As I will soon be heading back to Columbia, MO for the True/False Film Festival, I would be lying if I didn’t share my excitement about this week’s unveiling of the festival’s 2018 lineup, with highlights ranging from a selection of films by this year’s True Vision Award winner Dieudo Hamadi, through hints about their hush-hush secret screenings and complete details about the return of their Neither/Nor series. The festival is set to run March 1st through the 4th. Riding that same wavelength, the Tribeca Film Festival announced that its 17th edition will open on April 18th with the world premiere of Lisa D’Apolito’s LOVE, GILDA, “which opens a window into the world of celebrated Emmy and Grammy award-winning comedian Gilda Radner, who became a cultural icon the moment audiences first laughed with her on the debut episode of Saturday Night Live.”
Back in 2016, we hosted the fine folks of Field of Vision for a special screening of their online series THE JOURNEY. This past week, Field of Vision announced a new fellowship, featuring a quartet of filmmakers in Garrett Bradley, Michelle Latimer, Charlie Lyne and Lyric Cabral, and its first-ever artist-in-residence, Josh Begley. The announcement continues, “The first year of fellows were selected from filmmakers who had worked with Field of Vision over the last three years. In addition to creating a framework for idea development, creative support, and a grant, Field of Vision will conduct workshops throughout the year in the areas of digital security, research, and legal issues. Fellows will also be invited to participate in Field of Vision’s editorial process, from identifying urgent stories to offering filmmaker feedback and guidance.”
Here at Stranger Than Fiction, our Winter 2018 season continues as we meditate on the 15th anniversary of America going to war in Iraq with a special screening of Oscar-nominated director Jehane Noujaim’s terrific CONTROL ROOM, with both film subject Josh Rushing and producer Rosadel Varela in attendance for a live Q&A. Tickets to the event are available here.
Right on the heels of Sundance, the 2018 SXSW Film Festival has revealed its first wave of titles, including the Documentary Feature Competition, Documentary Spotlight, Visions, 24 Beats Per Second, Global programs. Gabriel Silverman’s TRANSMILITARY, Abby Epstein’s WEED THE PEOPLE, Nick Budabin’s CHI-TOWN, Tiller Russell’s OPERATION ODESSA, and Thom Zimny’s ELVIS PRESLEY THE SEARCHER are among the many nonfiction films slated for world premieres.
Docpoint 2018, the Helsinki Documentary Film Festival wraps up today. Basil Tsiokos, in his overview of the new doc offerings at the festival at What (not) To Doc, noted, “Over 75 new and recent nonfiction features, in addition to retrospective programming and sorts, screen at this Finnish event.” Also across the pond, IDFA announced that Syrian filmmaker Orwa Nyrabia has been appointed its new artistic director, succeeding interim director Barbara Visser, who oversaw the 2017 edition after IDFA founder Ally Derks stepped down.
Now that this year’s edition of Sundance has come and gone, Vox’s Alissa Wilkinson has had some time to mull her favorite non-star driven docs of the festival, just as Josefina Buschmann shared her thoughts at IndieWire on the VR doc experiences that were on offer. A pair of notable post-fest reviews also came in on KUSAMA – INFINITY via Stephen Zacks at Hyperallergic, and HAL via J.R. Kinnard of Nonfics.
Let’s not forget that we at Stranger Than Fiction return to the IFC Center tomorrow for our Winter Season kickoff with Roberta Grossman and Sophie Sartain’s SEEING ALLRED with a very special guest in Gloria Allred, the film’s subject. If you’re quick, it’s not to late to pick up a season pass over here.
Courtesy of Sundance Insitute | photo by Alex Pollini
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Stranger Than Fiction, the weekly documentary film series now in its 14th year, hosted by Thom Powers and Raphaela Neihausen and presented by IFC Center, announces its 2018 winter season of nine films. The series opens with SEEING ALLRED (Feb 6), fresh from its Sundance premiere, about the controversial feminist attorney Gloria Allred. The closing night film is a preview of THE CHINA HUSTLE (Mar 27) investigating the perils of Wall Street deregulation, executive produced by Alex Gibney. STF showcases the growing prominence of episodic works, previewing two highly anticipated series FLINT TOWN (Feb 27) focusing on the police department in the Michigan city known for its water crisis; and WILD, WILD COUNTRY (Mar 13) about a religious cult accused of crimes, executive produced by Jay & Mark Duplass. “If you crave documentaries that generate passionate discussion, you’ll get more than your money’s worth from this line-up,” said STF Artistic Director Thom Powers who also hosts the podcast Pure Nonfiction.
The end of award season is on the horizon! This week the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences revealed their nominations for the 2018 Academy Awards, which will take place March 4th. The nominees for Best Documentary Feature are ABACUS: SMALL ENOUGH TO JAIL by Steve James, FACES PLACES by Agnès Varda and JR, ICARUS by Bryan Fogel, LAST MEN IN ALEPPO by Firas Fayyad, and STRONG ISLAND by Yance Ford, while the nominees for Best Documentary Short are EDITH+EDDIE by Laura Checkoway, HEAVEN IS A TRAFFIC JAM ON THE 405 by Frank Stiefel (currently streaming via Short of the Week), HEROIN(E) by Elaine Mcmillion, KNIFE SKILLS by Thomas Lennon, and TRAFFIC STOP by Kate Davis.
Meanwhile, the festival fervor in Park City has subsided, with the 2018 Sundance Awards ceremony having taken place Saturday evening. Derek Doneen’s KAILASH, which Daniel Fienberg of The Hollywood Reporter called “an exciting and inspirational look at the fight against child slavery,” was honored with the U.S. Documentary Grand Jury Prize, while Alexandria Bombach’s ON HER SHOULDERS, having received substantial praise from Bilge Ebiri in The Village Voice, Jay Weissberg of Variety, and David Ehrlich of IndieWire, received the Directing Award. Bing Liu, who received the Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Filmmaking, spoke with Tom White of the International Documentary Association about his debut MINDING THE GAP, which John Fink of The Film Stage writes is “a tour de force of documentary filmmaking…a lively, often beautifully shot film about a pit of hopelessness–from dead end jobs to drunken arguments to bad decisions. This is modern day John Cassavetes with tattoos and punk music.” Rudy Valdez’s THE SENTENCE, which was picked up by HBO for distribution later this year, received the Audience Award.
In the World Cinema Documentary competition, Talal Derki’s IDFA debuted feature OF FATHERS AND SONS, dubbed “a vital addition to the cultural picture of the Syrian conflict” by Daniel Schindel of The Film Stage, took home the Grand Jury Prize. The Directing Award went to Sandi Tan for her debut feature SHIRKERS, which Richard Brody called “gloriously, gleefully idiosyncratic, a blend of punk energy and local documentation” in The New Yorker (along with love for Robert Greene’s BISBEE ’17). Though Variety’s Guy Lodge called Stephen Loveridge’s MATANGI / MAYA / M.I.A. “pretty standard-issue on the aesthetic front,” the film received a Special Jury Award, while Alexandra Shiva’s THIS IS HOME was honored with the Audience Award.
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.