It should come as no surprise to anyone following the award season happenings that on Saturday night Bing Liu’s MINDING THE GAP was named Best Documentary at the 34th Annual IDA Documentary Awards at the Paramount Theatre in Los Angeles. Other honorees included Floyd Russ’s ZION (available via Netflix), which won Best Short, Chapman Way and Maclain Way’s WILD, WILD COUNTRY, which took home Best Limited Series, and Steve Loveridge’s MATANGI / MAYA / M.I.A., which won best Music Documentary.
Looking toward the Oscars, Addie Morfoot outlined in Variety how campaign budgets and the influx of participation from streaming services has drastically changed the documentary Oscar race. She begins, “There’s no denying the race for documentary Oscar has changed dramatically in the past decade and even more so in the past five years. The reason for the shift? Money…Netflix, Amazon and Hulu all have deep pockets and aren’t afraid to make that known during Oscar season. (This year Netflix and Hulu boast docs like SHIRKERS, MINDING THE GAP and CRIME + PUNISHMENT)”. In contrast, Christopher Campbell imagined at Nonfics what this year’s Golden Globe doc nominees might have been if the category existed.
While awards season continues to heat up as trudge deeper into the winter season, early December is always host to many best of lists critics of all sorts. In The New Yorker, Richard Brody listed his favorite films of the year without order, including INFINITE FOOTBALL, THE REST I MAKE UP, NOTES ON APPEARENCE, THE OTHER SIDE OF EVERYTHING, POW WOW, as well as other more well known docs among his favorites. Meanwhile in The New York Times, Manohla Dargis and A.O. Scott ranked theirs, with a quartet of docs taking Scott’s #1 slot. And at Vox, Alissa Wilkinson dropped a list of her top 11 favorite docs, with a few sadly hard to see picks like Sam Green’s scantily performed live production of A THOUSAND THOUGHTS and the minimally screened AMAZING GRACE taking prominence.
Many of this past week’s highlights are not necessarily exclusively doc related, but they are worth your attention none-the-less. In The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz reported that “On Wednesday, Oscar-winning actress Brie Larson announced at the Women in Film Los Angeles Crystal + Lucy Awards that both TIFF and the Sundance Film Festival in Utah will allocate 20 per cent of their respective press credentials to underrepresented writers.” IndieWire’s Eric Kohn notes, “The announcement came just days after a report by the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative revealed that women wrote only 22.2 percent of 19,559 reviews of the 100 top-grossing films posted to Rotten Tomatoes.” Jenna Marotta further detailed the release, “The report found that 63.9 percent of those reviews were written by white men, versus white women (18.1 percent), underrepresented men (13.8 percent), and underrepresented women (4.1 percent).” Meanwhile at Mel Magazine, Jessica Ritchey took on this issue from a different angle with her incisive piece, “You’re Doing Women No Favors With Your Mocking ‘Ugh, Only Straight White Men Like This’ Takes.”
Maybe the most read pieces of the week came from Eric Allen Hatch, former programmer of the Maryland Film Festival, in which drops a weighty manifesto via Filmmaker Magazine on the future of arthouse programming a-la Steven Soderbergh’s 2013 “State of Cinema” address. “MOONLIGHT, GET OUT, and I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO were not ‘surprise hits,’ they were the triumphant first blast of what the next 25 years of moviegoing will look like. As the successes of these and other films cohere in the marketplace, tone-deaf gatekeepers’ stale assumptions of what art house films and audiences look like will no longer fly—not artistically, and not financially. The reactionary people who, over the past two decades, have tripped up visionary cinema’s path to the big screen with their own lack of vision are on their way out.”
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Entertainment attorney Victoria Cook stirred up much conversation around the perception of gender equality within the non-fiction filmmaking community with a lively Facebook post that was subsequently republished at The Female Gaze as an opinion piece titled “In Reality, We Must Demand Equal Representation for Women Documentarians, Too.” As an outpouring of opinions from within the doc making community hit the net, Cook expanded her thoughts in a follow-up piece for indieWIRE’s Women and Hollywood Blog, “Gender Parity in Documentary Filmmaking Is A Fiction.” indieWIRE’s own Anthony Kaufman responded via a Reality Check’s piece asking if the documentary industry is indeed unfair to women. Cook hopes to continue the conversation in person at a meet up at the upcoming Sundance Film Festival in Park City.
Speaking of Sundance, Basil Tsiokos has been spending quite a lot of time previewing each of the docs hoping to make a splash with their Park City world premieres at What (not) To Doc. In addition, Variety has learned that the originally anonymous filmmaker responsible for the religious cult doc HOLY HELL due to premiere at Sundance is Will Allen. The report from Dave McNary reveals that “his name was kept secret so that he could finish the film while minimizing the possibility of interference by the some of the subjects of the film.”
While Tsiokos, McNary and so many others are looking forward to what 2016 holds, the British Academy Film Awards have just announced their nominations, including nods to AMY, LISTEN TO ME MARLON, CARTEL LAND, SHERPA and HE NAMED ME MALALA, and the National Society of Film Critics named AMY the Best Documentary of 2015. Dan Epstein of Rolling Stone also wrote at length about the resurgence of the music doc in 2015. Looking toward the Oscars and back at last year’s releases, Cara Buckley outlined what it takes for a non-fiction feature to embark on the Oscar race for The New York Times. And, while not exactly dealing with docs, Michael Cieply and Brooks Barnes, also of The New York Times, reviewed the supposed truths on which the fiction features in the Oscar race were built upon and how far each film strayed.
