Monday Memo: Fall Film Festival Fervor Begins


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.

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Monday Memo: NYFF & TIFF Add Docs, IDA Gives Filmmaking Advice


With no major theatrical releases and a slew of major festivals on the verge of kicking off, it’s a rather quiet on the nonfiction front. That said, the New York Film Festival did reveal its Spotlight on Documentary lineup, which includes Travis Wilkerson’s True/False alum DID YOU WONDER WHO FIRED THE GUN?, TIFF selections JANE, A SKIN SO SOFT, and BOOM FOR REAL, as well as world premieres of Alison McAlpine’s CIELO, Ena Talakic and Ines Talakic’s HALL OF MIRRORS, and Alex Gibney’s NO STONE UNTURNED, which was previously slated to screen at Tribeca and Hot Docs before it was pulled for undisclosed legal reasons.

After revealing its full program schedule on Tuesday, the Toronto International Film Festival added a handful of last minute special events, including the world premiere of GAGA: FIVE FOOT TWO by Emmy-nominated filmmaker Chris Moukarbel, “a rare snapshot of the raucously public music icon Lady Gaga and the offstage woman that is Stefani Joanne Germanotta,” as well as the world premiere of Brandon and Skyler Gross’ ON MY WAY OUT: THE SECRET LIFE OF NANI AND POPI – the program notes read, “Roman (Popi) and Ruth (Nani) Blank have been married for 65 years, but at age 95, Roman reveals a secret that tests their seemingly invincible union, in Brandon and Skyler Gross’ touching portrait of their grandparents.”

Though the Locarno International Film Festival wrapped up a couple weeks back, at the fest IndieWire’s Irina Trocan discovered a handful of films that represent modern domestic life in new ways, including a trio of films to soon screen at TIFF – Xu Bing’s DRAGONFLY EYES, Ben Russell’s GOOD LUCK, and Wang Bing’s MRS. FANG. On a similar wavelength, Cara Buckley thoroughly examined the many current docs that are exploring the pain of racism for The New York Times, noting “A burst of new films, many of them documentaries, are taking a deep look beyond the headlines at the lasting impact that racial schisms and racism have on Americans’ everyday lives.”

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Monday Memo: Docs & Politics + DOC NYC PRO Lineup Revealed


In a busy week for nonfiction cinema news, Vice’s incredible coverage of the horrific events that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia, miraculously encapsulated in the 22 minute short CHARLOTTESVILLE: RACE AND TERROR (watched over 5 million times on YouTube at this point) is undoubtedly the lead this week. In response to Trump’s appalling press conference following the events, “16 out of 17 members of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities resigned and asked the president to do the same. The White House advisory council is dedicated to cultural issues including arts funding, economic promotion of the arts and arts education among other responsibilities,” reports Salon’s Gabriel Bell. Ruminating on these events, Jude Dry of IndieWire called WHOSE STREETS? “essential cinema” “for the Charlottesville Resistance.”

Almost facetiously, at The Guardian, Rebecca Nicholson asked, “Why political documentaries are storming the screens,” just as James Luxford posed the question, “What impact do environmental documentaries really have?” at Little White Lies. Meanwhile at IndieWire, Oscar nominated filmmaker Roger Ross Williams wrote about how Full Frame Documentary Festival’s new School of Doc program is attempting to address issues with race in the doc world, describing it as “a program that empowered minority students to tell their own stories, and to expose them to future career opportunities.”

In other film festival news, DOC NYC revealed its initial schedule for this year’s DOC NYC PRO, an 8-day conference “featuring documentary panels and master classes, including an expanded initiative to support works-in-progress with a section called “Only in New York.” DOC NYC also announced this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award honorees at the 4th annual Visionaries Tribute would be Sheila Nevins and Errol Morris. Selina Chignall unpacked the announcements over at Realscreen.

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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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