It will be a busy week for film festival goers, with New York’s Human Rights Watch Film Festival, Sheffield Doc/Fest and the long running Sydney Film Festival all having begun late last week and running though the end of this weekend. Basil Tsiokos outlined the new non-fiction offerings for each festival over at his What (not) To Doc blog, just as Joshua Brunsting previewed the films at the 28th edition of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival and Tom Roston spoke with the festival’s senior programmer, Leah Sapin, about this year’s curatorial focus on empowerment for Salon. Writing for The Star, Graham Walker listed twenty things to see and do this year at Sheffield Doc/Fest, while Matt Turner looked at how a trio of docs are challenging the narrative around the Syria crisis for Little White Lies. Covering the Sydney Film Festival, the fine folks at 4:3 have already published Ivan Čerečina‘s review of AUSTERLITZ and Anders Furze‘s take on KING OF THE BELGIANS.
Last Thursday, the Sundance Institute “announced the eight projects selected for its annual Documentary Edit and Story Labs, taking place in two sessions at the Sundance Resort in Utah from June 23-July 1 and July 7-15.” Projects selected include IMPEACHMENT by Brazilian director Petra Costa and editor Jordana Berg, and PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF DESIRE by director Hao Wu and editor Nanfu Wang. IndieWire’s Kate Erbland dissected the announcement, noting that projects “explore such timely themes as modern day lynchings, the Dakota Access Pipeline, impeachment, immigration detention centers, and more.” Looking back at the Sundance Documentary Film Program and the Karen Schmeer Film Editing Fellowship’s 3rd annual Contemplating the Cut series, which took place back at the beginning of April, Colin Nusbaum outlined his tips and takeaways for doc editors over at the POV Blog.
A week has passed since the curtains closed on Hot Docs 2017, but coverage of the festival continues to roll in. Both Anthony Kaufman and Anne Thompson reported on the twenty projects that were proposed to funders and broadcasters at the Hot Docs Pitch Forum for IndieWire, noting their favorite projects of prior iterations (STRONG ISLAND, BILL NYE: SCIENCE GUY) and promising projects from this year’s edition (Elan and Jonathan Bogarín’s 306 HOLLYWOOD, Robert Greene’s BISBEE ’17), while Corey Atad‘s festival dispatch turned up at Vice and my report on the under-covered highlights of the festival was published over at Nonfics.
Tel Aviv’s19th annual Docaviv and Ecuador’s EDOC (Encuentros del Otro Cine) are both currently underway, as Basil Tsiokos reminds at What (not) To Doc, but stateside doc lovers have their attention focused on the fact that AFI DOCS (running June 14-18) and the LA Film Festival (June 14-22) have revealed their 2017 lineups. Meanwhile on the other side of the globe, the Sydney Film Festival (running June 7-18) also announced their 2017 program.
After taking home the Special Jury Prize for inspirational documentary filmmaking, Amanda Lipitz’s STEP is getting a sneak peak screening tomorrow at IFC Center as part of our spring season! Director Lipitz will be on hand for a live post-screening Q&A. Tickets for the event are on sale here.
Please forgive my tardiness – it’s been a bit of a busy week for me, trekking from Hot Docs to Rochester’s Nitrate Picture Show at the George Eastman Museum, one of the few venues in the world still able to screen nitrate film prints (now in its third year, the festival showed four docs this year, including Georges Franju’s controversial 1949 short BLOOD OF THE BEASTS). As I type this week’s memo, I’m currently riding shotgun down the interstate on the way to pick up my dog, who had a week long getaway at my mom’s out in rural western New York. Thus, on to doc news!
As Hot Docs began to wind down, this year’s award winners were revealed. Charles Officer’s UNARMED VERSES won Best Canadian Feature, Pau Ortiz’s THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WALL was named Best International Feature, Catherine Bainbridge and Alfonso Maiorana’s RUMBLE: THE INDIANS WHO ROCKED THE WORLD took home the Audience Award, Asaf Sudry and Tali Shemesh’s DEATH IN THE TERMINAL won Best Mid-Length Doc, and Best Short went to Tamta Gabrichidze for SOVDAGARI. At Doc Soup, Tom Roston outilned his festival finds and the Hot Docs Pitch Forum, while Eli Brown live blogged this year’s pitches at The D-Word and Selina Chignall reported on the ins and outs of Hot Docs funding applications for Realscreen.
