There wasn’t a ton of things happening in the doc world this week, but the unveiling of the 2018 Sundance Film Festival lineup was undoubtedly the most notable. Nate von Zumwalt spoke with Trevor Groth, the festival’s director of programming, about this year’s selections, “A lot of these documentary subjects are so impactful in the fields they come from, but they all faced great struggle on the way to becoming trailblazers. That includes names like Joan Jett (Bad Reputation), Ruth Bader Ginsburg (RBG), Gloria Allred (Seeing Allred), Jane Fonda (Jane Fonda in Five Acts), and M.I.A. (MATANGI / MAYA / M.I.A.).” Festival director John Cooper pushed further, “More broadly, in a year that has rejuvenated the idea of television journalism covering every scandal and every political detail, documentaries are the last bastion of uncovering the truth. Many of the films in these documentary categories serve to provide a deeper dive into these stories – they slow things down so that we can understand the ramifications in our world.”
While Sundance ruled the roost this week, award season rolls on regardless. With a strong and varied field, there hasn’t been any single front runner just yet, as Yance Ford’s STRONG ISLAND won Best Documentary at the Gotham Awards, Brett Morgen’s JANE was named Best Doc by the National Board of Review, and Agnès Varda and JR’s FACES PLACES received the same honors from both the Los Angeles Film Critics Association and the New York Film Critics Circle.
Each year the International Documentary Association‘s “Amicus Award goes to an individual who has been a great supporter, financially or otherwise, of documentary filmmaking. The recipient of this year’s award is Abigail Disney, producer, funder and director of many of the most distinctive and influential recent documentaries.” Meanwhile, Disney herself wrote a public plee in USA Today, begging Congress, “Don’t cut taxes for rich people like me.”
Writing this column each week, it’s become increasingly obvious that things have radically shifted when it comes to which new releases are gleaning substantive coverage and which are not. Unsurprisingly, when a film like Myles Kane and Josh Koury’s VOYEUR forgoes a domestic theatrical release in favor of an international Netflix release, nearly every single one is met with a wave of coverage in the form of warm reviews from Charles Bramesco of The Guardian, Christy Lemire of RogerEbert.com, and David Ehrlich of IndieWire, as well as lavish features in The Atlantic by Sophie Gilbert and Vogue via Bridget Read. Meanwhile, worthy new theatrical releases like Oren Jacoby’s SHADOWMAN, Adam Bhala Lough’s THE NEW RADICAL, and Hope Litoff’s 32 PILLS: MY SISTER’S SUICIDE each received capsule reviews in The New York Times and little more. How do filmmakers get the word out about their films without the help of the press?
Other doc related pieces worth noting included Morena Duwe‘s feature at HuffPost on Andrew Novick’s feature debut JONBENÉT’S TRICYCLE, Phil Concannon‘s appreciation of Orson Wells’s slippery F FOR FAKE found appropriately at Little White Lies, John Anderson‘s look at the making of Leonard Retel Helmrich’s THE LONG SEASON for The New York Times, and J. Hoberman‘s take on the Film Society at Lincoln Center’s new season, The Non-Actor, in The New York Review of Books.
Our own Thom Powers released a new episode of Pure Nonfiction featuring STRONG ISLAND director Yance Ford, while FilmWax Radio host Adam Schartoff is attempting to raise funds to help build a larger audience and expand awareness about the program via a Kickstarter campaign that ends this coming Thursday.
Three docs to watch online this week include GRAVEN IMAGE by Sierra Pettengill, a Field of Vision production published over at The Atlantic, Adam B. Ellick, John Woo and Jonah M. Kessel’s ominous FROM NORTH KOREA, WITH DREAD, showing in The New York Times, and a film I was looking forward to seeing and just discovered it actually made its way online over the summer and I had missed it – Nathan Truesdell’s funny and horrifying BALLOONFEST.
I’ll leave you this week with IndieWire critic Eric Kohn‘s list of top films of the year (including plenty of docs). As always, if you have any tips or recommendations for the Memo, please contact me via email here, or on Twitter, @Rectangular_Eye.