Monday Memo: Nevins to Leave HBO After Nearly 40 Years


After a week off, I’ve returned to a short stack of doc news that packed quite a punch over the last few days. Most notably, Sheila Nevins, the 78-year-old president of HBO Documentary Films, has revealed that after 38 years of devout service she has decided to leave HBO, reflecting, “I have deprived my life of a life. All I did was work. I was, like, born at HBO and I don’t have to die there. If I stayed any longer, I probably would have died at my desk. I just regret that there’s so little time left.” In Maureen Dowd‘s revelatory feature in The New York Times, she notes, “With a storytelling style that grabs viewers by the throat, Ms. Nevins helped change the image of documentaries from stodgy to provocative. And she helped HBO amass such a pile of Emmys, Peabodys and Oscars that there’s a roomful of glittering laurels at headquarters that’s known as the Holy Shrine of Sheila. She received the first Emmy Lifetime Achievement Award given to a documentarian.” In a separate piece, Dowd played Confirm or Deny with Nevins.

Another sudden departure came as a surprise when filmmaker Morgan Spurlock published a confessional piece titled “I am Part of the Problem,” in which he reveals that in his past a women he had a one night stand with believed that she had been raped, and a former coworker was paid a settlement to keep silent about his history of verbal sexual harassment toward her. Christine Hauser reported the news in The New York Times, while at Realscreen, Daniele Alcinii followed the aftermath of the revelations, seeing Spurlock exit Warrior Poets, the New York-based studio he founded with producing partner Jeremy Chilnick, and NBA superstar LeBron James and Maverick Carter’s SpringHill Entertainment cutting ties with the filmmaker on a planned docuseries focusing on the opening of James’ “I Promise School” — a new public school dedicated to supporting at-risk children in his hometown of Akron, Ohio.

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Monday Memo: Sundance 2018 Lineup Revealed


There wasn’t a ton of things happening in the doc world this week, but the unveiling of the 2018 Sundance Film Festival lineup was undoubtedly the most notable. Nate von Zumwalt spoke with Trevor Groth, the festival’s director of programming, about this year’s selections, “A lot of these documentary subjects are so impactful in the fields they come from, but they all faced great struggle on the way to becoming trailblazers. That includes names like Joan Jett (Bad Reputation), Ruth Bader Ginsburg (RBG), Gloria Allred (Seeing Allred), Jane Fonda (Jane Fonda in Five Acts), and M.I.A. (MATANGI / MAYA / M.I.A.).” Festival director John Cooper pushed further, “More broadly, in a year that has rejuvenated the idea of television journalism covering every scandal and every political detail, documentaries are the last bastion of uncovering the truth. Many of the films in these documentary categories serve to provide a deeper dive into these stories – they slow things down so that we can understand the ramifications in our world.”

While Sundance ruled the roost this week, award season rolls on regardless. With a strong and varied field, there hasn’t been any single front runner just yet, as Yance Ford’s STRONG ISLAND won Best Documentary at the Gotham Awards, Brett Morgen’s JANE was named Best Doc by the National Board of Review, and Agnès Varda and JR’s FACES PLACES received the same honors from both the Los Angeles Film Critics Association and the New York Film Critics Circle.

Each year the International Documentary Association‘s “Amicus Award goes to an individual who has been a great supporter, financially or otherwise, of documentary filmmaking. The recipient of this year’s award is Abigail Disney, producer, funder and director of many of the most distinctive and influential recent documentaries.” Meanwhile, Disney herself wrote a public plee in USA Today, begging Congress, “Don’t cut taxes for rich people like me.”

Writing this column each week, it’s become increasingly obvious that things have radically shifted when it comes to which new releases are gleaning substantive coverage and which are not. Unsurprisingly, when a film like Myles Kane and Josh Koury’s VOYEUR forgoes a domestic theatrical release in favor of an international Netflix release, nearly every single one is met with a wave of coverage in the form of warm reviews from Charles Bramesco of The Guardian, Christy Lemire of RogerEbert.com, and David Ehrlich of IndieWire, as well as lavish features in The Atlantic by Sophie Gilbert and Vogue via Bridget Read. Meanwhile, worthy new theatrical releases like Oren Jacoby’s SHADOWMAN, Adam Bhala Lough’s THE NEW RADICAL, and Hope Litoff’s 32 PILLS: MY SISTER’S SUICIDE each received capsule reviews in The New York Times and little more. How do filmmakers get the word out about their films without the help of the press?

