Still from Director Jenny Carchman's THE FAMILY BUSINESS: TRUMP AND TAXES
September was a busy, hectic and exciting month for me. I made my annual pilgrimage to the Toronto International Film Festival, I visited Cincinnati for the first time for a friend’s wedding, and I bought my very first house, which, it turns out, is not easy to do while traveling around and trying to get work done. So, I had to take the month away from the Memo to get my life back in order, but with the coming of fall I’m back and ready to round up the best in documentary reporting once again!
At the top of the list is Ann Hornaday‘s controversial claim in The Washington Post that argues against NBC’s Chuck Todd assertion that, “We have to consider [documentaries] journalism,” with her headline reading, “Documentaries aren’t journalism, and there’s nothing wrong with that.” Meanwhile at IndieWire, Chris O’Falt reported on “How Showtime Made a Secret Documentary About the New York Times’ Big Story on Trump’s Tax Evasion,” which centers around Jenny Carchman’s short THE FAMILY BUSINESS: TRUMP AND TAXES and “The Times story by Russ Buettner, Susanne Craig and David Barstow calls into question President Trump’s image as a self-made billionaire, revealing that he received the equivalent today of $413 million from his father.” The Intercept, which published Jon Schwarz‘s extensive feature on DARK MONEY this week, seems to make quite an argument for the importance of journalism in documentary filmmaking. Isn’t there room for both non-journalistic and journalistic documentaries?
This week at Stranger Than Fiction, we are showing another investigative film in Oscar winner Alex Gibney’s NO STONE UNTURNED, which sees him turn his gaze to the “1994 Loughinisland massacre, a cold case that remains an open wound in the Irish peace process.” Gibney himself will be in attendance for a live Q&A at tomorrow’s screening at IFC Center.
FOCAL Awards 2018 host Hardeep Singh Kohli
Every year the London based FOCAL Awards celebrate the best use and preservation of archival material in cinema. Last Tuesday, the 2018 FOCAL International Award winners were announced – Bill Morrison’s DAWSON CITY: FROZEN TIME won Best Use of Footage in an Arts Production, Raoul Peck’s I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO won Best Use of Footage in a Cinematic Feature, Peter Bratt’s DOLORES took home Best Use of Footage in a Factual Production, and Daniel Lindsay and T. J. Martin’s LA 92 was honored with Best Use of Footage in a History Feature.
On that award season wavelength, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences revealed that it is “extending invitations to join the organization to 928 artists and executives who have distinguished themselves by their contributions to theatrical motion pictures.” Of those invited, 49% are female, bringing the overall Academy membership of women to 31%, and 38% of new members are 38%, bringing the overall membership of people of color to 16%, and 85 of those invited work in the documentary field. Those invited include doc filmmakers such as Bill and Turner Ross, Evgeny Afineevsky, Nanfu Wang, Yance Ford, Petra Costa and Katy Chevigny.
While the Academy is tinkering with its very makeup, Ben Travers at IndieWire is already debating what films might win big at the Emmys. He notes, “HBO has a slew of contenders, all of which have caused a stir in and outside the industry. ANDRE THE GIANT has big-name subjects supporting the doc on the famous wrestler-turned-actor, including Arnold Schwarzenegger, Robin Wright, Billy Crystal, and David Letterman. THE ZEN DIARIES OF GARRY SHANDLING is a personal passion project from Judd Apatow, and his intimate understanding of the late comedian combined with his influential friends should help set the doc apart. Meanwhile, ELVIS PRESLEY: THE SEARCHER has the pull of The King himself.”
With more TIFF wrap ups, a bunch of theatrical releases, award show news and more, it’s been a bustling week for documentary lovers. At the top of the heap was the announcement that the Cinema Eye Honors is turning 10 this year, and to celebrate, the organization polled 110 key members of the documentary community and selected 10 filmmakers and 20 films that helped define Cinema Eye’s first decade. In partnership with the Museum of the Moving Image, Cinema Eye will be hosting a 10-week screening series of films from its first decade, beginning with four-time Cinema Eye Honoree and Academy Award winner Laura Poitras presenting her post-9/11 trilogy: MY COUNTRY, MY COUNTRY, THE OATH and CITIZENFOUR. A full schedule of the series will be announced at a later date.
