Monday Memo: Wang Bing Wins Golden Leopard as TIFF Adds Canadian Docs


After last week’s jam packed memo, this week’s feels a bit light, especially when weighed against the many mainstream headlines fueling my nightmares the past few nights, but nonetheless there is plenty of juicy nonfiction film news to go around. Kicking it off is Jay Weissberg‘s break at Variety that “a jury that included high profile directors Olivier Assayas and Miguel Gomes has awarded Wang Bing’s unblinkered documentary MRS FANG the Golden Leopard at the 70th anniversary edition of the Locarno Festival.” At MUBI’s Notebook, Daniel Kasman, in seeming agreement, intimated that “MRS FANG’s modestly scaled, minutely attentive and intimate focus on the last living days of this grandmother on her deathbed has unusual force.”

Midway through Locarno, Jordan Raup revealed the 55th New York Film Festival main slate via FilmLinc, which includes Agnès Varda & JR’s L’Oeil d’or winning VISAGES VILLAGES. The festival’s Spotlight on Documentary program will be announced in the coming weeks. The Toronto International Film Festival also added a few titles to their doc lineup with its unveiling of its Canadian titles, including world premieres of Alan Zweig’s THERE IS A HOUSE HERE, Matt Embry’s LIVING PROOF, Sean Menard’s THE CARTER EFFECT and Alanis Obomsawin’s OUR PEOPLE WILL BE HEALED. Selina Chignall covered the announcement for Realscreen, and went so far as to interview a handful of the filmmakers to get their opinions on the matter. And last, but not least on the topic of festivals, is Basil Tsiokos‘ doc overview of the 23rd Sarajevo Film Festival, which runs August 11th-18th.

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Monday Memo: TIFF Docs Announced as New Report Questions Sustainability of Doc Industry


Last Tuesday saw the Toronto International Film Festival reveal its 2017 TIFF Docs lineup, programmed by our very own Thom Powers. The 22-film program centers around world premieres of new works by Brett Morgan, Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, Morgan Spurlock, Sam Pollard, Sophie Fiennes, Matt Tyrnauer and “goes deep into the lives of boundary-pushing characters — Grace Jones, Jim Carrey, Jane Goodall, and Eric Clapton, to name only a few of the most famous.” In his overview of the selections at Doc Soup, Tom Roston notes that there are 20% less films on this year’s slate than last year, but notes that it “is so power packed that it may well provide the tipping point for awards season.” Anne Thompson also weighed in on the selections at IndieWire, picking out ten films that already have the potential to shake up this year’s Oscars, pointing out that “the race always begins at Sundance, but…this year, without clear frontrunners, TIFF’s influence will be greater than ever.” Meanwhile at Realscreen, Meagan Kashty spoke with Thom Powers himself about this year’s selections.

In other festival news, according to Brian Steinberg of Variety, NBC’s ‘Meet the Press’ and the American Film Institute have teamed up “for a film festival to be held in November in Washington D.C….The ‘Meet the Press’ film festival will feature contemporary documentaries of 40 minutes in length or less that focus on untold stories of American politics.” As always, Basil Tsiokos has given a trio of overviews of the non-fiction offerings at festivals currently running around the globe, including Kosovo’s Dokufest, Switzerland’s Locarno Film Festival, and Australia’s Melbourne International Film Festival, the latter of which was covered by the fine folks over at 4:3, whom listed their favorites from the fest so far.

In a collaborative effort between the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the International Documentary Association (IDA), a new report titled “State of the Field: A Report from the Documentary Sustainability Summit” was made public this week. The work begins, “Comprised of voices from the field, the following report represents a reflection of the day-today realities of maintaining a documentary career in an ever-changing cultural and business marketplace. Accompanied by recommendations throughout, these reflections are aimed to empower the documentary community (and related stakeholders) to assert agency in shaping a forward-thinking future that re-envisions current systems.” Additionally, the NEA will offer four free webinars that provide opportunities for the public to engage with experts in the field, beginning with a Report Overview on Thursday, August 10th. Complete webinar schedule and details can be found here.

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Monday Memo: TIFF Wraps Up, Cinema Eye Announces Shorts List


Like so many in the business of film making, curating, critiquing or just consuming, I’m feeling a little overstimulated after 11 days of movie-going at the Toronto International Film Festival, but in a good way. I managed to catch 46 films of the 296 features on offer this year, 19 of which were docs, many of which were outstanding. I managed to log a trio of reviews over at IONCINEMA, while an avalanche of doc coverage was amassed at outlets like Nonfics, POV Magazine, and Cinema Scope, among countless others. Found in the mix was Amy Kaufman’s extensive takes on RATS and AMANDA KNOX, and Steven Zeitchik‘s review of BEFORE THE FLOOD, all for the LA Times, while The Guardian’s Benjamin Lee also ruminated on AMANDA KNOX.  At Realscreen, Jonathan Paul spoke with Errol Morris about his latest, THE B-SIDE: ELSA DORFMAN’S PORTRAIT PHOTOGRAPHY, while Kevin Ritchie asked Werner Herzog about INTO THE INFERNO. At yesterday’s closing awards ceremony Raoul Peck’s I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO was given the People’s Choice Documentary Award, while Fisher Stevens’ BEFORE THE FLOOD and Steve James’ ABACUS: SMALL ENOUGH TO JAIL were named the second and first runners up, respectively.

