Monday Memo: Jonathan Demme Dies at 73


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.

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Monday Memo: Art of the Real In Full Swing


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.

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Monday Memo: Tribeca Announces Award Winners, Sundance Introduces Climate Change Lab


Still from Craig Atkinson's DO NOT RESIST, winner of Tribeca Film Festival Best Documentary

Outside of Tribeca’s wrap-up and award announcements over the weekend, this week has been rather uneventful in the realm of nonfiction cinema. That said, the 15th Tribeca Film Festival concluded by giving Craig Atkinson’s DO NOT RESIST the $20,000 cash prize for Best Documentary and the Ross Brothers’ CONTEMPORARY COLOR was awarded with prizes for both Best Cinematography and Best Editing. Reflecting on the top prize winner, indieWIRE’s Eric Kohn reviewed DO NOT RESIST, while Joe Peeler of Hammer To Nail spoke with Bill Ross about his award winning color guard film,  Realscreen’s Daniele Alcinii reported on the festival’s complete awards list.

In other festival news as reported by Kevin Ritchie at Realscreen, Cannes announced that Laura Poitras’ feature length Julian Assange doc RISK (formally billed as a web series and titled ASYLUM) will have its world premiere as part of Director’s Fortnight, joining Jim Jarmusch’s Iggy Pop doc GIMME DANGER, Mahamat-Saleh Haroun’s HISSEIN HABRÉ: A CHADIAN TRAGEDY, and Rithy Panh’s EXIL as part of the festival’s nonfiction offerings. Meanwhile, Basil Tsiokos previewed the doc offerings at this year’s San Francisco International Film Festival at What (not) To Doc, noting the world premieres of Moby Longinotto’s THE JONESES and Michael Almereyda’s ESCAPES. Realscreen’s Kevin Ritchie reports that Sundance has announced a new development lab aiming to develop projects “that focus on climate change, conservation and the environment, and inspire viewers to take action.” And at indieWIRE, Eric Kohn, Kate Erbland, David Ehrlich and Liz Shannon Miller debated the future of film festivals, discussing current trends and cultural ruts.

Here at Stranger Than Fiction, our spring season continues tomorrow with special 15th Anniversary screening of Sandi DuBowski’s TREMBLING BEFORE G-D, featuring a post-screening Q&A with the director and film subjects David, Rabbi Steve Greenberg, Michelle, Naomi and Mark. Tickets for the event can be purchased here.

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Monday Memo: Dust Settles After VAXXED Pulled From Tribeca, NO HOME MOVIE Reminds Of Loss


A week after the Tribeca Film Festival decided to pull the discredited physician Andrew Wakefield’s documentary VAXXED: FROM COVER-UP TO CATASTROPHE from their line-up following outcry from the medical and film communities, indieWIRE’s Eric Kohn and The Guardian’s Ed Pilkington published a pair of postmordems outlining why the film was programmed in the first place and how pressure from various groups finally forced Tribeca to pull it. Chris Barsanti praised Tribeca for their decision to cancel its world premiere of VAXXED in Little White Lies, noting that “Tribeca’s decision not to show VAXXED does not constitute censorship, as some critics and commentators have suggested. The idea that one relatively high-profile film festival could stop the world from seeing a film is, in an age of instantly available streaming video, fairly quaint.” Unsurprisingly, despite its unscientific hogwash, the film was instantly scooped up by Cinema Libre for distribution and opened appropriately on April Fool’s Day at New York’s Angelika Film Center.

At Variety, Paul Gaita reflected on the fifth annual American Documentary Film Festival, which has its final screenings this evening, and the growth of interest in non-fiction cinema. Likewise, Chicago’s new DOC10 Film Festival wrapped up yesterday, Michael Phillips gave an overview of the offerings at the inaugural edition in the Chicago Tribune. Featuring approximately 70 documentaries among its nearly 200 film lineup, the 40th anniversary of the Cleveland International Film Festival kicked off last Wednesday. Basil Tsiokos previewed the non-fiction offerings over at What (not) To Doc. And in a surprise announcement, Charlotte Cook, former director of programming of Hot Docs and co-founder of Field of Vision, has joined the CPH:DOX programming team. The announcement comes in the wake of its recent scheduling change, from November to March, with its next edition scheduled to take place in 2017. Also on the topic of festivals, DOC NYC’s regular submissions deadline is this coming Friday, April 8th – filmmakers, get on that!

Co-presented along with the New York Film Academy, our Spring Season kicks off tomorrow with Victoria Campbell’s MONSIEUR LE PRESIDENT, which “traces the ascent and downfall of Gaston Jean Edy, a charming and much-loved voodoo priest in the Christ-roi section of Port-au-Prince, Haiti.” The director, as well as Amy Wilentz, author of the National Book Critics Circle Award winner for Autobiography, Farewell, Fred Voodoo: A Letter from Haiti, will be in attendance for a post screening Q&A session. Tickets for our Spring Season kick off can be purchased here. Additionally, our home, the IFC Center, is gearing up for a major expansion, but they need a show a public support to convince city officials that this expansion is fully supported by the community. Show your support today by going here.

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Monday Memo: Spring Arrives, Tribeca Comes Under Fire After Programming Illegitimate Anti-Vaccination Doc


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.”

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