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.
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.
Still from Craig Atkinson's DO NOT RESIST, winner of Tribeca Film Festival Best Documentary
Outside of Tribeca’s wrap-up and award announcements over the weekend, this week has been rather uneventful in the realm of nonfiction cinema. That said, the 15th Tribeca Film Festival concluded by giving Craig Atkinson’s DO NOT RESIST the $20,000 cash prize for Best Documentary and the Ross Brothers’ CONTEMPORARY COLOR was awarded with prizes for both Best Cinematography and Best Editing. Reflecting on the top prize winner, indieWIRE’s Eric Kohn reviewed DO NOT RESIST, while Joe Peeler of Hammer To Nail spoke with Bill Ross about his award winning color guard film, Realscreen’s Daniele Alcinii reported on the festival’s complete awards list.
In other festival news as reported by Kevin Ritchie at Realscreen, Cannes announced that Laura Poitras’ feature length Julian Assange doc RISK (formally billed as a web series and titled ASYLUM) will have its world premiere as part of Director’s Fortnight, joining Jim Jarmusch’s Iggy Pop doc GIMME DANGER, Mahamat-Saleh Haroun’s HISSEIN HABRÉ: A CHADIAN TRAGEDY, and Rithy Panh’s EXIL as part of the festival’s nonfiction offerings. Meanwhile, Basil Tsiokos previewed the doc offerings at this year’s San Francisco International Film Festival at What (not) To Doc, noting the world premieres of Moby Longinotto’s THE JONESES and Michael Almereyda’s ESCAPES. Realscreen’s Kevin Ritchie reports that Sundance has announced a new development lab aiming to develop projects “that focus on climate change, conservation and the environment, and inspire viewers to take action.” And at indieWIRE, Eric Kohn, Kate Erbland, David Ehrlich and Liz Shannon Miller debated the future of film festivals, discussing current trends and cultural ruts.
Here at Stranger Than Fiction, our spring season continues tomorrow with special 15th Anniversary screening of Sandi DuBowski’s TREMBLING BEFORE G-D, featuring a post-screening Q&A with the director and film subjects David, Rabbi Steve Greenberg, Michelle, Naomi and Mark. Tickets for the event can be purchased 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.