Monday Memo: Sundance Institute & Kartemquin Announce Grantees


Still from Anna Fitch and Banker White's HEAVEN THROUGH THE BACKDOOR

In the lead up this week’s midterm elections, doc news has been in unusual abundance. On Thursday, the Sundance Institute announced that “Thirty-three nonfiction works from seventeen countries comprise the latest Sundance Institute Documentary Fund and Stories of Change Grantees, announced today. 81% of the supported projects have at least one woman producer or director; 48% originate from outside the US.” Grantees include Lucrecia Martel, Manuel Abramovich, Violeta Ayala, and Nanfu Wang. That same day, Kartemquin Films revealed the recipients of $150,000 in grants, as well as the fact “that in 2019, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation will support Kartemquin’s new Diverse Voices Accelerator Fund, pledging $50,000 annually in grants to fellows and alumni of their Diverse Voices in Docs (DVID) program, a professional mentorship and development program for documentary filmmakers of color.” Those awarded include Kartemquin co-founder Gordon Quinn, Bing Liu, and Laura Checkoway.

As awards season ramps up (and the Oscar eligible doc list continues to expand), it’s always interesting to see what organizations and festivals across the pond rally around. The newly announced British Independent Film Award nominees for Best Documentary are a prime example of how different the results might be from the US marketplace. The five nominees are Steve Sullivan’s BEING FRANK: THE CHRIS SIEVEY STORY, Orlando Von Einsiedel and Joanna Natasegara’s EVELYN, Steven Eastwood and Elhum Shakerifar’s ISLAND, Felip Bustos Sierra’s NAE PASARAN, and Chris Martin and Tom Brisley’s UNDER THE WIRE. Additionally, DocLisboa announced its 2018 award winners, with the City of Lisbon Award for Best International Competition film going to GREETINGS FROM FREE FORESTS by Ian Soroka and the Award for Best Portuguese Competition film going to TERRA by Hiroatsu Suzuki and Rossana Torres. The Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival also revealed that among its award winners Alexandra Kandy Longuet’s VACANCY won Best World Documentary, Nora Agapi’s TIMEBOX won Best Central and East European Documentary, and Karel Žalud’s ENCLOSED WORLD took home Best Czech Documentary.

On the domestic festival front, Dave McNary reported in Variety, “After 18 years under Film Independent, the Los Angeles Film Festival is no more. Film Independent announced Wednesday that it was ending the festival — which had been moved this year from June to September — and replace it with year-round events aimed at building community and broadening its support of visual storytellers.” Frederick Blichert of Realscreen caught up with documentary filmmakers Ashley York and Sally Rubin to respond to the news and discuss the lasting impact of the LA Film Festival on the indie documentary industry.

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Monday Memo: DOC NYC 40 Under 40, Critics’ Choice & Gotham Award Noms


We might as well dig right in with DOC NYC’s inaugural 40 Under 40 list, which intends to shine a light on 40 documentary talents under the age of 40 and includes familiar names like Khalik Allah, Sara Dosa, Garrett Bradley, and Nathan Truesdell. “Notable statistics from the list: 22 honorees are women, more than half are filmmakers of color, and the youngest person turns 28 in November. The final list was chosen by the DOC NYC team of Artistic Director Thom Powers, Director of Development Deborah Rudolph, Director of Programming Basil Tsiokos, and Shorts Programmer Opal H. Bennett.”

In case you haven’t noticed, we are now in the throes of award season and this past week saw two sets of nominations announced. The nominees for the the 28th Annual IFP Gotham Awards were unveiled on Thursday and BISBEE ’17, HALE COUNTY THIS MORNING, THIS EVENING, MINDING THE GAP, SHIRKERS and WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR? are each up for Best Documentary. Meanwhile, the nominees for the 3rd annual Critics’ Choice Documentary Awards are CRIME + PUNISHMENT, DARK MONEY, FREE SOLO, HAL, HITLER’S HOLLYWOOD, MINDING THE GAP, RBG, THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS, WILD WILD COUNTRY, and WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR?.

We’ll be closing out our 2018 Fall Season of Stranger Than Fiction tomorrow night at the IFC Center with Chris Metzler, Jeff Springer and Quinn Costello’s RODENTS OF UNUSUAL SIZE, which will feature a live Q&A with co-director and cinematographer Jeff Springer himself. Tickets for our season closer are still available here.

