Over the last 11 days, North America’s largest documentary film festival and doc conference, Toronto’s beloved Hot Docs, hosted 452 public screenings of 210 films on 17 screens throughout the city. Today they announced that directors Michael Beach Nichols and Christopher K. Walker were awarded the 2015 Filmmaker-to-Filmmaker Award for their Sundance preemed white supremacist portrait WELCOME TO LEITH, while the Phillip Baribeau’s UNBRANDED took home this year’s Audience Award. Reflecting on the offerings of this year’s Hot Docs, Indiewire’s Anthony Kaufman wrote a piece explaining exactly what makes Hot Docs such a spotlight for under-appreciated films, as well as an outline of his favorite eight discoveries from the festival. At Doc Soup, Tom Roston also wrote up his discoveries of the past week – both writers making note of Kristof Bilsen’s THE ELEPHANT’S DREAM and Andreas Koefoed’s THE ARMS DROP.
While the public and much of the press take in as many films as is humanly possible in the 11 day stretch (I think the most I’ve manage to see is 45?!), hundreds of people in the industry descend upon the famed Hot Docs Forum to watch filmmakers pitch their projects in hopes of securing funds for production. Extending his coverage of Hot Docs, Anthony Kaufman wrote up a feature on his top eight pitches from the forum as well as tips for first time filmmakers at Indiewire, while Realscreen’s Manori Ravindran covered the forum over the course of three days – the highlight possibly being doc legend Frederick Wiseman’s first ever pitch for his new film IN JACKSON HEIGHTS, which, from the sounds of it was more like public performance than pleading pitch. While Wiseman was there in hopes of funding, he was also on hand to take part in a live discussion along with his long-time producer and distributor Karen Konicek and CBC journalist Piya Chattopadhyay. Kevin Ritchie recounted the various lessons learned from the live chat over at Realscreen.
Back in 2012, we here at Stranger Than Fiction showed Andrew Berend’s DELTA BOYS. So, we are extremely pleased to welcome back Berend with his latest film MADINA’S DREAM, which tells the story of rebels and refugees fighting to survive in Sudan’s Nuba Mountains and will screen tomorrow at 8pm at the IFC Center as part of our Spring Season of Stranger Than Fiction. Berends will be on hand for a post-screening Q&A. Ticketing information and more details on the screening can be found at the link.
My wife, Valerie Rettberg-Smith, and I at the Lumière! Inventing Cinema Exhibition at the Grand Palais in Paris
I hate to brag, but the last few weeks have been quite lovely, with getting married to my partner in life, Valerie Rettberg-Smith, and our subsequent honeymoon to Paris and Amsterdam and all. That said, I have returned, not quite rested, but full of hope, love, fresh perspectives and just now getting back into the swing of things. While I was away, Rachel Donadio of The New York Times wrote a piece on the Grand Palais’s Lumière! Inventing Cinema exhibition which opened March 27th, just in time for me to investigate. The exhibit, put together in partnership by the Grand Palais and the Institut Lumière, features an incredible history of film technology and the impact the Lumières continue to wield in artifacts and copious amounts of newly restored Lumière productions, some on film and others in various interactive displays. Celebrating over a hundred years since the Lumière brothers brought cinema as we know it into being, the exhibition runs now through June 14th.
Most of the Lumière films were in fact brief documentaries, running no more than a few minutes at most. The format continues to be more than relevant, as the stark cell-phone documentation of Walter Scott’s horrifically unjust murder by officer Michael T. Slager proves this past week. Writing for Time, Errol Morris commented on the necessity of documentation in terms of sorting out the truths in such a situation, while Ty Burr of The Boston Globe wrote at length on what he calls, “the cinema of evidence” and its essential pivot point in the battle against abuses of power in America. One would think such blatant injustices would have been curbed after this past year’s outrage in the wake of Michael Brown and Eric Garner’s murders by overzealous police, but alas, the preposterous bloodshed continues.
On a lighter note, tomorrow marks the start of the Spring ’15 season of Stranger Than Fiction with KING GEORGES, Erika Frankel’s documentary on the fiery French chef Georges Perrier and his crusade to keep his 40-year-old landmark restaurant, Le Bec-Fin in Philadelphia, relevant. Both director Erika Frankel and film subject Georges Perrier will be on hand for a post screening Q&A. Info on the film and tickets are available here.
Here at Stranger Than Fiction, the big news of the past week happened to be that we’ve announced our Winter Season series line-up! Running from February 3 to March 24, the IFC Center will be playing host to screenings of THE HAND THAT FEEDS, BEST OF EGG THE ARTS SHOW, SEYMOUR: AN INTRODUCTION and many other great documentaries and the filmmakers who saw brought them to the screen. Season passes, which include a variety of perks including free popcorn at all STF shows and a free DVD courtesy of Docurama, can be purchased here.
Surely the most talked about story elsewhere was that on Thursday the Academy finally announced their official nominations, including CITIZENFOUR, FINDING VIVIAN MAIER, LAST DAYS IN VIETNAM, THE SALT OF THE EARTH, and VIRUNGA for best documentary feature, as well as CRISIS HOTLINE: VETERANS PRESS 1, JOANNA, OUR CURSE, THE REAPER (LA PARKA), and WHITE EARTH for best documentary short. Writing for NonFics, Christopher Campbell covered the announcements, as did Basil Tsiokos at What (not) To Doc and Adam Benzine for Realscreen.
