Before last night’s best picture debacle cemented the 2017 Oscars as one of the wildest on record, Ezra Edelman’s eight hour American epic O.J.: MADE IN AMERICA made history as the longest film to ever win an Oscar, regardless of category, just after taking Best Documentary Feature at the Independent Spirit Awards the night before.. Shortly thereafter, Orlando von Einsiedel took home the award for Best Doc Short Subject for THE WHITE HELMETS. The full list of Oscar winners can be found here. Leading up to the ceremony, Joel Bocko made a video essay for Fandor on the many merits of Edelman’s film, titled NOT JUST O.J., Mandalit Del Barco looked at the trio of docs up for Oscars that dealt directly with Syria’s civil war at NPR, while at ABC News, Taylor Maple outlined in detail how the Student Academy Awards may open doors to the film industry for its young honorees. And over at IDA’s blog, Caty Borum Chattoo shared a telling study of race and gender in Oscar-shortlisted documentaries from 2008-2017.
Tomorrow night at the IFC Center, we will be hosting a very special 25th anniversary screening of Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky’s landmark documentary BROTHER’S KEEPER. To help mark the occasion, Berlinger will be on hand for a live Q&A moderated by Morgan Spurlock! This show is now sold out.
It’s been an incredibly difficult week to keep up with documentary news, as my normal means of news gathering have been swamped with story after story of Trump’s growing list of executive actions, and understandably so. It’s times like these that make us reconsider the importance of the arts and the industries that grease their wheels. I mean, why read about award shows and film festivals while journalists are being charged with felonies for covering the protests during the inauguration, Stephen Bannon has publicly stated that media should “keep its mouth shut” and the president himself has issued a an order on immigration that severely restricts immigration from seven Muslim countries and more? Because cinema, and more specifically, documentaries, epitomize the human condition, inspire empathy, and more often than not advocate for social change in times of political unrest – now more than ever.
In response to Trump’s immigration restrictions, Field of Vision currently has a callout for footage from inside airports pertaining to the Muslim Ban. Anyone with footage can reach out to email@example.com or share it anoymously in their secure drop. Reporting from Sundance, IndieWire’s Anthony Kaufman, Realscreen’s Valentina Valentini and Vulture’s Jada Yuan each parsed how the festival’s documentary selections worked in relief to the Trump administration thus far. Even this week’s episode of Pure Nonfiction, featuring Mohamed Nasheed, the former president of the Maldives, who was profiled in the 2011 documentary THE ISLAND PRESIDENT, deals directly with the political impact of documentary films and the current political climate we’ve found ourselves in.
Right here at home, we announced last Friday that Stranger Than Fiction will be returning to the IFC Center for our 2017 Winter Season, which begins Tuesday, February 7th with the NYC premiere of Andreas Dalsgaard and Obaidah Zytoon’s THE WAR SHOW, about “a Syrian radio DJ who documents the experiences of herself and her friends as their dreams of hope and liberation in the wake of the 2011 Arab Spring give way to the grim realities of repression, forced emigration and extremism.” Alaa Hassan, the film’s producer, will be on hand for a live post-screening Q&A. Tickets to our opening night event, as well as season passes, can be purchased here.
Last Wednesday marked the end of a week of a celebratory filmmaker outings for those nominated for this year’s Cinema Eye Honors, which is now in its tenth year of existence. IndieWire’s Eric Kohn documented the pre-award show outings, which included a private visit to the Whitney, live band karaoke featuring the likes of Steve James, the Ross brothers and Robert Greene, and much more. At the Cinema Eye Honors awards ceremony, “Kirsten Johnson’s CAMERAPERSON took home three awards, Outstanding Cinematography for Johnson, Outstanding Editing for Nels Bangerter and Outstanding Nonfiction Feature for Johnson and producer Marilyn Ness,” while “O.J.: MADE IN AMERICA received two awards: Outstanding Direction for Ezra Edelman and Outstanding Production for Edelman and Caroline Waterlow.” This year’s Audience Award went to Clay Tweel’s GLEASON. The full list of honorees can be found here.
In other awards news, the British Academy Film Awards (BAFTAs) revealed their nominees this past week, putting 13TH, THE EAGLE HUNTRESS, WEINER, NOTES ON BLINDNESS and THE BEATLES: EIGHT DAYS A WEEK – THE TOURING YEARS up for Best Documentary. And while Cara Buckley debated whether O.J.: MADE IN AMERICA was a mini-series or a just a really long feature film in The New York Times, Glenn Whipp wondered aloud in The Los Angeles Times whether the film will be upset at this year’s Oscars. A pair of must read end of year rundowns also appeared this week, one from Robert Greene in Sight & Sound and a whole host of cinephilic lists over at Senses of Cinema’s World Poll 2016.
