It should come as no surprise to anyone following the award season happenings that on Saturday night Bing Liu’s MINDING THE GAP was named Best Documentary at the 34th Annual IDA Documentary Awards at the Paramount Theatre in Los Angeles. Other honorees included Floyd Russ’s ZION (available via Netflix), which won Best Short, Chapman Way and Maclain Way’s WILD, WILD COUNTRY, which took home Best Limited Series, and Steve Loveridge’s MATANGI / MAYA / M.I.A., which won best Music Documentary.
Looking toward the Oscars, Addie Morfoot outlined in Variety how campaign budgets and the influx of participation from streaming services has drastically changed the documentary Oscar race. She begins, “There’s no denying the race for documentary Oscar has changed dramatically in the past decade and even more so in the past five years. The reason for the shift? Money…Netflix, Amazon and Hulu all have deep pockets and aren’t afraid to make that known during Oscar season. (This year Netflix and Hulu boast docs like SHIRKERS, MINDING THE GAP and CRIME + PUNISHMENT)”. In contrast, Christopher Campbell imagined at Nonfics what this year’s Golden Globe doc nominees might have been if the category existed.
While awards season continues to heat up as trudge deeper into the winter season, early December is always host to many best of lists critics of all sorts. In The New Yorker, Richard Brody listed his favorite films of the year without order, including INFINITE FOOTBALL, THE REST I MAKE UP, NOTES ON APPEARENCE, THE OTHER SIDE OF EVERYTHING, POW WOW, as well as other more well known docs among his favorites. Meanwhile in The New York Times, Manohla Dargis and A.O. Scott ranked theirs, with a quartet of docs taking Scott’s #1 slot. And at Vox, Alissa Wilkinson dropped a list of her top 11 favorite docs, with a few sadly hard to see picks like Sam Green’s scantily performed live production of A THOUSAND THOUGHTS and the minimally screened AMAZING GRACE taking prominence.
Last week the AT&T Inc.-owned film and television giant WarnerMedia stunned the film community when it announced that it will be shutting the beloved cinephilic streaming service FilmStruck down at the end of November. In response, over 55,000 fans have signed a Change.org petition in an effort to save the service from disappearing into the void, while a whole host of A-list filmmakers also wrote an open letter “to Warner Bros. Pictures Group chairman Toby Emmerich asking for WarnerMedia to reconsider the decision to pull the plug on FilmStruck on November 29,” reports IndieWire’s Zack Sharf. Writing in The Los Angeles Times, Ryan Faughnder suggests that the shuttering of FilmStruck demonstrates the fragility of film history in the face of our reliance on streaming services: “Streaming companies including Netflix, Amazon and Hulu are spending billions of dollars to create the kinds of next-big-thing TV dramas that draw subscribers, and aren’t so interested in hosting vast catalogs of oldies. Compounding the problem, video stores that once facilitated the discovery of esoteric films have mostly vanished, and younger viewers aren’t subscribing to cable bundles, let alone watching Turner Classic Movies. Another constraint is that it’s costly to convert old movies into streaming-friendly formats.”
Responding to the public outcry, The Criterion Collection announced, “If you loved the curated programming we’ve been doing with our friends at FilmStruck, we have good news for you. The Criterion Collection team is going to be carrying on with that mission, launching the Criterion Channel as a freestanding service in spring 2019…The new service will be wholly owned and controlled by the Criterion Collection. We hope to be available in U.S. and Canada at launch, rolling out additional territories over time. Our library will also be available through WarnerMedia’s new consumer platform when it launches late next year, so once both services are live, Criterion fans will have even more ways to find the films they love.”
While the midterm elections, another mass shooting, and word that RBG fell and fractured three ribs were all making headline news this last week, plenty of notable documentary happenings were taking place in the background. On Saturday night in Brooklyn, the third annual Critics’ Choice Documentary Awards took place, at which “WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR? took home the evening’s most prestigious award for Best Documentary as well as Best Director for Morgan Neville and the award for Best Editing. FREE SOLO took home the award for Best Sports Documentary, the award for Best Innovative Documentary and was honored for Best Cinematography…the Best Political Documentary winner was RBG. QUINCY took home the award for Best Music Documentary. There was a tie for Best First Time Director between Bing Liu for MINDING THE GAP and Cristina Costantini and Darren Foster for SCIENCE FAIR.”
Two days prior, the Cinema Eye Honors announced the nominees for its 12th edition, with MINDING THE GAP leading the pack with a total of 7 nominations, tying the record for most nominations in Cinema Eye history. The six films up for the top prize of Outstanding Achievement in Nonfiction Feature Filmmaking are BISBEE ’17, HALE COUNTY THIS MORNING, THIS EVENING, MINDING THE GAP, OF FATHERS AND SONS, THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS, WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR?.
