Just as The Associated Press proclaimed, last Thursday the curtain went up on a documentary-rich New York Film Festival and much has been written thus far to celebrate. Richard Brody notes in The New Yorker, Travis Wilkerson’s new standalone feature version of DID YOU WONDER WHO FIRED THE GUN? as a festival highlight, along with Varda and JR’s FACES PLACES. In Manohla Dargis‘s preview of this year’s edition for The New York Times she notes, “One program to explore is the Spotlight on Documentary, which features several worthwhile offerings, including ARTHUR MILLER: WRITER and JOAN DIDION: THE CENTER WILL NOT HOLD, two views from the inside.” Questioning the merits and future possibilities of literary docs like these at LitHub, Craig Hubert writes with fervor, “A writer’s work, or the work of a publication, especially over a long career, is slippery and often contradictory, and demands a portrait that challenges this ambivalence. What we get usually is something that acts as a visual Wikipedia page, a series of bullet-point facts presented without a critical eye.” As has become customary, Basil Tsiokos gave a thorough preview of the new nonfiction offerings at the fest via What (not) To Doc, while at Criterion Cast, Joshua Brunsting listed five recommendations to catch, including a trio of docs that top the list.
Just two days after Esquire published Nick Schager’s list of the best documentaries of 2017 so far, DOC NYC announced its 15-film Short List of Oscar contenders along with its TIFF debuted opening-night selection, THE FINAL YEAR. Breaking the news at IndieWire, Anne Thompson pointed out that “Historically, most DOC NYC picks do land on the Academy’s official 15-film Oscar Short List. For the past four years, the Short List had nine to 10 titles overlap, with four or five titles going on to Oscar nominations. For the last six years, DOC NYC screened the documentary that went on to win the Oscar.”
During the summer, much of the doc world goes relatively quiet, but this week it kicks into overdrive as the fall film festival season goes from 0 to 60 in one week flat. The 74th edition of the Venice Film Festival began on Wednesday with “just over 30 documentary features among its more than 100 feature offerings,” as Basil Tsiokos noted in his nonfiction overview of the fest at What (not) To Doc. In his own festival preview in The New York Times, Nicolas Rapold singled out a few docs – Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel’s CANIBA, Frederick Wiseman’s EX LIBRIS, Chris Smith’s JIM & ANDY – that are set to also screen next week at the Toronto International Film Festival, while others – HUMAN FLOW by Ai Weiwei (which received a glowing review from IndieWire’s David Ehrlich) and the hybrid series WORMWOOD by Errol Morris (who spoke with Brent Lang of Variety and picked up praise from IndieWire via Eric Kohn and The Guardian’s Xan Brooks) – had their debuts this weekend at the exclusive Telluride Film Festival. Following Telluride’s lineup unveiling, Adam Benzine and the fine folks over at Nonfics pointed out that the festival launched last year’s Oscar doc shorts winner and posed the possibility of the same happening with this year’s HEROIN(E) and LONG SHOT. At Variety, Kristopher Tapley discussed the fate of Sydney Pollack’s long embattled Aretha Franklin film AMAZING GRACE, which has been slated for a Telluride debut for years.
Closer to home, TIFF takes over Toronto this Thursday and the Toronto Star’s Peter Howell already broke the news this past week that long time director and CEO Piers Handling has announced his departure after nearly 25 years at the helm. “The urbane Handling, 68, has a lot planned for his post-TIFF life, including a book — something film-related but not personal memoirs — and more of the world travel and mountain climbing that have long been among his other passions. In all, the former film professor will have been at TIFF for 36 years, nearly half his life.”
Giving an exclusive preview of the TIFF Docs offerings, programmer Thom Powers and his colleague Dorota Lech outlined each of the films in a pair of episodes of the Pure Nonfiction podcast. The CinemaScope crew have already begun combing through the more experimental docs making their domestic debut at the fest, with reviews of GOOD LUCK via Phil Coldiron, MRS. FANG via Daniel Kasman, TA PEAU SI LISSE via Adam Nayman, and FACES PLACES by Jordan Cronk. And at Entertainment Weekly, Joey Nolfi spoke with Lady Gaga and director Chris Moukarbel about GAGA: FIVE FOOT TWO, which is set to have its world premiere at the fest this coming Friday.