Tonight we here at Stranger Than Fiction return to the IFC Center with the latest film from HOOP DREAMS director Steve James, ABACUS: SMALL ENOUGH TO JAIL, which tells the incredible saga of the Chinese immigrant Sung family, owners of Abacus Federal Savings of Chinatown, New York, the only U.S. bank to face criminal charges in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. Jill Sung, Vera Sung and Chanterelle Sung, several of the subjects featured in the film, will appear for a live Q&A following the film. Tickets for the event can be purchased here.
I’m currently writing to you in between Hot Docs screenings from the Luma cafe inside Toronto’s beautiful and overwhelming TIFF Bell Lightbox (see Basil Tsiokos‘ thorough preview of the festival at What (not) To Doc). With that in mind, this week’s memo will be condensed, forgoing theatrical coverage to focus on the bigger stuff. Tragically, the most notable news this week is that Jonathan Demme, filmmaker and friend of Stranger Than Fiction, has died at the age of 73 of complications from esophageal cancer. Last fall, we devoted our entire fall season to an extensive retrospective of his documentary work, just after DOC NYC honored Demme with their Visionaries Tribute Lifetime Achievement Award (watch his acceptance speech here).
Following Demme’s passing, an outpouring of remembrances appeared online. At the Toronto International Film Festival webpage, our own Thom Powers‘ lamented that documentary filmmaking had became Jonathan Demme’s oxygen, while at RogerEbert.com, Matt Zoller Seitz wrote that he believed “Demme was at his purest when his films were the most stripped-down, when he was making documentaries or performance-driven nonfiction,” noting that “Demme made 15 feature-length nonfiction films; seven were documentaries about musical performers, including his final directorial credit, JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE + THE TENNESSEE KIDS.” David Byrne, the subject of Demme’s breakthrough STOP MAKING SENSE, composed a touching tribute, writing, “The documentaries are pure labors of love. They tend to be celebrations of unsung heroes—an agronomist in Haiti, an activist (cousin) and pastor and an ordinary woman who does extraordinary things in New Orleans post-Katrina.” Other tributes came in from Bilge Ebiri at the Village Voice, David Sims in The Atlantic, Brent Lang and Carmel Dagan at Variety, Bruce Weber of The New York Times, Sam Adams at Slate, Glenn Kenny at Vanity Fair, and The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw.
Tomorrow Strangers Than Fiction returns to the IFC Center with Morgan Pehme, Dylan Bank and Daniel DiMauro’s GET ME ROGER STONE, an up-close look into the rise of the infamous Roger Stone and the transformation of American Politics. The directorial trio, along with executive producer Blair Foster, will all be in attendance for a live post-screening Q&A. Tickets are available here.
Still of Laura Poitras' RISK, Art of the Real's Closing Night Film.
While Richard Brody and Basil Tsiokos reminded us that both the Tribeca Film Festival and the Brazilian doc festival It’s All True began last Thursday, both of which are hosting a handful of doc world premieres and festival favorites, it seems that the large majority of journalistic eyes were focused on the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s annual Art of the Real festival this past week. Writing in MUBI’s Notebook, Jaime Grijalba Gómez works through how the program reveals “what is at the core of what we call documentary or non-fiction cinema,” just as Daniel Walber looked at “what critics can learn from [the festival’s] great programming” for Nonfics. Michael Sicinski highlighted his favorites from the festival thus far in Village Voice, including Patric Chiha’s “docudrama about Bulgarian Roma hustlers in Vienna” BROTHERS OF THE NIGHT, which Tanner Tafelski gushed about over at Kinoscope. Additionally, Neil Young spoke with director Austin Lynch for Little White Lies about his directorial debut GRAY HOUSE, as Em Cominotti and Jeffrey Dunn Rovinelli, the co-directors of EMPATHY, interviewed each other for Brooklyn Magazine.
Tuesday saw The Peabody Awards Board of Jurors reveal its 12 winners in its Documentary category for programs released in 2016. Laura Berger covered the announcement for Women and Hollywood, noting that seven of the twelve films are women-directed or co-directed, including Dawn Porter’s Stranger Than Fiction alum TRAPPED.
Speaking of Stranger Than Fiction, our spring season continues tomorrow with Kyoko Miyake’s Sundance hit TOKYO IDOLS, which gets at the heart of a Japanese cultural phenomenon driven by an obsession with young female sexuality and internet popularity. Director Miyake will take part in a live post-screening Q&A. Tickets are still available for this event here.