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.
Whenever PBS’s long running documentary series POV announces its annual lineup, just about everything has to take a back seat (even Cannes). Its 31st season kicks off this Wednesday with a special Earth Day showing of David Alvarado and Jason Sussberg’s BILL NYE: SCIENCE GUY and continues with its official opening on June 18th with Jonathan Olshefski’s QUEST. The season continues with Viktor Jakovleski’s BRIMESTONE & GLORY, Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis’s WHOSE STREETS? and more.
The Cannes Film Festival also revealed its own prestigious lineup, though as usual the nonfiction offerings are limited at best. Those due to make their debut alongside the glitz and glam (and Netflix controversy) include DEAD SOULS, the latest epic from Wang Bing, Wim Wenders’s high profile POPE FRANCIS – A MAN OF HIS WORD, Romain Goupil’s mosaic of France in LA TRAVERSÉE, and Michel Toesca’s refugee tale TO THE FOUR WINDS, all programmed out-of-competition as Special Screenings.
Our own 2018 Spring Season is set to begin tomorrow night at IFC Center with a very special sneak preview screening of BOOM FOR REAL: THE TEENAGE YEARS OF JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT with director Sara Driver on hand for a live post-screening Q&A. Tickets for the event are still available here.
Still of Laura Poitras' RISK, Art of the Real's Closing Night Film.
While Richard Brody and Basil Tsiokos reminded us that both the Tribeca Film Festival and the Brazilian doc festival It’s All True began last Thursday, both of which are hosting a handful of doc world premieres and festival favorites, it seems that the large majority of journalistic eyes were focused on the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s annual Art of the Real festival this past week. Writing in MUBI’s Notebook, Jaime Grijalba Gómez works through how the program reveals “what is at the core of what we call documentary or non-fiction cinema,” just as Daniel Walber looked at “what critics can learn from [the festival’s] great programming” for Nonfics. Michael Sicinski highlighted his favorites from the festival thus far in Village Voice, including Patric Chiha’s “docudrama about Bulgarian Roma hustlers in Vienna” BROTHERS OF THE NIGHT, which Tanner Tafelski gushed about over at Kinoscope. Additionally, Neil Young spoke with director Austin Lynch for Little White Lies about his directorial debut GRAY HOUSE, as Em Cominotti and Jeffrey Dunn Rovinelli, the co-directors of EMPATHY, interviewed each other for Brooklyn Magazine.
Tuesday saw The Peabody Awards Board of Jurors reveal its 12 winners in its Documentary category for programs released in 2016. Laura Berger covered the announcement for Women and Hollywood, noting that seven of the twelve films are women-directed or co-directed, including Dawn Porter’s Stranger Than Fiction alum TRAPPED.
Speaking of Stranger Than Fiction, our spring season continues tomorrow with Kyoko Miyake’s Sundance hit TOKYO IDOLS, which gets at the heart of a Japanese cultural phenomenon driven by an obsession with young female sexuality and internet popularity. Director Miyake will take part in a live post-screening Q&A. Tickets are still available for this event here.
If you’ll allow me, I will be brief this week. I’ve spent the last five days laid up, feverish and full of yuck, but I’m on the upward swing and there are some interesting bits of news to report. First and foremost, after weeks of teasing with podcast playlist tweets, Thom Powers’ Pure Nonfiction podcast has gone live, both on the web and iTunes, where you can get a brief hint of the documentary goodness to come. Be sure to hit up the site, subscribe via your favorite podcast service and leave him a review to get the new program some much needed exposure. The first three episodes featuring interviews with Kahane Cooperman, Dawn Porter and the filmmakers behind MAKING A MURDERER roll out this week.
Second on the agenda is the online release of AJ Schnack’s shocking Sundance short SPEAKING IS DIFFICULT, which was published this week by Field of Vision. To compliment the film’s release, The Intercept ran a disconcerting piece by John Thomason titled “What We Know and Don’t Know About Mass Shootings and Gun Deaths,” while The New York Times published Mekado Murphy‘s extensive take on Schnack’s film, noting its potential growth as further violent acts are committed. I also discussed the film with Schnack for IONCINEMA.com after it screened as part of the shorts programs at True/False.
This week at Stranger Than Fiction we’ll be screening David Van Taylor’s timely 2012 documentary ADVISE & DISSENT, the first documentary to go behind the lines and into the trenches of the judicial confirmation wars. The film tracks two opposing lobbyists and two lions of the Senate through three contested nominations, each of which inflames passions and provokes surprising conflicts and shifting alliances. Director Van Taylor will be on hand for a post-screening Q&A and tickets are still available here.