Before we get into the nitty gritty of festival news and theatrical releases, it is with a heavy heart that I share Daniel E. Slotnik‘s report in The New York Times that “Kirk Simon, a documentary filmmaker who turned luminaries in the arts into teachers and brought cameras into the classroom, memorably in an Academy Award-winning film about a multinational school in Israel, died on April 14 in Manhattan. He was 63. His brother, Ron, said Mr. Simon suffered cardiac arrest and was declared dead after he was taken to a hospital. Mr. Simon directed and produced documentaries for PBS, National Geographic and HBO, tackling a wide range of topics. But he often returned to education, as he and his creative partner, Karen Goodman, his first wife, did in 2010 with STRANGERS NO MORE, which won the Oscar for best short documentary.”
Last week, the Peabody Awards Board of Jurors revealed their 19 nominees for its Documentary category and just days later they whittled down that list to 9 winners: AMERICA REFRAMED: DEEJ, AMERICAN MASTERS: MAYA ANGELOU: AND STILL I RISE, CHASING CORAL, INDEPENDENT LENS: NEWTOWN, INDIVISIBLE, LAST MEN IN ALEPPO, OKLAHOMA CITY, THE ISLAND AND THE WHALES, and TIME: THE KALIEF BROWDER STORY.
Our 2018 Spring Season of Stranger Than Fiction continues tomorrow evening at IFC Center with Sam Green’s Oscar nominated portrait of troubled and revolutionary times THE WEATHER UNDERGROUND. Director Sam Green and producer Carrie Lozano will be on hand for a live post-screening Q&A. Tickets are still available here.
Comedian Tig Notaro hosting the 2015 Sundance Film Festival Award Ceremony
As is to be expected during a week in which Sundance, Slamdance and Rotterdam all run in parallel, an avalanche of wonderful coverage, interviews and reviews has been sliding out of Park City all week, but before I attempt to sort through the good, the bad and the ugly of that whole situation, I’d first like to remind you that the Winter ’15 season of Stranger Than Fiction is set to kick off tomorrow evening at the IFC Center in NYC at 8 pm with THE HAND THAT FEEDS. Directors Rachel Lears and Robin Blotnick, as well as film subject Mahoma López are set to appear for a post screening Q&A. If you like, you can purchase tickets in advance here.
I’d also like to point out that a handful of non-fiction films, mostly shorts, quietly found their way onto the interwebs this week, most excitingly a new politically incisive, online-only BBC released feature by director Adam Curtis, entitled BITTER LAKE. Writing for RT, Tony Gosling examined Curtis’ prior work and the reasoning behind an online-only release. A new entry into the Profiles By Vice series entitled THE LEGEND OF CAMBO, directed by none other than Harmony Korine, also found its way into the world. For Newsweek, Stav Ziv highlighted the online release of ANATOMY OF A SNOW DAY, a short directed by a 12 year old named Zachary Maxwell, which had its world premiere last year at DOC NYC. A pair of shorts in Joe Callander’s MIDNIGHT THREE & SIX and Elizabeth Lo’s HOTEL 22 also made their debut as part of the ongoing New York Times Op-Docs series. And while on the topic of Op-Docs, Heather McIntosh of the POV Documentary Site Blog wrote a piece on the coming semester in which she intends to teach a junior-level course in news writing and reporting based around the series.
And lastly before we get to a wealth of festival coverage, a slew of great articles regarding the development and promotion of documentaries and documentary filmmaking were also published this week. Leading off, an article by Katharine Relth which was published on the IDA blog gives a list of helpful tips for creating a sustainable doc career. Director and critic Charlie Lyne took to his Ultra Culture blog to list 10 things he learned while self-releasing his raucously fun essay film BEYOND CLUELESS in the UK. In great news for doc development, Sundance has announced the groundbreaking new Transparency Project as part of their #ArtistServices Workshop “that will allow aggregated film financial data to be shared among producers and filmmakers using an online analytics tool”. Scott Macaulay of Filmmaker Magazine has the in-depth story. Lastly, as quoted from Adam Benzine‘s report at Realscreen states,”The Independent Television Service (ITVS) and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation have formed a partnership to encourage collaboration between journalists and indie filmmakers”. Exciting opportunities on the development horizon!
This week the documentary community lost Robert Drew, one of the forces behind the American cinema verite movement.
