Sensible filmgoers might hope that with ICARUS and HEAVEN IS A TRAFFIC JAM ON THE 405 winning big last week at the Oscars (read Brian Newman‘s piece on breaking the “rules” to win an Oscar for Short Doc at Sub-Genre Media) and awards season coming to its logical conclusion, we could all take a collective sigh of relief and maybe a ever so short cinematic reprieve, but instead film festivals across the land have either just wrapped, are currently in motion, or are just gearing up. Just last week, Columbia, Missouri’s True/False Film Festival took over the modest college town for its 15th edition, garnering universal praise from Daniel Kasman at MUBI’s Notebook, Ben Godar at Nonfics, and Vikram Murthi of RogerEbert.com (my own coverage of the festival will soon be found over at Senses of Cinema). Looking further back, Dan Sullivan covered this year’s edition of the Berlinale for Film Comment, singling out Corneliu Porumboiu’s INFINITE FOOTBALL and Kristina Konrad’s epic ONE OR TWO QUESTIONS, as Eric Hynes dissected a pair of my favorites from this year’s Sundance in Bing Liu’s MINDING THE GAP and Sandi Tan’s SHIRKERS. As I write, four fests around the globe are taking place, each of which Basil Tsiokos wrote previews for at What (not) To Doc: Miami Film Festival, SXSW, Ambulante, and Tempo Documentary Festival.
Meanwhile, both the Tribeca Film Festival and the Full Frame Documentary Film Festivals announced their full 2018 lineups. Tribeca is holding the world premieres of 12 new nonfiction films in its documentary competition, in addition to its closing night film, THE FOURTH ESTATE by Liz Garbus, about how the challenges of journalism in the age of Trump, while Full Frame has 14 world premieres on its docket, including David Schalliol’s THE AREA, Katie Galloway and Dawn Valadez’s THE PUSHOUTS, and Anne de Mare’s CAPTURING THE FLAG.
Tonight night, Stranger Than Fiction continues at IFC Center with a rare opportunity to preview the first two episodes of one of the most anticipated documentary series of the year – Maclain and Chapman Way’s WILD WILD COUNTRY, featuring a live Q&A with the directors and Executive Producer Mark Duplass. Tickets are still available here.
Following the BAFTAs last week, where I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO took home the prize for Best Documentary, it seems the every growing sprawl of awards season is finally about to reach its climactic conclusion with the 90th annual Academy Awards ceremony at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood. In The New York Times, Cara Buckley dished a wild yarn on how Russia has been leading a smear campaign against two doc Oscar nominees, noting LAST MEN IN ALEPPO as its major target, “In the Russian media, Mr. Fayyad has been accused of being a Western-funded propagandist whose film is a thinly disguised ‘Al-Qaeda promotional vehicle.’ And, in what might catch members of the academy’s documentary branch by surprise, the film’s Oscar nomination was, according to Russia Insider, clear evidence that ‘the Hollywood celebrity industry is now an integral part of the U.S. state’s propaganda machine.'” Not only is the film being smeared, but the US has officially rejected the visas of the film’s producer, Kareem Abeed, and one of its subjects, White Helmets co-founder Mahmoud Al-Hattar, making it impossible for them to attend the ceremony, reports Beatrice Verhoeven at The Wrap. Meanwhile, the International Documentary Association and the Academy itself have published statements in support of the team behind LAST MEN IN ALEPPO.
In the latest episode of a relatively new documentary podcast called The Fog of Truth, produced by Christopher Llewellyn Reed, Summre Garber and Bart Weiss, the trio discuss the Oscar nominees and a whole host of previous nominees. Other Oscar coverage came in the form of interviews by RogerEbert.com’s Matt Fagerholm with ABACUS: SMALL ENOUGH TO JAIL director Steve James and EDITH+EDDIE director Laura Checkoway, another interview with Checkoway by IDA’s Akiva Gottlieb, a profile on James in The Los Angeles Times by Lewis Beale, an interview with STRONG ISLAND director Yance Ford with Cara Buckley in The New York Times, and a feature in The Guardian by Charlie Phillips on the fact that the “most innovative factual films are often under 40 minutes long – and the best of this growing genre are easy to find online” – including EDITH+EDDIE.
