Last week the AT&T Inc.-owned film and television giant WarnerMedia stunned the film community when it announced that it will be shutting the beloved cinephilic streaming service FilmStruck down at the end of November. In response, over 55,000 fans have signed a Change.org petition in an effort to save the service from disappearing into the void, while a whole host of A-list filmmakers also wrote an open letter “to Warner Bros. Pictures Group chairman Toby Emmerich asking for WarnerMedia to reconsider the decision to pull the plug on FilmStruck on November 29,” reports IndieWire’s Zack Sharf. Writing in The Los Angeles Times, Ryan Faughnder suggests that the shuttering of FilmStruck demonstrates the fragility of film history in the face of our reliance on streaming services: “Streaming companies including Netflix, Amazon and Hulu are spending billions of dollars to create the kinds of next-big-thing TV dramas that draw subscribers, and aren’t so interested in hosting vast catalogs of oldies. Compounding the problem, video stores that once facilitated the discovery of esoteric films have mostly vanished, and younger viewers aren’t subscribing to cable bundles, let alone watching Turner Classic Movies. Another constraint is that it’s costly to convert old movies into streaming-friendly formats.”
Responding to the public outcry, The Criterion Collection announced, “If you loved the curated programming we’ve been doing with our friends at FilmStruck, we have good news for you. The Criterion Collection team is going to be carrying on with that mission, launching the Criterion Channel as a freestanding service in spring 2019…The new service will be wholly owned and controlled by the Criterion Collection. We hope to be available in U.S. and Canada at launch, rolling out additional territories over time. Our library will also be available through WarnerMedia’s new consumer platform when it launches late next year, so once both services are live, Criterion fans will have even more ways to find the films they love.”
While the midterm elections, another mass shooting, and word that RBG fell and fractured three ribs were all making headline news this last week, plenty of notable documentary happenings were taking place in the background. On Saturday night in Brooklyn, the third annual Critics’ Choice Documentary Awards took place, at which “WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR? took home the evening’s most prestigious award for Best Documentary as well as Best Director for Morgan Neville and the award for Best Editing. FREE SOLO took home the award for Best Sports Documentary, the award for Best Innovative Documentary and was honored for Best Cinematography…the Best Political Documentary winner was RBG. QUINCY took home the award for Best Music Documentary. There was a tie for Best First Time Director between Bing Liu for MINDING THE GAP and Cristina Costantini and Darren Foster for SCIENCE FAIR.”
Two days prior, the Cinema Eye Honors announced the nominees for its 12th edition, with MINDING THE GAP leading the pack with a total of 7 nominations, tying the record for most nominations in Cinema Eye history. The six films up for the top prize of Outstanding Achievement in Nonfiction Feature Filmmaking are BISBEE ’17, HALE COUNTY THIS MORNING, THIS EVENING, MINDING THE GAP, OF FATHERS AND SONS, THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS, WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR?.
Many of the nominees and award winners thus far turned up in conversation with one another for The Hollywood Reporter‘s annual Documentary Roundtable. Meanwhile, Anne Thompson noted at IndieWire that “Last year, the Academy documentary branch had to grapple with a record 170 documentary feature submissions for the Best Documentary Feature Oscar. This year, it’s not so bad: only 166 were entered. The short list of 15 will be announced, along with eight others for the first time on a single date this year: December 17.”
Out of what appears to be strictly a matter of greed, soul singing legend Aretha Franklin has filed suit and successfully received an emergency court injunction barring the Telluride Film Festival from world premiering Sydney Pollack’s long gestating posthumous documentary AMAZING GRACE, “which shows the making of Ms. Franklin’s album of the same name more than four decades ago,” reports Brooks Barnes and Michael Cieply of The New York Times. Reacting to the news Franklin issued a statement saying, “Justice, respect and what is right prevailed and one’s right to own their own self-image,” despite “a recently discovered 1968 contract that Franklin signed allowed the use of the footage,” according to The New York Times. Catherine Shoard of The Guardian covered the story as well, noting “that four years ago Franklin sued Elliott over the same issue, and ‘the lawsuit was resolved after Elliott agreed not to release the film’.” Steven Zeitchik and Rebecca Keegan of The Los Angeles Times and Tambay A. Obenson of indieWIRE also covered the news, while Chris Willman featured the film in question for The Hollywood Reporter. Looking to the Toronto Film Festival where the film is set to screen later this week, our own Thom Powers has assured the show will go on, stating, “We’re proceeding with plans to screen AMAZING GRACE at TIFF. We haven’t heard of any legal procedures regarding the film in Toronto.”
Before all this legal hub-bub went down, at What (not) To Doc Basil Tsiokos gave an overview of the non-fiction offerings screening at both Telluride and Venice, which kicked off last Wednesday. Coverage from Venice has been slowly coming in, including Kaleem Aftab‘s positive review of Rinku Kalsy’s FOR THE LOVE OF MAN for indieWIRE, Guy Lodge‘s glowing review of Amy Berg’s JANIS: LITTLE GIRL BLUE at Variety, and a pair of supportive reviews of Evgeny Afineevsky’s WINTER ON FIRE: UKRAINE’S FIGHT FOR FREEDOM from The Hollywood Reporter’s Stephen Farber and Variety’s Jay Weissberg. Weissberg also reviewed Frederick Wiseman’s latest, IN JACKSON HEIGHTS, while Manori Ravindran spoke with the institution-obsessed documentarian Realscreen about his first (and likely last) foray into crowdfunding and why he prefers long-form to television friendly films.