Before we get into the nitty gritty of festival news and theatrical releases, it is with a heavy heart that I share Daniel E. Slotnik‘s report in The New York Times that “Kirk Simon, a documentary filmmaker who turned luminaries in the arts into teachers and brought cameras into the classroom, memorably in an Academy Award-winning film about a multinational school in Israel, died on April 14 in Manhattan. He was 63. His brother, Ron, said Mr. Simon suffered cardiac arrest and was declared dead after he was taken to a hospital. Mr. Simon directed and produced documentaries for PBS, National Geographic and HBO, tackling a wide range of topics. But he often returned to education, as he and his creative partner, Karen Goodman, his first wife, did in 2010 with STRANGERS NO MORE, which won the Oscar for best short documentary.”
Last week, the Peabody Awards Board of Jurors revealed their 19 nominees for its Documentary category and just days later they whittled down that list to 9 winners: AMERICA REFRAMED: DEEJ, AMERICAN MASTERS: MAYA ANGELOU: AND STILL I RISE, CHASING CORAL, INDEPENDENT LENS: NEWTOWN, INDIVISIBLE, LAST MEN IN ALEPPO, OKLAHOMA CITY, THE ISLAND AND THE WHALES, and TIME: THE KALIEF BROWDER STORY.
Our 2018 Spring Season of Stranger Than Fiction continues tomorrow evening at IFC Center with Sam Green’s Oscar nominated portrait of troubled and revolutionary times THE WEATHER UNDERGROUND. Director Sam Green and producer Carrie Lozano will be on hand for a live post-screening Q&A. Tickets are still available here.
Sensible filmgoers might hope that with ICARUS and HEAVEN IS A TRAFFIC JAM ON THE 405 winning big last week at the Oscars (read Brian Newman‘s piece on breaking the “rules” to win an Oscar for Short Doc at Sub-Genre Media) and awards season coming to its logical conclusion, we could all take a collective sigh of relief and maybe a ever so short cinematic reprieve, but instead film festivals across the land have either just wrapped, are currently in motion, or are just gearing up. Just last week, Columbia, Missouri’s True/False Film Festival took over the modest college town for its 15th edition, garnering universal praise from Daniel Kasman at MUBI’s Notebook, Ben Godar at Nonfics, and Vikram Murthi of RogerEbert.com (my own coverage of the festival will soon be found over at Senses of Cinema). Looking further back, Dan Sullivan covered this year’s edition of the Berlinale for Film Comment, singling out Corneliu Porumboiu’s INFINITE FOOTBALL and Kristina Konrad’s epic ONE OR TWO QUESTIONS, as Eric Hynes dissected a pair of my favorites from this year’s Sundance in Bing Liu’s MINDING THE GAP and Sandi Tan’s SHIRKERS. As I write, four fests around the globe are taking place, each of which Basil Tsiokos wrote previews for at What (not) To Doc: Miami Film Festival, SXSW, Ambulante, and Tempo Documentary Festival.
Meanwhile, both the Tribeca Film Festival and the Full Frame Documentary Film Festivals announced their full 2018 lineups. Tribeca is holding the world premieres of 12 new nonfiction films in its documentary competition, in addition to its closing night film, THE FOURTH ESTATE by Liz Garbus, about how the challenges of journalism in the age of Trump, while Full Frame has 14 world premieres on its docket, including David Schalliol’s THE AREA, Katie Galloway and Dawn Valadez’s THE PUSHOUTS, and Anne de Mare’s CAPTURING THE FLAG.
Tonight night, Stranger Than Fiction continues at IFC Center with a rare opportunity to preview the first two episodes of one of the most anticipated documentary series of the year – Maclain and Chapman Way’s WILD WILD COUNTRY, featuring a live Q&A with the directors and Executive Producer Mark Duplass. Tickets are still available here.
As I will soon be heading back to Columbia, MO for the True/False Film Festival, I would be lying if I didn’t share my excitement about this week’s unveiling of the festival’s 2018 lineup, with highlights ranging from a selection of films by this year’s True Vision Award winner Dieudo Hamadi, through hints about their hush-hush secret screenings and complete details about the return of their Neither/Nor series. The festival is set to run March 1st through the 4th. Riding that same wavelength, the Tribeca Film Festival announced that its 17th edition will open on April 18th with the world premiere of Lisa D’Apolito’s LOVE, GILDA, “which opens a window into the world of celebrated Emmy and Grammy award-winning comedian Gilda Radner, who became a cultural icon the moment audiences first laughed with her on the debut episode of Saturday Night Live.”
