Monday Memo: POV Unveils 31st Season


Whenever PBS’s long running documentary series POV announces its annual lineup, just about everything has to take a back seat (even Cannes). Its 31st season kicks off this Wednesday with a special Earth Day showing of David Alvarado and Jason Sussberg’s BILL NYE: SCIENCE GUY and continues with its official opening on June 18th with Jonathan Olshefski’s QUEST. The season continues with Viktor Jakovleski’s BRIMESTONE & GLORY, Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis’s WHOSE STREETS? and more.

The Cannes Film Festival also revealed its own prestigious lineup, though as usual the nonfiction offerings are limited at best. Those due to make their debut alongside the glitz and glam (and Netflix controversy) include DEAD SOULS, the latest epic from Wang Bing, Wim Wenders’s high profile POPE FRANCIS – A MAN OF HIS WORD, Romain Goupil’s mosaic of France in LA TRAVERSÉE, and Michel Toesca’s refugee tale TO THE FOUR WINDS, all programmed out-of-competition as Special Screenings.

Our own 2018 Spring Season is set to begin tomorrow night at IFC Center with a very special sneak preview screening of BOOM FOR REAL: THE TEENAGE YEARS OF JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT with director Sara Driver on hand for a live post-screening Q&A. Tickets for the event are still available here.

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Monday Memo: Full Frame, Belgrade & Cinéma du Réel Wrap


After a week away, we return with a rather sparse memo, with most of the action happening on the festival circuit. The 21st annual Full Frame Documentary Film Festival ran over the weekend, and Tom Roston spoke with the festival’s artistic director Sadie Tillery about why the festival has succeeded at being a filmmaker’s festival as well as an audience favorite over at Doc Soup. Outlining the festival’s program, Basil Tsiokos noted that Hugo Berkeley’s THE JAZZ AMBASSADORS, Anne de Mare’s CAPTURING THE FLAG, Katie Galloway and Dawn Valadez’s THE PUSHOUTS, and Heather Courtney and Anayansi Prado’s THE UNAFRAID would all be making their world premiere, along with a handful of others. RaMell Ross’ HALE COUNTY THIS MORNING, THIS EVENING won the Reva and David Logan Grand Jury Award for Best Documentary, while Bing Liu’s MINDING THE GAP nabbed the Audience Award. The full list of award winners can be found here. The week prior saw the 65th annual Belgrade Documentary and Short Film Festival conclude, with Andrijana Stojković’s WONGAR winning Best Feature Documentary and THE OTHER SIDE OF EVERYTHING taking home the awards for Best Editing and Sound Design, reports Vladan Petkovic at Cineuropa. The Parisian Cinéma du Réel also finished up last week, with a wealth of film reviews and interviews from the festival coming in from the fine folks at DesistFilm.

Overseas a pair of major doc pitching events took place. Filmmaker Magazine’s Pamela Cohn wrote an extensive outline of this year’s CPH:FORUM, “which was exceptionally well-produced and organized by Daniella Eversby, Kartrine Kiilgaard, and their team in a beautiful, comfortable, convivial setting with good coffee, tea and glorious pastries because: Denmark.” Meanwhile at Realscreen, Daniele Alcinii covered this year’s MIPDoc International Pitch in Cannes, where “director Mina Keshavarz’s feature-length documentary SOORA: BREAKING THE SILENCE impressed the judges…with its story following the efforts of four women battling to outlaw domestic violence in Iran,” winning the pitch prize and receiving editorial coverage in MIPTV’s Daily News, on the MIPDoc website and MIPBlog; entrance to MIPDoc 2019; and one free project registration in the MIPDoc Screening Library in 2019.

Here at Stranger Than Fiction, you may have noticed that we’ve announced our 2018 Spring Season which is set to kick off on April 17th with Sara Driver’s BOOM FOR REAL: THE TEENAGE YEARS OF JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT and run through June 5th at IFC Center. Season tickets are now on sale here.

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2018 Spring Season Announced!


Our new season’s lineup kicks off with Sara Driver’s “Boom for Real: The Late Teenage Years of Jean-Michel Basquiat” (Apr 17) on the pre-fame years of artist Jean-Michel Basquiat; and closes with Jason Kohn’s “Love Means Zero” (June 5) on the controversial tennis coach Nick Bollittieri.

