Monday Memo: Oscar Noms, PGA Awards & Sundance Overshadowed By Trump


It’s been an incredibly difficult week to keep up with documentary news, as my normal means of news gathering have been swamped with story after story of Trump’s growing list of executive actions, and understandably so. It’s times like these that make us reconsider the importance of the arts and the industries that grease their wheels. I mean, why read about award shows and film festivals while journalists are being charged with felonies for covering the protests during the inauguration, Stephen Bannon has publicly stated that media should “keep its mouth shut” and the president himself has issued a an order on immigration that severely restricts immigration from seven Muslim countries and more? Because cinema, and more specifically, documentaries, epitomize the human condition, inspire empathy, and more often than not advocate for social change in times of political unrest – now more than ever.

In response to Trump’s immigration restrictions, Field of Vision currently has a callout for footage from inside airports pertaining to the Muslim Ban. Anyone with footage can reach out to contact@fieldofvision.org or share it anoymously in their secure drop. Reporting from Sundance, IndieWire’s Anthony Kaufman, Realscreen’s Valentina Valentini and Vulture’s Jada Yuan each parsed how the festival’s documentary selections worked in relief to the Trump administration thus far. Even this week’s episode of Pure Nonfiction, featuring Mohamed Nasheed, the former president of the Maldives, who was profiled in the 2011 documentary THE ISLAND PRESIDENT, deals directly with the political impact of documentary films and the current political climate we’ve found ourselves in.

Right here at home, we announced last Friday that Stranger Than Fiction will be returning to the IFC Center for our 2017 Winter Season, which begins Tuesday, February 7th with the NYC premiere of Andreas Dalsgaard and Obaidah Zytoon’s THE WAR SHOW, about “a Syrian radio DJ who documents the experiences of herself and her friends as their dreams of hope and liberation in the wake of the 2011 Arab Spring give way to the grim realities of repression, forced emigration and extremism.” Alaa Hassan, the film’s producer, will be on hand for a live post-screening Q&A. Tickets to our opening night event, as well as season passes, can be purchased here.

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Monday Memo: Cinema Eye Honors Turn Ten


Last Wednesday marked the end of a week of a celebratory filmmaker outings for those nominated for this year’s Cinema Eye Honors, which is now in its tenth year of existence. IndieWire’s Eric Kohn documented the pre-award show outings, which included a private visit to the Whitney, live band karaoke featuring the likes of Steve James, the Ross brothers and Robert Greene, and much more. At the Cinema Eye Honors awards ceremony, “Kirsten Johnson’s CAMERAPERSON took home three awards, Outstanding Cinematography for Johnson, Outstanding Editing for Nels Bangerter and Outstanding Nonfiction Feature for Johnson and producer Marilyn Ness,” while “O.J.: MADE IN AMERICA received two awards: Outstanding Direction for Ezra Edelman and Outstanding Production for Edelman and Caroline Waterlow.” This year’s Audience Award went to Clay Tweel’s GLEASON. The full list of honorees can be found here.

In other awards news, the British Academy Film Awards (BAFTAs) revealed their nominees this past week, putting 13TH, THE EAGLE HUNTRESS, WEINER, NOTES ON BLINDNESS and THE BEATLES: EIGHT DAYS A WEEK – THE TOURING YEARS up for Best Documentary. And while Cara Buckley debated whether O.J.: MADE IN AMERICA was a mini-series or a just a really long feature film in The New York Times, Glenn Whipp wondered aloud in The Los Angeles Times whether the film will be upset at this year’s Oscars. A pair of must read end of year rundowns also appeared this week, one from Robert Greene in Sight & Sound and a whole host of cinephilic lists over at Senses of Cinema’s World Poll 2016.

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Monday Memo: Critics Groups Name Top Docs of 2016 While Sundance Drops 2017 Lineup


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.

