After a week off, I’ve returned to a short stack of doc news that packed quite a punch over the last few days. Most notably, Sheila Nevins, the 78-year-old president of HBO Documentary Films, has revealed that after 38 years of devout service she has decided to leave HBO, reflecting, “I have deprived my life of a life. All I did was work. I was, like, born at HBO and I don’t have to die there. If I stayed any longer, I probably would have died at my desk. I just regret that there’s so little time left.” In Maureen Dowd‘s revelatory feature in The New York Times, she notes, “With a storytelling style that grabs viewers by the throat, Ms. Nevins helped change the image of documentaries from stodgy to provocative. And she helped HBO amass such a pile of Emmys, Peabodys and Oscars that there’s a roomful of glittering laurels at headquarters that’s known as the Holy Shrine of Sheila. She received the first Emmy Lifetime Achievement Award given to a documentarian.” In a separate piece, Dowd played Confirm or Deny with Nevins.
Another sudden departure came as a surprise when filmmaker Morgan Spurlock published a confessional piece titled “I am Part of the Problem,” in which he reveals that in his past a women he had a one night stand with believed that she had been raped, and a former coworker was paid a settlement to keep silent about his history of verbal sexual harassment toward her. Christine Hauser reported the news in The New York Times, while at Realscreen, Daniele Alcinii followed the aftermath of the revelations, seeing Spurlock exit Warrior Poets, the New York-based studio he founded with producing partner Jeremy Chilnick, and NBA superstar LeBron James and Maverick Carter’s SpringHill Entertainment cutting ties with the filmmaker on a planned docuseries focusing on the opening of James’ “I Promise School” — a new public school dedicated to supporting at-risk children in his hometown of Akron, Ohio.
Fall festival season marches on with IDFA gearing up across the pond as DOC NYC came to a close here at home late last week. Despite being eyes deep in DOC NYC duties as the festival’s director of programming, Basil Tsiokos took the time to plot out a two part introduction at What (not) To Doc to the new nonfiction offerings set to have make their debut in Amsterdam this week. He began by noting that “The world’s largest nonfiction event bids farewell to founder and longtime director Ally Derks with its 30th edition, which showcases over 180 new and recent documentary features.” Writing at First Showing, Alex Billington gives his introductory thoughts on his first visit to IDFA. Variety also published a pair of pieces on the festival, including Stewart Clarke on “Young Directors at Forefront of HBO Europe’s Documentary Slate” and Damon Wise reporting on “The Visual Voice, a 16-film sidebar celebrating documentary’s greatest films, chosen by its biggest names.”
Those that couldn’t attended DOC NYC or its professional conference DOC NYC PRO this year would do well to head over to its YouTube channel where plenty of screening intros, Q&As, and conference sessions can be viewed in whole. DOC NYC’s trio of juries announced their award winners on Thursday, with Nicole N. Horanyi’s THE STRANGER receiving the Grand Jury Prize in the Viewfinders competition, James Crump’s ANTONIO LOPEZ 1970: SEX FASHION & DISCO winning the Grand Jury Prize in the Metropolis competition, and Kate Davis’s TRAFFIC STOP taking home the Grand Jury Prize in the Shorts competition. Daniele Alcinii reported on the awards ceremony for Realscreen, noting, “TRAFFIC STOP now qualifies for consideration in the Documentary Short Subject category of the annual Academy Awards without the standard theatrical run, provided the film otherwise complies with the Academy rules.”
Speaking of Oscars, last week at the Governors’ Awards Agnès Varda received an honorary Oscar. IndieWire’s Jenna Marotta recounted the morning after from the La Résidence de France in Beverly Hills where Varda was celebrated over brunch with French peers, as Sam Adams reflected at Slate on how Varda has continuously proven how documentary filmmakers can in fact be movie stars. Meanwhile at Deadline, Antonia Blyth took an early stab at the Oscar race for Best Documentary Feature. Notably absent from that list is Errol Morris’s WORMWOOD. Anne Thompson reports at IndieWire that “The documentary branch executive committee deemed WORMWOOD ineligible for Best Documentary Feature, based on post-O.J.: MADE IN AMERICA rules designed to weed out episodic documentary series. Yet WORMWOOD qualifies in all other AMPAS categories covered by the general submission form: Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director, and all the crafts.”