The season will also preview two episodes of the new A&E series “Gotti: Godfather and Son” (May 8) on the infamous mafia family; “The Gospel According to André” (May 15) on the legendary Voguewriter; and the pilot episode of Showtime’s “The Fourth Estate” (May 22) on the New York Timesreporters covering Trump’s White House. Other special events include the 15thanniversary screening of “The Weather Underground” (Apr 24); a rare theatrical screening of Netflix’s “Rapture: Nas & Dave East” (May 1); and a new restoration of the 1982 classic “Atomic Café.” The season includes two special Thursday events: the New York premiere of “Haiku on a Plum Tree” (Apr 19) about an Italian family enduring a Japanese prison camp in WWII; and a 10thanniversary  screening of “A Jihad for Love” (May 24) about gay and lesbian Muslims.

The spring season is co-presented by New York Film Academy.

The regular STF spring season takes place at the IFC Center every Tuesday nights at 7:30pm for eight weeks, plus two Thursday night screenings, starting April 17. Each event includes a discussion with the filmmaker or special guests, followed by a gathering at a nearby bar. Full season schedule appears below. For more information, visit http://STFdocs.com or ifccenter.com

Stranger Than Fiction: Spring 2018 Season: 7:30pm Tuesdays at IFC Center, April 17 – June 5

Each show features a Q&A with the director or other special guests

Apr 17 – Opening Night: BOOM FOR REAL: THE LATE TEENAGE YEARS OF JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT

(2017, 78 min) Q&A w/ dir Sara Driver

Apr 19 – Thursday Special: HAIKU ON A PLUM TREE (2016, 78 min) Q&A w/ dir Mujah Maraini-Melehi

Apr 24: THE WEATHER UNDERGROUND (2003, 92 min) Q&A w/ dir Sam Green & prod Carrie Lozano

May 1: RAPTURE: NAS & DAVE EAST (2018, 63 min) Q&A w/ dir Sacha Jenkins & EP Ben Selkow

May 8: GOTTI: GODFATHER AND SON (2018, 90 min) Q&A w/ dir Richard Stratton & subject John Gotti Jr

May 15THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO ANDRÉ (2017, 94 min) Q&A w/ dir Kate Novack

May 22: THE FOURTH ESTATE (2018,90 min) Q&A w/ dir Liz Garbus

May 24 – Thursday Special: A JIHAD FOR LOVE (2007, 81 min) Q&A w/ dir Parvez Sharma

May 29: ATOMIC CAFE (1982, 92 min) Q&A w/ dirs. Pierce Rafferty, Kevin Rafferty & Jayne Loader

June 5 – Closing Night: LOVE MEANS ZERO (2017, 89 min) Q&A w/ dir Jason Kohn

Tickets for Stranger Than Fiction screenings are $17 for the general public and $14 for IFC Center members. A Season Pass, good for admission to all 10 evenings is available for $99 ($80 for IFC members).


Monday Memo: Hot Docs Lineup Reaches Gender Parity


At this point, there is no doubt about the incredible range of nonfiction productions that are available through all sorts of distribution channels, from the festival circuit to the countless streaming services accessible form your very own couch, yet folks like Mark Kennedy are here to remind us that we are in a golden age of documentaries in his latest piece outlining just a sliver of the quality content that is currently available in The Washington Post. Meanwhile, Guy Lodge, writing at The Guardian, attempted to unpack why documentary sequels like MARCH OF THE PENGUINS 2 are on the rise, summerizing “…it’s only the latest in a recent run of tardy sequels to culture-defining documentaries of the previous decade and beyond – evidence, perhaps, that even the documentary realm has fallen prey to the industry’s risk-averse devotion to existing properties and proven formulae, though few have fully made the case for returning to the well.”

Thankfully, the festival circuit, with new lineups announced this week for Toronto’s Hot Docs and the Film Society at Lincoln Center’s Art of the Real, generally offers a reprieve from such contrivances. Most excitingly, the Hot Docs programmers were keen to reveal this year’s edition of the festival has reached gender parity with fifty percent of the films on offer made by women filmmakers, reports The Globe and Mail’s Barry Hertz. Looking a bit deeper at the Hot Docs program, Selina Chignall of Realscreen spoke with the filmmakers behind THE HEAT: A KITCHEN REVOLUTION, UNITED WE FAN, and THE ACCOUNTANT OF AUSCHWITZ, each of which is due to have their world premieres in Toronto next month.

