Pure Nonfiction at IFC Center, the popular documentary series previously known as Stranger Than Fiction, announced its winter season line-up, featuring ten documentaries playing from February 5 to March 26. The season opens with UNITED SKATES (Feb 5), winner of the Tribeca Audience Award, about roller skating in black communities across the United States. The season includes sneak previews of two documentaries fresh from their Sundance premieres: Alex Gibney’s THE INVENTOR: OUT FOR BLOOD IN SILICON VALLEY (Mar 14) about the scandal of the fraudulent billion dollar company Theranos and Alison Klayman’s THE BRINK (Mar 26, closing night of the winter season) about the former Trump strategist Steve Bannon spreading his nationalist ideas in Europe.

Each Pure Nonfiction screening features the filmmakers or other special guests in person. The series, launched at IFC Center in 2005 and hosted by Thom Powers and Raphaela Neihausen, was formerly known as Stranger Than Fiction. It has a reputation as “a vital outpost for award-winning documentaries” (New York Times). The change in name aligns the series to the Pure Nonfiction podcast, in which Powers interviews documentary filmmakers, now in its fourth year.

“Pure Nonfiction as a screening series at IFC Center shares the same mission as the podcast to illuminate the art of documentary making, so it makes sense for them to share the same name,” said Powers.

The winter season includes a sneak preview of the new series THE CASE AGAINST ADNAN SYED (Feb 26) based on the case made famous by the Serial podcast. Director Amy Berg will present episode one prior to its debut on HBO. Other sneak previews include IT’S A HARD TRUTH, AIN’T IT (Feb 12) about prisoners learning to make films; and ONE NATION UNDER STRESS (Mar 19) with Dr. Sanjay Gupta trying to uncover why American life expectancy is falling.

Classic revivals are a key part of the screening series. The season includes a double bill (Feb 19) with D.A. Pennebaker’s ORIGINAL CAST ALBUM: COMPANY (1970) about a studio recording of the Stephen Sondheim musical; joined with a new parody of the film from the series DOCUMENTARY NOW! titled ORIGINAL CAST ALBUM: CO-OP. Pennebaker will present the films with other colleagues who were part of the original. Other classics include the 20th anniversary of Doug Block’s HOME PAGE (Feb 21) about the emergence of a confessional culture on the internet; THE TRIALS OF MUHAMMAD ALI (Mar 5) that will memorialize director Bill Siegel who passed away last December; and THAT RHYTHM…THOSE BLUES (Mar 12) in a new restoration of the 1988 film that explored rhythm and blues music in the 1940s and 1950s.

The Pure Nonfiction winter season takes place at the IFC Center every Tuesday night at 7:30 pm for eight weeks, plus special Thursday screenings on Feb 21 and Mar 14. Each event includes a discussion with the filmmakers, followed by a gathering at a nearby bar. Season passes are now on sale for $99 for 10 films. The full season schedule appears below. For more information, visit

Pure Nonfiction at IFC Center: Winter 2019 Season 7:30pm Tuesdays at IFC Center, Feb 5 – Mar 26
Each show features a Q&A with the director or other special guests

Feb 5: Opening Night – UNITED SKATES (2018, Q&A w/ dir. Tina Brown & subject Reggie)
Feb 12: IT’S A HARD TRUTH, AIN’T IT (2018, Q&A w/ dir. Madeleine Sackler)
Feb 19: Double bill:
ORIGINAL CAST ALBUM: COMPANY (1970, Q&A w/ dir. D.A. Pennebaker & others)
Feb 21: Thursday special – HOME PAGE – 20th anniv. (1999, Q&A w/ dir. Doug Block & others)
Feb 26: THE CASE AGAINST ADNAN SYED – episode one (2019, Q&A w/ dir. Amy Berg)
Mar 5: THE TRIALS OF MUHAMMAD ALI (2014, Q&A in memory of dir. Bill Siegel w/ his colleagues)
Mar 12: THAT RHYTHM…THOSE BLUES – newly restored (1988, Q&A w/ dir. George T. Nierenberg)
(2019, Q&A w/ dir. Alex Gibney)
Mar 19: ONE NATION UNDER STRESS (2019, Q&A w/ dir. Marc Levin)
Mar 26: Closing Night – THE BRINK (2019, Q&A w/ dir. Alison Klayman)

Tickets for Pure Nonfiction screenings are $17 for the general public and $14 for IFC Center members. A Season Pass covers admission to all 10 evenings and provides free popcorn at all screenings. It is available for $99 ($80 for IFC members).


