You may have noticed the lack of last week’s holiday styled memo, but this week we’ve returned with plenty of nonfiction news to get you up to speed. Up top we’ve got IndieWire’s Anne Thompson making her early predictions for what docs will be in the running for the 2018 Oscar for Best Documentary. Unsurprisingly, Matthew Heineman’s CITY OF GHOSTS (see this week’s slew of coverage on the film below), Agnès Varda’s FACES, PLACES, and Laura Poitras’ RISK are among the forerunners thus far.
In festival happenings, Ben Nicholson reported for Sight & Sound on this year’s edition of the Sheffield Doc/Fest, the first under its new chief programmer Luke Moody. At What (not) To Doc, Basil Tsiokos put forth his usual thorough overview of new nonfiction for the 35th edition of LA’s Outfest, noting a pair of centerpiece selections in Lori Kaye’s KEVIN AUCOIN: BEAUTY & THE BEAST IN ME and Katherine Fairfax Wright’s BEHIND THE CURTAIN: TODRICK HALL. Doc filmmakers should also take note that this coming Friday is DOC NYC‘s Extended Deadline for submissions for its 2017 edition.
This past week, the folks over at The Guardian joined the growing chorus of critics proclaiming that we are currently in a golden age of documentaries with a solid list of examples to argue the point and filmmakers like Laura Poitras and Dawn Porter admitting that some of their favorites are fairly new films themselves. Even doc director Adam Curtis contributed his own spin on the conversation, though claiming that he believes SOUTH PARK to be the best ongoing documentary series. Though not directly, Gregg Kilday and Stephen Galloway‘s gathering of Ezra Edelman, Werner Herzog, Kirsten Johnson, Josh Kriegman, Raoul Peck and Roger Ross Williams for an extensive Hollywood Reporter round-table discussion seems to only help prove the point. Portions of this discussion can be read and partially watched at the link, but the full conversation is set to air on SundanceTV on February 19, 2017. Likewise, Chris O’Falt‘s piece at IndieWire on how recent docs like 13TH, TOWER, I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO and more re-purpose archival footage for artistic means and Diane Haithman‘s short take on a trio of recent docs that take aim at the gun debate at Hollywood Reporter both continue to add fuel to this raging golden age fire.
Legendary doc helmer Frederick Wiseman was one of four diverse recipients of an Honorary Oscar from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Governers Awards last week. As noted by Josh Rottenberg in The Los Angeles Times, “Wiseman was honored for his work illuminating various social, cultural and government institutions in renowned documentary films like TITICUT FOLLIES, HIGH SCHOOL, LAW AND ORDER, PUBLIC HOUSING and LA DANSE.” In Wiseman’s acceptance speech, which can be viewed in its entirety here, along with Rory Kennedy, Ben Kingsley and Don Cheadle‘s loving introductions, he stated matter of factly, “I think it’s as important to document kindness, civility and generosity of spirit as it is to show cruelty, banality and indifference.”
In a week in which the US presidency was ceded to Donald Trump, little concern for anything but the future well being of the United States has rightly been put forth by news outlets this week. Yet, in her recent piece at Vox, Genevieve Koski recalled Roger Ebert’s belief that movies are “a machine that generates empathy” while reminding us that “In times like these, it can feel like entertainment doesn’t matter. It does.” Similarly, Dan Schoenbrun wrote a declaration of intent for Filmmaker Magazine, stating that “For the next four years (and long afterwards), every time someone leaves a movie theater feeling contented, feeling set in their values, feeling numbed and entertained and nothing else, that’s a problem.” On election day itself, Graham Winfrey reported at IndieWire on the massive election day doc production 11/8/16, which will serve as a follow-up to Jeff Deutchman’s 11/4/08 and feature contributions by 40 different filmmakers, including Alma Har’el, David Lowery, Eugene Jarecki and Yung Chang.
For most of us in the doc world, our light at the end of the tunnel this past week was DOC NYC, which kicked off Thursday night with a celebration of political righteousness in CITIZEN JANE: BATTLE FOR THE CITY and where “filmmakers expressed their commitment to shine a light on important truths and use the power of storytelling during Trump’s presidency” during the festival’s Visionaries Tribute luncheon, according to Winfrey. Tim Teeman wrote at length about CITIZEN JANE for The Daily Beast, while Daniel Eagan included it in his piece on the cream of the crop of DOC NYC for Film Journal International. A whole host of other curtain openers came in from the likes of Tom Roston at Doc Soup, Joshua Brunsting at Criterion Cast, and Daniel Walber of Nonfics. Likewise, Film Forward featured the festival’s many films centered around transgendered characters thanks to Phil Guie. And of the many, many press breaks coming through the wire from the fest, the seemingly countless interviews with female directors being published over at Women and Hollywood might be most worth your while. I could go on and on with additional links from the fest, but I suggest you head over to Keyframe where David Hudson has already done just that. If you aren’t able to make it to DOC NYC this year, you can at least head over to their YouTube channel where they are posting not only a ton of live Q&As, but many sessions taking place at DOC NYC PRO.
Montreal’s premiere doc festival RIDM (Rencontres internationales du documentaire de Montreal) also began on Thursday evening. Despite being in the midst of DOC NYC, Basil Tsiokos previewed the festival’s new offerings, while Robert Everett-Green of The Globe and Mail wrote an overview of the 128 entries selected for this year’s festival.
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.
First off, I apologize for missing the memo last week. I had prepped one celebrating both my wife’s birthday, as well as the release of DOC NYC‘s and IDFA‘s full lineups, but a family emergency reared its head and everything else got sidelined for a few days. The good news is that all is ok for the time being and I’m back for another week of exciting doc news! Settling at the top was Cinema Eye Honors announcement of the 2016 Unforgettables, the 15 best doc subjects of the year, including Huma Abedin and Anthony Weiner of WEINER, Laura Albert of AUTHOR: THE JT LEROY STORY and Kate Lyn Shiel from KATE PLAYS CHRISTINE. Additionally, they revealed that the Museum of the Moving Image will host “a 10-week series highlighting films from the first #CEHDecade: “Pushing the Envelope: A Decade of Documentary’s Cinema Eye Honors”. The series will kick off Friday, November 4, 2016 with the first winner of Cinema Eye’s Outstanding Nonfiction Feature award, Jason Kohn’s MANDA BALA (SEND A BULLET).”
In the same vein, the Gotham Independent Film Awards released their full list of nominees, including the documentary category. Oddly, their website still lists last year’s info, but the trades all picked up the press release, with CAMERAPERSON, I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO, O.J.: MADE IN AMERICA, TOWER and WEINER listed as the doc nominees. And while the festival circuit was fairly quiet this week, Portugal’s Doclisboa did kick off on Thursday evening and Basil Tsiokos wrote an overview of the new features on offer over at What (not) To Doc, noting new work by João Monteiro and several world premiering competition titles in Kimi Takesue’s 95 AND 6 TO GO, Yuki Kawamura’s A FRIEND FROM SIBERIA, Ludovica Tortora de Falco’s DO NOT TOUCH ME!, and Maximiliano Schonfeld’s THE SLEEPING TIGER.
Here at Stranger Than Fiction, our Jonathan Demme documentary retrospective continues tomorrow at the IFC Center with his New Orleans set I’M CAROLYN PARKER: THE GOOD, THE MAD, AND THE BEAUTIFUL from 2011. Director Demme and Demme and producer Daniel Wolff will be on hand for a post-screening Q&A. Tickets for the screening can still be purchased here.