Back in 2016, we hosted the fine folks of Field of Vision for a special screening of their online series THE JOURNEY. This past week, Field of Vision announced a new fellowship, featuring a quartet of filmmakers in Garrett Bradley, Michelle Latimer, Charlie Lyne and Lyric Cabral, and its first-ever artist-in-residence, Josh Begley. The announcement continues, “The first year of fellows were selected from filmmakers who had worked with Field of Vision over the last three years. In addition to creating a framework for idea development, creative support, and a grant, Field of Vision will conduct workshops throughout the year in the areas of digital security, research, and legal issues. Fellows will also be invited to participate in Field of Vision’s editorial process, from identifying urgent stories to offering filmmaker feedback and guidance.”
Here at Stranger Than Fiction, our Winter 2018 season continues as we meditate on the 15th anniversary of America going to war in Iraq with a special screening of Oscar-nominated director Jehane Noujaim’s terrific CONTROL ROOM, with both film subject Josh Rushing and producer Rosadel Varela in attendance for a live Q&A. Tickets to the event are available here.
I’m currently writing to you in between Hot Docs screenings from the Luma cafe inside Toronto’s beautiful and overwhelming TIFF Bell Lightbox (see Basil Tsiokos‘ thorough preview of the festival at What (not) To Doc). With that in mind, this week’s memo will be condensed, forgoing theatrical coverage to focus on the bigger stuff. Tragically, the most notable news this week is that Jonathan Demme, filmmaker and friend of Stranger Than Fiction, has died at the age of 73 of complications from esophageal cancer. Last fall, we devoted our entire fall season to an extensive retrospective of his documentary work, just after DOC NYC honored Demme with their Visionaries Tribute Lifetime Achievement Award (watch his acceptance speech here).
Following Demme’s passing, an outpouring of remembrances appeared online. At the Toronto International Film Festival webpage, our own Thom Powers‘ lamented that documentary filmmaking had became Jonathan Demme’s oxygen, while at RogerEbert.com, Matt Zoller Seitz wrote that he believed “Demme was at his purest when his films were the most stripped-down, when he was making documentaries or performance-driven nonfiction,” noting that “Demme made 15 feature-length nonfiction films; seven were documentaries about musical performers, including his final directorial credit, JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE + THE TENNESSEE KIDS.” David Byrne, the subject of Demme’s breakthrough STOP MAKING SENSE, composed a touching tribute, writing, “The documentaries are pure labors of love. They tend to be celebrations of unsung heroes—an agronomist in Haiti, an activist (cousin) and pastor and an ordinary woman who does extraordinary things in New Orleans post-Katrina.” Other tributes came in from Bilge Ebiri at the Village Voice, David Sims in The Atlantic, Brent Lang and Carmel Dagan at Variety, Bruce Weber of The New York Times, Sam Adams at Slate, Glenn Kenny at Vanity Fair, and The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw.
Tomorrow Strangers Than Fiction returns to the IFC Center with Morgan Pehme, Dylan Bank and Daniel DiMauro’s GET ME ROGER STONE, an up-close look into the rise of the infamous Roger Stone and the transformation of American Politics. The directorial trio, along with executive producer Blair Foster, will all be in attendance for a live post-screening Q&A. Tickets are available here.
Still of Laura Poitras' RISK, Art of the Real's Closing Night Film.
While Richard Brody and Basil Tsiokos reminded us that both the Tribeca Film Festival and the Brazilian doc festival It’s All True began last Thursday, both of which are hosting a handful of doc world premieres and festival favorites, it seems that the large majority of journalistic eyes were focused on the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s annual Art of the Real festival this past week. Writing in MUBI’s Notebook, Jaime Grijalba Gómez works through how the program reveals “what is at the core of what we call documentary or non-fiction cinema,” just as Daniel Walber looked at “what critics can learn from [the festival’s] great programming” for Nonfics. Michael Sicinski highlighted his favorites from the festival thus far in Village Voice, including Patric Chiha’s “docudrama about Bulgarian Roma hustlers in Vienna” BROTHERS OF THE NIGHT, which Tanner Tafelski gushed about over at Kinoscope. Additionally, Neil Young spoke with director Austin Lynch for Little White Lies about his directorial debut GRAY HOUSE, as Em Cominotti and Jeffrey Dunn Rovinelli, the co-directors of EMPATHY, interviewed each other for Brooklyn Magazine.
Tuesday saw The Peabody Awards Board of Jurors reveal its 12 winners in its Documentary category for programs released in 2016. Laura Berger covered the announcement for Women and Hollywood, noting that seven of the twelve films are women-directed or co-directed, including Dawn Porter’s Stranger Than Fiction alum TRAPPED.
Speaking of Stranger Than Fiction, our spring season continues tomorrow with Kyoko Miyake’s Sundance hit TOKYO IDOLS, which gets at the heart of a Japanese cultural phenomenon driven by an obsession with young female sexuality and internet popularity. Director Miyake will take part in a live post-screening Q&A. Tickets are still available for this event here.