4) April: Doc Aviv –Serving on the jury for this Tel Aviv festival was a chance to plunge into Israel’s deep and varied documentary scene. I was fortunate to get a tour on the Occupied Territories by Oren Yakobich of B’Tselem. I wrote about the experience for Indiewire: “We walked through an area in Hebron’s city center documented on B’Tselem’s web site where settlers supported by Israel Defense Forces have forced the closure of a once bustling Arab market and the evacuation of over 1,000 Palestinian homes. In response to such aggressive force, B’Tselem started a project called “Shooting Back” that gives cameras to Palestinians in high conflict zones to document settlers’ violations. B’Tselem’s video footage was used in “To See if I’m Smiling,” the documentary about Israeli women soldiers that won the Audience Award at the 2007 International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam. Yakobovich is eager to make footage available to other filmmakers.” Read the full article here.
5) May: THE AGRONOMIST at STF – Even when a film is a few years old, that doesn’t stop it from making an impact on new audiences. That was abundantly clear when Jonathan Demme brought his 2003 doc THE AGRONOMIST to STF, co-presented by the Woodstock Film Festival. He was joined by his producer Peter Saraf and exec producer Daniel Wolff. The actor Danny Glover even joined in the Q&A. But the real star of the night was Michele Montas, the widow of Haitian radio host Jean Dominique whose life is celebrated in the film. She received the first ever standing ovation at STF.
6) September: Toronto International Film Festival – This year’s festival showcased a whopping 41 documentary projects. Several of those titles later showed up at STF including AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD, BLOOD TRAIL, EXAMINED LIFE, DUNGEON MASTERS, plus – coming in the 2009 Winter Season – UPSTREAM BATTLE and AMERICAN SWING. Many others will be hitting theaters next year. The STF archives have recently been updated to include my catalogue entries for the festival. You can easily sort them in the archives by setting the “select category” function to “TIFF.”
7) September: Nuptials – If this list were in order of importance, rather than chronological, then of course I’d place getting married to Raphaela at the top. The wedding took place at Toronto’s Eglinton Grand movie theater and we were treated to a special video edited for the occasion by John Walter, the director of HOW TO DRAW A BUNNY and THEATER OF WAR. For an extra filmy touch, the presiding rabbi was named Goldfinger. Meanwhile, Raphaela has become the Executive Director of STF, bringing several notable upgrades to the series, including this web site.
8) October: OF ALL THE THINGS at STF and Joe’s Pub – Dennis Lambert, the songwriter and music producer of hits such as “Ain’t No Woman Like the One I’ve Got” and ‘Night Shift,” visited STF for this film about his comeback tour in the Philippines. The screening was co-presented by SXSW where the film premiered. The following evening, Lambert performed at Joe’s Pub for his first New York show in many years, pulling it off like a Rhinestone Cowboy.
9) November: CHISHOLM 72 at STF on Election Night – In planning the STF Fall Season, we had the daunting task of picking a film in the summer that would hit the right tone for the night of the Presidential election. After the dashed hopes of 2000 and 04, I had a hard time feeling optimistic. Shola Lynch’s film about the 1972 campaign of Shirley Chisholm, the black Congresswoman from Brooklyn, turned out to be a perfect choice. This was also the first time STF held its after-party at the bar 99 Below which has become our favorite new hangout.
10) December: The Autobiography of Richard Leacock at STF – You could feel a lot of love in the room as the 87-year-old Ricky Leacock presented three works spanning his career, from his first silent film CANARY BANANAS (1935) to the gripping civil rights reportage of THE CHILDREN WERE WATCHING (1961) to a sampling his most recent work MUSICAL ADVENTURE IN SIBERIA (1996). The audience included his former colleagues D.A. Pennebaker, Robert Drew and Al Maysles. Ricky started out apologizing for his memory, but he had no trouble recalling the name of every pretty schoolgirl he’d met in the ‘30s!
Honorable Mentions: Every one of the 35 STF presentations in 2008 had something memorable. I can’t resist citing the rare screenings of SHOWMAN with Al Maysles, SELLING OF THE PENTAGON with Peter Davis, THE BURGER AND THE KING with James Marsh and TRACKING DOWN MAGGIE with Nick Broomfield. Then there’s the night that Laurie Anderson and Lou Reed came to see THE BEST OF THE ORPHANS FILM SYMPOSIUM or when Eric Latek presented his debut SWEET DREAMS for a screening that helped place him in Filmmaker Magazine’s 25 New Faces of Independent Film. Finally, a very special thank you to the anonymous angel who supplied me a ticket to the Academy Awards. Let’s do that again!
Tell us your favorites: Leave a comment describing your best documentary memories from 2008.