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).

A Most Unlikely Collector

Words and 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.

“It was supposed to be all thrown away and forgotten, but we played a trick on history and saved it.”  So opens the first entry in Stranger Than Fiction’s Fall 2018 Season, Bathtubs Over Broadway.  The film immediately introduces us to Steve Young, a self-described ‘comedy-damaged’ writer for the Late Show with David Letterman.  Steve realizes he doesn’t have many interests outside his day job, but a new show segment starts him on an unlikely journey.  His job for this one particular segment is to find obscure songs from industrial musicals. Yes, you read that correctly… industrialmusicals.

Following the rise of musical theater to immense popularity in the 50s and 60s, many large corporations – General Electric, McDonald’s, Ford, DuPont, Xerox, among others – started staging full fledged musical productions at their regional annual sales meetings.  This in turn launched the broadway careers of some of the most recognizable names of that era – Chita Rivera, Kander & Ebb, Florence Henderson, and Bob Fosse. Steve, an admitted non-Broadway fan, became transfixed by these recordings, and thought to himself, “I should have them all.  I will have them all eventually.”  He’s clearly excited, but not just excited about collecting something – he’s experiencing the joy we all have in connecting to the things we hold dear.

What follows is both a hilarious and heartwarming journey of Steve discovering an entire world that he, and admittedly most of America, knew nothing about. As he dug deeper, he found that “these weren’t jingles, these weren’t commercials, these were full fledged broadway shows for an audience.”  These musicals included songs about almost anything you can think of – polyester, spark plugs, even pasta.  One musical, The Bathrooms Are Coming, contains what Steve describes as the ‘gateway drug’ to this world, the song ‘My Bathroom.’  Steve gushes that it is “perfection on vinyl.”  (You can hear it here.)  It’s clear to the audience that he’s no longer just a collector, but is entirely consumed by this magical world he’s discovered.

Continue reading…

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 or

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


(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).

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.

Will The Real Rick Please Stand Up?

Words and 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.

If you heard the name Rick Crom, it might not ring any bells.  And that ’d probably be just fine with him.  In the fifth week of its 2018 Winter Season, Stranger Than Fiction featured Oh, Rick!,the new film featuring the titular actor, singer, composer, lyricist, and comedian.  The film focuses on the nearly 20 years that Rick spent as the emcee of the renowned Comedy Cellar in New York’s East Village, a club that has launched the careers of many of today’s prominent comedians. 

Though not a household name by any means, Rick’s comedic evolution closely mirrors that of the genre itself.  Inspired by variety acts such as Steve Martin, Martin Mull, Tom Lear, and The Smothers Brothers, Rick joined the group Chicago City Limits and quickly became known as the comedian with the golden voice.  When the group made the decision to move to New York in 1979, Rick found his particular combination of music and comedy set him apart from his peers. Early in the film, it’s remarked by his fellow comics that “Rick Crom is the father of musical improv.  Well, the illegitimate father.”

Shortly after arriving in New York, he brought these unique talents to an ideal partnership with Bill Grunfest as a co-emcee at the famed Comedy Cellar.  Founded only two years prior, Rick and Bill truly put the venue on the map.  Bill handled most of the typical emcee duties, while Rick found himself behind the piano just outside the stage spotlight.  Their natural rapport, “a real old time relationship,” as Judy Gold remarks in the film – made both audiences and fellow comedians flock to the Cellar.  Jeff Ross remembers fondly that Rick “would sing a whole song to cleanse the palate” after each act, enabling each new comic to start with a fresh audience – something unheard of in those early days.  

As Rick became the mainstay of the Cellar through the 1980s, however, comedy was beginning a revolution of its own.  In the stand-up circuit, comics like George Carlin and Richard Pryor were moving the focus to straight talk only, and variety acts like Rick’s were quickly losing popularity.  Rick himself explains in the film that “I thought more was more, not that it was hiding behind things.”  It was around this time that Rick sought out other outlets for his creativity, landing a role in The Goodbye Girlon Broadway when the show came calling for not only a comedian, but a comedian who could sing. 

As the 90s wore on, Rick found more success moving down that path, writing more musicals, reviews, and parodies, and he found that Broadway would come calling again, first with a two year stint in Footlooseand four years as a major cast member in Urinetownshortly thereafter.  It was then he knew he had to leave the Cellar behind.  In the film, Rick says he thought to himself around this time, “Holy shit, I’m not gonna make it.  And by making it, what I meant was Letterman, Carson, sitcom.  That was the trajectory.” 

After the broadway years, Rick and comedy’s evolutions aligned once again, when television sketch shows like Chappelle’s Showgained tremendous popularity.  Many younger comics still revered Rick as a mentor and friend, and chose to bring him on their shows repeatedly.  Throughout the 2000s, he appeared on episodes of Chappelle’s Show,Louie, andInside Amy Schumer, and it was clear Rick was still a tremendous influence on the younger stars.  As Tom Papa remarks in the film, “The guy gives a shit.  He really, really cares.”  Because of this, it only made sense that he would return to the Cellar – not as its emcee – but as one of its first instructors of stand-up.  And Rick found the students gave him new purpose. “Suddenly I was useful again.  I could help them grow in a positive way.”

In the Cellar’s comedy class, directors Dustin Sussman and Aaron Rosenbloom immediately took to Rick because of this quality.  Speaking in the Q&A as to how the film got started, Sussman explained, “Here is a man who has never asked for anything, never called in any favors, and I just wanted to do something nice for him.”  During the project, Sussman and Rosenbloom also took an active role in staging a reunion performance at the Cellar for Rick and Bill Grundfest.  What began as a modest afternoon show ended up including prominent comics such as Ray Romano and Jon Stewart, as well as members from their old crew like Mark Cohen.  As the night closed, Rick emotionally shares, “This was probably my best night in show business.  You get what you get and sometimes that’s better than what you wanted or deserved.”  

It’s clear that Rick Crom deserves this spotlight that eluded him for so many years, as he adds ‘compassionate instructor’ to his list of varied talents.  Oh, Rick!is currently being featured in festivals around the country and is seeking further distribution.