than Fiction. Berends will be on hand for a post-screening Q&A. Ticketing information and more details on the screening can be found at the link.

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Monday Memo: PBS Decides to Keep Docs in Primetime, Doug Block’s D-Word Goes 3.0


This past week, doc filmmakers have been accorded quite lovely news on various fronts. After much public debate and industry outcry over whether or not INDEPENDENT LENS or POV would continue to feature in PBS’s primetime slots, the decision has been made to not only keep them, but to bolster their promotional support, according to reports from both Variety’s James Rainey and Kevin Ritchie at Realscreen. Just the day prior to the announcement, Ritchie had written a fortuitously timely, extensive feature at Realscreen on the incredible success of the non-fiction format on television, while the following day Esquire’s Nick Schager wrote at length on HBO’s primetime success this year – the breaking news seeming only to echo their claims.

Not only this, but Doug Block’s essential doc filmmaker’s online resource, The D-Word, has been given a major face-lift with its crowd funded 3.0 upgrade. Not only is it easier to keep track of all the topics pertinent to you, the site looks a lot cleaner and is now much easier to browse from mobile devices. A full list of new changes to the site can be found here. In addition, Indiewire’s Paula Bernstein caught up with Block to discuss The D-Word’s long gestating upgrade.

Tomorrow, Stranger Than Fiction continues with director Daisy Asquith’s immensely personal story of her mother’s conception after a dance in the 1940s on the remote west coast of Ireland in AFTER THE DANCE. The film screens at 8 pm at the IFC Center and will be followed by a Q&A with Asquith.

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