Following the BAFTAs last week, where I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO took home the prize for Best Documentary, it seems the every growing sprawl of awards season is finally about to reach its climactic conclusion with the 90th annual Academy Awards ceremony at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood. In The New York Times, Cara Buckley dished a wild yarn on how Russia has been leading a smear campaign against two doc Oscar nominees, noting LAST MEN IN ALEPPO as its major target, “In the Russian media, Mr. Fayyad has been accused of being a Western-funded propagandist whose film is a thinly disguised ‘Al-Qaeda promotional vehicle.’ And, in what might catch members of the academy’s documentary branch by surprise, the film’s Oscar nomination was, according to Russia Insider, clear evidence that ‘the Hollywood celebrity industry is now an integral part of the U.S. state’s propaganda machine.'” Not only is the film being smeared, but the US has officially rejected the visas of the film’s producer, Kareem Abeed, and one of its subjects, White Helmets co-founder Mahmoud Al-Hattar, making it impossible for them to attend the ceremony, reports Beatrice Verhoeven at The Wrap. Meanwhile, the International Documentary Association and the Academy itself have published statements in support of the team behind LAST MEN IN ALEPPO.
In the latest episode of a relatively new documentary podcast called The Fog of Truth, produced by Christopher Llewellyn Reed, Summre Garber and Bart Weiss, the trio discuss the Oscar nominees and a whole host of previous nominees. Other Oscar coverage came in the form of interviews by RogerEbert.com’s Matt Fagerholm with ABACUS: SMALL ENOUGH TO JAIL director Steve James and EDITH+EDDIE director Laura Checkoway, another interview with Checkoway by IDA’s Akiva Gottlieb, a profile on James in The Los Angeles Times by Lewis Beale, an interview with STRONG ISLAND director Yance Ford with Cara Buckley in The New York Times, and a feature in The Guardian by Charlie Phillips on the fact that the “most innovative factual films are often under 40 minutes long – and the best of this growing genre are easy to find online” – including EDITH+EDDIE.
Tomorrow, we here at Stranger Than Fiction have the rare opportunity to preview two episodes of FLINT TOWN on the big screen, followed by a conversation with the filmmakers (Zackary Canepari, Drea Cooper and Jessica Dimmock), a few days before the series launches on Netflix. Tickets for this special event are still available here.
Please forgive my tardiness – it’s been a bit of a busy week for me, trekking from Hot Docs to Rochester’s Nitrate Picture Show at the George Eastman Museum, one of the few venues in the world still able to screen nitrate film prints (now in its third year, the festival showed four docs this year, including Georges Franju’s controversial 1949 short BLOOD OF THE BEASTS). As I type this week’s memo, I’m currently riding shotgun down the interstate on the way to pick up my dog, who had a week long getaway at my mom’s out in rural western New York. Thus, on to doc news!
As Hot Docs began to wind down, this year’s award winners were revealed. Charles Officer’s UNARMED VERSES won Best Canadian Feature, Pau Ortiz’s THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WALL was named Best International Feature, Catherine Bainbridge and Alfonso Maiorana’s RUMBLE: THE INDIANS WHO ROCKED THE WORLD took home the Audience Award, Asaf Sudry and Tali Shemesh’s DEATH IN THE TERMINAL won Best Mid-Length Doc, and Best Short went to Tamta Gabrichidze for SOVDAGARI. At Doc Soup, Tom Roston outilned his festival finds and the Hot Docs Pitch Forum, while Eli Brown live blogged this year’s pitches at The D-Word and Selina Chignall reported on the ins and outs of Hot Docs funding applications for Realscreen.
Tonight we here at Stranger Than Fiction return to the IFC Center with the latest film from HOOP DREAMS director Steve James, ABACUS: SMALL ENOUGH TO JAIL, which tells the incredible saga of the Chinese immigrant Sung family, owners of Abacus Federal Savings of Chinatown, New York, the only U.S. bank to face criminal charges in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. Jill Sung, Vera Sung and Chanterelle Sung, several of the subjects featured in the film, will appear for a live Q&A following the film. Tickets for the event can be purchased here.
This week the Steve James-helmed film LIFE ITSELF about the late film critic Roger Ebert reached theaters.
This week the Steve James-directed doc LIFE ITSELF about the late film critic Roger Ebert hit theaters. In a post for the Chicago Reader, Ben Sachs interviewed Steve James; Eric Kohn of Indiewire did the same. At the Chicago Sun-Times, Mike Thomas also spoke with James. Adam Schartoff dedicated an entire episode of his Filmwax Radio podcast to speaking with James. Writing for Nonfics.com, Christopher Campbell gave the film five stars and called it “a perfect biography of Roger Ebert.” Back at Indiewire, Sam Adams rounded up some highlights from a Reddit AMA held by James and Ebert’s partner Chaz Ebert. At RogerEbert.com, Odie Henderson had another interview with James, as did Brandon Harris of Filmmaker Magazine. At the Sundance Institute’s website, James spoke with Nate von Zumwalt about the importance of film preservation. And at Ascap.com, Etan Rosenbloom spoke with LIFE ITSELF composer Joshua Abrams.
Premium cable network HBO announced that it would set aside Monday nights for doc airings. At Realscreen, Kevin Ritchie covered the news, as did Jessica Rawden of CinemaBlend. Rick Kissel at Variety also covered the development.
For Indiewire, Paula Bernstein spoke with documentary filmmaker Doug Block about why he was not as insistent on theatrical distribution for his latest film 112 WEDDINGS. Block also sat down for an interview with Jordan M. Smith of Ion Cinema.