Tomorrow, we here at Stranger Than Fiction have the rare opportunity to preview two episodes of FLINT TOWN on the big screen, followed by a conversation with the filmmakers (Zackary Canepari, Drea Cooper and Jessica Dimmock), a few days before the series launches on Netflix. Tickets for this special event are still available here.
Right on the heels of Sundance, the 2018 SXSW Film Festival has revealed its first wave of titles, including the Documentary Feature Competition, Documentary Spotlight, Visions, 24 Beats Per Second, Global programs. Gabriel Silverman’s TRANSMILITARY, Abby Epstein’s WEED THE PEOPLE, Nick Budabin’s CHI-TOWN, Tiller Russell’s OPERATION ODESSA, and Thom Zimny’s ELVIS PRESLEY THE SEARCHER are among the many nonfiction films slated for world premieres.
Docpoint 2018, the Helsinki Documentary Film Festival wraps up today. Basil Tsiokos, in his overview of the new doc offerings at the festival at What (not) To Doc, noted, “Over 75 new and recent nonfiction features, in addition to retrospective programming and sorts, screen at this Finnish event.” Also across the pond, IDFA announced that Syrian filmmaker Orwa Nyrabia has been appointed its new artistic director, succeeding interim director Barbara Visser, who oversaw the 2017 edition after IDFA founder Ally Derks stepped down.
Now that this year’s edition of Sundance has come and gone, Vox’s Alissa Wilkinson has had some time to mull her favorite non-star driven docs of the festival, just as Josefina Buschmann shared her thoughts at IndieWire on the VR doc experiences that were on offer. A pair of notable post-fest reviews also came in on KUSAMA – INFINITY via Stephen Zacks at Hyperallergic, and HAL via J.R. Kinnard of Nonfics.
Let’s not forget that we at Stranger Than Fiction return to the IFC Center tomorrow for our Winter Season kickoff with Roberta Grossman and Sophie Sartain’s SEEING ALLRED with a very special guest in Gloria Allred, the film’s subject. If you’re quick, it’s not to late to pick up a season pass over here.
The end of award season is on the horizon! This week the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences revealed their nominations for the 2018 Academy Awards, which will take place March 4th. The nominees for Best Documentary Feature are ABACUS: SMALL ENOUGH TO JAIL by Steve James, FACES PLACES by Agnès Varda and JR, ICARUS by Bryan Fogel, LAST MEN IN ALEPPO by Firas Fayyad, and STRONG ISLAND by Yance Ford, while the nominees for Best Documentary Short are EDITH+EDDIE by Laura Checkoway, HEAVEN IS A TRAFFIC JAM ON THE 405 by Frank Stiefel (currently streaming via Short of the Week), HEROIN(E) by Elaine Mcmillion, KNIFE SKILLS by Thomas Lennon, and TRAFFIC STOP by Kate Davis.
Meanwhile, the festival fervor in Park City has subsided, with the 2018 Sundance Awards ceremony having taken place Saturday evening. Derek Doneen’s KAILASH, which Daniel Fienberg of The Hollywood Reporter called “an exciting and inspirational look at the fight against child slavery,” was honored with the U.S. Documentary Grand Jury Prize, while Alexandria Bombach’s ON HER SHOULDERS, having received substantial praise from Bilge Ebiri in The Village Voice, Jay Weissberg of Variety, and David Ehrlich of IndieWire, received the Directing Award. Bing Liu, who received the Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Filmmaking, spoke with Tom White of the International Documentary Association about his debut MINDING THE GAP, which John Fink of The Film Stage writes is “a tour de force of documentary filmmaking…a lively, often beautifully shot film about a pit of hopelessness–from dead end jobs to drunken arguments to bad decisions. This is modern day John Cassavetes with tattoos and punk music.” Rudy Valdez’s THE SENTENCE, which was picked up by HBO for distribution later this year, received the Audience Award.
