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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Monday Memo: Hulu on a Roll as NYFF Reveals Doc Lineup


Festival season is now in full swing and as further confirmation the New York Film Festival revealed its 13 film lineup for its Spotlight on Documentary. Highlights include world premieres of Mark Bozek’s THE TIMES OF BILL CUNNINGHAM and Tom Surgal’s FIRE MUSIC, as well as a new restoration of William Wyler’s THE MEMPHIS BELLE: A STORY OF A FLYING FORTRESS. Following the close of this year’s Locarno Festival, the festival announced “Lili Hinstin will be the new Artistic director of the Locarno Festival, replacing Carlo Chatrian who is leaving Locarno to take over the artistic direction of the Berlinale. Hinstin will take up her appointment from December 1st 2018, while already devoting part of her time to the preparation of the next edition of the Locarno Festival.” And while it is more a doc professional conference than a film festival, IDA’s Getting Real ’18 also listed its full schedule and boasts of a keynote from Michèle Stephenson, a masterclass with Frederick Wiseman, and a closing night screening of a newly restored SALESMAN on 35mm. The event will take place in Los Angeles from September 25-27.

A few festival hits reached audiences this past weekend, most notably CRIME + PUNISHMENT, another big Hulu release following the success of MINDING THE GAP. The film was selected by our own Raphaela Neihausen and Thom Powers as WNYC’s Documentary of the Week, noting that it “plays like a modern day SERPICO” as it “follows the case of the NYPD 12, who spoke out against biased policing.” In The New York Times, A.O. Scott deemed it a NYT Critics’ Pick, while in Vogue, Julia Falsenthal called it “a blood-boiling look at systemically racist policing” in her feature on the project in which she spoke at length with the film’s director, Stephen Maing. It should be noted that over at Nonfics, Christopher Campbell has acknowledged Hulu as a new documentary powerhouse with a list of 50 of the best films currently streaming on the service, with CRIME + PUNISHMENT sitting at #2.

Next up was Steve James’s new Starz doc series AMERICA TO ME, which also has a connection with MINDING THE GAP, as the film’s director Bing Liu worked as a cinematographer on the series. Sam Adams called the project a “panoramic portrait of racial inequality at one Illinois high school” and a “worthy follow-up to HOOP DREAMS” at Slate, as Jake Nevins joyously unpacks the series in-depth in a lengthy feature that appeared in The Guardian. He comprehensively regales, “Like many of James’s films, AMERICA TO ME is about one thing, a high school, and so much more: those tumultuous, formative years of pubescence; the intersections between race, class and sexuality; the rich but often fraught relations of teachers and students; cafeteria banter; spoken word class; administrative oversight; homecoming and the football team; the amorphous politics of the high school food chain; and one relatively progressive school’s failure to adequately address the achievement gap between its white students and those of color.”

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Monday Memo: Minding TIFF’s Doc Conference


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.

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