Many of you may remember, a little over two years ago the admirable Rahul Chadha, whom manned the memo long before I, announced that he would be permanently signing off. As a budding doc journalist and avid tracker of doc development, I had come to love and rely on the memo for my weekly comprehensive fix of doc news and was mildly worried this helpful resource was doomed. In a surprise twist of fate, at the recommendation of Rahul, I was asked by Thom Powers and Raphaela Neihausen, the dynamic duo behind Stranger Than Fiction, if I’d like to fill Rahul’s considerable shoes and continue on with the memo under my watch. Without hesitation, I jumped at the chance, and to my astonishment, this week’s Monday Memo marks my hundredth. Before we get into this week’s memo I just wanted to thank Rahul for recommending me, and Thom and Raphaela for the opportunity. It’s been an honor and great source of pride. So, without further ado…
Following in the wake of Trump’s proposed budget cuts, Michael Schneider reports for IndieWire that Rep. Andy Harris of Maryland publicly took issue with several PBS’ Independent Lens documentaries at a House subcommittee hearing on Tuesday, stating, “When you produce shows like KUMU HINA, almost a third of a million dollar investment, or BABY MAMA HIGH [which cost] $50,000, which you know $50,000 pays for the healthcare of ten individuals on the Affordable Care Act, I have to respond to people in my district… and in fact they would resent if I was publicly funding that.” That came just days after Raney Aronson-Rath, the executive producer of PBS’ Frontline, published a public cry for help on Frontline’s website in response to the proposed budget cuts. She urges, “If you feel as I do that public media is essential to our democracy and to enhancing public understanding of the critical issues of our day, please make your voice heard. Visit www.ProtectMyPublicMedia.org to both sign a petition to support continued funding and to find information about the ways public media serves our communities.”
Here at Stranger Than Fiction, our winter season wrapped up last week with Amanda Micheli’s VEGAS BABY. If you missed out on any of our winter screenings, I urge you to go back and read Joseph Schroeder and Megan Scanlon‘s recaps of each event, complete with live Q&A videos and more. We’ll be announcing our spring lineup within the coming weeks.
Early in December there is always an avalanche of awards and lists and festival announcements and more, so it’s no surprise that at the top of this week’s news is that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has released it’s shortlist of the 15 films still in the running for the Oscar for Best Documentary. Cara Buckley highlighted the racially and politically driven focus of this year’s shortlisters for The New York Times, while Christopher Campbell outlined where can find all 15 films over at Nonfics. The 32nd annual IDA Documentary Awards also took place this past week, with Ezra Edelman’s O.J.: MADE IN AMERICA winning Best Feature, Orlando von Einsiedel’s THE WHITE HELMETS winning Best Short, and Moira Demos and Laura Ricciardi’s MAKING A MURDERER taking home Best Limited Series. Additionally, IDA published a lengthy interview with its Amicus Award Honorees, Norman and Lyn Lear. Other award news included the European Film Academy naming Gianfranco Rosi’s FIRE AT SEA as the Best European Documentary at the European Film Awards over the weekend, and Cinema Eye Honors naming their immensely diverse 2017 Heterodox Award nominees in ALL THESE SLEEPLESS NIGHTS, THE FITS, KATE PLAYS CHRISTINE, MOUNTAINS MAY DEPART, and NEON BULL.
Adding to the chorus of praise that is awards season, a whole host of best of lists turned up over the last week, each with their own nonfiction infusion. The staffers over at The New York Times, Vulture, Slant and IndieWire, each published their’s. Included between the lists was NO HOME MOVIE, WEINER, CAMERAPERSON, HOMELAND: IRAQ YEAR ZERO, and of course, O.J.: MADE IN AMERICA, amongst others.