Judith Helfand, Shola Lynch, Rory Kennedy and Lucy Walker appear on SundanceNOW panel on Jan 20.

On Monday, Jan 20 during the Sundance Film Festival, I’ll be introducing the panel “Spotlight on Women Directors” moderated by Anne Thompson (free and open to the public at 2:00 pm at Sundance Channel House 268 Main Street). The event is an offshoot of this month’s theme on SundanceNOW Doc Club focusing on women. For perspective on the breadth of recent work, below is an alphabet of women in documentaries – both behind and in front of the camera – from the past year.

A = AFTER TILLER dir by Martha Shane & Lana Wilson

B = BLACKFISH dir by Gabriela Cowperthwaite

C = CHICKEN & EGG PICTURES funding women doc makers


E = Editor turned director Alison Ellwood’s 30 for 30 film NO LIMITS


G = GIDEON’S ARMY dir by Dawn Porter

H = Head Honchos Sheila Nevins (HBO Docs); Molly Thompson (A&E IndieFilms); Cara Mertes (Ford Foundation JustFilms; Tabitha Jackson (Sundance Documentary Fund): et al.

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Documentary Skewed Answers to Manohla Dargis’s Questions

Give Manohla Dargis credit for surveying 70 film professionals about the state of independent cinema. She draws upon that research for an article published in the New York Times titled As Indies Explode, An Appeal for Sanity. She published further excerpts in an online piece So Many Indies, So Many Reasons. I take issue with her plea for the film industry to “stop buying so many movies,” but I appreciate her starting the conversation. Her observations have already elicited reflections and dissents from Indiewire’s Anne Thompson, Filmmaker’s Sarah Salovaara and Criticwire’s Sam Adams. Below are my full responses to her original questionnaire:

1. How would you characterize the current state of American independent cinema from your specific industry point of view?  Is it strong, average, poor – or somewhere in between?

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THE DOG, a documentary telling the true story behind DOG DAY AFTERNOON, was acquired by Cinedigm and Drafthouse Films for theatrical release in 2014.


by Thom Powers

Over the years, I’ve seen too many filmmakers become embittered by their distribution deals. Sometimes they had unrealistic expectations, sometimes they got caught in bad deals. The filmmakers who feel disgruntled range from those with niche titles all the way to the most successful directors. I remember seeing an esteemed director at the Toronto International Film Festival being greeted warmly by the head of a distribution company. “That’s funny,” the director later told me, “I’m currently suing his company for unpaid royalties.” Behind the diplomatic smiles lie many untold stories.

As we start off 2014 and head into Sundance, I want to explore how filmmakers can make better deals for themselves in all distribution channels:  theatrical, television, digital and international. Most filmmakers go into distribution negotiations for the first time, or with a gap of several years since their previous film–which might as well be their first time in this changing landscape. That puts them at a disadvantage negotiating with distributors who are regularly making deals and confident about stipulating what’s “normal.”

What filmmakers frequently lack are points of comparison. To change that I reached out to several filmmakers and other industry insiders for feedback. I’m grateful to everyone who shared their experiences. I’ve edited and condensed contributions to reduce repetition (though some points are worth repeating).

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The State of Docs in 2013: An Interview with Thom Powers

Jehane Noujaim's film THE SQUARE made waves this year after Netflix nabbed digital rights for it.

The film world remains roiled by digital technologies that are still transforming the way documentaries are made, funded, marketed and viewed. What follows is an interview with Thom Powers, programmer for documentaries at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and the Stranger Than Fiction series, as well as artistic director of the DOC NYC festival, about the changes being wrought by digital, and the state of documentaries in 2013. Click here for the 2012 State of Docs.

Rahul Chadha: Do you think that 2013 saw significant changes in the overall state of docs?

Thom Powers: One way to answer that question is to think about how docs are reaching audiences. Looking back on the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival, I think of three notable docs that sold to relative newcomers. One is THE SQUARE that sold to Netflix. Along with its acquisition of THE SHORT GAME, Netflix has announced itself as a staking more ground in the doc space. They hired Adam Del Deo, a filmmaker who collaborated with Jim Stern on docs like EVERY LITTLE STEP and SO GOES THE NATION and is now looking at new titles to acquire. Netflix has made a big impression with what they’ve done in fiction television with House of Cards. They’re talking about doing the same for documentary.

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