Monday Memo: Hot Docs & Art of the Real Reveal 2017 Lineups


After last week’s politically charged dispatch of stories on Trump’s proposed budget cuts and the controversy over Jason Pollock’s STRANGER FRUIT, this week, thankfully, seems a bit subdued. The most notable news of the week is the dual lineup announcements of Toronto’s massive Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival and the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s more focused Art of the Real. At Realscreen, Daniele Alcinii spoke with Hot Docs’ Director of Programming Shane Smith and several filmmakers about this year’s lineup. The complete Hot Docs program and schedule can be found in PDF form here.

Now in its second year, Chicago’s DOC10 film festival kicks off later this week. Leading up to the proceedings, the festival has been posting brief interviews with the filmmakers behind each of the ten films programmed on their website, while over at RogerEbert.com, Matt Fagerholm has given a thorough overview of the festival’s offerings, highlighting RAT FILM, WHOSE STREETS? and THE CINEMA TRAVELERS, among others. Also in motion this week is the Paris based doc fest Cinéma du Réel, which Basil Tsiokos previewed at What (not) To Doc.

Here at Stranger Than Fiction, we’re closing out our winter season tomorrow at the IFC Center with Amanda Micheli’s VEGAS BABY, with Micheli herself in attendance for a live post-screening Q&A. Tickets are still available.

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Monday Memo: Hot Docs Announces Award Winners, Hulu Launches Doc Arm, Nicolas Noxon Passes


On Friday, the lengthy list of Hot Docs 2016 Festival award winners were announced. Among the winners was Aslaug Holm’s BROTHERS, which was named the Best International Feature, while Mike Day won the Emerging International Filmmaker Award for THE ISLANDS AND THE WHALES and Nettie Wild’s KONELĪNE: OUR LAND BEAUTIFUL took home the Best Canadian Feature Documentary Award. Getting at the heart of the festival, CBC’s Peter Knegt asked six Hot Docs filmmakers why documentaries matter. On a similar wavelength, Katie Couric proclaimed in an article by Jeffrey Fleishman in The Los Angeles Times that she now sees documentaries are the new journalism.

Plenty of coverage for films that screened at Hot Docs came through the wire over the past week, including a piece celebrating the festival’s Made in Australia program by Monica Tan in The Guardian, and a pair of reviews from Jason Gorber in POV Magazine for DE PALMA and PICKLE, as well as an interview with Joe Berlinger on his latest project, TONY ROBBINS: I AM NOT YOUR GURU. POV also published Jonas Jacobs‘ feature on director Min Sook Lee whose MIGRANT DREAMS screened in Toronto. At Realscreen, Kevin Ritchie interviewed Brendan J. Byrne about his film BOBBY SANDS: 66 DAYS, while Daniele Alcinii spoke with Deborah S. Esquenazi about her film SOUTHWEST OF SALEM. New York Magazine’s Will Leitch called the ESPN series O.J.: MADE IN AMERICA a masterpiece and I had similar thoughts about the Ross Brothers’ CONTEMPORARY COLOR at IONCINEMA.com. Running parallel to the main festival, the Hot Docs Forum saw filmmakers pitching projects throughout the week. Filmmaker Magazine’s Whitney Mallett reported on the forum, as did Realscreen’s Manori Ravindran, in two parts.

Hot Docs may have been the hot festival of the week, but it wasn’t the only one found its way in the news. Amy Taubin had a wrap up of Tribeca in Film Comment, Daniel Walber posted a dispatch from the New York African Film Festival at Nonfics, Realscreen’s Barry Walsh reported that AFI Docs has named Werner Herzog as their 2016 Charles Guggenheim Symposium Honoree this year, and Basil Tsiokos wrote a preview of DOK.fest Munich at What (not) To Doc.

Here at Stranger Than Fiction, we’re prepping for tomorrow’s screening of Rob Cannan and Ross Adam’s THE LOVERS AND THE DESPOT at IFC Center, co-presented with the New York Film Academy. The screening will be followed by a special Q&A with Robert Boynton, author of “The Invitation-Only Zone”. Tickets are still available here.

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Monday Memo: Spring Arrives, Tribeca Comes Under Fire After Programming Illegitimate Anti-Vaccination Doc


You probably already saw, but the biggest news on our radar this week is Stranger Than Fiction’s own Spring Season schedule announcement (if you missed it, I urge you to read the announcement here). To celebrate 11 years of Stranger Than Fiction, hosted by Thom Powers and Raphaela Neihausen and presented by IFC Center, we’ve squeezed in extra films and special events to take our 8 week program up to 11 screenings. Tickets for Stranger Than Fiction screenings are $16 for the general public and $13 for IFC Center members. A Spring Season Pass, good for admission to all 11 events from April 5-May 31, is also now available for $99 ($80 for IFC members).

Elsewhere in there doc world, the Tribeca Film Festival came under fire after it announced that it would be showing a single screening of VAXXED: FROM COVER-UP TO CONTROVERSY, a film co-written and directed by Andrew Wakefield, a discredited British physician whose high profile 1998 report claiming that he’d discovered “a correlation between the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism and bowel disorders” was subsequently fully retracted. First, Laura June asked, “Why Is an Anti-Vaccine Documentary by a Proven Quack Being Taken Seriously?” in NY Magazine’s The Cut. Salon’s Mary Elizabeth Williams followed that by calling out the festival, reasoning that a “discredited doctor’s documentary about ‘the long-debated link between autism and vaccines’ doesn’t belong in respected festival.” Then filmmaker Penny Lane, director of the new film NUTS! which highlights “just how easy it is to fall for a quack, especially one cloaked in the authority of a documentary film,” wrote an open letter to the festival via Filmmaker Magazine asking them to reconsider for the sake of filmmakers everywhere. Kate Erbland of indieWIRE and Michael Hiltzik of The Los Angeles Times joined the chorus of outrage, each outlining the various through lines of dialogue between the press and the festival.