Just a week after Sundance dropped its competition linup, its Premieres section has been revealed and features new work from Lucy Walker, Barbara Kopple, Stanley Nelson, Rory Kennedy and more. Shortly thereafter, the Documentary Shorts were also announced. On the opposite coast, the Tribeca Film Festival hired former SVP of acquisitions and productions at Alchemy, Jeff Deutchman as its new Programmer at Large, according to Graham Winfrey of IndieWire. And Basil Tsiokos looked at the new nonfiction offerings of this year’s Dubai International Film Festival, while Leo Goldsmith looked back at his experience at Doclisboa for Film Comment.
This past week, doc filmmakers have been accorded quite lovely news on various fronts. After much public debate and industry outcry over whether or not INDEPENDENT LENS or POV would continue to feature in PBS’s primetime slots, the decision has been made to not only keep them, but to bolster their promotional support, according to reports from both Variety’s James Rainey and Kevin Ritchie at Realscreen. Just the day prior to the announcement, Ritchie had written a fortuitously timely, extensive feature at Realscreen on the incredible success of the non-fiction format on television, while the following day Esquire’s Nick Schager wrote at length on HBO’s primetime success this year – the breaking news seeming only to echo their claims.
Not only this, but Doug Block’s essential doc filmmaker’s online resource, The D-Word, has been given a major face-lift with its crowd funded 3.0 upgrade. Not only is it easier to keep track of all the topics pertinent to you, the site looks a lot cleaner and is now much easier to browse from mobile devices. A full list of new changes to the site can be found here. In addition, Indiewire’s Paula Bernstein caught up with Block to discuss The D-Word’s long gestating upgrade.
Tomorrow, Stranger Than Fiction continues with director Daisy Asquith’s immensely personal story of her mother’s conception after a dance in the 1940s on the remote west coast of Ireland in AFTER THE DANCE. The film screens at 8 pm at the IFC Center and will be followed by a Q&A with Asquith.
It seems that WNET’s plan to sweep documentary programming aside has been met with a litany of outrage from the filmmakers who’ve long enjoyed the support that PBS’s POV and Independent Lens have lent them over the years. Variety’s James Rainey has the story, in which “more than 2,000 documentarians” – the likes of Laura Poitras, Gordon Quinn and Tracy Droz Tragos among them – “have signed a petition saying they fear that the New York station’s action would lead to the shows being marginalized by PBS affiliates nationwide, slicing into their audiences and crippling efforts to raise money for often edgy, controversial films.”
In response to the criticism, the programmers at WNET have set up what they’ve called a “Listening Tour”, stopping in major cities and hosting public forums to discuss how they can better support filmmakers. At the POV Blog, you can find details on the New York City stop of the tour to be hosted on February 23rd at the SVA Theatre in Manhattan. If you’d like to attend the free event, RSVP here.
Also in NYC, the Stranger Than Fiction Winter ’15 Season continues tomorrow at 8pm at the IFC Center with FREE: CRACK IN THE SYSTEM. Following the screening, there will be a Q&A session with director Marc Levin.
The PBS station WNET reinstated the documentary shows POV and Independent Lens to Monday nights this week.
This week New York City PBS station WNET announced that it would reinstate the two doc programs POV and Independent Lens to their Monday time slots after earlier announcing that they would be removed. Realscreen’s Manori Ravindran and TV Guide covered the development.
The year-end lists keep coming. Lauren Wissot of Filmmaker Magazine rounded up her list of 10 Oscar-worthy docs for 2014. At Wired Magazine, staff listed this year’s five most intriguing docs. Writing for Nonfics.com, Christopher Campbell published the 2014 Nonfics Poll of the year’s best docs, with THE OVERNIGHTERS from Jesse Moss taking top honors. In a piece at the Moyers & Company website, Tom Roston listed his top 10 social justice docs of the year. Roston also published a separate list of his favorite docs of the year in a post at POV.
At TechDirt, Tim Cushing detailed a suit being brought against Laura Poitras for NSA surveillance leaks included in her film CITIZENFOUR. Eriq Gardner of The Hollywood Reporter also covered the development.