While the midterm elections, another mass shooting, and word that RBG fell and fractured three ribs were all making headline news this last week, plenty of notable documentary happenings were taking place in the background. On Saturday night in Brooklyn, the third annual Critics’ Choice Documentary Awards took place, at which “WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR? took home the evening’s most prestigious award for Best Documentary as well as Best Director for Morgan Neville and the award for Best Editing. FREE SOLO took home the award for Best Sports Documentary, the award for Best Innovative Documentary and was honored for Best Cinematography…the Best Political Documentary winner was RBG. QUINCY took home the award for Best Music Documentary. There was a tie for Best First Time Director between Bing Liu for MINDING THE GAP and Cristina Costantini and Darren Foster for SCIENCE FAIR.”
Two days prior, the Cinema Eye Honors announced the nominees for its 12th edition, with MINDING THE GAP leading the pack with a total of 7 nominations, tying the record for most nominations in Cinema Eye history. The six films up for the top prize of Outstanding Achievement in Nonfiction Feature Filmmaking are BISBEE ’17, HALE COUNTY THIS MORNING, THIS EVENING, MINDING THE GAP, OF FATHERS AND SONS, THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS, WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR?.
Many of the nominees and award winners thus far turned up in conversation with one another for The Hollywood Reporter‘s annual Documentary Roundtable. Meanwhile, Anne Thompson noted at IndieWire that “Last year, the Academy documentary branch had to grapple with a record 170 documentary feature submissions for the Best Documentary Feature Oscar. This year, it’s not so bad: only 166 were entered. The short list of 15 will be announced, along with eight others for the first time on a single date this year: December 17.”
While I was away last week, the Toronto International Film Festival revealed an all-star lineup for its TIFF Docs program, including new works from Werner Herzog, Michael Moore, Errol Morris, Frederick Wiseman and Rithy Panh, just to name a few. This past week, the festival’s Wavelengths program was unveiled and features experimental documentary from the likes of Wang Bing, Jodie Mack, James Benning and Roberto Minervini. And for doc professionals, the annual Doc Conference is set to kick off with a conversation between Werner Herzog and Pure Nonfiction host Thom Powers. The full schedule is available at the link.
In other festival news, the New York Film Festival announced not only its experimental Projections program, but also its Convergence slate, which centers around VR and interactive experiences, reports Kate Erbland of IndieWire. Deadline’s Peter White reports that Sheffield Doc/Fest CEO and Festival Director Elizabeth McIntyre is to step down after three years in charge. Additionally, programmer and film critic Eric Allen Hatch has kicked off a new monthly column titled “Infinite Fest” in which he’ll be “tackling the state of cinema as expressed by North American film festivals”.
Bing Liu’s Sundance Special Jury Prize winner MINDING THE GAP (my favorite film of the year thus far) has finally arrived via Hulu on Friday and has been near universally lauded by critics thus far. In The New Yorker, Richard Brody elegantly praises the film, writing, “…the skating sequences of his documentary “Minding the Gap” (which opens today in theatres and streams on Hulu) have a surging, gliding, soaring, joyously speedy energy that offers a hypnotic whirl and rush. Those images of skating, however, are merely the background and context for the film, and the diverting thrill that they offer is crucial to the film’s substance. That substance—domestic trauma, systemic racism, and economic dislocation—is also the very stuff of society, and the near-at-hand intimacy gives rise to a film of vast scope and political depth.” Critics from Matt Zoller Seitz at RogerEbert.com to A.O. Scott in The New York Times and Luke Hicks at Nonfics have all felt about the same in their warm reviews of the film. In promoting the film, Bing Liu himself has appeared in conversation with Vadim Rizov in Filmmaker Magazine, as well as with Alissa Wilkinson of Vox.
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.