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Monday Memo: Brexit Causes Confusion and Panic Among Filmmaking Community


Anyone without their head buried in the sand is well aware of the shocking news that the people of the United Kingdom have voted to leave the European Union, causing mass confusion and panic among the filmmaking community. In a shower of stories listing the potential consequences for the financing and development of future films (see European Documentary Network‘s recent survey on the “Current Cost of Making Documentaries in Today’s Audiovisual Market” for a look at that situation before the Brexit)
and the overall distribution processes currently in place, amongst others. Variety’s Leo Barraclough published the first, followed by similarly alarming pieces from The Guardian’s Andrew Pulver, The Hollywood Reporter’s Scott Roxborough, The Verge’s Sam Byford, and the Los Angeles Times’ Rebecca Keegan and Ryan Faughnder. Essentially, it’s not looking pretty. Perfectly timed, Artsy posted a beautiful feature by Tess Thackara on the Ghana-born, British filmmaker John Akomfrah and his new doc-based, migrant focused show at the Lisson Gallery in Manhattan that directly comments on the current Brexit situation.

Days before all of that went down, the Cinema Eye Honors revealed their 2017 Television Nonfiction Shortlist, including obvious choices like Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos’ MAKING A MURDERER and some pleasant surprises such as Steven Okazaki’s HBO doc HEROIN, CAPE COD, USA and the Netflix release MY BEAUTIFUL BROKEN BRAIN by Lotje Sodderland and Sophie Robinson. Paula Bernstein reported on the announcement for Filmmaker Magazine.

This past weekend saw the conclusion both NYC’s Human Rights Watch Film Festival and AFI Docs kicked off and finished in a matter of four short days. Daniel Walber listed his top five favorites seen at Human Rights Watch over at Nonfics, while Basil Tsiokos previewed the AFI Docs offerings and the Washingtonian staff recommended 14 films to see at the festival, including Dana Flor and Toby Oppenheimer’s LGBT-gang doc CHECK IT and the BEST IN SHOW-flavored film CHICKEN PEOPLE by Nicole Lucas Haimes.

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Monday Memo: CAMERAPERSON Comes Out On Top (again) At Sheffield Doc/Fest


Being that this past week we wrapped up another successful season here at Stranger Than Fiction, there was much less doc news than last week’s jam packed agenda, and it just so happens to be my birthday, I’m going to attempt to keep this week’s memo brief. That said, the most reported on event this past week was the Sheffield Doc/Fest, which wrapped up Wednesday evening, unsurprisingly awarded Kirsten Johnson’s CAMERAPERSON with the Grand Jury Award, and gave HBO’s Sheila Nevins the Creative Leadership Award for making “an essential contribution to the international documentary industry.” Alongside Nick Fraser, commissioner for BBC’s Storyville, Nevins also took part in an ‘In Conversation’ event at the festival, which Realscreen’s Manori Ravindran dutifully covered. At IndieWire, Chris O’Falt spoke with six doc filmmakers who have successfully pitched projects at the Sheffield Doc/Fest MeetMarket in the past about what worked and what didn’t. Taking a broader look at the fest, Ros Cranston reflected on the formal and technical aspects of filmmaking that were on display in Sheffield for the BFI.

Just as Doc/Fest wrapped, Brooklyn’s BAMcinemaFest was gearing up. Touching on the festival’s offerings, including the various high profile docs lining the program, A.O. Scott wrote a preview feature of the fest in The New York Times, as did Calum Marsh in Village Voice, Matt Prigge for Metro, the staff at IndieWire and Basil Tsiokos at What (not) To Doc. Tsiokos also previewed the Edinburgh International Film Festival, which began the same day as BAMcinemaFest, and San Francisco’s Frameline, which concludes Sunday, June 26th.

A few weeks back, Robert S. Boynton of The New York Times reported that The Museum of Modern Art had “wrongly canceled the New York debut of UNDER THE SUN, a documentary about North Korea that has been criticized by that country and Russia,” which was previously scheduled to screen as part of the Doc Fortnight festival back in February. According to reports from Graham Winfrey at IndieWire and Artforum, in seemingly reactionary fashion MoMA has fired Assistant Film Curator Sally Berger, who has been with the museum for 30 years and made the decision to pull the film. In Filmmaker Magazine, Howard Feinstein has lionized Berger, lovingly stating that “nothing can take away from Berger’s record of nonconforming achievements, ahead of their time in an environment hardly known for its artistic courage, especially before MoMA’s acquisition of P.S. 1.,” while reminding that she was a driving force in the development of Doc Fortnight and the promotion of postmodern and avant-garde non-fiction.

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