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 http://STFdocs.com or ifccenter.com

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

Apr 17 – Opening Night: BOOM FOR REAL: THE LATE TEENAGE YEARS OF JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT

(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).


Monday Memo: Hot Docs Lineup Reaches Gender Parity


At this point, there is no doubt about the incredible range of nonfiction productions that are available through all sorts of distribution channels, from the festival circuit to the countless streaming services accessible form your very own couch, yet folks like Mark Kennedy are here to remind us that we are in a golden age of documentaries in his latest piece outlining just a sliver of the quality content that is currently available in The Washington Post. Meanwhile, Guy Lodge, writing at The Guardian, attempted to unpack why documentary sequels like MARCH OF THE PENGUINS 2 are on the rise, summerizing “…it’s only the latest in a recent run of tardy sequels to culture-defining documentaries of the previous decade and beyond – evidence, perhaps, that even the documentary realm has fallen prey to the industry’s risk-averse devotion to existing properties and proven formulae, though few have fully made the case for returning to the well.”

Thankfully, the festival circuit, with new lineups announced this week for Toronto’s Hot Docs and the Film Society at Lincoln Center’s Art of the Real, generally offers a reprieve from such contrivances. Most excitingly, the Hot Docs programmers were keen to reveal this year’s edition of the festival has reached gender parity with fifty percent of the films on offer made by women filmmakers, reports The Globe and Mail’s Barry Hertz. Looking a bit deeper at the Hot Docs program, Selina Chignall of Realscreen spoke with the filmmakers behind THE HEAT: A KITCHEN REVOLUTION, UNITED WE FAN, and THE ACCOUNTANT OF AUSCHWITZ, each of which is due to have their world premieres in Toronto next month.

Last weekend saw the conclusion of this year’s edition of CPH:DOX, where Marcus Lindeen’s THE RAFT won the Dox:Award, Elizabeth and Gulistan Mirzaei’s LAILA AT THE BRIDGE took home the F:ACT Award, and Jumana Manna’s WILD RELATIVES was honored with the New:Vision Award for its “groundbreaking experiments in the area between documentary and artistic reflection.” The staff at Desist Film have posted a wealth of reviews from the festival for those interested in delving further. Just as CPH:DOX wound down, the Parisian doc fest Cinéma du Reél kicked off, with Basil Tsiokos writing up an overview of the new docs on offer over at What (not) To Doc. Looking back a few weeks, Tayler Montague of Reverse Shot and Irina Trocan writing at Sight & Sound both posted thorough festival reviews of this year’s True/False, while Film Comment published an interview by Rooney Elmi with Khalik Allah, whose incredible new film BLACK MOTHER had its world premiere in Columbia.

Tomorrow night at IFC Center, our 2018 Winter Season concludes with THE CHINA HUSTLE, with director Jed Rothstein in attendance for a live post-screening Q&A. Tickets are still available here.

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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.

 


Monday Memo: SXSW Award Winners in a WILD WILD COUNTRY


It doesn’t seem possible, yet SXSW has swiftly come and gone, with the festival’s award winners having been announced on Tuesday of last week. Hao Wu’s PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF DESIRE won the Grand Jury prize for in the documentary feature competition, while Charlie Tyrell’s MY DEAD DAD’S PORNO TAPES took home the Jury Award in Documentary Shorts, and TRANSMILITARY by Gabriel Silverman and Fiona Dawson took home the Audience Award. Meanwhile in Denmark, CPH:DOX is just getting started, and unsurprisingly, Basil Tsiokos whipped up a rundown of all the new docs making their debut at the festival over at What (not) To Doc, including those in its international competition for the Dox:Award and its regional competition for the Nordic:Dox Award.

Looking forward, Hot Docs has revealed another wave of titles in its Special Presentations program, bringing the total up to 32 films “showcasing high-profile premieres, award winners, and works by masters or featuring star subjects.” The festival, which runs April 26 through May 6, also revealed the 20 projects set to compete at this year’s Hot Docs Forum. Those that made that cut include new work by Brett Story, Nanfu Wang, Liz Marshall, and Lyric R. Cabral, reports Pat Mullen of POV Magazine. Additionally, the San Francisco International Film Festival unveiled its generous documentary program for this year’s edition, featuring lots of imports from Sundance, TIFF and SXSW.

Tomorrow at IFC Center, our 2018 Winter Season rolls on with Ian Olds and Garrett Scott’s 2005 Falluja doc classic, OCCUPATION: DREAMLAND. Co-director Ian Olds will be in attendance for a live Q&A following the screening. Tickets are still available here.

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