Shooting of MEETING GORBACHEV. Photo: Lena Herzog
If last week seemed unusually spare, this past week’s abundance of doc news surely makes up for it. Kicking things off with an enthusiastic bang, The Ringer’s Sean Fennessey makes the case in his must read of the week that the recent financial success of various theatrical doc releases “represent, if not a major moment, then at least a meaningful boomlet for theatrical documentary filmmaking, perhaps the culmination of almost 50 years of evolution and exposure for the form, stretching back to the Maysles brothers’ SALESMAN. It has been 40 years since Martin Scorsese’s THE LAST WALTZ, about 30 years since Errol Morris’s THE THIN BLUE LINE and Michael Moore’s ROGER & ME, nearly 25 years since Steve James’s HOOP DREAMS, 20 years since Spike Lee’s FOUR LITTLE GIRLS, and 10 years since James Marsh’s MAN ON WIRE. That half a century of meaningful work with increasing mass exposure has slowly redefined the form, turning what had been considered by some moviegoers a starchy, stiff form of storytelling into some of the most vital, sought-out films in the country.”
Meanwhile, as the Toronto International Film Festival and the New York Film Festival began to roll out their big name fiction features, DOK Leipzig revealed that its 61st edition will open with Werner Herzog and André Singer’s MEETING GORBECHEV, which sees “Herzog and Gorbachev sit together in the former’s Moscow office, engaging in intense conversations about the past and the winding path of history.” Bragging of an A-List of docs out-of-competition alongside its much-touted fiction competition, the Venice Film Festival is slated to premiere new work by Errol Morris, Frederick Wiseman, Victor Kossakovsky, Tsai Ming-liang, Sergei Loznitsa and Mark Cousins, just to name a few.
Fall festival season marches on with IDFA gearing up across the pond as DOC NYC came to a close here at home late last week. Despite being eyes deep in DOC NYC duties as the festival’s director of programming, Basil Tsiokos took the time to plot out a two part introduction at What (not) To Doc to the new nonfiction offerings set to have make their debut in Amsterdam this week. He began by noting that “The world’s largest nonfiction event bids farewell to founder and longtime director Ally Derks with its 30th edition, which showcases over 180 new and recent documentary features.” Writing at First Showing, Alex Billington gives his introductory thoughts on his first visit to IDFA. Variety also published a pair of pieces on the festival, including Stewart Clarke on “Young Directors at Forefront of HBO Europe’s Documentary Slate” and Damon Wise reporting on “The Visual Voice, a 16-film sidebar celebrating documentary’s greatest films, chosen by its biggest names.”
Those that couldn’t attended DOC NYC or its professional conference DOC NYC PRO this year would do well to head over to its YouTube channel where plenty of screening intros, Q&As, and conference sessions can be viewed in whole. DOC NYC’s trio of juries announced their award winners on Thursday, with Nicole N. Horanyi’s THE STRANGER receiving the Grand Jury Prize in the Viewfinders competition, James Crump’s ANTONIO LOPEZ 1970: SEX FASHION & DISCO winning the Grand Jury Prize in the Metropolis competition, and Kate Davis’s TRAFFIC STOP taking home the Grand Jury Prize in the Shorts competition. Daniele Alcinii reported on the awards ceremony for Realscreen, noting, “TRAFFIC STOP now qualifies for consideration in the Documentary Short Subject category of the annual Academy Awards without the standard theatrical run, provided the film otherwise complies with the Academy rules.”
Speaking of Oscars, last week at the Governors’ Awards Agnès Varda received an honorary Oscar. IndieWire’s Jenna Marotta recounted the morning after from the La Résidence de France in Beverly Hills where Varda was celebrated over brunch with French peers, as Sam Adams reflected at Slate on how Varda has continuously proven how documentary filmmakers can in fact be movie stars. Meanwhile at Deadline, Antonia Blyth took an early stab at the Oscar race for Best Documentary Feature. Notably absent from that list is Errol Morris’s WORMWOOD. Anne Thompson reports at IndieWire that “The documentary branch executive committee deemed WORMWOOD ineligible for Best Documentary Feature, based on post-O.J.: MADE IN AMERICA rules designed to weed out episodic documentary series. Yet WORMWOOD qualifies in all other AMPAS categories covered by the general submission form: Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director, and all the crafts.”
DOC NYC, the largest documentary film festival in the United States, has returned to New York for its 8th edition, having kicked off on Thursday evening with a rousing opening night speech by Thom Powers. Giving insight into the immense spread of films on offer, Jason Bailey writes his is festival recommendations at Village Voice, “the options are unsurprisingly diverse: explorations of global issues, intimate character portraits, science explainers, true-crime investigations, celebrity profiles, snapshots of New York City.” Chris Barsanti of Film Journal International and Joshua Brunsting of Criterion Cast both surveyed the festival program, while at Doc Soup, Tom Roston spoke with Basil Tsiokos, the festival’s Director of Programming, about how the current state of politics influenced this year’s program. The IndieWire crew listed their 13 most anticipated films of the fest, while the folks at Women and Hollywood have been interviewing many of the female filmmakers in the lead up to the festival’s kickoff and Soheil Rezayazdi spoke with Barbara Kopple about her new film A MURDER IN MANSFIELD for Filmmaker Magazine. If you’re hoping to keep with the flood of coverage coming out of DOC NYC, you might do well to follow David Hudson at The Daily via Criterion over the next week.
