As you likely know by now, Stranger Than Fiction as you know it has been rebranded as Pure Nonfiction at IFC Center (our new home can be found at the link), so I wanted to drop a quick line to let you know that the Monday Memo also has a new home at DOC NYC, where I will continue to round-up the best in documentary news as a weekly newsletter. If you’d like to sign up for the new Monday Memo, you may do so here.
Pure Nonfiction at IFC Center, the popular documentary series previously known as Stranger Than Fiction, announced its winter season line-up, featuring ten documentaries playing from February 5 to March 26. The season opens with UNITED SKATES (Feb 5), winner of the Tribeca Audience Award, about roller skating in black communities across the United States. The season includes sneak previews of two documentaries fresh from their Sundance premieres: Alex Gibney’s THE INVENTOR: OUT FOR BLOOD IN SILICON VALLEY (Mar 14) about the scandal of the fraudulent billion dollar company Theranos and Alison Klayman’s THE BRINK (Mar 26, closing night of the winter season) about the former Trump strategist Steve Bannon spreading his nationalist ideas in Europe.
Each Pure Nonfiction screening features the filmmakers or other special guests in person. The series, launched at IFC Center in 2005 and hosted by Thom Powers and Raphaela Neihausen, was formerly known as Stranger Than Fiction. It has a reputation as “a vital outpost for award-winning documentaries” (New York Times). The change in name aligns the series to the Pure Nonfiction podcast, in which Powers interviews documentary filmmakers, now in its fourth year.
“Pure Nonfiction as a screening series at IFC Center shares the same mission as the podcast to illuminate the art of documentary making, so it makes sense for them to share the same name,” said Powers.
The winter season includes a sneak preview of the new series THE CASE AGAINST ADNAN SYED (Feb 26) based on the case made famous by the Serial podcast. Director Amy Berg will present episode one prior to its debut on HBO. Other sneak previews include IT’S A HARD TRUTH, AIN’T IT (Feb 12) about prisoners learning to make films; and ONE NATION UNDER STRESS (Mar 19) with Dr. Sanjay Gupta trying to uncover why American life expectancy is falling.
Classic revivals are a key part of the screening series. The season includes a double bill (Feb 19) with D.A. Pennebaker’s ORIGINAL CAST ALBUM: COMPANY (1970) about a studio recording of the Stephen Sondheim musical; joined with a new parody of the film from the series DOCUMENTARY NOW! titled ORIGINAL CAST ALBUM: CO-OP. Pennebaker will present the films with other colleagues who were part of the original. Other classics include the 20th anniversary of Doug Block’s HOME PAGE (Feb 21) about the emergence of a confessional culture on the internet; THE TRIALS OF MUHAMMAD ALI (Mar 5) that will memorialize director Bill Siegel who passed away last December; and THAT RHYTHM…THOSE BLUES (Mar 12) in a new restoration of the 1988 film that explored rhythm and blues music in the 1940s and 1950s.
The Pure Nonfiction winter season takes place at the IFC Center every Tuesday night at 7:30 pm for eight weeks, plus special Thursday screenings on Feb 21 and Mar 14. Each event includes a discussion with the filmmakers, followed by a gathering at a nearby bar. Season passes are now on sale for $99 for 10 films. The full season schedule appears below. For more information, visit ifccenter.com/series/purenonfiction
Pure Nonfiction at IFC Center: Winter 2019 Season 7:30pm Tuesdays at IFC Center, Feb 5 – Mar 26
Each show features a Q&A with the director or other special guests
Feb 5: Opening Night – UNITED SKATES (2018, Q&A w/ dir. Tina Brown & subject Reggie)
Feb 12: IT’S A HARD TRUTH, AIN’T IT (2018, Q&A w/ dir. Madeleine Sackler)
Feb 19: Double bill:
ORIGINAL CAST ALBUM: COMPANY (1970, Q&A w/ dir. D.A. Pennebaker & others)
DOCUMENTARY NOW! presents ORIGINAL CAST ALBUM CO-OP (2019)
Feb 21: Thursday special – HOME PAGE – 20th anniv. (1999, Q&A w/ dir. Doug Block & others)
Feb 26: THE CASE AGAINST ADNAN SYED – episode one (2019, Q&A w/ dir. Amy Berg)
Mar 5: THE TRIALS OF MUHAMMAD ALI (2014, Q&A in memory of dir. Bill Siegel w/ his colleagues)
Mar 12: THAT RHYTHM…THOSE BLUES – newly restored (1988, Q&A w/ dir. George T. Nierenberg)
Mar 14: Thursday Special – THE INVENTOR: OUT FOR BLOOD IN SILICON VALLEY
(2019, Q&A w/ dir. Alex Gibney)
Mar 19: ONE NATION UNDER STRESS (2019, Q&A w/ dir. Marc Levin)
Mar 26: Closing Night – THE BRINK (2019, Q&A w/ dir. Alison Klayman)
Tickets for Pure Nonfiction screenings are $17 for the general public and $14 for IFC Center members. A Season Pass covers admission to all 10 evenings and provides free popcorn at all screenings. It is available for $99 ($80 for IFC members).
