Following the release of Trump’s proposed federal budget on Wednesday, which lays out plans to eliminate funding for the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Responding to the news, Sophie Gilbert outlined the real cost of abolishing the National Endowment for the Arts for The Atlantic, while the International Documentary Association released a public statement about the future funding for the NEA, NEH and CPB. The Public Broadcasting Service also published its own advocacy site (Value) in the wake of the budget proposal. Turning to Ken Burns’s 1990 CIVIL WAR documentary as proof, Vox’s Alissa Wilkinson also made a strong case for preserving public humanities funding. Those looking to show their support of the National Endowment for the Arts should head over to the Americans for the Arts Action Center, where citizens are guided through the process of contacting your local U.S. representatives about this issue.
After news broke last week of Jason Pollock’s SXSW debuted doc STRANGER FRUIT containing new footage of Michael Brown just before his murder by police in Ferguson, MO, Mitch Smith of The New York Times reported “a lawyer for the convenience store at the center of the accusations released additional video on Monday that he said disproved the documentary’s assertions,” adding further confusion to the case. The video was published by the Washington Post, along with an additional news break by Wesley Lowery.
Here at Stranger Than Fiction, we are nearing the end of our winter season. Tomorrow at the IFC Center, we host very special 20th Anniversary screening of Monte Bramer’s 1997 Sundance Audience Award winner PAUL MONETTE: THE BRINK OF SUMMER’S END. The film’s producer, Lesli Klainberg, will be on hand for a live Q&A following the film. Tickets for the event are still available for purchase here.
As you might have noticed, there was no memo last week due to the fact that I was away attending this year’s edition of Missouri’s hybrid focused True/False Film Festival. As Richard Brody summed it up so deftly in The New Yorker, it’s a festival “governed by an idea, the essence of which is documentary filmmakers thinking about what they’re doing and making that thinking integral to their films.” Maybe more than any year prior, there was a lengthy list of press folk in town to cover the fest, including Vikram Murthi for RogerEbert.com, Steven Zeitchik of the LA Times, Alissa Wilkinson writing for Vox, Jim Brunzell at Hammer To Nail, Vadim Rizov of Filmmaker Magazine and Glenn Heath Jr. for MUBI’s Notebook. I, myself, let my impressions loose over at Nonfics.
While I was away, Chicago’s DOC10 revealed their 2017 lineup. Programmed by Anthony Kaufman, the schedule includes DOC NYC Grand Jury Prize winner THE ISLAND AND THE WHALES, one of my favorites from True/False, RAT FILM and other gems like the Sundance highlights CASTING JONBENET and STEP, which will serve as the opening night picture.
Here at Stranger Than Fiction, our winter season continues tomorrow night at IFC Center with Sara Taksler’s TICKLING GIANTS, which sees “Bassem Youssef make a decision that’s every mother’s worst nightmare… He leaves his job as a heart surgeon to become a full-time comedian.” The screening will be followed by a live Q&A with director Taksler. Tickets are still available here.
You probably already saw, but the biggest news on our radar this week is Stranger Than Fiction’s own Spring Season schedule announcement (if you missed it, I urge you to read the announcement here). To celebrate 11 years of Stranger Than Fiction, hosted by Thom Powers and Raphaela Neihausen and presented by IFC Center, we’ve squeezed in extra films and special events to take our 8 week program up to 11 screenings. Tickets for Stranger Than Fiction screenings are $16 for the general public and $13 for IFC Center members. A Spring Season Pass, good for admission to all 11 events from April 5-May 31, is also now available for $99 ($80 for IFC members).
Elsewhere in there doc world, the Tribeca Film Festival came under fire after it announced that it would be showing a single screening of VAXXED: FROM COVER-UP TO CONTROVERSY, a film co-written and directed by Andrew Wakefield, a discredited British physician whose high profile 1998 report claiming that he’d discovered “a correlation between the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism and bowel disorders” was subsequently fully retracted. First, Laura June asked, “Why Is an Anti-Vaccine Documentary by a Proven Quack Being Taken Seriously?” in NY Magazine’s The Cut. Salon’s Mary Elizabeth Williams followed that by calling out the festival, reasoning that a “discredited doctor’s documentary about ‘the long-debated link between autism and vaccines’ doesn’t belong in respected festival.” Then filmmaker Penny Lane, director of the new film NUTS! which highlights “just how easy it is to fall for a quack, especially one cloaked in the authority of a documentary film,” wrote an open letter to the festival via Filmmaker Magazine asking them to reconsider for the sake of filmmakers everywhere. Kate Erbland of indieWIRE and Michael Hiltzik of The Los Angeles Times joined the chorus of outrage, each outlining the various through lines of dialogue between the press and the festival.