While this past week we saw the Dubai International Film Festival kick off with Basil Tsiokos writing a preview of the doc offerings screening both in competition and out at his What (not) To Doc blog and Porto/Post/Doc wrap up and award their top prize to Zhao Liang’s BEHEMOTH, the Sundance Film Festival continues to hog headlines with its latest wave of title announcements. Included in the festival’s newly announced 2016 Documentary Premieres program is a slew of exciting new works by the likes of Werner Herzog, Spike Lee, Heidi Ewing, Rachel Grady, Stephanie Soechtig, Liz Garbus, Chris Hegedus, and D.A. Pennebaker, according to reports by Kate Erbland at indieWIRE and Justin Chang at Variety. Additionally, the make up of the festival’s doc shorts program, including new work from Jason Reitman and AJ Schnack, was also released this week. In related festival news, the 66th annual Berlin International Film Festival also announced their first five competition titles and amongst them is the ever prolific Alex Gibney with his new film ZERO DAYS.
Looking back at 2015, the awards continue to stack up. At the 28th European Film Awards, Asif Kapadia won Best Documentary for AMY, while the Online Film Critics Association (whom I am admittedly a proud member of) has named Joshua Oppenheimer’s THE LOOK OF SILENCE the Best Doc of 2015. Though it’s been decades since the Golden Globes acknowledged non-fiction features, at Nonfics, Christopher Campbell imagined what this week’s nominations might have looked like had they decided to reinstate the Best Documentary category, noting that under seen crowd-pleasers like Ethan Hawke’s SEYMOUR: AN INTRODUCTION would most likely make the cut. This week Cara Buckley debated the potential final five Oscar nominations in The New York Times, while at indieWIRE, Anthony Kaufman pulled back the curtain on the ugly wheeling, dealing and dining that makes up the Oscar race. And while not specifically dealing with a 2015 release, the Cinema Eye Honors announced that their 2016 Legacy Award would “be presented to Chris Smith’s beloved 1999 documentary, AMERICAN MOVIE, the unforgettable story of a filmmaker pursuing his passion project.”
Barely a week into December and the holiday/award season goodies are already being handed out in mass! While both the Los Angeles Film Critics Association and the National Board of Review named AMY the best doc of the year, the New York Film Critics Circle begged to differ by giving the title to a film close to their hearts (and zip codes), IN JACKSON HEIGHTS. As reported by Andrew Pulver of The Guardian, Ross A. Lincoln of Deadline, and various Hollywood Reporter staffers, Joshua Oppenheimer’s heavily favored THE LOOK OF SILENCE took home the prize for best doc early in the week at this year’s Gotham Independent Film Awards. And to continue the diverging chorus of opinions, Judith Dawson and Louise Osmond’s crowd pleasing DARK HORSE was named best doc at this year’s British Independent Film Awards.
Amidst this hail of honors, the International Documentary Association Awards also celebrated their 31st edition, naming THE LOOK OF SILENCE as the best doc feature, alongside a lengthy list of deserving honorees. In the wake of the announcements, a flurry of discussion as taken place in pieces from Rebecca Keegan in The Los Angeles Times, Nigel M. Smith of The Guardian, Variety’s Kristopher Tapley, Scott Feinberg in The Hollywood Reporter and Realscreen’s Manori Ravindran. In tandem with the IDA Awards, IDA executive director Simon Kilmurry briefly appeared on KCRW to discuss the state of documentaries. Meanwhile, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences released their 15 film Oscar shortlist for documentary feature, including most of the expected contenders, including 11 films previously programmed as part of DOC NYC’s Shortlist section. Stephanie Goodman singled out AMY and THE HUNTING GROUND as forerunners in her report of the announcement in The New York Times, while at the POV Blog, Tom Roston aptly commented on the inclusion of 3 1/2 MINUTES, 10 BULLETS and WE COME AS FRIENDS, and the blatant snubbing of MONTAGE OF HECK and THE WOLFPACK. At indieWIRE, Anne Thompson and Peter Knegt revealed their predictions for the final 2016 Oscar contenders.
With eight films on this year’s Oscar shortlist having had their world premieres at Sundance earlier this year, it’s no secret that Park City has become a major springboard for non-fiction fare. So, despite all the excitement about awards, it was the Sundance Film Festival‘s revealing of their 2016 competition titles that sparked the most interest this week from critics and doc lovers alike. In his piece in The New York Times on the annoucement, Brooks Barnes riffs on this idea, noting that “Sundance, coming up on its 32nd installment, has long served as a launching pad for documentaries. TWENTY FEET FROM STARDOM, which went on to win the 2014 documentary Oscar, was first seen in competition.” Sandy Cohen of The Washington Post and Realscreen’s Kevin Ritchie reflected on the festival’s lineup, while indieWIRE’s Eric Kohn and Kate Erbland listed “9 Hidden Gems from the 2016 Sundance Lineup,” singling out a pair of docs, including the anonymously directed HOLY HELL and Robert Greene’s KATE PLAYS CHRISTINE.