As you might have noticed, there was no memo last week due to the fact that I was away attending this year’s edition of Missouri’s hybrid focused True/False Film Festival. As Richard Brody summed it up so deftly in The New Yorker, it’s a festival “governed by an idea, the essence of which is documentary filmmakers thinking about what they’re doing and making that thinking integral to their films.” Maybe more than any year prior, there was a lengthy list of press folk in town to cover the fest, including Vikram Murthi for RogerEbert.com, Steven Zeitchik of the LA Times, Alissa Wilkinson writing for Vox, Jim Brunzell at Hammer To Nail, Vadim Rizov of Filmmaker Magazine and Glenn Heath Jr. for MUBI’s Notebook. I, myself, let my impressions loose over at Nonfics.
While I was away, Chicago’s DOC10 revealed their 2017 lineup. Programmed by Anthony Kaufman, the schedule includes DOC NYC Grand Jury Prize winner THE ISLAND AND THE WHALES, one of my favorites from True/False, RAT FILM and other gems like the Sundance highlights CASTING JONBENET and STEP, which will serve as the opening night picture.
Here at Stranger Than Fiction, our winter season continues tomorrow night at IFC Center with Sara Taksler’s TICKLING GIANTS, which sees “Bassem Youssef make a decision that’s every mother’s worst nightmare… He leaves his job as a heart surgeon to become a full-time comedian.” The screening will be followed by a live Q&A with director Taksler. Tickets are still available here.
Filmmaker Laura Poitras (photo by Damon Winter of New York Times/Redux)
In the wake of Sundance fever, it was Laura Poitras’ newly opened exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City, ASTRO NOISE, that had the documentary world’s attention this past week. The co-founder of Field of Vision and CITIZENFOUR director’s personally revealing show on her own life experiences of FBI surveillence and beyond was the talk of the town, receiving features in The New York Times from Holland Cotter, Wired by Andy Greenberg, Vogue via Sara Corbett, and Russell Brandom of The Verge. At the POV Blog, Tom Roston said that experiencing the project is “like walking through a documentary…It’s a remarkable work, even more so when you consider, although Poitras once studied the visual arts, she’s primarily a feature documentary filmmaker.” The Guardian published a pair of pieces on the exhibition, one from Jason Farago, the other by Dominic Rushe. Artinfo’s Noelle Bodick wrote a piece outlining why the Whitney might be nervous about serving as a platform for Poitras and her repurposing of leaked classified images into politically charged works of art. While in Artforum, Stephen Squibb beautifully sums up the exhibition, “For Poitras, installation is a technology capable of staging a self-conscious relationship to method itself. She uses venerable tropes of cinema—which constitute a common language, a lingua franca of perceptible gestures—to bypass the contemporary tension between documentary and fantasy, credible and incredible, which today inheres in imperceptible and clandestine information as much as in visual or sensory phenomena.”
Though cinema tinged surveillance should now once again lingering in the mind, Sundance is itself still being processed. At Nonfics, Jason Gorber listed his favorite documentaries of the festival, while Eric Kohn and Kate Erbland debated how this year’s best Sundance features might factor in next year’s Oscar Race at indieWIRE. Focusing in on the increasingly prevalent diversity debate, Paste published Shannon M. Houston‘s ’10 Black Directors to Watch in 2016,’ featuring Dawn Porter and Rita Coburn Whack, and NPR posted Monica Castillo in conversation on where Sundance fits in with Hollywood’s diversity controversy. Navigating within the same vein, Liz Garbus appeared this week on indieWIRE’s Women and Hollywood podcast to discuss her film WHAT HAPPENED, MISS SIMONE?, as Melissa Silverstein points out, “the sole woman-helmed documentary in the running for this year’s Best Documentary Feature at the Academy Awards.”
This week at the IFC Center, the 2016 Winter Season of Stranger Than Fiction continues with a 10th Anniversary screening of Chris Sheridan and Patty Kim’s North Korean conspiracy doc ABDUCTION: THE MEGUMI YOKOTA STORY. Special guest Robert Boynton, author of “The Invitation-Only Zone: The True Story of North Korea’s Abduction Project,” will be on hand for a post-screening Q&A and book signing. Tickets for the event are still available here.