Shooting of MEETING GORBACHEV. Photo: Lena Herzog
If last week seemed unusually spare, this past week’s abundance of doc news surely makes up for it. Kicking things off with an enthusiastic bang, The Ringer’s Sean Fennessey makes the case in his must read of the week that the recent financial success of various theatrical doc releases “represent, if not a major moment, then at least a meaningful boomlet for theatrical documentary filmmaking, perhaps the culmination of almost 50 years of evolution and exposure for the form, stretching back to the Maysles brothers’ SALESMAN. It has been 40 years since Martin Scorsese’s THE LAST WALTZ, about 30 years since Errol Morris’s THE THIN BLUE LINE and Michael Moore’s ROGER & ME, nearly 25 years since Steve James’s HOOP DREAMS, 20 years since Spike Lee’s FOUR LITTLE GIRLS, and 10 years since James Marsh’s MAN ON WIRE. That half a century of meaningful work with increasing mass exposure has slowly redefined the form, turning what had been considered by some moviegoers a starchy, stiff form of storytelling into some of the most vital, sought-out films in the country.”
Meanwhile, as the Toronto International Film Festival and the New York Film Festival began to roll out their big name fiction features, DOK Leipzig revealed that its 61st edition will open with Werner Herzog and André Singer’s MEETING GORBECHEV, which sees “Herzog and Gorbachev sit together in the former’s Moscow office, engaging in intense conversations about the past and the winding path of history.” Bragging of an A-List of docs out-of-competition alongside its much-touted fiction competition, the Venice Film Festival is slated to premiere new work by Errol Morris, Frederick Wiseman, Victor Kossakovsky, Tsai Ming-liang, Sergei Loznitsa and Mark Cousins, just to name a few.
In the wake of SELMA’s incredible critical and popular success, director Ava DuVernay has taken up the fight for women and minority filmmakers with a podcast, keynote speeches, social media movements, and now a return to documentary filmmaking with THE 13TH, “about the United States’ sky-high incarceration rate,” according to Cara Buckley of The New York Times. DuVernay’s last nonfiction project was VENUS VS., the first episode of ESPN’s Nine for IX series which celebrated women in sports with female filmmakers at the helm of each episode. The Film Society of Lincoln Center broke the news that DuVernay’s film will be the first documentary to ever kick off the New York Film Festival and will then head to select theaters and Netflix, while Jen Chung of Gothamist and Vikram Murthi of IndieWire each reported the break. This week DuVernay appeared alongside Jamal Joseph on The Close-up to talk about her new film and more.
In other festival news, the Toronto International Film Festival released details about its annual Doc Conference, including a keynote by Steve James reports Kevin Ritchie of Realscreen. More notably at IndieWire, Anne Thompson broke the news that Michael Moore’s Traverse City Film Festival has boldly programmed its entire competition with 32 films, every single one directed by, or co-directed by women, while male directors have been relegated to a small 5 film side bar titled “Men Make Movies —The Struggle Continues.” While Basil Tsiokos previewed the doc offerings at NYC’s Asian American International Film Festival over at What (not) To Doc, Michael Rosser reported that the Sarajevo Film Fest has revealed its documentary competition titles at Screen Daily. Meanwhile over at Sight & Sound, Nick James reflected on this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival, singling out CHICAGO BOYS, LOST IN FRANCE and THE LOVERS AND THE DESPOT as intriguing highlights, as Alissa Simon listed her favorites from the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, noting Miroslav Janek’s NORMAL AUTISTIC FILM and DOOMED BEAUTY from Helena Třeštíková and Jakub Hejna as standouts. And at Little White Lies, Matt Turner celebrated “the young female directors leading Mexico’s cinema revolution” that made their appearance at Karlovy Vary.