Festival season is now in full swing and as further confirmation the New York Film Festival revealed its 13 film lineup for its Spotlight on Documentary. Highlights include world premieres of Mark Bozek’s THE TIMES OF BILL CUNNINGHAM and Tom Surgal’s FIRE MUSIC, as well as a new restoration of William Wyler’s THE MEMPHIS BELLE: A STORY OF A FLYING FORTRESS. Following the close of this year’s Locarno Festival, the festival announced “Lili Hinstin will be the new Artistic director of the Locarno Festival, replacing Carlo Chatrian who is leaving Locarno to take over the artistic direction of the Berlinale. Hinstin will take up her appointment from December 1st 2018, while already devoting part of her time to the preparation of the next edition of the Locarno Festival.” And while it is more a doc professional conference than a film festival, IDA’s Getting Real ’18 also listed its full schedule and boasts of a keynote from Michèle Stephenson, a masterclass with Frederick Wiseman, and a closing night screening of a newly restored SALESMAN on 35mm. The event will take place in Los Angeles from September 25-27.
A few festival hits reached audiences this past weekend, most notably CRIME + PUNISHMENT, another big Hulu release following the success of MINDING THE GAP. The film was selected by our own Raphaela Neihausen and Thom Powers as WNYC’s Documentary of the Week, noting that it “plays like a modern day SERPICO” as it “follows the case of the NYPD 12, who spoke out against biased policing.” In The New York Times, A.O. Scott deemed it a NYT Critics’ Pick, while in Vogue, Julia Falsenthal called it “a blood-boiling look at systemically racist policing” in her feature on the project in which she spoke at length with the film’s director, Stephen Maing. It should be noted that over at Nonfics, Christopher Campbell has acknowledged Hulu as a new documentary powerhouse with a list of 50 of the best films currently streaming on the service, with CRIME + PUNISHMENT sitting at #2.
Next up was Steve James’s new Starz doc series AMERICA TO ME, which also has a connection with MINDING THE GAP, as the film’s director Bing Liu worked as a cinematographer on the series. Sam Adams called the project a “panoramic portrait of racial inequality at one Illinois high school” and a “worthy follow-up to HOOP DREAMS” at Slate, as Jake Nevins joyously unpacks the series in-depth in a lengthy feature that appeared in The Guardian. He comprehensively regales, “Like many of James’s films, AMERICA TO ME is about one thing, a high school, and so much more: those tumultuous, formative years of pubescence; the intersections between race, class and sexuality; the rich but often fraught relations of teachers and students; cafeteria banter; spoken word class; administrative oversight; homecoming and the football team; the amorphous politics of the high school food chain; and one relatively progressive school’s failure to adequately address the achievement gap between its white students and those of color.”
While I was away last week, the Toronto International Film Festival revealed an all-star lineup for its TIFF Docs program, including new works from Werner Herzog, Michael Moore, Errol Morris, Frederick Wiseman and Rithy Panh, just to name a few. This past week, the festival’s Wavelengths program was unveiled and features experimental documentary from the likes of Wang Bing, Jodie Mack, James Benning and Roberto Minervini. And for doc professionals, the annual Doc Conference is set to kick off with a conversation between Werner Herzog and Pure Nonfiction host Thom Powers. The full schedule is available at the link.
In other festival news, the New York Film Festival announced not only its experimental Projections program, but also its Convergence slate, which centers around VR and interactive experiences, reports Kate Erbland of IndieWire. Deadline’s Peter White reports that Sheffield Doc/Fest CEO and Festival Director Elizabeth McIntyre is to step down after three years in charge. Additionally, programmer and film critic Eric Allen Hatch has kicked off a new monthly column titled “Infinite Fest” in which he’ll be “tackling the state of cinema as expressed by North American film festivals”.
Bing Liu’s Sundance Special Jury Prize winner MINDING THE GAP (my favorite film of the year thus far) has finally arrived via Hulu on Friday and has been near universally lauded by critics thus far. In The New Yorker, Richard Brody elegantly praises the film, writing, “…the skating sequences of his documentary “Minding the Gap” (which opens today in theatres and streams on Hulu) have a surging, gliding, soaring, joyously speedy energy that offers a hypnotic whirl and rush. Those images of skating, however, are merely the background and context for the film, and the diverting thrill that they offer is crucial to the film’s substance. That substance—domestic trauma, systemic racism, and economic dislocation—is also the very stuff of society, and the near-at-hand intimacy gives rise to a film of vast scope and political depth.” Critics from Matt Zoller Seitz at RogerEbert.com to A.O. Scott in The New York Times and Luke Hicks at Nonfics have all felt about the same in their warm reviews of the film. In promoting the film, Bing Liu himself has appeared in conversation with Vadim Rizov in Filmmaker Magazine, as well as with Alissa Wilkinson of Vox.
Just as The Associated Press proclaimed, last Thursday the curtain went up on a documentary-rich New York Film Festival and much has been written thus far to celebrate. Richard Brody notes in The New Yorker, Travis Wilkerson’s new standalone feature version of DID YOU WONDER WHO FIRED THE GUN? as a festival highlight, along with Varda and JR’s FACES PLACES. In Manohla Dargis‘s preview of this year’s edition for The New York Times she notes, “One program to explore is the Spotlight on Documentary, which features several worthwhile offerings, including ARTHUR MILLER: WRITER and JOAN DIDION: THE CENTER WILL NOT HOLD, two views from the inside.” Questioning the merits and future possibilities of literary docs like these at LitHub, Craig Hubert writes with fervor, “A writer’s work, or the work of a publication, especially over a long career, is slippery and often contradictory, and demands a portrait that challenges this ambivalence. What we get usually is something that acts as a visual Wikipedia page, a series of bullet-point facts presented without a critical eye.” As has become customary, Basil Tsiokos gave a thorough preview of the new nonfiction offerings at the fest via What (not) To Doc, while at Criterion Cast, Joshua Brunsting listed five recommendations to catch, including a trio of docs that top the list.