Rencontres internationales du documentaire de Montréal, better known to most as RIDM, also began Thursday evening, kicking off its 20th edition with a screening of Céline Baril’s 24 DAVIDS. The film was among the handful of hardy recommendations put forth by Ismaël Houdassine in his overview of the fest at Huffington Post (though you may need help from Google Translate – it’s in French). “The festival has a double mandate. It’s about showing the best or most interesting international films of the year; and it’s a great platform for local artists,” said programming director Bruno Dequen, with executive director Mara Gourd-Mercado in T’Cha Dunlevy‘s feature on the fest in Montréal Gazette in which he goes on to list 10 must-sees, including Travis Wilkerson’s DID YOU WONDER WHO FIRED THE GUN? and Ziad Kalthoum’s TASTE OF CEMENT.
And while TIFF and NYFF may have come and gone, Eric Hynes‘s rundown of the festivals’ best celebrity offerings via Film Comment is a must read.
Awards season rolls on this week with the 45th annual British Documentary Awards, where the Grierson Award for Best Single Documentary – International was given to Rahul Jain for MACHINES, Best Historical Documentary went to Ava DuVernay for 13TH, Best Documentary Short to Charlie Lyne for FISH STORY, and Best Cinema Documentary to Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg for WEINER.
Award season rolls on! Thursday evening saw the Broadcast Film Critics Association and the Broadcast Television Journalists Association announce the winners of the second annual Critics’ Choice Documentary Awards with Brett Morgen’s JANE being named Best Documentary, while Evgeny Afineevsky and Frederick Wiseman were co-honored with Best Director for CRIES FOR SYRIA and EX LIBRIS: THE NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY, respectively. Ceyda Torun’s debut feature KEDI won Best First Documentary, as Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s THE VIETNAM WAR took home Best Documentary Series.
In tandem with the Critics’ Choice Doc Awards, the International Documentary Association named its nominations for the 2017 IDA Awards, with Matthew Heineman’s CITY OF GHOSTS, Antonio Santini and Dan Sickles’s DINA, Agnès Varda and JR’s FACES PLACES, Dan Lindsay and TJ Martin’s LA 92, and Yance Ford’s STRONG ISLAND all up for Best Documentary. The British Independent Film Awards also unveiled their own nominations this past week. Those up for Best Documentary include Aaron Brookner’s UNCLE HOWARD, Carol Salter’s ALMOST HEAVEN, Lucy Cohen’s KINGDOM OF US, Morgan Matthews’s WILLAMS, and Daisy-May Hudson’s HALF WAY.
DOC NYC is nearing, and to celebrate they’ve been running flash sales on tickets at 5 for $5 for select films. The current sale runs through noon today. On Wednesday, the festival announced its 2017 jury members, featuring the likes of filmmakers Doug Block and Andrew Rossi, as well as Vox film critic Alissa Wilkinson, Women Make Movies’s Debra Zimmerman and more.
This year’s Halloween memo might not as spooky as one might hope, and surprisingly brief, considering the season. That said, award season marches on: Variety’s Kristopher Tapley reported, “The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced on Friday that 170 films have been submitted for documentary feature Oscar consideration.” Of the many submitted, just 15 will make the shortlist and only 5 will receive official nominations or Best Documentary. Within surprising accuracy, DOC NYC’s Shortlist program has done an incredible job of estimating what films will receive Oscar nods, and the festival’s Director of Programming, Basil Tsiokos, has already begun to preview the festival’s various programs at What (not) To Doc, while he, along with Executive Director Raphaela Neihausen, also appeared on Pure Nonfiction to discuss this year’s edition of the festival.
Tsiokos also gave an overview of the 21st Jihlava International Documentary Film Festival, which takes place in the Czech Republic each year, while at IDA’s page, Patricia Aufderheide gave a rundown of the Double Exposure Investigative Film Festival, a “newbie DC festival is a project of an investigative nonprofit, 100Reporters, which publishes and offers to other publishers investigative journalism about government corruption.”
Following the unveiling of the Critics’ Choice Documentary Awards nominations, on Tuesday the organization announced “Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Errol Morris will receive the lifetime achievement award,” reported Taryn Nobil of Variety. With perfect timing, Morris turned up in conversation with Nicolas Rapold in Film Comment to discuss WORMWOOD, “a four-hour, six-part series that will stream on Netflix starting December 15 and, in a just-announced “non-episodic” form with an intermission, will screen theatrically in qualification for Academy Award consideration at the same time.”