Many of the nominees and award winners thus far turned up in conversation with one another for The Hollywood Reporter‘s annual Documentary Roundtable. Meanwhile, Anne Thompson noted at IndieWire that “Last year, the Academy documentary branch had to grapple with a record 170 documentary feature submissions for the Best Documentary Feature Oscar. This year, it’s not so bad: only 166 were entered. The short list of 15 will be announced, along with eight others for the first time on a single date this year: December 17.”
Still from Anna Fitch and Banker White's HEAVEN THROUGH THE BACKDOOR
In the lead up this week’s midterm elections, doc news has been in unusual abundance. On Thursday, the Sundance Institute announced that “Thirty-three nonfiction works from seventeen countries comprise the latest Sundance Institute Documentary Fund and Stories of Change Grantees, announced today. 81% of the supported projects have at least one woman producer or director; 48% originate from outside the US.” Grantees include Lucrecia Martel, Manuel Abramovich, Violeta Ayala, and Nanfu Wang. That same day, Kartemquin Films revealed the recipients of $150,000 in grants, as well as the fact “that in 2019, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation will support Kartemquin’s new Diverse Voices Accelerator Fund, pledging $50,000 annually in grants to fellows and alumni of their Diverse Voices in Docs (DVID) program, a professional mentorship and development program for documentary filmmakers of color.” Those awarded include Kartemquin co-founder Gordon Quinn, Bing Liu, and Laura Checkoway.
As awards season ramps up (and the Oscar eligible doc list continues to expand), it’s always interesting to see what organizations and festivals across the pond rally around. The newly announced British Independent Film Award nominees for Best Documentary are a prime example of how different the results might be from the US marketplace. The five nominees are Steve Sullivan’s BEING FRANK: THE CHRIS SIEVEY STORY, Orlando Von Einsiedel and Joanna Natasegara’s EVELYN, Steven Eastwood and Elhum Shakerifar’s ISLAND, Felip Bustos Sierra’s NAE PASARAN, and Chris Martin and Tom Brisley’s UNDER THE WIRE. Additionally, DocLisboa announced its 2018 award winners, with the City of Lisbon Award for Best International Competition film going to GREETINGS FROM FREE FORESTS by Ian Soroka and the Award for Best Portuguese Competition film going to TERRA by Hiroatsu Suzuki and Rossana Torres. The Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival also revealed that among its award winners Alexandra Kandy Longuet’s VACANCY won Best World Documentary, Nora Agapi’s TIMEBOX won Best Central and East European Documentary, and Karel Žalud’s ENCLOSED WORLD took home Best Czech Documentary.
On the domestic festival front, Dave McNary reported in Variety, “After 18 years under Film Independent, the Los Angeles Film Festival is no more. Film Independent announced Wednesday that it was ending the festival — which had been moved this year from June to September — and replace it with year-round events aimed at building community and broadening its support of visual storytellers.” Frederick Blichert of Realscreen caught up with documentary filmmakers Ashley York and Sally Rubin to respond to the news and discuss the lasting impact of the LA Film Festival on the indie documentary industry.
We might as well dig right in with DOC NYC’s inaugural 40 Under 40 list, which intends to shine a light on 40 documentary talents under the age of 40 and includes familiar names like Khalik Allah, Sara Dosa, Garrett Bradley, and Nathan Truesdell. “Notable statistics from the list: 22 honorees are women, more than half are filmmakers of color, and the youngest person turns 28 in November. The final list was chosen by the DOC NYC team of Artistic Director Thom Powers, Director of Development Deborah Rudolph, Director of Programming Basil Tsiokos, and Shorts Programmer Opal H. Bennett.”
In case you haven’t noticed, we are now in the throes of award season and this past week saw two sets of nominations announced. The nominees for the the 28th Annual IFP Gotham Awards were unveiled on Thursday and BISBEE ’17, HALE COUNTY THIS MORNING, THIS EVENING, MINDING THE GAP, SHIRKERS and WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR? are each up for Best Documentary. Meanwhile, the nominees for the 3rd annual Critics’ Choice Documentary Awards are CRIME + PUNISHMENT, DARK MONEY, FREE SOLO, HAL, HITLER’S HOLLYWOOD, MINDING THE GAP, RBG, THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS, WILD WILD COUNTRY, and WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR?.
We’ll be closing out our 2018 Fall Season of Stranger Than Fiction tomorrow night at the IFC Center with Chris Metzler, Jeff Springer and Quinn Costello’s RODENTS OF UNUSUAL SIZE, which will feature a live Q&A with co-director and cinematographer Jeff Springer himself. Tickets for our season closer are still available here.