Other doc related pieces worth noting included Morena Duwe‘s feature at HuffPost on Andrew Novick’s feature debut JONBENÉT’S TRICYCLE, Phil Concannon‘s appreciation of Orson Wells’s slippery F FOR FAKE found appropriately at Little White Lies, John Anderson‘s look at the making of Leonard Retel Helmrich’s THE LONG SEASON for The New York Times, and J. Hoberman‘s take on the Film Society at Lincoln Center’s new season, The Non-Actor, in The New York Review of Books.

Our own Thom Powers released a new episode of Pure Nonfiction featuring STRONG ISLAND director Yance Ford, while FilmWax Radio host Adam Schartoff is attempting to raise funds to help build a larger audience and expand awareness about the program via a Kickstarter campaign that ends this coming Thursday.

Three docs to watch online this week include GRAVEN IMAGE by Sierra Pettengill, a Field of Vision production published over at The Atlantic, Adam B. Ellick, John Woo and Jonah M. Kessel’s ominous FROM NORTH KOREA, WITH DREAD, showing in The New York Times, and a film I was looking forward to seeing and just discovered it actually made its way online over the summer and I had missed it – Nathan Truesdell’s funny and horrifying BALLOONFEST.

I’ll leave you this week with IndieWire critic Eric Kohn‘s list of top films of the year (including plenty of docs). As always, if you have any tips or recommendations for the Memo, please contact me via email here, or on Twitter, @Rectangular_Eye.


Monday Memo: As DOC NYC Wraps, IDFA Kicks Off


Fall festival season marches on with IDFA gearing up across the pond as DOC NYC came to a close here at home late last week. Despite being eyes deep in DOC NYC duties as the festival’s director of programming, Basil Tsiokos took the time to plot out a two part introduction at What (not) To Doc to the new nonfiction offerings set to have make their debut in Amsterdam this week. He began by noting that “The world’s largest nonfiction event bids farewell to founder and longtime director Ally Derks with its 30th edition, which showcases over 180 new and recent documentary features.” Writing at First Showing, Alex Billington gives his introductory thoughts on his first visit to IDFA. Variety also published a pair of pieces on the festival, including Stewart Clarke on “Young Directors at Forefront of HBO Europe’s Documentary Slate” and Damon Wise reporting on “The Visual Voice, a 16-film sidebar celebrating documentary’s greatest films, chosen by its biggest names.”

Those that couldn’t attended DOC NYC or its professional conference DOC NYC PRO this year would do well to head over to its YouTube channel where plenty of screening intros, Q&As, and conference sessions can be viewed in whole. DOC NYC’s trio of juries announced their award winners on Thursday, with Nicole N. Horanyi’s THE STRANGER receiving the Grand Jury Prize in the Viewfinders competition, James Crump’s ANTONIO LOPEZ 1970: SEX FASHION & DISCO winning the Grand Jury Prize in the Metropolis competition, and Kate Davis’s TRAFFIC STOP taking home the Grand Jury Prize in the Shorts competition. Daniele Alcinii reported on the awards ceremony for Realscreen, noting, “TRAFFIC STOP now qualifies for consideration in the Documentary Short Subject category of the annual Academy Awards without the standard theatrical run, provided the film otherwise complies with the Academy rules.”

Speaking of Oscars, last week at the Governors’ Awards Agnès Varda received an honorary Oscar. IndieWire’s Jenna Marotta recounted the morning after from the La Résidence de France in Beverly Hills where Varda was celebrated over brunch with French peers, as Sam Adams reflected at Slate on how Varda has continuously proven how documentary filmmakers can in fact be movie stars. Meanwhile at Deadline, Antonia Blyth took an early stab at the Oscar race for Best Documentary Feature. Notably absent from that list is Errol Morris’s WORMWOOD. Anne Thompson reports at IndieWire that “The documentary branch executive committee deemed WORMWOOD ineligible for Best Documentary Feature, based on post-O.J.: MADE IN AMERICA rules designed to weed out episodic documentary series. Yet WORMWOOD qualifies in all other AMPAS categories covered by the general submission form: Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director, and all the crafts.”