Following the news that Poitras would be kicking off the Cinema Eye screening series, she made the major announcement that she’d be stepping down from The Intercept to focus on the expansion of Field of Vision at its new location, fieldofvision.org. Along with her co-founders AJ Schnack and Charlotte Cook, the trio released a simultaneous statement in which they revealed “our new website, announce a slate of international films, expanded collaborations, and a SecureDrop platform for sources to leak newsworthy video.” New films from Yung Chang, Emily Pederson, Mila Aung-Thwin and Van Royko, Braden King, Elizabeth Lo, Laura Poitras and Henrik Moltke and Hito Steyerl, among others are in the pipeline, so keep your eyes peeled.
Tomorrow, the fall season of Stranger Than Fiction, which will celebrate the documentary work of Jonathan Demme with a 6-film retrospective, kicks off with his miraculous 1984 Talking Heads concert doc STOP MAKING SENSE! Demme himself will be on hand for a live post-screening Q&A. Season passes are still available here. As a primer to our upcoming retrospective, Demme appeared again on the latest episode of Thom Powers’ Pure Nonfiction podcast to talk about his concert films with Talking Heads, Neil Young and Justin Timberlake.
Like so many in the business of film making, curating, critiquing or just consuming, I’m feeling a little overstimulated after 11 days of movie-going at the Toronto International Film Festival, but in a good way. I managed to catch 46 films of the 296 features on offer this year, 19 of which were docs, many of which were outstanding. I managed to log a trio of reviews over at IONCINEMA, while an avalanche of doc coverage was amassed at outlets like Nonfics, POV Magazine, and Cinema Scope, among countless others. Found in the mix was Amy Kaufman’s extensive takes on RATS and AMANDA KNOX, and Steven Zeitchik‘s review of BEFORE THE FLOOD, all for the LA Times, while The Guardian’s Benjamin Lee also ruminated on AMANDA KNOX. At Realscreen, Jonathan Paul spoke with Errol Morris about his latest, THE B-SIDE: ELSA DORFMAN’S PORTRAIT PHOTOGRAPHY, while Kevin Ritchie asked Werner Herzog about INTO THE INFERNO. At yesterday’s closing awards ceremony Raoul Peck’s I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO was given the People’s Choice Documentary Award, while Fisher Stevens’ BEFORE THE FLOOD and Steve James’ ABACUS: SMALL ENOUGH TO JAIL were named the second and first runners up, respectively.
In the midst of the action, our own Thom Powers hosted TIFF’s annual one day Doc Conference, featuring live panels and discussions on a wide range of non-fiction filmmaking related topics. If you weren’t able to make it, most of the events are now available to stream on TIFF’s YouTube channel, including conversations with Steve James, Jonathan Demme and more. Meanwhile, VR made its prescence known at the festival this year with its POP VR event reports Realscreen’s Jonathan Paul. Looking at the many films that scored distribution at TIFF, Kate Erbland wrote an overview of the sales for IndieWire, including Magnolia’s pick up of I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO and Syndicado’s purchase of IN EXILE.
Here at Stranger Than Fiction, we’ve revealed that our Fall Season is devoted to the documentary work of Jonathan Demme. The series features a six film retrospective with live director Q&As at each screening, beginning on September 27th with his legendary Talking Heads concert doc, STOP MAKING SENSE. Season passes and individual screening tickets are available.
The documentary THE INVISIBLE WAR won this year's Emmy for best documentary.
This week the news and documentary Emmy awards were announced. Craig Phillips of the Independent Lens blog noted that its show took home three Emmys, while POV garnered one, according to its website. Writing for Realscreen, Kevin Ritchie also covered the awards, as did Esther Zuckerman of Entertainment Weekly.
The Camden International Film Festival named the winners of its awards, with the Harrell Award for Best Documentary Feature going to VIRUNGA from director Orlando von Einsiedel. Zach Sharf of Indiewire also had coverage of the awards. Also for Indiewire, Eric Hynes covered a panel discussion among film programmers held at CIFF, while Sam Adams wrote up a CIFF master class from director Marshall Curry.
Over at The Atlantic, Andrew F. March wrote a piece on whether the recent Vice doc on ISIS violated U.S. laws forbidding the support of terrorist organizations.
This week Stranger Than Fiction is hosting a screening of 65 REVISITED, a film by Chris Hegedus, D.A. Pennebaker and David Dawkins that pulls together unused footage from the Bob Dylan doc DON’T LOOK BACK. The film is screening with the short SHAKE – OTIS AT MONTEREY on Tuesday, October 7 at 8 p.m. at the IFC Center in Manhattan and will feature a Q&A with special guests following the film. For more information or to purchase tickets please go here.