Sundance is upon us once again. The documentary films primed to make the most impact in the coming year are having their world premieres in Park City as the rest of us wait in anxious anticipation. In preparation for this year’s edition of the fest, our own Thom Powers interviewed Tabitha Jackson, the head of the Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program, for the latest edition of Pure Nonfiction, while Basil Tsiokos, the Documentary Programming Associate at Sundance, wrapped up his own preview of the festival’s new doc offerings at What (not) To Doc. At Variety, Addie Morfoot wrote at length about how the doc funding group Impact Partners are making an impact on this year’s Sundance.
Reviews for a handful of docs are already rolling in: Maxim Pozdorovkin’s found footage OUR NEW PRESIDENT is fielding a mixed response from folks like Matthew Panzarino at TechCrunch (“too long”)and April Wolfe at Film Comment (“his film tells a thrilling, scary, mind-bending, and often-hilarious story of Russian propaganda’s role in the 2016 U.S. presidential election”), while Sam Adams spoke with Pozdorovkin over at Slate about the film, noting its journey from Field of Vision short to full length feature. Daniel Fienberg was a bit lukewarm on Don Argott’s exploration of LGBTQ acceptance in the Mormon church within THE BELIEVER in The Hollywood Reporter (“The story is good and important enough that those things come through even if the movie around them is rarely memorable”), while at Collider, Adam Chitwood found Tim Wardle’s nature vs. nurture film THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS to be “shocking, poignant, and surprisingly touching.” Similarly, Eric Kohn, writing for IndieWire, dubbed Morgan Neville’s “touching and insightful survey of Rogers’ decades-spanning career” in WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR a “a powerful reminder that he was either way ahead of his time, or too late.” Charlie Phillips of The Guardian found Marina Zenovich’s ROBIN WILLIAMS: COME INSIDE MY MIND to be “filled with genuine affection and remarkable archive footage, but there’s a frustrating hesitance to go deeper,” as Nicole Sperling reported on Betsy West and Julie Cohen’s crowd wowing doc RBG, on associate Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, for Vanity Fair.
Out in the greater world, Matt Zoller Seitz reviewed Greg Barker’s “engrossing documentary about the last year’s worth of foreign policy work during the Obama administration,” THE FINAL YEAR for RogerEbert.com as it finally reached theaters this week. Concluding at Nonfics, Brad Gullickson pins it down: “THE FINAL YEAR is a funeral of a film. Barker may not have set out to process our mourning, but in recording the slow revelation of Trump’s possible/inevitable presidency in the hearts and minds of Obama’s cronies, we are forced to grieve for what might have been.” Dmitrii Kalashnikov’s controversial Russian dash cam mish-mash THE ROAD MOVIE also found its release this past week, gleaning mixed takes from Richard Brody in The New Yorker, Vikram Murthi at RogerEbert.com, and Nick Schager of The Daily Beast.
Other notable doc release pieces come in this week from Ben Kenigsberg in The New York Times on curious tale of Cinerama, Laura Collins-Hughes‘ on the NYT Critics’ Pick UNDESIRABLE ELEMENTS: GENERATION NYZ, Tom Roston at Doc Soup on the making of I CALLED HIM MORGAN, Je Benach celebrating the chronic fatigue syndrome doc UNREST for Vogue, and Craig Phillips in conversation with director Raoul Peck about I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO, which is currently streaming via Independent Lens. Additionally, Ben Walsh wrote at length about how music documentaries are often hagiographies at The Independent, while Ryan Stewart listed the best places to live and work as a filmmaker for MovieMaker and Catherine Grant composed a thorough list of resources to stream all sorts of archived films (including many docs) at Film Studies For Free.
I’ll sign off this week with a link to my favorite piece of the week: Adrian Curry on the gorgeous poster art of 60s vérité films found over at MUBI’s Notebook. Until next week, if you have any tips or recommendations for the Memo, please contact me via email here, or on Twitter, @Rectangular_Eye.