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.
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.
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.
Adding to the shower of award season shows, the Broadcast Film Critics Association and Broadcast Television Journalists Association, the organizations behind the Critics’ Choice Awards, are launching “the Critics’ Choice Documentary Awards, which will honor both documentary features and non-fiction television,” reports Scott Feinberg of The Hollywood Reporter. The inaugural show is currently slated to take place on November 3rd at BRIC in Brooklyn says Dave McNary of Variety, while the already established Critics’ Choice Awards will take in January, sans documentary and non-fiction categories.
While awards season feels a ways off yet, the fall festival circuit is creeping closer and closer with new lineup announces from both the Irish Film Institute Documentary Festival and the Toronto International Film Festival, whose Canadian lineup revealed new work from Hugh Gibson, Fred Peabody and Brigitte Berman, among others. POV Magazine’s Pat Mullen, IndieWire’s Kate Erbland and Realscreen’s Daniele Alcinii each covered TIFF’s announcement, while Alcinii followed up with several doc filmmakers to get a bit of early insight into their projects. Over at IDA’s page, Matt Turner wrote at length on the hybrid doc highlights of this year’s Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, while at What (not) To Doc, Basil Tsiokos previewed the non-fiction offerings to be presented at Kosovo’s 15th annual Dokufest and the 69th annual Locarno Film Festival.
Fall festival season is nearing and with the first lineup announcements of both the Toronto and Venice Film Festivals, my anticipation is quickly mounting. Among the first of many titles to premiere at TIFF is a pair of concert docs in Jonathan Demme’s Justin Timberlake-centered JT + THE TENNESSEE KIDS and Paul Dugdale’s THE ROLLING STONES OLÉ OLÉ OLÉ!: A TRIP ACROSS LATIN AMERICA says the Realscreen staff, while headlining the world premiering doc offerings in Venice is Terrence Malick’s first long in-the-works doc effort VOYAGE OF TIME, as well as Massimo D’Anolfi and Martina Parenti’s SPIRA MIRABILIS notes Manori Ravindran. Looking at a pair of fests currently in progress, Basil Tsiokos previewed the nonfiction works screening at the Melbourne International Film Festival and Michael Moore’s Traverse City Film Festival.
This past week, The Grierson Trust released it’s extensive shortlist of docs up for this year’s Grierson Awards, naming heavy hitters like AMY, THE LOOK OF SILENCE and CARTEL LAND in contention for the Bertha DocHouse Best Cinema Documentary award. BBC noted the record breaking amount of female directors named on the shortlist this year, with 53 women listed, completely “dominating in the best documentary series and best constructed documentary series categories,” while Realscreen’s Daniele Alcinii singled out SHERPA director Jennifer Peedom and MY BEAUTIFUL BROKEN BRAIN helmers Lotje Sodderland and Sophie Robinson “among the record number of female directors to be shortlisted for the Grierson Trust’s 2016 British Documentary Awards.”
Though the Primetime Emmy nominees were announced a couple weeks back and the News & Documentary Emmy nominees the following week, Thursday saw the announcement that director Stanley Nelson, known for his highly regarded work on black history and activism with films like his recent THE BLACK PANTHERS: VANGUARD OF THE REVOLUTION, will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 37th Anual News & Documentary Emmy Awards. Manori Ravindran reported on the news for Realscreen.