Please forgive my tardiness – it’s been a bit of a busy week for me, trekking from Hot Docs to Rochester’s Nitrate Picture Show at the George Eastman Museum, one of the few venues in the world still able to screen nitrate film prints (now in its third year, the festival showed four docs this year, including Georges Franju’s controversial 1949 short BLOOD OF THE BEASTS). As I type this week’s memo, I’m currently riding shotgun down the interstate on the way to pick up my dog, who had a week long getaway at my mom’s out in rural western New York. Thus, on to doc news!
As Hot Docs began to wind down, this year’s award winners were revealed. Charles Officer’s UNARMED VERSES won Best Canadian Feature, Pau Ortiz’s THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WALL was named Best International Feature, Catherine Bainbridge and Alfonso Maiorana’s RUMBLE: THE INDIANS WHO ROCKED THE WORLD took home the Audience Award, Asaf Sudry and Tali Shemesh’s DEATH IN THE TERMINAL won Best Mid-Length Doc, and Best Short went to Tamta Gabrichidze for SOVDAGARI. At Doc Soup, Tom Roston outilned his festival finds and the Hot Docs Pitch Forum, while Eli Brown live blogged this year’s pitches at The D-Word and Selina Chignall reported on the ins and outs of Hot Docs funding applications for Realscreen.
Tonight we here at Stranger Than Fiction return to the IFC Center with the latest film from HOOP DREAMS director Steve James, ABACUS: SMALL ENOUGH TO JAIL, which tells the incredible saga of the Chinese immigrant Sung family, owners of Abacus Federal Savings of Chinatown, New York, the only U.S. bank to face criminal charges in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. Jill Sung, Vera Sung and Chanterelle Sung, several of the subjects featured in the film, will appear for a live Q&A following the film. Tickets for the event can be purchased here.
This past week, the folks over at The Guardian joined the growing chorus of critics proclaiming that we are currently in a golden age of documentaries with a solid list of examples to argue the point and filmmakers like Laura Poitras and Dawn Porter admitting that some of their favorites are fairly new films themselves. Even doc director Adam Curtis contributed his own spin on the conversation, though claiming that he believes SOUTH PARK to be the best ongoing documentary series. Though not directly, Gregg Kilday and Stephen Galloway‘s gathering of Ezra Edelman, Werner Herzog, Kirsten Johnson, Josh Kriegman, Raoul Peck and Roger Ross Williams for an extensive Hollywood Reporter round-table discussion seems to only help prove the point. Portions of this discussion can be read and partially watched at the link, but the full conversation is set to air on SundanceTV on February 19, 2017. Likewise, Chris O’Falt‘s piece at IndieWire on how recent docs like 13TH, TOWER, I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO and more re-purpose archival footage for artistic means and Diane Haithman‘s short take on a trio of recent docs that take aim at the gun debate at Hollywood Reporter both continue to add fuel to this raging golden age fire.
Legendary doc helmer Frederick Wiseman was one of four diverse recipients of an Honorary Oscar from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Governers Awards last week. As noted by Josh Rottenberg in The Los Angeles Times, “Wiseman was honored for his work illuminating various social, cultural and government institutions in renowned documentary films like TITICUT FOLLIES, HIGH SCHOOL, LAW AND ORDER, PUBLIC HOUSING and LA DANSE.” In Wiseman’s acceptance speech, which can be viewed in its entirety here, along with Rory Kennedy, Ben Kingsley and Don Cheadle‘s loving introductions, he stated matter of factly, “I think it’s as important to document kindness, civility and generosity of spirit as it is to show cruelty, banality and indifference.”