This week saw the loss of Robert Drew, widely credited as one of the major creative forces behind the creation of the American Cinema Verite movement. At the New York Times, Bruce Weber penned an obituary of Drew; the Times also published an obit from the Associated Press. A statement from Drew’s family was released on the the International Documentary Association (IDA) website. Drew was also remembered by Richard Brody of the New Yorker, while Adam Benzine of Realscreen penned his own obit. At Fandor, a 2003 interview of Drew conducted by John Marlow was republished, while Filmmaker Magazine’s Vadim Rizov wrote about him. Film First shared some advice from Drew that was included in the book “Tell Me Something.” A 2001 piece from Drew about storytelling published by Nieman Reports also made the social media rounds.
Filmmaker Harun Farocki also passed away this week, with Alexander Forbes of Artnet marking the news. David Hudson of Fandor also remembered Farocki, while Margalit Fox wrote an obit at the New York Times.
The Toronto International Film Festival announced its doc lineup this week. At Indiewire, Anne Thompson provided a quick overview of the festival. Sarah Salovaraa of Indiewire fame was also able to provide a roundup of new additions to the festival.
The new film FED UP reached theaters this week.
This week the new doc FED UP from director Stephanie Soechtig bowed at theaters, drawing a fair amount of attention in the process. At Variety, Malina Saval had a capsule review and a quote from Soechtig, while The Economist reviewed the film. Nathan Rabin pulled the same duty at The Dissolve. And Jordan M. Smith of Ion Cinema interviewed Soechtig and producers Laurie David and Heather Reisman.
Netflix again made news this week by acquiring a new slate of docs, among them E-TEAM from directors Ross Kauffman and Kate Chevigny. At Realscreen, Adam Benzine had the details, as did the Associated Press. At the Los Angeles Times, Joe Flint focused on the acquisition of THE BATTERED BASTARDS OF BASEBALL.
In other distro news, Manori Ravindran of Realscreen reported that Lionsgate was in talks to release the film AMERICA: IMAGINE A WORLD WITHOUT HER from filmmaker John Sullivan and writer Dinesh D’Souza. Realscreen colleague Kevin Ritchie had the news that Kino Lorber had snagged North American rights for the the new Alex Gibney film, FINDING FELA.
This week Stranger Than Fiction hosts the new Joe Berlinger film, WHITEY: THE UNITED STATES V. JAMES J. BULGER at the IFC Center on Tuesday, May 13 at 8 p.m. The film follows the trial of gangster James “Whitey” Bulger. Berlinger will be in attendance for a Q&A session following the film. For more information or to purchase tickets please go here.
The film DRAGON GIRLS from director Inigo Westmeier was an award-winner at this year's Hot Docs.
Canada’s Hot Docs festival concluded its 2013 run this week. Etan Vlessing of The Hollywood Reporter had details on the festival’s award winners, with international feature doc award going to director Inigo Westmeier for DRAGON GIRLS and a special jury prize awarded to Zhu Yu for CLOUDY MOUNTAINS. At Realscreen, Adam Benzine interviewed Canadian doc filmmaker Alan Zweig, who showed his film 15 REASONS TO LIVE in Toronto. Benzine also spoke with director A.J. Schnack, who screened two films at Hot Docs: WE ALWAYS LIE TO STRANGERS and CAUCUS. At the POV blog, Tom Roston shared his own take on CAUCUS. Benzine’s colleague Kevin Ritchie covered director Ondi Timoner’s keynote presentation at the festival.
Jennifer Clibbon covered the thread of Russian docs running through Hot Docs for the CBC blog The Buzz. Writing for the Documentary Channel blog, Christopher Campbell shared his festival experience. Peter Knegt of Indiewire teased out 10 highlights from John Sloss’s doc master class. And at Filmmaker Magazine, Allan Tong spoke to D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus about the 20th anniversary screening of their doc classic WAR ROOM at Hot Docs. This time writing for Film School Rejects, Christopher Campbell reviewed the film THE EXPEDITION TO THE END OF THE WORLD from Daniel Dencik. And back at the POV blog, Tom Roston put out another call for improved documentary criticism. Also, in The New York Times, Roston wrote about UNCLAIMED by director Michael Jorgenson, a film whose main subject’s claims are being refuted by the U.S. government.
There was other big doc news out of Canada this week, namely that the National Film Board of Canada planned to create an online subscription service for streaming docs, i.e. the Netflix of documentary. Kate Taylor of the Globe and Mail reported on the details, as did Kelly Anderson of Realscreen and Jennie Punter of Variety.
This week Stranger Than Fiction is hosting director Robert Stone’s film PANDORA’S PROMISE, about the embrace of nuclear power by some of its strongest former opponents. The film is screening on Tuesday, May 7 at 8pm at the IFC Center in Manhattan, and will be followed by a Q&A with Stone. For more information and to purchase tickets please go here.