THE JOURNEY: Investigating current events through short form cinema


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A cold-call from a journalist based in Istanbul had the interest of the founders of Field of Vision piqued. The film-unit, co-created by Laura Poitras, AJ Schnack and Charlotte Cook, had been on the lookout for developing stories that could be worked into short-form episodic series.

“We were blown away by the access,” Poitras said during Tuesday night’s screening of the series. “It fit in every way with the mission we were trying to achieve.”

In April 2015, journalist Matthew Cassel began documenting (and participating) in the migration of one of the first waves of refugees fleeing the war in Syria. By following the story of Aboud Shalhoub, a jeweler from Damascus, Cassel provides an intimate look at the struggles facing a group of men, women and young children as they embark on a seventeen-hundred-mile journey.

“If the boat sinks, try to stay away from the others,” a man tells Shalhoub in one scene before he heads from Izmir, Turkey to Greece aboard a dinghy. “Many don’t know how to swim, and they’ll grab onto you.”

While Cassel joined Shalhoub on the voyage from Turkey to the Netherlands, a colleague based in Damascus provided the counter-story of Shalhoub’s wife and children left in Syria, and their own path towards family reunification after two and a half years apart.

Each episode in the six-part series, suitably titled “The Journey,” will be released on The New Yorker web site – one episode per day – beginning May 23rd.

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Monday Memo: RISK Calls For Assange Release At Cannes, WEINER Hits Theaters


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As is sadly the norm for the Cannes Film Festival, this year’s doc lineup was slim, but much anticipated. Following her Oscar winning CITIZENFOUR, Laura Poitras debuted her long in the works profile of Julian Assange in RISK (formally titled ASYLUM) as part of the Director’s Fortnight. Variety’s Peter Debruge, The Wrap’s Steve Pond, The Guardian’s Catherine Shoard and indieWIRE’s Graham Winfrey each logged their (mostly) positive initial reactions, while Wendy Mitchell and Alex Ritman both spoke with Poitras about her new film for Screen Daily and The Hollywood Reporter, respectively. Jim Jarmusch also brought a new doc to the Croisette alongside his new fiction feature PATERSON in GIMME DANGER, a cinematic look at his longtime friend and collaborator Iggy Pop & The Stooges. David Rooney illustrated the film’s impact most excitingly in The Hollywood Reporter, writing, “Two seminal Stooges album titles — ‘Fun House’ and ‘Raw Power’ — sum up this film’s appeal.” Owen Gleiberman of Variety on the other hand wanted more danger from the film.

In her report for Screen Daily on this year’s Cannes Doc Day event, Wendy Mitchell began by noting that this month marks the 10th anniversary of the world premiere of Davis Guggenheim’s climate change focused, Al Gore starred AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH. As it turns out, Grist published an in-depth oral history of the film’s production and release with interviews by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong, Amelia Urry, Eve Andrews, and Melissa Cronin with Gore and Guggenheim themselves, as well as producers Laurie David, Lawrence Bender, and many more key behind the scenes players. Other festival highlights this week included Daniele Alcinii‘s report at Realscreen that Kirsten Johnson’s CAMERAPERSON and Brett Story’s THE PRISON IN TWELVE LANDSCAPES were awarded feature doc and Canadian doc prizes, respectively, at the 2016 DOXA Documentary Film Festival in Vancouver, as well as Basil Tsiokos’ previews of the non-fiction offerings at both this past weekend’s Seattle International Film Festival and Encuentros del Otro Cine (EDOC), Ecuador’s largest doc festival, which runs through this week.

It is timely that, following the Cannes premiere of RISK, we’ll be screening a sneak peak selection of shorts from FIELD OF VISION, which Poitras co-founded with Charlotte Cook and AJ Schnack and serves as executive producer for, as the next installment of our Spring Season here at Stranger Than Fiction! Both Cook and Schnack will be present for the screening and participating in a Q&A. Tickets available for this special event taking place tomorrow at IFC Center can be purchased here.

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Monday Memo: Cannes Kicks Off While Reverse Shot Launches New Non-fiction Symposium


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One day, I intend to walk the Croisette in Cannes in a euphoric haze of cinema heaven, but until that day, I’ll admire from afar, eagerly awaiting the release of each of the honored selections. Giving an overview of this year’s meager selection of non-fiction fare at the festival at What (not) To Doc, Basil Tsiokos noted the complete lack of documentaries in the most publicized sections, writing, “None of the 21 feature films in the Official Selection’s Competition or of the 18 features in Un Certain Regard is a documentary. One appears screening in the Out of Competition strand: Jim Jarmusch’s exploration of The Stooges, GIMME DANGER.” As one of the first docs to screen this year, Fisher Stevens and Alexis Bloom’s BRIGHT LIGHTS: STARRING CARRIE FISHER AND DEBBIE REYNOLDS received a warm welcome from indieWIRE’s David Ehrlich, The Wrap’s Steve Pond and Screen Daily’s Fionnuala Halligan, while a positive review of Rithy Panh’s EXILE turned up at MUBI’s Notebook thanks to Daniel Kasman and Frederick Wiseman’s newly restored HOSPITAL was written about at length by Matt Morrison at Film Comment.

