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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Monday Memo: Tribeca Film Festival Begins With Nas Doc

The doc on rapper Nas, TIME IS ILLMATIC, opened up this year's Tribeca Film Festival.

The 2014 Tribeca Film Festival started this week with a screening of the new Nas doc TIME IS ILLLMATIC. At Indiewire, Eric Kohn reviewed the new film from director One9 as did Scott Foundas of Variety. Associated Press writer Jake Coyle had coverage of the Tribeca opening night film for his press outlet. Basil Tsiokos provided an overview of the docs screening at the festival at his What (Not) to Doc blog. At DocGeeks, Emma Norton had a list of must-see docs at the festival. Writing for, Daniel Walber previewed 10 of the festivals most anticipated docs. Walber also penned a review of the Tribeca film BALLET 422 from director Jody Lee Lipes and one of DIOR AND I from director Frederic Tcheng. Steve Pond of The Wrap had an interview with BEYOND THE BRICK: A LEGO DOCUMENTARY filmmakers Daniel Junge and Kief Davidson at The Wrap.

This week Chicago-based documentary production non-profit Kartemquin Films announced that it would collaborate with network Al Jazeera America to produce a six-part documentary series on the struggles of those on low incomes in the U.S. Sergio had coverage of the development for Indiewire’s Shadow and Act blog, while Deadline also covered the news.

Nikita Stewart of the New York Times reported that New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio announced that Cynthia Lopez, co-executive producer of the PBS doc series POV, had been appointed the commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment. Todd Cunningham of The Wrap also covered the appointment, as did Marisa Guthrie and Tatiana Siegel of The Hollywood Reporter and Shipra Gupta of Indiewire.

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Monday Memo: Illmatic Doc Picked to Launch Tribeca Film Fest

The film TIME IS ILLMATIC was named as the opening film for this year's Tribeca FIlm Festival.

The Tribeca Film Festival this week named the documentary TIME IS ILLMATIC about the seminal hip-hop album Illmatic by Nas as its opening film. Manori Ravindran of Realscreen had a report, as did Mekado Murphy of the New York Times and Nigel M. Smith of Indiewire.

The team of Joshua Oppenheimer, Errol Morris and Werner Herzog on Sunday hosted a Reddit AMA intended to focus on Oppenheimer’s film THE ACT OF KILLING. Nick Fraser of BBC Storyville sparked some controversy with a piece in the Guardian advocating that the film not win an Oscar. At Variety, Tim Gray spoke with Morris about the film, while the BBC’s Tim Masters spoke with Oppenheimer, who told him he feared returning to Indonesia, in advance of the Oscars.

At the New York Times, Lauren Sandler wrote about the ties between True/False and a local church in Columbia, Missouri. Tom Roston of the POV blog interviewed filmmaker Robert Greene about his new film ACTRESS, as well as the True/False Film Festival, where the film will screen. Aarik Danielson of the Columbia Daily Tribune also spoke with Greene about his film. Over at KBIA, Abbie Fentress Swanson interviewed director Jessica Oreck about her film THE VANQUISHING OF THE WITCH BABA YAGA, also a True/False selection.

This week Stranger Than Fiction is hosting A GREAT DAY IN HARLEM, a film about a photo taken of a collection of some of the greatest jazz musicians in history, on Tuesday, February 25 at 8 p.m. at the IFC Center in Manhattan. Following the screening there will be a Q&A with the film’s producer Matthew Sieg and editor Susan Peehl. For more information or to buy tickets please go here.

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Monday Memo: Al Jazeera Announces Doc Unit

Al Jazeera America this week announced the creation of a doc unit.

The Qatari government-funded news channel Al Jazeera America this week announced the launch of a new documentary film unit, with former National Geographic TV executive Kathy Davidov joining the outfit as senior executive producer. Adam Benzine reported on the development for Realscreen, as did Indiewire’s Alison Willmore.

Werner Herzog made waves this week with the release of a documentary on the dangers of texting and driving. Nick Dawson covered the news for Filmmaker Magazine, while Donald Melanson did the reporting for Engadget and Matt Hamblen did the same for Computerworld.

The Karen Schmeer Film Editing Fellowship has opened its call for submissions for the 2014 fellowship, setting a September 30 deadline for applications. Scott Macaulay of Filmmaker Magazine reported on the fellowship, created to honor editor Karen Schmeer who was killed in 2010 by the driver of a car fleeing a robbery.

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