Last weekend saw the conclusion of this year’s edition of CPH:DOX, where Marcus Lindeen’s THE RAFT won the Dox:Award, Elizabeth and Gulistan Mirzaei’s LAILA AT THE BRIDGE took home the F:ACT Award, and Jumana Manna’s WILD RELATIVES was honored with the New:Vision Award for its “groundbreaking experiments in the area between documentary and artistic reflection.” The staff at Desist Film have posted a wealth of reviews from the festival for those interested in delving further. Just as CPH:DOX wound down, the Parisian doc fest Cinéma du Reél kicked off, with Basil Tsiokos writing up an overview of the new docs on offer over at What (not) To Doc. Looking back a few weeks, Tayler Montague of Reverse Shot and Irina Trocan writing at Sight & Sound both posted thorough festival reviews of this year’s True/False, while Film Comment published an interview by Rooney Elmi with Khalik Allah, whose incredible new film BLACK MOTHER had its world premiere in Columbia.

Tomorrow night at IFC Center, our 2018 Winter Season concludes with THE CHINA HUSTLE, with director Jed Rothstein in attendance for a live post-screening Q&A. Tickets are still available here.

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The Strangest Stranger Than Fiction


Words by Maggie Glass, a New York-based film editor and writer.

 

If any documentary has earned its rightful place in the Stranger Than Fiction series, it might be “Wild, Wild Country” — one of the more bizarre stories to appear in STF’s fourteen year history. Featuring a staggering amount of unearthed archival footage, the 6-part Netflix original documentary traces the origins of the Indian spiritual guru Bhagwan Rajneesh and the journey that brought him and his followers to create an unlikely home in a rural, isolated region of Oregon.

Directors Chapman Way and Maclain Way conduct extensive interviews with both the original Oregonians and the commune members, as they explore the cultural clashes that ensued after the Rajneeshees moved to town, first by the hundreds, then by the thousands, in the early 1980s. As one person said, before the arrival of the guru’s followers, “the biggest problem was the rotting floor in the fire station.” With their strange rituals, hints of free love, and eerie all-red wardrobe, the Rajneeshees were not particularly welcome in the tiny, conservative town of Antelope: population 40.

The Rajneeshees, on the other hand, felt that they posed no threat. Their goals were peaceful and utopian: to create a new city, built on the harmonious values of the Bhagwan. In the post-Vietnam age, many of the followers felt disillusioned by Western society and were seeking out different ways to exist in the world. “Everybody felt that they were there at the beginning of the great experiment,” said Swami Prem Niren, the Bhagwan’s attorney. “We really did feel like we were the chosen people.”

Led by Ma Anand Sheela, the Bhagwan’s fierce spokesperson, the Rajneeshees created a massive, ever-expanding city in the desert, prompting outrage from the displaced townspeople. During one archival interview, Sheela indicated that the commune members would not be intimidated by any amount of bad press or protest. “We’re not going anywhere,” she said calmly. “I will paint their bulldozers with my blood.” What follows is a tangle of violence, criminal charges, federal government involvement, and, as the series progresses, much, much more.

In the Q&A after the screening, directors Chapman Way and Maclain Way, along with Executive Producer Mark Duplass, joined STF founder Raphaela Neihausen in discussion of how this unusual story came to be told in the first place. “We were given 300 hours of archive footage,” said Maclain. “Most of which had never been seen before. As soon as we began transferring the footage, we just kind of fell in love with it, and the characters and the conflict and thought it would make for an incredible documentary.”

Despite the drama and tabloid-esque intrigue that surrounded the Rajneeshees, the directors were committed to depicting their subjects as nuanced and complex individuals. “As soon we started getting to know the characters, we came across these thoughtful, intelligent people who had had a lot of success, but weren’t fulfilled for whatever reason and joined this spiritual movement. So that was kind of an eye opening experience,” said Chapman. The directors had similar experiences with the ranchers, who appeared uniformly right-wing and starkly different from the filmmakers themselves. And yet, as the Way brothers gained deeper access, it was clear that the Oregonians came from many walks of life and had varying perspectives on the situation and the Rajneeshees themselves. “We couldn’t really pigeonhole either side,” said Maclain.

The series took many years to research and film, especially since most of the interview subjects were initially reluctant to tell their stories on screen. When asked about what conclusions they came to, after gaining such intimate knowledge of the conflict, the Way brothers found that they ended up with more questions than answers. “It was like detective work,” said Chapman, “where you draw your own lines between cult and religion.” Mark Duplass agreed that the beauty of the film lays in its exploration of these themes. “There’s an elegant cultural context,” he said. “There’s a bigger story than just the things you are going to see, which are exciting – the weapons and the bombs – but there’s something larger at play.”

The six-part series is available now on Netflix.

Videography by Joseph Schroeder, who has managed the production of highly acclaimed educational and informational programming for networks such as PBS, A&E and National Geographic for over a decade. Currently the Vice President of Production and Operations of The Independent Production Fund. Follow him on Twitter and see more of his work on his website.