As it turns out, Robert De Niro himself, co-founder of the festival, selected the film for very personal reasons. In his public initial response to the backlash he was quoted by Pam Belluck and Melena Ryzik in The New York Times, “Grace and I have a child with autism, and we believe it is critical that all of the issues surrounding the causes of autism be openly discussed and examined. In the 15 years since the Tribeca Film Festival was founded, I have never asked for a film to be screened or gotten involved in the programming. However this is very personal to me and my family and I want there to be a discussion, which is why we will be screening VAXXED.” Finally, after nearly a week of outcry, Stephanie Goodman of The New York Times reported that the film had been pulled from the festival. Following the announcement, Tom Roston wrote a poignant piece at Doc Soup titled, “Why We Hold Film Festivals to High Ethical Standards,” summarizing that he’s “greatly relieved that De Niro and Tribeca chose to reverse their decision. It’s the right call.”
Robert Durst arrested, photo by Orleans Parish Sheriffs Office
Months back when news broke that HBO was to premiere Andrew Jarecki’s long awaited return to non-fiction in the form of a six part serial mini-series on Robert Durst, I don’t think anyone could have predicted this: Jon Herskovitz of Reuters, Emily Shapiro of ABC News, Ashley Southall and Charles V. Bagli of The New York Times and the staff at Variety have reported that Saturday the son of the one of New York City’s largest real estate barons was arrested in New Orleans on a murder warrant issued by police in Los Angeles related to the death of his friend, Susan Berman. After the fifth episode of Jarecki’s THE JINX: THE LIFE AND DEATHS OF ROBERT DURST aired last Sunday, revealing the discovering of new evidence in Berman’s murder case, The New York Times ran an article by Charles V. Bagli that dropped the bomb that the district attorney in Los Angeles had recently reopened an investigation into Berman’s death. The Guardian also ran a piece on Saturday in which Andrew Gumbel outlines the possibility of Jarecki and his team actually solving the murder case through the medium of investigative documentary filmmaking. The series concluded its shocking six episode run on HBO last night in which Durst unknowingly admitted, “Killed them all, of course”. Late last night, Charles V. Bagli and Vivian Yee reported on the horrifying reveal for The New York Times, as did Ben Williams for Vulture and Jessica Contrera and Peter Holley for The Washington Post.
Jarecki is a Stranger Than Fiction alumnus, with his doc classic CAPTURING THE FRIEDMANS having screened as part of our Fall 2013 season. Our current season continues tomorrow with a special screening of TO TELL THE TRUTH: A HISTORY OF DOCUMENTARY FILM (1928-1946) dedicated to Ali Pomeroy, who produced the film and tragically passed away February 27, 2015 after a 2 1/2-year struggle with cancer. Both David Van Taylor and Cal Skaggs, the film’s co-directors, will be on hand for a post-screening Q&A.
It seems that WNET’s plan to sweep documentary programming aside has been met with a litany of outrage from the filmmakers who’ve long enjoyed the support that PBS’s POV and Independent Lens have lent them over the years. Variety’s James Rainey has the story, in which “more than 2,000 documentarians” – the likes of Laura Poitras, Gordon Quinn and Tracy Droz Tragos among them – “have signed a petition saying they fear that the New York station’s action would lead to the shows being marginalized by PBS affiliates nationwide, slicing into their audiences and crippling efforts to raise money for often edgy, controversial films.”
In response to the criticism, the programmers at WNET have set up what they’ve called a “Listening Tour”, stopping in major cities and hosting public forums to discuss how they can better support filmmakers. At the POV Blog, you can find details on the New York City stop of the tour to be hosted on February 23rd at the SVA Theatre in Manhattan. If you’d like to attend the free event, RSVP here.
Also in NYC, the Stranger Than Fiction Winter ’15 Season continues tomorrow at 8pm at the IFC Center with FREE: CRACK IN THE SYSTEM. Following the screening, there will be a Q&A session with director Marc Levin.