News broke mid-week that filmmaker Bill Siegel, Oscar nominated co-director of THE WEATHER UNDERGROUND and director of Emmy-winner THE TRIALS OF MUHAMMAD ALI, died at the age of 55 due to a heart attack that prior Saturday. Many of his colleagues wrote remembrances at the Kartemquin Films page, and Tom White collected a number of pieces on Siegel and his work at the IDA blog. Meanwhile, THE WEATHER UNDERGROUND co-director Sam Green shared the following on Instagram, “Bill was a lover of life and people and the world and probably got more pleasure from being alive than anyone I’ve ever known. Bill made a number of strong films, carried on deep and lifelong friendships, and also had two kids whom he loved and was thrilled by. The world will miss him badly.”
His friend and collaborator Dave Zirin also warmly remembered Siegel in The Nation, “Bill’s gift is so absolute that I’m pained not only by the loss of a friend and comrade but by the films we are not going to get to see. Bill’s next project was going to be ‘a new documentary that traced the history of the United States Information Agency and the creation of the US government’s internationally broadcast radio station Voice of America, which is regarded by some as a form of propaganda.’ I think Bill was going to use this topic to denounce so much of the bullshit that passes for news in 2018 and link the flooding of “fake news” with government propaganda that serves only the wealthy and powerful. The best possible tribute to Bill Siegel would be for us to pick up the baton and continue that work.”
It should come as no surprise to anyone following the award season happenings that on Saturday night Bing Liu’s MINDING THE GAP was named Best Documentary at the 34th Annual IDA Documentary Awards at the Paramount Theatre in Los Angeles. Other honorees included Floyd Russ’s ZION (available via Netflix), which won Best Short, Chapman Way and Maclain Way’s WILD, WILD COUNTRY, which took home Best Limited Series, and Steve Loveridge’s MATANGI / MAYA / M.I.A., which won best Music Documentary.
Looking toward the Oscars, Addie Morfoot outlined in Variety how campaign budgets and the influx of participation from streaming services has drastically changed the documentary Oscar race. She begins, “There’s no denying the race for documentary Oscar has changed dramatically in the past decade and even more so in the past five years. The reason for the shift? Money…Netflix, Amazon and Hulu all have deep pockets and aren’t afraid to make that known during Oscar season. (This year Netflix and Hulu boast docs like SHIRKERS, MINDING THE GAP and CRIME + PUNISHMENT)”. In contrast, Christopher Campbell imagined at Nonfics what this year’s Golden Globe doc nominees might have been if the category existed.
While awards season continues to heat up as trudge deeper into the winter season, early December is always host to many best of lists critics of all sorts. In The New Yorker, Richard Brody listed his favorite films of the year without order, including INFINITE FOOTBALL, THE REST I MAKE UP, NOTES ON APPEARENCE, THE OTHER SIDE OF EVERYTHING, POW WOW, as well as other more well known docs among his favorites. Meanwhile in The New York Times, Manohla Dargis and A.O. Scott ranked theirs, with a quartet of docs taking Scott’s #1 slot. And at Vox, Alissa Wilkinson dropped a list of her top 11 favorite docs, with a few sadly hard to see picks like Sam Green’s scantily performed live production of A THOUSAND THOUGHTS and the minimally screened AMAZING GRACE taking prominence.
Though the week of Thanksgiving is typically slow going for doc news, it is traditionally the week that filmmakers receive the good news that their films have been accepted to the forthcoming edition of the Sundance Film Festival, which means that this past week the rest of us were graced with the 2019 lineup of feature films. “For the 2019 Festival, 112 feature-length films have been selected, representing 33 countries and 45 first-time filmmakers…44% of the directors in this year’s U.S. Documentary Competition are women; 22% are people of color; 5% identify as LGBTQIA+…These films were selected from a record high of 14,259 submissions including 4,018 feature-length films.” Notable new docs to have their world premiere include Penny Lane’s HAIL SATAN, Nanfu Wang and Jialing Zhang’s ONE CHILD NATION, and Matt Tyrnauer’s WHERE’S MY ROY COHN?.
As is usual, the Slamdance Film Festival revealed its 2019 program in correlation with Sundance’s announcement. Nine documentary features will be shown in competition during the 25th annual edition of the festival.