Happy Halloween! It’s odd, one would think Halloween weekend would be primed for horror releases, but it seems an unusual amount of well regarded documentaries found their way into theaters this past week. Chief among these was Werner Herzog’s INTO THE INFERNO, which found its way into homes around the world via Netflix and also opened at the IFC Center. The volcanic film was named WNYC‘s Documentary of the week, was Film Comment‘s Film of the Week, and was selected by Manohla Dargis as a NYT Critics’ Pick. Though I’m fond of the film myself in my review at IONCINEMA, I am in full agreement with Matt Zoller Seitz when he says in his review at RogerEbert.com that many viewers detect that “all the adulation has made him cuddly, and his films warmer, more accessible, and perhaps in some ways more superficial.” We’ll return to theatrical releases a bit later.
As we near the start of DOC NYC (less than two week away now), the festival’s Director of Programming, Basil Tsiokos, has been running through a series of previews of each of the festival’s sections over at What (not) To Doc. Tsiokos also looked at the Jihlava International Documentary Festival, the Czech Republic’s widely known nonfiction fest, having ran Tuesday through Sunday, as did Vladan Petkovic for Cineuropa. Cineuropa also had David González on hand to report on the festival’s industry conference happenings in a pair of pieces on documentary making process and funding. Yesterday, the festival announced its award winners, with Maria Kourkouta and Niki Giannari’s SPECTRES ARE HAUNTING EUROPE named as the Best World Documentary, Salomé Jashi’s THE DAZZLING LIGHT OF SUNSET taking the award for Best Central and Eastern European Documentary, and Tomáš Bojar and Rozálie Kohoutová’s FC ROMA named as the Best Czech Documentary.
Tomorrow, We conclude our fall season with one final doc by the great Jonathan Demme, his 2007 film about the former U.S. president, JIMMY CARTER MAN FROM PLAINS. For this special screening director Jonathan Demme, Producer Ron Bozman and President Carter’s Literary Publicist Elizabeth Hayes will all be on hand for a post-screening Q&A. Tickets for this closing night screening are available here.
Maybe for the first time since taking over the Monday Memo (over 80 weeks ago now!), the conversation reverberating from the critical community on documentary film this week is overwhelmingly centered around films newly available via streaming platforms (13TH, AMANDA KNOX, AUDRIE & DAISY, and the soon to be released Adam Curtis project HYPERNORMALISATION). Following its world premiere of Ava DuVernay’s 13TH at the New York Film Festival on September 30th, the film became available worldwide via Netflix just a just a week later, igniting a firestorm of white hot responses in the press. In reference to 13TH, both Scott Feinberg of The Hollywood Reporter and Kristopher Tapley of Variety asked the question, “Why Not a Documentary for Best Picture?,” while others like the Washington Post’s Bethonie Butler and Deadline’s Pete Hammond lauded the film as “powerful” and “masterful,” respectively. Opinions have essentially been unanimously extolling among critics like Nonfics’ Daniel Walber, Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times, and The Guardian’s Wendy Ide and Charlie Lyne.
As part of the New York Film Festival, 13TH subjects Kevin Gannon, Khalil Gibran Muhammad, Jelani Cobb, Ashley Clark, and Malkia Cyril took part in a panel moderated by Eugene Hernandez, the result of which is now available on the latest episode of The Close-up podcast. the DuVernay herself made the rounds, appearing in conversation with Cara Buckley of The New York Times, Esquire’s Corey Atad, Film Comment’s Ashley Clark and Juleyka Lantigua-Williams of The Atlantic. Just as DuVernay takes on the US prison system, Sam Barsanti of A.V. Club reports that Jay-Z is producing a six-part documentary series for Spike TV titled TIME: THE KALIEF BROWDER STORY, about the 16-year-old high school kid from New York who was arrested in 2010 for allegedly stealing a backpack and New York’s broken criminal justice system. And in the same vein, Anne Thompson list four docs that define the Black Lives Matter movement at IndieWire, while actor and activist Danny Glover shared his six favorite racially conscious documentaries currently streaming with Christopher Campbell of Nonfics.
Stranger Than Fiction, however, remains on the big screen at IFC Center. This week our six film retrospective of the documentary work of Jonathan Demme co-presented by the New York Film Academy continues with THE AGRONOMIST, about the Haitian radio journalist Jean Dominique. Director Jonathan Demme and Radio Haiti-Inter journalist Michele Montas with both be on hand to present the film and participate in a post-screening Q&A. Tickets for the event are available here.
Comedian Tig Notaro hosting the 2015 Sundance Film Festival Award Ceremony
As is to be expected during a week in which Sundance, Slamdance and Rotterdam all run in parallel, an avalanche of wonderful coverage, interviews and reviews has been sliding out of Park City all week, but before I attempt to sort through the good, the bad and the ugly of that whole situation, I’d first like to remind you that the Winter ’15 season of Stranger Than Fiction is set to kick off tomorrow evening at the IFC Center in NYC at 8 pm with THE HAND THAT FEEDS. Directors Rachel Lears and Robin Blotnick, as well as film subject Mahoma López are set to appear for a post screening Q&A. If you like, you can purchase tickets in advance here.
I’d also like to point out that a handful of non-fiction films, mostly shorts, quietly found their way onto the interwebs this week, most excitingly a new politically incisive, online-only BBC released feature by director Adam Curtis, entitled BITTER LAKE. Writing for RT, Tony Gosling examined Curtis’ prior work and the reasoning behind an online-only release. A new entry into the Profiles By Vice series entitled THE LEGEND OF CAMBO, directed by none other than Harmony Korine, also found its way into the world. For Newsweek, Stav Ziv highlighted the online release of ANATOMY OF A SNOW DAY, a short directed by a 12 year old named Zachary Maxwell, which had its world premiere last year at DOC NYC. A pair of shorts in Joe Callander’s MIDNIGHT THREE & SIX and Elizabeth Lo’s HOTEL 22 also made their debut as part of the ongoing New York Times Op-Docs series. And while on the topic of Op-Docs, Heather McIntosh of the POV Documentary Site Blog wrote a piece on the coming semester in which she intends to teach a junior-level course in news writing and reporting based around the series.
And lastly before we get to a wealth of festival coverage, a slew of great articles regarding the development and promotion of documentaries and documentary filmmaking were also published this week. Leading off, an article by Katharine Relth which was published on the IDA blog gives a list of helpful tips for creating a sustainable doc career. Director and critic Charlie Lyne took to his Ultra Culture blog to list 10 things he learned while self-releasing his raucously fun essay film BEYOND CLUELESS in the UK. In great news for doc development, Sundance has announced the groundbreaking new Transparency Project as part of their #ArtistServices Workshop “that will allow aggregated film financial data to be shared among producers and filmmakers using an online analytics tool”. Scott Macaulay of Filmmaker Magazine has the in-depth story. Lastly, as quoted from Adam Benzine‘s report at Realscreen states,”The Independent Television Service (ITVS) and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation have formed a partnership to encourage collaboration between journalists and indie filmmakers”. Exciting opportunities on the development horizon!