As is sadly the norm for the Cannes Film Festival, this year’s doc lineup was slim, but much anticipated. Following her Oscar winning CITIZENFOUR, Laura Poitras debuted her long in the works profile of Julian Assange in RISK (formally titled ASYLUM) as part of the Director’s Fortnight. Variety’s Peter Debruge, The Wrap’s Steve Pond, The Guardian’s Catherine Shoard and indieWIRE’s Graham Winfrey each logged their (mostly) positive initial reactions, while Wendy Mitchell and Alex Ritman both spoke with Poitras about her new film for Screen Daily and The Hollywood Reporter, respectively. Jim Jarmusch also brought a new doc to the Croisette alongside his new fiction feature PATERSON in GIMME DANGER, a cinematic look at his longtime friend and collaborator Iggy Pop & The Stooges. David Rooney illustrated the film’s impact most excitingly in The Hollywood Reporter, writing, “Two seminal Stooges album titles — ‘Fun House’ and ‘Raw Power’ — sum up this film’s appeal.” Owen Gleiberman of Variety on the other hand wanted more danger from the film.
In her report for Screen Daily on this year’s Cannes Doc Day event, Wendy Mitchell began by noting that this month marks the 10th anniversary of the world premiere of Davis Guggenheim’s climate change focused, Al Gore starred AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH. As it turns out, Grist published an in-depth oral history of the film’s production and release with interviews by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong, Amelia Urry, Eve Andrews, and Melissa Cronin with Gore and Guggenheim themselves, as well as producers Laurie David, Lawrence Bender, and many more key behind the scenes players. Other festival highlights this week included Daniele Alcinii‘s report at Realscreen that Kirsten Johnson’s CAMERAPERSON and Brett Story’s THE PRISON IN TWELVE LANDSCAPES were awarded feature doc and Canadian doc prizes, respectively, at the 2016 DOXA Documentary Film Festival in Vancouver, as well as Basil Tsiokos’ previews of the non-fiction offerings at both this past weekend’s Seattle International Film Festival and Encuentros del Otro Cine (EDOC), Ecuador’s largest doc festival, which runs through this week.
It is timely that, following the Cannes premiere of RISK, we’ll be screening a sneak peak selection of shorts from FIELD OF VISION, which Poitras co-founded with Charlotte Cook and AJ Schnack and serves as executive producer for, as the next installment of our Spring Season here at Stranger Than Fiction! Both Cook and Schnack will be present for the screening and participating in a Q&A. Tickets available for this special event taking place tomorrow at IFC Center can be purchased 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.
Phew. I’ve returned, a bit winded from another rather joyous outing in Toronto, having copiously feasted on the year’s biggest and best selection of films just about anywhere. And in my relative absence from the happenings of online cinema news, a tsunami of exciting announcements, festival coverage and more has hit the net – most essentially, The Intercept’s launch of Field of Vision, a new documentary unit co-created by filmmakers Laura Poitras, AJ Schnack and former Hot Docs Director of Programing Charlotte Cook. Variety’s Dave McNary had the exclusive on the arrival of the group, while Eric Hynes interviewed the creative trio about their intentions for Field of Vision at The Intercept itself. Paula Bernstein of indieWIRE also spoke with them about how the project hopes to impact documentary filmmaking, as did Manori Ravindran for Realscreen. According to Varun Nayar at Tech Times, “2015’s inaugural season is set to begin on Sept. 29, where Poitras will look at the man behind Wikileaks, Julian Assange, documenting his progress and his time spent in political asylum in London’s Ecuadorian embassy.”
Still riding the waves of CITIZENFOUR, Laura Poitras won the Emmy Award for Exceptional Merit in Documentary Filmmaking, alongside Andrew Jarecki, who won the Emmy for Outstanding documentary or nonfiction series award for THE JINX, and Alex Gibney, who took home the prize for Outstanding documentary or nonfiction special for GOING CLEAR, reports Stephanie Merry in The Washington Post. Last week also saw the release of the European Film Awards’ first doc shortlist, which includes Asif Kapadia’s AMY, THE LOOK OF SILENCE from director Joshua Oppenheimer and Sean McAllister’s A SYRIAN LOVE STORY, according to Scott Roxborough of The Hollywood Reporter. Similarly, Manori Ravindran of Realscreen reports that Cinema Eye Honors also announced their doc shorts finalists, naming David Darg’s BODY TEAM 12 and Kitty Green’s THE FACE OF UKRAINE: CASTING OKSANA BAIUL amongst others.