My wife, Valerie Rettberg-Smith, and I at the Lumière! Inventing Cinema Exhibition at the Grand Palais in Paris
I hate to brag, but the last few weeks have been quite lovely, with getting married to my partner in life, Valerie Rettberg-Smith, and our subsequent honeymoon to Paris and Amsterdam and all. That said, I have returned, not quite rested, but full of hope, love, fresh perspectives and just now getting back into the swing of things. While I was away, Rachel Donadio of The New York Times wrote a piece on the Grand Palais’s Lumière! Inventing Cinema exhibition which opened March 27th, just in time for me to investigate. The exhibit, put together in partnership by the Grand Palais and the Institut Lumière, features an incredible history of film technology and the impact the Lumières continue to wield in artifacts and copious amounts of newly restored Lumière productions, some on film and others in various interactive displays. Celebrating over a hundred years since the Lumière brothers brought cinema as we know it into being, the exhibition runs now through June 14th.
Most of the Lumière films were in fact brief documentaries, running no more than a few minutes at most. The format continues to be more than relevant, as the stark cell-phone documentation of Walter Scott’s horrifically unjust murder by officer Michael T. Slager proves this past week. Writing for Time, Errol Morris commented on the necessity of documentation in terms of sorting out the truths in such a situation, while Ty Burr of The Boston Globe wrote at length on what he calls, “the cinema of evidence” and its essential pivot point in the battle against abuses of power in America. One would think such blatant injustices would have been curbed after this past year’s outrage in the wake of Michael Brown and Eric Garner’s murders by overzealous police, but alas, the preposterous bloodshed continues.
On a lighter note, tomorrow marks the start of the Spring ’15 season of Stranger Than Fiction with KING GEORGES, Erika Frankel’s documentary on the fiery French chef Georges Perrier and his crusade to keep his 40-year-old landmark restaurant, Le Bec-Fin in Philadelphia, relevant. Both director Erika Frankel and film subject Georges Perrier will be on hand for a post screening Q&A. Info on the film and tickets are available here.
Laura Poitras at the Cinema Eye Honors podium flanked by D.A. Pennebaker (left) and Albert Maysles (right). Photo by Spencer Worthley.
With the heavyhearted departure of Rahul Chadha, whose been handling the Monday Memo here at Stranger Than Fiction for several years now, a large pair of soundly tuned shoes was in need of filling. So, with the blessing of Rahul, Thom and Raphaela, I will be attempting to serve as his dutiful replacement, shepherding this weekly roundup I’ve personally found quite useful and enlightening for the foreseeable future. Let me introduce myself: My name is Jordan M. Smith – the M. being necessary so I don’t get lost amongst the other millions of Smiths floating through cyberspace. You may know me from my film and festival coverage over at IONCINEMA.com where I’ve served as a staff writer for a few years now, or from my running commentary on life and cinema on Twitter. Most recently, I’ve been creating content and curating films for the recently launched Influence Film Club. I’m hoping with my experiences tracking the film festival circuit and watching upwards of 400 films a year, I could be of some use here at Stranger Than Fiction. So, without further ado, this week’s Monday Memo:
Among the big stories in the documentary world, nothing topped the disbursement of the 8th Annual Cinema Eye Honors, where CITIZENFOUR took home four of the major awards, including Outstanding Achievements in Nonfiction Feature Filmmaking, Direction, Editing and Production. Sarah Salovaara reported on the event for Filmmaker Magazine, as did Steve Pond for The Wrap, Nigel M. Smith at Indiewire, Adam Benzine for Realscreen, and Basil Tsiokos at his What (Not) Not To Doc blog. Before the honors were awarded, the filmmakers were taken on a surprise tour of New York City by none-other-than Timothy “Speed” Levitch, the legendary double-decker tour guide and star of “The Cruise,” on which Steve Dollar of the Wall Street Journal bore witness. Meanwhile, over at Indiewire, director Marshall Curry took the time to reflect on not only the tour, of which he happily took part in, but the Cinema Eye Honors themselves.
Next Monday the 19th, at the IFC Center, Stranger than Fiction will be hosting a screening of director Brad Bernstein’s FAR OUT ISN’T FAR ENOUGH: THE TOMI UNGERER STORY. Taking advantage of the fact that Tomi Ungerer himself will be in town for a retrospective of his work at the The Drawing Center in SoHo, both Brad Bernstein and Tomi Ungerer will be in attendance for a post screening Q&A. In light of the Charlie Hebdo tragedy, this should prove to be a timely and moving event.