In the World Cinema Documentary competition, Talal Derki’s IDFA debuted feature OF FATHERS AND SONS, dubbed “a vital addition to the cultural picture of the Syrian conflict” by Daniel Schindel of The Film Stage, took home the Grand Jury Prize. The Directing Award went to Sandi Tan for her debut feature SHIRKERS, which Richard Brody called “gloriously, gleefully idiosyncratic, a blend of punk energy and local documentation” in The New Yorker (along with love for Robert Greene’s BISBEE ’17). Though Variety’s Guy Lodge called Stephen Loveridge’s MATANGI / MAYA / M.I.A. “pretty standard-issue on the aesthetic front,” the film received a Special Jury Award, while Alexandra Shiva’s THIS IS HOME was honored with the Audience Award.
Sundance is upon us once again. The documentary films primed to make the most impact in the coming year are having their world premieres in Park City as the rest of us wait in anxious anticipation. In preparation for this year’s edition of the fest, our own Thom Powers interviewed Tabitha Jackson, the head of the Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program, for the latest edition of Pure Nonfiction, while Basil Tsiokos, the Documentary Programming Associate at Sundance, wrapped up his own preview of the festival’s new doc offerings at What (not) To Doc. At Variety, Addie Morfoot wrote at length about how the doc funding group Impact Partners are making an impact on this year’s Sundance.
Reviews for a handful of docs are already rolling in: Maxim Pozdorovkin’s found footage OUR NEW PRESIDENT is fielding a mixed response from folks like Matthew Panzarino at TechCrunch (“too long”)and April Wolfe at Film Comment (“his film tells a thrilling, scary, mind-bending, and often-hilarious story of Russian propaganda’s role in the 2016 U.S. presidential election”), while Sam Adams spoke with Pozdorovkin over at Slate about the film, noting its journey from Field of Vision short to full length feature. Daniel Fienberg was a bit lukewarm on Don Argott’s exploration of LGBTQ acceptance in the Mormon church within THE BELIEVER in The Hollywood Reporter (“The story is good and important enough that those things come through even if the movie around them is rarely memorable”), while at Collider, Adam Chitwood found Tim Wardle’s nature vs. nurture film THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS to be “shocking, poignant, and surprisingly touching.” Similarly, Eric Kohn, writing for IndieWire, dubbed Morgan Neville’s “touching and insightful survey of Rogers’ decades-spanning career” in WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR a “a powerful reminder that he was either way ahead of his time, or too late.” Charlie Phillips of The Guardian found Marina Zenovich’s ROBIN WILLIAMS: COME INSIDE MY MIND to be “filled with genuine affection and remarkable archive footage, but there’s a frustrating hesitance to go deeper,” as Nicole Sperling reported on Betsy West and Julie Cohen’s crowd wowing doc RBG, on associate Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, for Vanity Fair.
Out in the greater world, Matt Zoller Seitz reviewed Greg Barker’s “engrossing documentary about the last year’s worth of foreign policy work during the Obama administration,” THE FINAL YEAR for RogerEbert.com as it finally reached theaters this week. Concluding at Nonfics, Brad Gullickson pins it down: “THE FINAL YEAR is a funeral of a film. Barker may not have set out to process our mourning, but in recording the slow revelation of Trump’s possible/inevitable presidency in the hearts and minds of Obama’s cronies, we are forced to grieve for what might have been.” Dmitrii Kalashnikov’s controversial Russian dash cam mish-mash THE ROAD MOVIE also found its release this past week, gleaning mixed takes from Richard Brody in The New Yorker, Vikram Murthi at RogerEbert.com, and Nick Schager of The Daily Beast.