Holiday season is upon, hence why last week’s memo never materialized (that and it was a surprisingly slow doc news week). This past week however has been bustling with award season breaks, winter festival announcements and a whole host of new films available for streaming online. First off, as has become tradition following the gorging of Thanksgiving weekend, the Sundance Film Festival announced its full 2017 competition lineup, including the US Documentary Competition with new work by Brian Knappenberger, Yance Ford, Matthew Heineman and Shaul Schwarz, as well as the World Cinema Documentary Competition, featuring films by Ramona Diaz, Rahul Jain, Jiu-liang Wang and more. As we move closer to the Trump administration, both Mark Olsen of The Los Angeles Times and Brooks Barnes of The New York Times predict a politically volatile Park City program, each highlighting some obvious hot spots like Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis’s WHOSE STREETS?, which explores the violence in Ferguson, Missouri that went down in the summer of 2014. More titles will be announced shortly. And while Sundance will always overshadow its rebellious younger Park City rival, the Slamdance Film Festival also listed their lineup of eight doc features, five of which are world premieres.
Now that we are officially knee deep in December, film critics around the world are getting antsy to proclaim their picks for the best films of the year. Both the New York Film Critics Circle and the National Board of Review named Ezra Edelman’s mammoth O.J.: MADE IN AMERICA the Best Documentary of the Year, while at the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Raoul Peck’s I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO pulled an upset over Edelman’s film, which was the runner-up for Best Documentary and received a nod for Best Editing. (Side note: Edelman and Peck turned up in conversation with Bryan Stevenson and Thom Powers on race, Trump and doc making in the latest episode of Pure Nonfiction.) Sight & Sound Magazine also polled a 163 critics for their year end lists, whom collectively included FIRE AT SEA, CAMERAPERSON and O.J.: MADE IN AMERICA amongst their top 26.
It’s not just critics that are naming their favorites of the year already though. The Gotham Independent Film Awards took place early last week, with O.J.: MADE IN AMERICA once again coming out on top, while across the pond the British Independent Film Awards gave their top doc prize to James Spinney and Peter Middleton’s NOTES ON BLINDNESS. Looking towards this year’s Oscars, The Hollywood Reporter’s Gregg Kilday considered whether or not this might be the year to see a non-fiction film take home the Oscar for Best Picture. Being that an abundance of similar talk fruitlessly centered around CITIZENFOUR last year, I seriously doubt it.
Anyone without their head buried in the sand is well aware of the shocking news that the people of the United Kingdom have voted to leave the European Union, causing mass confusion and panic among the filmmaking community. In a shower of stories listing the potential consequences for the financing and development of future films (see European Documentary Network‘s recent survey on the “Current Cost of Making Documentaries in Today’s Audiovisual Market” for a look at that situation before the Brexit)
and the overall distribution processes currently in place, amongst others. Variety’s Leo Barraclough published the first, followed by similarly alarming pieces from The Guardian’s Andrew Pulver, The Hollywood Reporter’s Scott Roxborough, The Verge’s Sam Byford, and the Los Angeles Times’ Rebecca Keegan and Ryan Faughnder. Essentially, it’s not looking pretty. Perfectly timed, Artsy posted a beautiful feature by Tess Thackara on the Ghana-born, British filmmaker John Akomfrah and his new doc-based, migrant focused show at the Lisson Gallery in Manhattan that directly comments on the current Brexit situation.
Days before all of that went down, the Cinema Eye Honors revealed their 2017 Television Nonfiction Shortlist, including obvious choices like Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos’ MAKING A MURDERER and some pleasant surprises such as Steven Okazaki’s HBO doc HEROIN, CAPE COD, USA and the Netflix release MY BEAUTIFUL BROKEN BRAIN by Lotje Sodderland and Sophie Robinson. Paula Bernstein reported on the announcement for Filmmaker Magazine.
This past weekend saw the conclusion both NYC’s Human Rights Watch Film Festival and AFI Docs kicked off and finished in a matter of four short days. Daniel Walber listed his top five favorites seen at Human Rights Watch over at Nonfics, while Basil Tsiokos previewed the AFI Docs offerings and the Washingtonian staff recommended 14 films to see at the festival, including Dana Flor and Toby Oppenheimer’s LGBT-gang doc CHECK IT and the BEST IN SHOW-flavored film CHICKEN PEOPLE by Nicole Lucas Haimes.