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Monday Memo: DOC NYC 2018 Lineup & IDA Awards Shortlist Announced


New Yorkers have much to celebrate with the release of the complete DOC NYC 2018 lineup. Featuring 135 feature-length documentaries, 42 of which are world premieres, the festival is set to run November 8-15 at the IFC Center in Greenwich Village and Chelsea’s SVA Theatre and Cinepolis Chelsea. The schedule can be found here. Breaking the news at Realscreen, Daniele Alcinii noted, “World premieres at the festival include two-time Academy Award winner Barbara Kopple‘s NEW HOMELAND, which follows refugee boys from war-torn Syria and Iraq to a Canadian summer camp; Jed Rothstein’s ENEMIES: THE PRESIDENT, JUSTICE & THE FBI, a Showtime documentary series; Havana Marking and Sam Hobkinson’s THE KLEPTOCRATS, following investigative journalists uncovering the intricacies of the Malaysian financial scandal; and Clay Tweel’s OUT OF OMAHA, a coming-of-age tale of twin African-American brothers filmed over eight years.”

On Tuesday, the International Documentary Association unveiled its 34th IDA Documentary Awards shortlist, consisting of 31 feature films and 28 shorts. The final IDA nominations in each of the Feature and Short Documentary categories will be announced on October 24th, along with the Special and Creative Recognition Awards. Those shortlisted include festival favorites such as WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR?, SHIRKERS, MINDING THE GAP and BISBEE ’17.

Our own 2018 Fall Season continues tomorrow night at IFC Center with THE SENTENCE by director Rudy Valdez, who will be on hand for a live post-screening Q&A. Sheila O’Malley of RogerEbert.com called it “A documentary portrait of the devastating impact mandatory minimum sentences have had on his [Valdez’s] family,” while in The New York Times, Ken Jaworowski warns, “You should add five minutes to the actual running time of THE SENTENCE. That’s about how long you’ll need to mop up your tears at the end of this emotional documentary.” Tickets for the screening are still available here.

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Monday Memo: The Return


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.

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Monday Memo: Fall Festival Season Ramps Up, Village Voice Shuts Down


It doesn’t seem quite possible, but summer is sadly winding down. But as most of you know, this means that the season of excellent cinema going is upon us. Later this week I’ll be making my annual pilgrimage to the Toronto International Film Festival for my fall fill of the year’s best films, with a focus on documentaries (obviously). Looking at the fest’s doc slate, Daniele Alcinii and Frederick Blichert collected every trailer currently available for the films in a pair of posts over at Realscreen. Meanwhile, on Tuesday TIFF “announced the appointment of Joana Vicente as the new Executive Director & Co-Head of TIFF, effective November 1, 2018. Vicente, who previously served as Executive Director of the Independent Filmmaker Project (IFP), joins Cameron Bailey, who was previously announced as the Artistic Director & Co-Head, effective October 1, 2018.”

As TIFF is gearing up and the BFI London Film Festival revealed its own doc competition lineup, the Telluride and Venice Film Festivals are already underway. As is Telluride‘s tradition, just before the festival’s start it unveiled its A-list lineup, featuring world premieres of FREE SOLO, ANGELS ARE MADE OF LIGHT, WATERGATE and GRAVES WITHOUT A NAME, among others. From the cloistered mountain festival, Richard Lawson of Vanity Fair reports that “FREE SOLO is a dizzying, fascinating rock climbing documentary,” while David Ehrlich of IndieWire notes, ‘FREE SOLO thaws into a riveting character study during its second half, but the film is first and foremost a peerlessly visceral depiction of what it’s like to scale a 3,000-foot rock.” Ehrlich also reports on Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg’s REVERSING ROE, strongly summing it up, “REVERSING ROE isn’t as probing or profound as LAKE OF FIRE, as moving as AFTER TILLER, as grounded as 12TH & DELAWARE, or as curious as VESSEL (to compare it to just a few of the other recent abortion docs), and it takes some time for its legislative concerns to come into focus. A creatively unadventurous study that never risks being clever at the expense of being clear, the film starts from a macro perspective before zooming in closer.”

Looking at the Venice doc offerings, Basil Tsiokos outlined the films over at What (not) To Doc, “The festival once again relegates nonfiction outside of its competitive sections. While last year’s event saw four of these slots go to docs, this year, only one title, Roberto Minervini’s exploration of race in America, WHAT YOU GONNA DO WHEN THE WORLD’S ON FIRE?, appears out of 21 contenders in the Venezia 75 Competition, and not a single doc is among the 19 films of the forward-looking Orizzonti.”

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