Just two days after Esquire published Nick Schager’s list of the best documentaries of 2017 so far, DOC NYC announced its 15-film Short List of Oscar contenders along with its TIFF debuted opening-night selection, THE FINAL YEAR. Breaking the news at IndieWire, Anne Thompson pointed out that “Historically, most DOC NYC picks do land on the Academy’s official 15-film Oscar Short List. For the past four years, the Short List had nine to 10 titles overlap, with four or five titles going on to Oscar nominations. For the last six years, DOC NYC screened the documentary that went on to win the Oscar.”
During the summer, much of the doc world goes relatively quiet, but this week it kicks into overdrive as the fall film festival season goes from 0 to 60 in one week flat. The 74th edition of the Venice Film Festival began on Wednesday with “just over 30 documentary features among its more than 100 feature offerings,” as Basil Tsiokos noted in his nonfiction overview of the fest at What (not) To Doc. In his own festival preview in The New York Times, Nicolas Rapold singled out a few docs – Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel’s CANIBA, Frederick Wiseman’s EX LIBRIS, Chris Smith’s JIM & ANDY – that are set to also screen next week at the Toronto International Film Festival, while others – HUMAN FLOW by Ai Weiwei (which received a glowing review from IndieWire’s David Ehrlich) and the hybrid series WORMWOOD by Errol Morris (who spoke with Brent Lang of Variety and picked up praise from IndieWire via Eric Kohn and The Guardian’s Xan Brooks) – had their debuts this weekend at the exclusive Telluride Film Festival. Following Telluride’s lineup unveiling, Adam Benzine and the fine folks over at Nonfics pointed out that the festival launched last year’s Oscar doc shorts winner and posed the possibility of the same happening with this year’s HEROIN(E) and LONG SHOT. At Variety, Kristopher Tapley discussed the fate of Sydney Pollack’s long embattled Aretha Franklin film AMAZING GRACE, which has been slated for a Telluride debut for years.
Closer to home, TIFF takes over Toronto this Thursday and the Toronto Star’s Peter Howell already broke the news this past week that long time director and CEO Piers Handling has announced his departure after nearly 25 years at the helm. “The urbane Handling, 68, has a lot planned for his post-TIFF life, including a book — something film-related but not personal memoirs — and more of the world travel and mountain climbing that have long been among his other passions. In all, the former film professor will have been at TIFF for 36 years, nearly half his life.”
Giving an exclusive preview of the TIFF Docs offerings, programmer Thom Powers and his colleague Dorota Lech outlined each of the films in a pair of episodes of the Pure Nonfiction podcast. The CinemaScope crew have already begun combing through the more experimental docs making their domestic debut at the fest, with reviews of GOOD LUCK via Phil Coldiron, MRS. FANG via Daniel Kasman, TA PEAU SI LISSE via Adam Nayman, and FACES PLACES by Jordan Cronk. And at Entertainment Weekly, Joey Nolfi spoke with Lady Gaga and director Chris Moukarbel about GAGA: FIVE FOOT TWO, which is set to have its world premiere at the fest this coming Friday.
With no major theatrical releases and a slew of major festivals on the verge of kicking off, it’s a rather quiet on the nonfiction front. That said, the New York Film Festival did reveal its Spotlight on Documentary lineup, which includes Travis Wilkerson’s True/False alum DID YOU WONDER WHO FIRED THE GUN?, TIFF selections JANE, A SKIN SO SOFT, and BOOM FOR REAL, as well as world premieres of Alison McAlpine’s CIELO, Ena Talakic and Ines Talakic’s HALL OF MIRRORS, and Alex Gibney’s NO STONE UNTURNED, which was previously slated to screen at Tribeca and Hot Docs before it was pulled for undisclosed legal reasons.
After revealing its full program schedule on Tuesday, the Toronto International Film Festival added a handful of last minute special events, including the world premiere of GAGA: FIVE FOOT TWO by Emmy-nominated filmmaker Chris Moukarbel, “a rare snapshot of the raucously public music icon Lady Gaga and the offstage woman that is Stefani Joanne Germanotta,” as well as the world premiere of Brandon and Skyler Gross’ ON MY WAY OUT: THE SECRET LIFE OF NANI AND POPI – the program notes read, “Roman (Popi) and Ruth (Nani) Blank have been married for 65 years, but at age 95, Roman reveals a secret that tests their seemingly invincible union, in Brandon and Skyler Gross’ touching portrait of their grandparents.”
Though the Locarno International Film Festival wrapped up a couple weeks back, at the fest IndieWire’s Irina Trocan discovered a handful of films that represent modern domestic life in new ways, including a trio of films to soon screen at TIFF – Xu Bing’s DRAGONFLY EYES, Ben Russell’s GOOD LUCK, and Wang Bing’s MRS. FANG. On a similar wavelength, Cara Buckley thoroughly examined the many current docs that are exploring the pain of racism for The New York Times, noting “A burst of new films, many of them documentaries, are taking a deep look beyond the headlines at the lasting impact that racial schisms and racism have on Americans’ everyday lives.”