Though the week of Thanksgiving is typically slow going for doc news, it is traditionally the week that filmmakers receive the good news that their films have been accepted to the forthcoming edition of the Sundance Film Festival, which means that this past week the rest of us were graced with the 2019 lineup of feature films. “For the 2019 Festival, 112 feature-length films have been selected, representing 33 countries and 45 first-time filmmakers…44% of the directors in this year’s U.S. Documentary Competition are women; 22% are people of color; 5% identify as LGBTQIA+…These films were selected from a record high of 14,259 submissions including 4,018 feature-length films.” Notable new docs to have their world premiere include Penny Lane’s HAIL SATAN, Nanfu Wang and Jialing Zhang’s ONE CHILD NATION, and Matt Tyrnauer’s WHERE’S MY ROY COHN?.
As is usual, the Slamdance Film Festival revealed its 2019 program in correlation with Sundance’s announcement. Nine documentary features will be shown in competition during the 25th annual edition of the festival.
Holiday season is upon, hence why last week’s memo never materialized (that and it was a surprisingly slow doc news week). This past week however has been bustling with award season breaks, winter festival announcements and a whole host of new films available for streaming online. First off, as has become tradition following the gorging of Thanksgiving weekend, the Sundance Film Festival announced its full 2017 competition lineup, including the US Documentary Competition with new work by Brian Knappenberger, Yance Ford, Matthew Heineman and Shaul Schwarz, as well as the World Cinema Documentary Competition, featuring films by Ramona Diaz, Rahul Jain, Jiu-liang Wang and more. As we move closer to the Trump administration, both Mark Olsen of The Los Angeles Times and Brooks Barnes of The New York Times predict a politically volatile Park City program, each highlighting some obvious hot spots like Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis’s WHOSE STREETS?, which explores the violence in Ferguson, Missouri that went down in the summer of 2014. More titles will be announced shortly. And while Sundance will always overshadow its rebellious younger Park City rival, the Slamdance Film Festival also listed their lineup of eight doc features, five of which are world premieres.
Now that we are officially knee deep in December, film critics around the world are getting antsy to proclaim their picks for the best films of the year. Both the New York Film Critics Circle and the National Board of Review named Ezra Edelman’s mammoth O.J.: MADE IN AMERICA the Best Documentary of the Year, while at the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Raoul Peck’s I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO pulled an upset over Edelman’s film, which was the runner-up for Best Documentary and received a nod for Best Editing. (Side note: Edelman and Peck turned up in conversation with Bryan Stevenson and Thom Powers on race, Trump and doc making in the latest episode of Pure Nonfiction.) Sight & Sound Magazine also polled a 163 critics for their year end lists, whom collectively included FIRE AT SEA, CAMERAPERSON and O.J.: MADE IN AMERICA amongst their top 26.
It’s not just critics that are naming their favorites of the year already though. The Gotham Independent Film Awards took place early last week, with O.J.: MADE IN AMERICA once again coming out on top, while across the pond the British Independent Film Awards gave their top doc prize to James Spinney and Peter Middleton’s NOTES ON BLINDNESS. Looking towards this year’s Oscars, The Hollywood Reporter’s Gregg Kilday considered whether or not this might be the year to see a non-fiction film take home the Oscar for Best Picture. Being that an abundance of similar talk fruitlessly centered around CITIZENFOUR last year, I seriously doubt it.