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Monday Memo: DOC NYC & RIDM Begin!


DOC NYC, the largest documentary film festival in the United States, has returned to New York for its 8th edition, having kicked off on Thursday evening with a rousing opening night speech by Thom Powers. Giving insight into the immense spread of films on offer, Jason Bailey writes his is festival recommendations at Village Voice, “the options are unsurprisingly diverse: explorations of global issues, intimate character portraits, science explainers, true-crime investigations, celebrity profiles, snapshots of New York City.” Chris Barsanti of Film Journal International and Joshua Brunsting of Criterion Cast both surveyed the festival program, while at Doc Soup, Tom Roston spoke with Basil Tsiokos, the festival’s Director of Programming, about how the current state of politics influenced this year’s program. The IndieWire crew listed their 13 most anticipated films of the fest, while the folks at Women and Hollywood have been interviewing many of the female filmmakers in the lead up to the festival’s kickoff and Soheil Rezayazdi spoke with Barbara Kopple about her new film A MURDER IN MANSFIELD for Filmmaker Magazine. If you’re hoping to keep with the flood of coverage coming out of DOC NYC, you might do well to follow David Hudson at The Daily via Criterion over the next week.

Rencontres internationales du documentaire de Montréal, better known to most as RIDM, also began Thursday evening, kicking off its 20th edition with a screening of Céline Baril’s 24 DAVIDS. The film was among the handful of hardy recommendations put forth by Ismaël Houdassine in his overview of the fest at Huffington Post (though you may need help from Google Translate – it’s in French).  “The festival has a double mandate. It’s about showing the best or most interesting international films of the year; and it’s a great platform for local artists,” said programming director Bruno Dequen, with executive director Mara Gourd-Mercado in T’Cha Dunlevy‘s feature on the fest in Montréal Gazette in which he goes on to list 10 must-sees, including Travis Wilkerson’s DID YOU WONDER WHO FIRED THE GUN? and Ziad Kalthoum’s TASTE OF CEMENT.

And while TIFF and NYFF may have come and gone, Eric Hynes‘s rundown of the festivals’ best celebrity offerings via Film Comment is a must read.

Awards season rolls on this week with the 45th annual British Documentary Awards, where the Grierson Award for Best Single Documentary – International was given to Rahul Jain for MACHINES, Best Historical Documentary went to Ava DuVernay for 13TH, Best Documentary Short to Charlie Lyne for FISH STORY, and Best Cinema Documentary to Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg for WEINER.

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Monday Memo: Joan Didion Haunts the Screen As DOC NYC Approaches


This year’s Halloween memo might not as spooky as one might hope, and surprisingly brief, considering the season. That said, award season marches on: Variety’s Kristopher Tapley reported, “The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced on Friday that 170 films have been submitted for documentary feature Oscar consideration.” Of the many submitted, just 15 will make the shortlist and only 5 will receive official nominations or Best Documentary. Within surprising accuracy, DOC NYC’s Shortlist program has done an incredible job of estimating what films will receive Oscar nods, and the festival’s Director of Programming, Basil Tsiokos, has already begun to preview the festival’s various programs at What (not) To Doc, while he, along with Executive Director Raphaela Neihausen, also appeared on Pure Nonfiction to discuss this year’s edition of the festival.

Tsiokos also gave an overview of the 21st Jihlava International Documentary Film Festival, which takes place in the Czech Republic each year, while at IDA’s page, Patricia Aufderheide gave a rundown of the Double Exposure Investigative Film Festival, a “newbie DC festival is a project of an investigative nonprofit, 100Reporters, which publishes and offers to other publishers investigative journalism about government corruption.”

Following the unveiling of the Critics’ Choice Documentary Awards nominations, on Tuesday the organization announced “Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Errol Morris will receive the lifetime achievement award,” reported Taryn Nobil of Variety. With perfect timing, Morris turned up in conversation with Nicolas Rapold  in Film Comment to discuss WORMWOOD, “a four-hour, six-part series that will stream on Netflix starting December 15 and, in a just-announced “non-episodic” form with an intermission, will screen theatrically in qualification for Academy Award consideration at the same time.”

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