The short film HACKED CIRCUIT from filmmaker Deborah Stratman was among the short films nominated for a Cinema Eye Honors award this year.
This week the Cinema Eye Honors for Nonfiction Filmmaking released the list of nonfiction short films nominated for an award this year. Kevin Ritchie covered the news for Realscreen, while Daniel Walber did the same at Nonfics.com, as did Jake Folsom of Indiewire.
At Indiewire, Peter Knegt updated the staff’s Oscar prediction for best doc. In a separate piece at Indiewire, Steve Greene reported on the docs topping the critics’ lists thus far in 2014. Over at Nonfics.com, Christopher Campbell contemplated which fall festival docs had a shot at winning the Oscar.
At the POV blog, staff interviewed Christopher Allen of Uniondocs about the interactive short project 89 STEPS: A CHAPTER OF LIVING LOS SURES. The blog also hosted an interview with Theo Rigby, creator of interactive doc IMMIGRANT NATION.
This week Stranger Than Fiction continues its fall season devoted to the works of Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker with a screening of JANE, along with the shorts DAYBREAK EXPRESS and BABY, on Tuesday, September 30 at 8 p.m. at the IFC Center in Manhattan. JANE is a rarely seen film following actress Jane Fonda as she prepares for a recurring role in the Broadway show “The Fun Couple.” Pennebaker will be in attendance for a Q&A following the film. For more information or to purchase tickets please go here.
The film (T)ERROR from directors Lyric Cabral and David Felix Sutcliffe was among those selected for participation in the Sundance Institute documentary edit and story lab.
This week the Sundance Institute named this year’s fellows for the documentary edit and story labs. Writing for Realscreen, Manori Ravindran covered the news, as did Nigel M. Smith of Indiewire.
The film NORTHERN LIGHT from director Nick Bentgen began a run at the Maysles Cinema this week. On the True/False Fest blog Chris Boeckmann posted an interview conducted with Bentgen about a year ago. Lance Edmands of Hammer to Nail also had an interview with Bentgen, while Jeannette Catsoulis of the New York Times awarded it a Critics’ Pick.
Basil Tsiokos turned out a slew of overviews of some upcoming film festivals and events on his blog, What (Not) to Doc. Among the events he looked at were the BAMcinemaFest, the American Black Film Festival, the AFI Docs festival, and the Edinburgh International Film Festival.
This week Stranger Than Fiction closes out its spring/summer season with a special Wednesday screening of THE PLEASURES OF BEING OUT OF STEP, a profile of music critic Nat Hentoff from director David L. Lewis, on June 25 at 8 p.m. at the IFC Center in Manhattan. Following the screening, Lewis will be in attendance for a Q&A. For more information or to purchase tickets please go here.
The Act of Killing from director Joshua Oppenheimer topped a number of best docs of 2013 lists.
There was little doc news to report over the past holiday week, but some writers managed to get their year-end lists out. At the British Film Institute’s Sight and Sound site, Robert Greene continued his effort to put cinematic nonfiction into the doc vernacular. Programmer Basil Tsiokos also released his own list of his favorite films from 2013 at his What (Not) to Doc blog. Nonfics.com hosted a list of the year’s best music docs from Andy Markowitz of MusicFilmWeb. Writing for the SundanceNOW site, Anthony Kaufman released a list of six under-viewed docs from the year.
Writing for The New York Times, Brooks Barnes linked docs that screen at Sundance to the ones that show up on the Oscar shortlist some months later. And Stranger Than Fiction’s Thom Powers rounded up some advice from filmmakers on how to prep for Sundance and other festivals.
Indiwire’s Paula Bernstein published a list of 25 doc filmmakers worth following on Twitter.
Heather McIntosh of the Documentary Site announced her plan to watch 365 docs in 2014, following in the footsteps of Dan Schindel.
Price Peterson of Netflix announced the launch of its Documentary Club, in which a different doc on the site will be discussed each week.
At Nonfics.com, Christopher Campbell shared his top home picks for the week, and also highlighted those films hitting theaters.
This week saw the passing of Bill Knight, a member of the Bangor Troop Greeters, a group in Maine that welcomed U.S. soldiers home from overseas deployments. Knight had been featured in the film THE WAY WE GET BY by director Aron Gaudet.
Finally, the folks at The Black and Blue culled the best professional advice ever received from 88 different cinematographers.
That’s it for this week (and year). Be sure to keep sending tips and recommendations for the Memo via e-mail here, or by Twitter to @GuerrillaFace. Happy New Year everyone!