In other festival news, the Film Society of Lincoln Center announced the lineup for the upcoming Human Rights Watch Film Festival, schedule to run June 10-19. Following directly in its wake, AFI Docs begins June 22 with Alex Gibney’s ZERO DAYS. The full lineup was announced on Tuesday. Before both, the 2016 Docaviv International Documentary Film Festival will take place May 19-28 in Tel Aviv and screen 110 films. At indieWIRE, Sydney Levine previewed the festival’s films and themes, noting that “the program does not only include documentaries about terror and refugees, but also about a fragmented society which is losing its solidarity. Both in Israel and elsewhere the gap between the haves and the have-nots is widening, and so are the frustrations and the unrest. Israeli and international titles correlating to these themes can be found throughout the entire festival program.” And some of us are still processing Hot Docs, including Jason Gorber, who published a lengthy interview with D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus on UNLOCKING THE CAGE at POV Magazine, and I, having posted reviews of THE ISLANDS AND THE WHALES and HOW TO LET GO OF THE WORLD… at IONCINEMA.

Here at Stranger Than Fiction, our Spring Season continues tomorrow with a screening of Holly Morris and Anne Bogart’s THE BABUSHKAS OF CHERNOBYL at IFC Center, co-presented New York Film Academy. Co-director Holly Morris will be present to take part in a post-screening Q&A. Tickets for the event can be purchased here.

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Monday Memo: Hot Docs Announces Award Winners, Hulu Launches Doc Arm, Nicolas Noxon Passes


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On Friday, the lengthy list of Hot Docs 2016 Festival award winners were announced. Among the winners was Aslaug Holm’s BROTHERS, which was named the Best International Feature, while Mike Day won the Emerging International Filmmaker Award for THE ISLANDS AND THE WHALES and Nettie Wild’s KONELĪNE: OUR LAND BEAUTIFUL took home the Best Canadian Feature Documentary Award. Getting at the heart of the festival, CBC’s Peter Knegt asked six Hot Docs filmmakers why documentaries matter. On a similar wavelength, Katie Couric proclaimed in an article by Jeffrey Fleishman in The Los Angeles Times that she now sees documentaries are the new journalism.

Plenty of coverage for films that screened at Hot Docs came through the wire over the past week, including a piece celebrating the festival’s Made in Australia program by Monica Tan in The Guardian, and a pair of reviews from Jason Gorber in POV Magazine for DE PALMA and PICKLE, as well as an interview with Joe Berlinger on his latest project, TONY ROBBINS: I AM NOT YOUR GURU. POV also published Jonas Jacobs‘ feature on director Min Sook Lee whose MIGRANT DREAMS screened in Toronto. At Realscreen, Kevin Ritchie interviewed Brendan J. Byrne about his film BOBBY SANDS: 66 DAYS, while Daniele Alcinii spoke with Deborah S. Esquenazi about her film SOUTHWEST OF SALEM. New York Magazine’s Will Leitch called the ESPN series O.J.: MADE IN AMERICA a masterpiece and I had similar thoughts about the Ross Brothers’ CONTEMPORARY COLOR at IONCINEMA.com. Running parallel to the main festival, the Hot Docs Forum saw filmmakers pitching projects throughout the week. Filmmaker Magazine’s Whitney Mallett reported on the forum, as did Realscreen’s Manori Ravindran, in two parts.

Hot Docs may have been the hot festival of the week, but it wasn’t the only one found its way in the news. Amy Taubin had a wrap up of Tribeca in Film Comment, Daniel Walber posted a dispatch from the New York African Film Festival at Nonfics, Realscreen’s Barry Walsh reported that AFI Docs has named Werner Herzog as their 2016 Charles Guggenheim Symposium Honoree this year, and Basil Tsiokos wrote a preview of DOK.fest Munich at What (not) To Doc.

Here at Stranger Than Fiction, we’re prepping for tomorrow’s screening of Rob Cannan and Ross Adam’s THE LOVERS AND THE DESPOT at IFC Center, co-presented with the New York Film Academy. The screening will be followed by a special Q&A with Robert Boynton, author of “The Invitation-Only Zone”. Tickets are still available here.

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TREMBLING BEFORE G-D: From empathy to courage


© Abigail Levner

© Abigail Levner

In a world that has seen great strides in the last decade for gay men and women, religious communities historically have had a much more difficult time allowing for difference among their adherents. Trembling Before G-d, a documentary that chronicles the lives of gay Orthodox and Hasidic Jews, celebrated its 15th anniversary this year with a screening and Q&A at Stranger Than Fiction on Tuesday night. As STF host Thom Powers described, the documentary represented a true breakthrough around these issues, creating an honest and intimate space for a conversation that had long been repressed.

Trembling Before G-d follows a number of people from across the globe who attempt to reconcile their long-held Jewish beliefs with their gay identities. David, a young man living in Los Angeles, spends over twelve years struggling through ineffectual therapy in an effort to change himself. “Malkah” and “Leah” live in Miami, and counsel other lesbians in the community who are grappling with their sexualities. On the other side of the world, “Devorah” lives in Israel, trapped in a heterosexual marriage, afraid that coming out will harm her children’s futures. Some, like Brooklyn-based Israel, have disavowed religious Judaism altogether; others, like Mark, who is gay and HIV positive, remain committed to the Orthodox lifestyle. Almost all the subjects in the film have experienced both the trauma of being exiled from community and family, and the exhilaration of living authentically.

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