In the midst of the action, our own Thom Powers hosted TIFF’s annual one day Doc Conference, featuring live panels and discussions on a wide range of non-fiction filmmaking related topics. If you weren’t able to make it, most of the events are now available to stream on TIFF’s YouTube channel, including conversations with Steve James, Jonathan Demme and more. Meanwhile, VR made its prescence known at the festival this year with its POP VR event reports Realscreen’s Jonathan Paul. Looking at the many films that scored distribution at TIFF, Kate Erbland wrote an overview of the sales for IndieWire, including Magnolia’s pick up of I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO and Syndicado’s purchase of IN EXILE.

Here at Stranger Than Fiction, we’ve revealed that our Fall Season is devoted to the documentary work of Jonathan Demme. The series features a six film retrospective with live director Q&As at each screening, beginning on September 27th with his legendary Talking Heads concert doc, STOP MAKING SENSE. Season passes and individual screening tickets are available.

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Monday Memo: Herzog Contemplates The Internet, European Film Awards Name Doc Noms


Undoubtedly, every return of Werner Herzog to the big screen is cause for celebration, so it’s unsurprising to find that with the release of his ominous cinematic inquiry into the future of the internet and robotics with LO AND BEHOLD: REVERIES OF THE CONNECTED WORLD has been met with a celebratory chorus of critical praise. The folks at both Film Comment and WNYC proclaimed it the film of the week, while critics like Keyframe’s Tina Hassannia, Notebook’s Duncan Gray and Co.Create’s Neal Ungerleider dug deep into Herzog’s latest existential interrogation, ultimately finding much to love. Other warm reviews came in from Marc Spitz in The New York Times, Robert Abele at The Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post’s Ann Hornaday and Emma Sandler of Forbes, who interestingly points out the fact that the project was originally intended as an advertising piece for Netscout before it reached Herzog’s inquisitive hands. Matt Zoller Seitz, though appreciative, was not as enthusiastic, writing at RogerEbert.com, “The film is saved from mere competence by that Herzogian feeling, at once grandiose and self-deprecating.”

At the Toronto International Film Festival, whom added a handful of notable new docs to their already stellar looking lineup this past week (Terrence Malick’s VOYAGE OF TIME, Gianfranco Rosi’s FIRE AT SEA, among others), Herzog is scheduled to drop a pair of new films, one fiction – SALT AND FIRE – and one non-fiction – INTO THE VOLCANO. Pat Mullen reported on the festival’s additions for POV Magazine, while Michael Nordine gave a brief preview of how Malick made his first venture into documentary filmmaking for IndieWire.

While TIFF continues to reveal more films, Kosovo’s DokuFest wrapped last week, naming OLEG AND HIS RARE ARTS by Andrés Duque the winner of its International Documentary Competition and DEPTH TWO by Ognjen Glavonic the winner of the Balkan Documentary Competition. The European Film Awards also named 15 films nominated for the documentary category, including Piotr Stasik’s 21 X NEW YORK, Fredrik & Magnus Gertten’s BECOMING ZLATAN, Pietro Marcello LOST AND BEAUTIFUL, and Sergei Loznitsa’s THE EVENT, which can currently be streamed for free via Doc Alliance.

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Monday Memo: Doc Filmmakers Stand for #RightToRecord, TIFF Docs Slate Revealed


The line between art, politics and journalism are continually open to inquiry within the realm of documentary filmmaking. Those lines were valiantly breached last Wednesday at The Talkhouse when David Felix Sutcliffe, co-director of the remarkable and horrifying film (T)ERROR, posted an open letter to the doc community calling for the end of systematic targeting of citizen journalists who’ve documented disgraceful abuses of power by police. A formal statement composed by the International Documentary Association addressed to Department of Justice and signed by a considerable list of doc filmmakers that includes Laura Poitras, Barbara Kopple, Steve James, Joshua Oppenheimer, the entire Kartemquin team and many others, asks for the investigation of “other instances of police violence captured on video by citizens, and what consequences they may have faced” in an effort to “expand our awareness of the problem and take stock of the damages.” Whether filmmaker or concerned citizen, you can show your support for the #RightToRecord by adding your name to the petition here.

While not the central theme, a handful of activist films were among the lineup of the TIFF Docs program revealed this past week, including Steve James’ ABACUS: SMALL ENOUGH TO JAIL, Raoul Peck’s I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO, Fernando León de Aranoa’s POLITICS, INSTRUCTIONS MANUAL and Kief Davidson and Richard Ladkani’s THE IVORY GAME. At Indiewire, Anne Thompson took a tour through the lineup with our own Thom Powers, whom programmed the TIFF Docs program, while Kate Erbland reported on the initial announcement. Reflecting on Toronto’s A-list doc lineup, Tom Roston gave a first look of the offerings at Doc Soup, Steven Zeitchik did the same in The Los Angeles Times, and Kevin Ritchie followed suit at Realscreen. Noting the prominence of Netflix productions among the lineup, Matthew Jacobs gave the scoop on the four docs at Huffington Post, including Werner Herzog’s long in production volcano film, INTO THE INFERNO. And on the topic of the Bavarian filmmaker, Herzog showed up this week at The Daily Beast, offering his appreciative thoughts on Kanye West’s controversial FAMOUS music video.

The New York Film Festival also revealed their main slate, adding to their already intriguing doc lineup with Gianfranco Rosi’s Golden Berlin Bear winner FIRE AT SEA and revival screenings of Barbara Kopple’s Oscar winning HARLAN COUNTY, U.S.A. The latest edition of IndieWire’s Screen Talk podcast discusses the lineups of both TIFF and NYFF.

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