As it turns out, Robert De Niro himself, co-founder of the festival, selected the film for very personal reasons. In his public initial response to the backlash he was quoted by Pam Belluck and Melena Ryzik in The New York Times, “Grace and I have a child with autism, and we believe it is critical that all of the issues surrounding the causes of autism be openly discussed and examined. In the 15 years since the Tribeca Film Festival was founded, I have never asked for a film to be screened or gotten involved in the programming. However this is very personal to me and my family and I want there to be a discussion, which is why we will be screening VAXXED.” Finally, after nearly a week of outcry, Stephanie Goodman of The New York Times reported that the film had been pulled from the festival. Following the announcement, Tom Roston wrote a poignant piece at Doc Soup titled, “Why We Hold Film Festivals to High Ethical Standards,” summarizing that he’s “greatly relieved that De Niro and Tribeca chose to reverse their decision. It’s the right call.”

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Monday Memo: True/False Wraps While a Slew of Fests Announce Line-ups


Photo by Shane Epping of Mizzou News

As you may have noticed, there was no Monday Memo last week thanks to the remarkable celebration of non-fiction cinema that is True/False Film Festival in Columbia, Missouri, which I had the pleasure of attending for the second year in a row. My thoughts on this year’s edition can be found over at IONCINEMA, as well as a trio of interviews that will follow shortly. Despite the festival’s rather small line-up, with each passing year it seems to garner more international attention thanks to its intelligent curation, community focused outlook and baseline fun factor. Steven Zeitchik of The Los Angeles Times wrote no less than four dispatches from the fest, outlining what sets it apart from other festivals, noting formal trends and thematic through-lines, as well as the game-shows and other carnivalesque happenings that only happen at True/False.

A whole host of other True/False round-ups were logged by indieWIRE’s Sam Adams, Hammer to Nail’s Jim Brunzell, AV Club’s Noel MurrayAlissa Wilkinson at RogerEbert.com, and Vadim Rizov, who posted a pair of dispatches at Filmmaker Magazine that focus “on the thorny subject of what happens when documentaries do — or antagonistically don’t — try to serve as compassionate ambassadors to the world on behalf of their subjects.” More specifically, indieWIRE’s Chris O’Falt reported on the emotionally charged premiere of CONCERNED STUDENT 1950, as well as exactly why a handful of filmmakers choose to have their films shown as a one of True/False’s fabled secret screenings before their world premiere at a festival geared more toward sales and distribution deals.

Here at Stranger Than Fiction, our winter season continues this week with a pair of screenings in Gabriel London’s THE MIND OF MARK DEFRIEST, about the legendary escape artist on Tuesday, and on Thursday, a special 10 Year Anniversary screening of the cult-hit documentary DARKON, by Luke Meyer & Andrew Neel, about American LARPers. The filmmakers of both films will be present for post-screening Q&As at each of their respective screenings. Tickets to both screenings are still available and can be purchased here.

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Monday Memo: Sundance Takes On Gun Control Issue


Still from AJ Schnack's SPEAKING IS DIFFICULT

Despite the outrage over racial exclusion in this year’s Oscar nominations and the Academy’s announcement that they will be swiftly enacting a whole host of changes to ensure greater diversity in the make-up of future votes, in the doc world, all eyes have been fixated on this year’s Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. While Anthony Kaufman looked back at the films that had a lasting impact from last year’s fest in Filmmaker Magazine, everyone from Tom Roston to Christopher Campbell, through Kenneth Turan, Amy TaubinTrevor Groth and Brooks Barnes have been listing their most anticipated films of the fest, each noting a variety of exciting docs on the horizon. At indieWIRE, Eric Kohn outlined why Sundance continues to be such an important beacon of cinema in a sea of international film festivals, while our own Thom Powers and Raphaela Neihausen spoke on WNYC this about why New Yorkers should care about the happenings in Park City this week.

Looking at the festival’s lineup as a whole, one will soon notice that this year’s hot button issue weaving throughout a whole host of films is that of domestic gun violence, and not the gratuitous action film type. Leading the conversation are non-fiction films like AJ Schnack’s SPEAKING IS DIFFICULT, Kim Snyder’s NEWTOWN, Stephanie Soechtig’s UNDER THE GUN and less directly, Robert Greene’s KATE PLAYS CHRISTINE. Writing for The Los Angeles Times, Steven Zeitchik explores the depths of this topical programming decision, noting, “When the Sundance Film Festival begins Thursday, it will do so with a rare accumulation of movies about the subject of gun safety. All of them hope to raise questions, if not provide solutions, in a place that has long been a ground zero for cultural movements.” Brooks Barnes of The New York Times awknowledged that “This year Sundance programmers, with deep commitment to freedom of expression, and their selected filmmakers seem to be taking a position that real guns, not the movie kind, ought to be more tightly policed.” Likewise at Nonfics, Christopher Campbell also took notice of the program, stating that “This time it’s about the issue of real gun violence in America — the problem with constant mass shootings and the debate over gun control and the 2nd Amendment.”

Back here at Stranger Than Fiction, we are ramping up for our 2016 Winter Season, which begins next Tuesday at the IFC Center with Craig Lowy’s high flying OXD: ONE EXTRAORDINARY DAY, about Elizabeth Streb’s Extreme Action Company and their attempt to perform on some of London’s most beloved landmarks. Season tickets, as well as individual tickets, are currently on sale. As an aside, I’d also like to point out that this week Thom Powers launched the online home of his soon to be released new documentary focused podcast, Pure Nonfiction.

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