Peter Knegt and Ben Beaumont-Thomas, writing for Indiewire and The Guardian respectively, took a moment to reflect on the nominations, while at the POV Blog, Tom Roston reached out to filmmakers Orlando von Einsiedel and Charlie Siskel to get their reactions to the news. Eric Kohn on the other hand took time to call attention to the fact that LIFE ITSELF is sorely missing from the list over at Indiewire. As both Laura Poitras and Rory Kennedy expressed concern about in Mark Olsen‘s report of the nominations in the LA Times, I’m personally still a bit shocked that Jesse Moss’ THE OVERNIGHTERS didn’t make the list.
Laura Poitras at the Cinema Eye Honors podium flanked by D.A. Pennebaker (left) and Albert Maysles (right). Photo by Spencer Worthley.
With the heavyhearted departure of Rahul Chadha, whose been handling the Monday Memo here at Stranger Than Fiction for several years now, a large pair of soundly tuned shoes was in need of filling. So, with the blessing of Rahul, Thom and Raphaela, I will be attempting to serve as his dutiful replacement, shepherding this weekly roundup I’ve personally found quite useful and enlightening for the foreseeable future. Let me introduce myself: My name is Jordan M. Smith – the M. being necessary so I don’t get lost amongst the other millions of Smiths floating through cyberspace. You may know me from my film and festival coverage over at IONCINEMA.com where I’ve served as a staff writer for a few years now, or from my running commentary on life and cinema on Twitter. Most recently, I’ve been creating content and curating films for the recently launched Influence Film Club. I’m hoping with my experiences tracking the film festival circuit and watching upwards of 400 films a year, I could be of some use here at Stranger Than Fiction. So, without further ado, this week’s Monday Memo:
Among the big stories in the documentary world, nothing topped the disbursement of the 8th Annual Cinema Eye Honors, where CITIZENFOUR took home four of the major awards, including Outstanding Achievements in Nonfiction Feature Filmmaking, Direction, Editing and Production. Sarah Salovaara reported on the event for Filmmaker Magazine, as did Steve Pond for The Wrap, Nigel M. Smith at Indiewire, Adam Benzine for Realscreen, and Basil Tsiokos at his What (Not) Not To Doc blog. Before the honors were awarded, the filmmakers were taken on a surprise tour of New York City by none-other-than Timothy “Speed” Levitch, the legendary double-decker tour guide and star of “The Cruise,” on which Steve Dollar of the Wall Street Journal bore witness. Meanwhile, over at Indiewire, director Marshall Curry took the time to reflect on not only the tour, of which he happily took part in, but the Cinema Eye Honors themselves.
Next Monday the 19th, at the IFC Center, Stranger than Fiction will be hosting a screening of director Brad Bernstein’s FAR OUT ISN’T FAR ENOUGH: THE TOMI UNGERER STORY. Taking advantage of the fact that Tomi Ungerer himself will be in town for a retrospective of his work at the The Drawing Center in SoHo, both Brad Bernstein and Tomi Ungerer will be in attendance for a post screening Q&A. In light of the Charlie Hebdo tragedy, this should prove to be a timely and moving event.
The Act of Killing from director Joshua Oppenheimer topped a number of best docs of 2013 lists.
There was little doc news to report over the past holiday week, but some writers managed to get their year-end lists out. At the British Film Institute’s Sight and Sound site, Robert Greene continued his effort to put cinematic nonfiction into the doc vernacular. Programmer Basil Tsiokos also released his own list of his favorite films from 2013 at his What (Not) to Doc blog. Nonfics.com hosted a list of the year’s best music docs from Andy Markowitz of MusicFilmWeb. Writing for the SundanceNOW site, Anthony Kaufman released a list of six under-viewed docs from the year.
Writing for The New York Times, Brooks Barnes linked docs that screen at Sundance to the ones that show up on the Oscar shortlist some months later. And Stranger Than Fiction’s Thom Powers rounded up some advice from filmmakers on how to prep for Sundance and other festivals.
Indiwire’s Paula Bernstein published a list of 25 doc filmmakers worth following on Twitter.
Heather McIntosh of the Documentary Site announced her plan to watch 365 docs in 2014, following in the footsteps of Dan Schindel.
Price Peterson of Netflix announced the launch of its Documentary Club, in which a different doc on the site will be discussed each week.
At Nonfics.com, Christopher Campbell shared his top home picks for the week, and also highlighted those films hitting theaters.
This week saw the passing of Bill Knight, a member of the Bangor Troop Greeters, a group in Maine that welcomed U.S. soldiers home from overseas deployments. Knight had been featured in the film THE WAY WE GET BY by director Aron Gaudet.
Finally, the folks at The Black and Blue culled the best professional advice ever received from 88 different cinematographers.
That’s it for this week (and year). Be sure to keep sending tips and recommendations for the Memo via e-mail here, or by Twitter to @GuerrillaFace. Happy New Year everyone!