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.
Amidst a rather busy week of the doc circuit, DOC NYC revealed its Oscar predicting 2016 Short List, naming 15 films to screen at the festival with the director or other special guests present. As Anne Thompson noted in her coverage of the announcement at IndieWire, last year the DOC NYC Short List had ten titles overlapping the subsequent Oscar Documentary Short List. Among this year’s selection was Ava DuVernay’s incisive Netflix prison doc 13TH, which opened the New York Film Festival on Friday night to a standing ovation and a shower of glowing reviews. At IndieWire, Eric Kohn called the film “the most relevant movie of the year.” The Guardian’s Jordan Hoffman wrote that its “an articulate, no-nonsense cup of iced water splashed in my face telling me to wake the f-ck up.” Even Manohla Dargis of The New York Times fully endorsed DuVernay’s film, calling it “powerful, infuriating and at times overwhelming…(while it) challenges your ideas about the intersection of race, justice and mass incarceration in the United States.” Similarly rhapsodic reviews were logged by Vikram Murthi at Movie Mezzanine, Odie Henderson at RogerEbert.com, Richard Brody of The New Yorker, and Steven Zeitchik of The Los Angeles Times. You can watch the press conference with DuVernay herself over at the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s website.
Of course, there are other docs on offer this year at NYFF, as Basil Tsiokos made abundantly clear in his overview of the nonfiction offerings at What (not) To Doc. Likewise, the staff at IndieWire listed seven docs to catch at the fest if you’re able, including Kasper Collin’s I CALLED HIM MORGAN, which Richard Brody, a jazz diehard, seems to have loved. Also kicking off on Friday was the International Documentary Association’s three day Getting Real conference, which a handful of diligent members of The D-Word live blogged (in three separate categories – sustainability, diversity, other conference happenings). Leading up to the conference, Realscreen published a piece by the founding members of the NYC Doc Producer’s Alliance on issues surrounding industry and career sustainability. Meanwhile across the pond, Christine Bardsley recommended a trio of docs to watch at the upcoming London Film Festival via BFI.
Our fall season of Stranger Than Fiction celebrating the documentary work of Jonathan Demme continues tomorrow at IFC Center with SWIMMING TO CAMBODIA. Director Jonathan Demme, as well as producer Renée Shafransky, will be on hand to discuss the film in a post-screening Q&A. Tickets for the screening are still available here.
In the wake of SELMA’s incredible critical and popular success, director Ava DuVernay has taken up the fight for women and minority filmmakers with a podcast, keynote speeches, social media movements, and now a return to documentary filmmaking with THE 13TH, “about the United States’ sky-high incarceration rate,” according to Cara Buckley of The New York Times. DuVernay’s last nonfiction project was VENUS VS., the first episode of ESPN’s Nine for IX series which celebrated women in sports with female filmmakers at the helm of each episode. The Film Society of Lincoln Center broke the news that DuVernay’s film will be the first documentary to ever kick off the New York Film Festival and will then head to select theaters and Netflix, while Jen Chung of Gothamist and Vikram Murthi of IndieWire each reported the break. This week DuVernay appeared alongside Jamal Joseph on The Close-up to talk about her new film and more.
In other festival news, the Toronto International Film Festival released details about its annual Doc Conference, including a keynote by Steve James reports Kevin Ritchie of Realscreen. More notably at IndieWire, Anne Thompson broke the news that Michael Moore’s Traverse City Film Festival has boldly programmed its entire competition with 32 films, every single one directed by, or co-directed by women, while male directors have been relegated to a small 5 film side bar titled “Men Make Movies —The Struggle Continues.” While Basil Tsiokos previewed the doc offerings at NYC’s Asian American International Film Festival over at What (not) To Doc, Michael Rosser reported that the Sarajevo Film Fest has revealed its documentary competition titles at Screen Daily. Meanwhile over at Sight & Sound, Nick James reflected on this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival, singling out CHICAGO BOYS, LOST IN FRANCE and THE LOVERS AND THE DESPOT as intriguing highlights, as Alissa Simon listed her favorites from the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, noting Miroslav Janek’s NORMAL AUTISTIC FILM and DOOMED BEAUTY from Helena Třeštíková and Jakub Hejna as standouts. And at Little White Lies, Matt Turner celebrated “the young female directors leading Mexico’s cinema revolution” that made their appearance at Karlovy Vary.