The Paradise Lost trilogy by filmmakers Bruce Sinofsky (left) and Joe Berlinger (right) helped free the West Memphis Three in 2011

Happy New Year! Welcome to Stranger Than Fiction’s inaugural Monday Memo, a new weekly feature in which we plan to bring you up to speed on the last week’s events in the world of documentary filmmaking, and take a look at what’s coming up on the horizon. We hope to provide an online space where you can get caught up on the news, hear about the latest trends and developments, and maybe even have a conversation with other documentary fiends looking for their fix. The Memo is likely to evolve as we make our way through its gestational phases, but we’d encourage you to send any tips or ideas you might have to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Although the new year is only two days old, Tom Roston at POV’s Doc Soup has already turned his attention to the ten releases he’s looking most forward to seeing in 2012, most eagerly anticipating SALINGER, a rumored two-hour film about reclusive author J.D. Salinger, who passed away in January 2010. Let’s hope the effort is not crumby.

A review of 2011 box office receipts showed that Jon Chu’s concert film, JUSTIN BIEBER: NEVER SAY NEVER, sent tweens (and in all likelihood, their poor parents as well) to the theaters in droves, taking in an astounding $73 million, making it the year’s highest grossing documentary. It must be the hair. IndieWIRE gives a complete list of the top grossing docs of the year, all of which managed to surpass the $1 million mark.

Funding will certainly continue to be a challenge in the new year, as the budgets of grantmaking institutions continue to shrink and competition for the available pool of funds ramps up, leaving more filmmakers in search of alternative sources of money. In October of last year, the folks at The D-Word hosted an insightful online conversation (registration required) with filmmaker Jennifer Fox and producer Katherine Nolfi on crowdfunding, detailing techniques they used to raise over $150,000 for a project. Here at Stranger Than Fiction we too have jumped on the crowd-funding bandwagon, and have established a Kickstarter page to draw attention to deserving projects attempting to raise money.

In the waning hours of 2011, the POV staff gave us a rundown of the top documentary stories of the year. In the pole position was the release of the West Memphis Three, a direct result of the efforts of filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky and their PARADISE LOST trilogy about three boys wrongfully convicted of murder.

Also, the Library of Congress in December named 25 films to the National Film Registry. Included on the list was the Drew Associates classic CRISIS (1963), an early example of the direct cinema movement that captured the efforts of President John F. Kennedy and his brother, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, to integrate the University of Alabama over the objections of segregationist Governor George Wallace. Also making the cut was Frank Capra’s THE NEGRO SOLDIER (1944), a film intended to encourage blacks to enlist during World War II often grouped with Capra’s “Why We Fight” propaganda films of the same era.

The end of 2011 brought with it a multitude of Year’s Best lists, and the documentary world is no exception. The staff over at POV made an incredibly comprehensive rundown of the year’s top 67 (!) documentaries, drawn from a combination of critic’s lists, festival programming, industry groups and online voting. The number one spot, with a 99% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, went to the universally loved—and confusingly Oscar snubbed—Steve James film THE INTERRUPTERS, about a group of activists dedicated to conflict resolution on the streets of Chicago. (One of these days someone is going to have to explain to me how the Academy comes up with its shortlist.) You can check out POV’s full chart below.

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The Best Documentaries of 2011 from POV.

Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert also gave THE INTERRUPTERS the number one spot on his year-end list, while the Chicago Tribune paid tribute to one of the film’s subjects, Ameena Matthews, naming her one of the Chicagoans of the Year. Time magazine also credited Matthews with delivering one of the best movie performances of 2011. NPR included THE INTERRUPTERS in its list of the five breakthrough documentaries of the year, where it joined Patricio Guzman’s NOSTALGIA FOR THE LIGHT, Clio Bernard’s hybrid doc THE ARBOR, Asif Kapadia’s biopic SENNA, and Errol Morris’s TABLOID.

If you haven’t gotten a chance to see THE INTERRUPTERS yet, you’re in luck. As a STF pre-Winter Season special, the film is screening Jan. 12 at 8 p.m. at the IFC Center in New York City, to be followed by a Q&A with Steve James. You can buy tickets here.

As another precursor to the Winter Season, STF on Jan. 17 is screening the Frederick Wiseman classic, TITICUT FOLLIES, followed by a Q&A with Wiseman himself. You can get more information on the film and buy tickets here.

On Jan. 31 the STF Winter Season officially kicks off with a screening of GIRL WITH BLACK BALLOONS, a portrait of a reclusive artist living in the storied Chelsea Hotel. Save your hard-earned dollars by purchasing a Winter Season pass, which earns you tickets to ten films, including both pre-season specials, as well as free popcorn and a free DVD from Docurama, all for only $100 ($80 for IFC members).