With no major theatrical releases and a slew of major festivals on the verge of kicking off, it’s a rather quiet on the nonfiction front. That said, the New York Film Festival did reveal its Spotlight on Documentary lineup, which includes Travis Wilkerson’s True/False alum DID YOU WONDER WHO FIRED THE GUN?, TIFF selections JANE, A SKIN SO SOFT, and BOOM FOR REAL, as well as world premieres of Alison McAlpine’s CIELO, Ena Talakic and Ines Talakic’s HALL OF MIRRORS, and Alex Gibney’s NO STONE UNTURNED, which was previously slated to screen at Tribeca and Hot Docs before it was pulled for undisclosed legal reasons.
After revealing its full program schedule on Tuesday, the Toronto International Film Festival added a handful of last minute special events, including the world premiere of GAGA: FIVE FOOT TWO by Emmy-nominated filmmaker Chris Moukarbel, “a rare snapshot of the raucously public music icon Lady Gaga and the offstage woman that is Stefani Joanne Germanotta,” as well as the world premiere of Brandon and Skyler Gross’ ON MY WAY OUT: THE SECRET LIFE OF NANI AND POPI – the program notes read, “Roman (Popi) and Ruth (Nani) Blank have been married for 65 years, but at age 95, Roman reveals a secret that tests their seemingly invincible union, in Brandon and Skyler Gross’ touching portrait of their grandparents.”
Though the Locarno International Film Festival wrapped up a couple weeks back, at the fest IndieWire’s Irina Trocan discovered a handful of films that represent modern domestic life in new ways, including a trio of films to soon screen at TIFF – Xu Bing’s DRAGONFLY EYES, Ben Russell’s GOOD LUCK, and Wang Bing’s MRS. FANG. On a similar wavelength, Cara Buckley thoroughly examined the many current docs that are exploring the pain of racism for The New York Times, noting “A burst of new films, many of them documentaries, are taking a deep look beyond the headlines at the lasting impact that racial schisms and racism have on Americans’ everyday lives.”
After last week’s jam packed memo, this week’s feels a bit light, especially when weighed against the many mainstream headlines fueling my nightmares the past few nights, but nonetheless there is plenty of juicy nonfiction film news to go around. Kicking it off is Jay Weissberg‘s break at Variety that “a jury that included high profile directors Olivier Assayas and Miguel Gomes has awarded Wang Bing’s unblinkered documentary MRS FANG the Golden Leopard at the 70th anniversary edition of the Locarno Festival.” At MUBI’s Notebook, Daniel Kasman, in seeming agreement, intimated that “MRS FANG’s modestly scaled, minutely attentive and intimate focus on the last living days of this grandmother on her deathbed has unusual force.”
Midway through Locarno, Jordan Raup revealed the 55th New York Film Festival main slate via FilmLinc, which includes Agnès Varda & JR’s L’Oeil d’or winning VISAGES VILLAGES. The festival’s Spotlight on Documentary program will be announced in the coming weeks. The Toronto International Film Festival also added a few titles to their doc lineup with its unveiling of its Canadian titles, including world premieres of Alan Zweig’s THERE IS A HOUSE HERE, Matt Embry’s LIVING PROOF, Sean Menard’s THE CARTER EFFECT and Alanis Obomsawin’s OUR PEOPLE WILL BE HEALED. Selina Chignall covered the announcement for Realscreen, and went so far as to interview a handful of the filmmakers to get their opinions on the matter. And last, but not least on the topic of festivals, is Basil Tsiokos‘ doc overview of the 23rd Sarajevo Film Festival, which runs August 11th-18th.
With Telluride, Venice and Toronto just days away from premiering brand new titles from the likes of Herzog, Malick, Morris, James and more, the fall festival fervor is beginning to mount, as both the New York Film Festival and the Camden International Film Festival have revealed their documentary lineups. Unsurprisingly, the offerings are A-list all around. From September 27-29, the International Documentary Association will host its Getting Real ’16 conference in Los Angeles, featuring keynotes from Ava DuVernay, Shola Lynch, and Steve James, as well as live conversations with Mark Cousins, Ezra Edelman, Roger Ross Williams and Julie Goldman. Interested parties can register for the event here.
A bit further down the pipeline, DOC NYC is prepping for their fall festivities by announcing that Jonathan Demme and Stanley Nelson will both receive Lifetime Achievement Awards and A&E IndieFilms’ Molly Thompson will take home the Leading Light Award from this year’s Visionaries Tribute, scheduled to take place November 10. Looking even further into the future, Anne Thompson has published her early doc Oscar predictions at IndieWire, listing GLEASON, LIFE, ANIMATED, OJ: MADE IN AMERICA, WEINER and ZERO DAYS as the current frontrunners. And while on the topic of honors and awards, the Library of Congress is currently accepting nominations for the 2016 National Film Registry.