You probably already saw, but the biggest news on our radar this week is Stranger Than Fiction’s own Spring Season schedule announcement (if you missed it, I urge you to read the announcement here). To celebrate 11 years of Stranger Than Fiction, hosted by Thom Powers and Raphaela Neihausen and presented by IFC Center, we’ve squeezed in extra films and special events to take our 8 week program up to 11 screenings. Tickets for Stranger Than Fiction screenings are $16 for the general public and $13 for IFC Center members. A Spring Season Pass, good for admission to all 11 events from April 5-May 31, is also now available for $99 ($80 for IFC members).
Elsewhere in there doc world, the Tribeca Film Festival came under fire after it announced that it would be showing a single screening of VAXXED: FROM COVER-UP TO CONTROVERSY, a film co-written and directed by Andrew Wakefield, a discredited British physician whose high profile 1998 report claiming that he’d discovered “a correlation between the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism and bowel disorders” was subsequently fully retracted. First, Laura June asked, “Why Is an Anti-Vaccine Documentary by a Proven Quack Being Taken Seriously?” in NY Magazine’s The Cut. Salon’s Mary Elizabeth Williams followed that by calling out the festival, reasoning that a “discredited doctor’s documentary about ‘the long-debated link between autism and vaccines’ doesn’t belong in respected festival.” Then filmmaker Penny Lane, director of the new film NUTS! which highlights “just how easy it is to fall for a quack, especially one cloaked in the authority of a documentary film,” wrote an open letter to the festival via Filmmaker Magazine asking them to reconsider for the sake of filmmakers everywhere. Kate Erbland of indieWIRE and Michael Hiltzik of The Los Angeles Times joined the chorus of outrage, each outlining the various through lines of dialogue between the press and the festival.
As it turns out, Robert De Niro himself, co-founder of the festival, selected the film for very personal reasons. In his public initial response to the backlash he was quoted by Pam Belluck and Melena Ryzik in The New York Times, “Grace and I have a child with autism, and we believe it is critical that all of the issues surrounding the causes of autism be openly discussed and examined. In the 15 years since the Tribeca Film Festival was founded, I have never asked for a film to be screened or gotten involved in the programming. However this is very personal to me and my family and I want there to be a discussion, which is why we will be screening VAXXED.” Finally, after nearly a week of outcry, Stephanie Goodman of The New York Times reported that the film had been pulled from the festival. Following the announcement, Tom Roston wrote a poignant piece at Doc Soup titled, “Why We Hold Film Festivals to High Ethical Standards,” summarizing that he’s “greatly relieved that De Niro and Tribeca chose to reverse their decision. It’s the right call.”
It seems that WNET’s plan to sweep documentary programming aside has been met with a litany of outrage from the filmmakers who’ve long enjoyed the support that PBS’s POV and Independent Lens have lent them over the years. Variety’s James Rainey has the story, in which “more than 2,000 documentarians” – the likes of Laura Poitras, Gordon Quinn and Tracy Droz Tragos among them – “have signed a petition saying they fear that the New York station’s action would lead to the shows being marginalized by PBS affiliates nationwide, slicing into their audiences and crippling efforts to raise money for often edgy, controversial films.”
In response to the criticism, the programmers at WNET have set up what they’ve called a “Listening Tour”, stopping in major cities and hosting public forums to discuss how they can better support filmmakers. At the POV Blog, you can find details on the New York City stop of the tour to be hosted on February 23rd at the SVA Theatre in Manhattan. If you’d like to attend the free event, RSVP here.
Also in NYC, the Stranger Than Fiction Winter ’15 Season continues tomorrow at 8pm at the IFC Center with FREE: CRACK IN THE SYSTEM. Following the screening, there will be a Q&A session with director Marc Levin.
Comedian Tig Notaro hosting the 2015 Sundance Film Festival Award Ceremony
As is to be expected during a week in which Sundance, Slamdance and Rotterdam all run in parallel, an avalanche of wonderful coverage, interviews and reviews has been sliding out of Park City all week, but before I attempt to sort through the good, the bad and the ugly of that whole situation, I’d first like to remind you that the Winter ’15 season of Stranger Than Fiction is set to kick off tomorrow evening at the IFC Center in NYC at 8 pm with THE HAND THAT FEEDS. Directors Rachel Lears and Robin Blotnick, as well as film subject Mahoma López are set to appear for a post screening Q&A. If you like, you can purchase tickets in advance here.
I’d also like to point out that a handful of non-fiction films, mostly shorts, quietly found their way onto the interwebs this week, most excitingly a new politically incisive, online-only BBC released feature by director Adam Curtis, entitled BITTER LAKE. Writing for RT, Tony Gosling examined Curtis’ prior work and the reasoning behind an online-only release. A new entry into the Profiles By Vice series entitled THE LEGEND OF CAMBO, directed by none other than Harmony Korine, also found its way into the world. For Newsweek, Stav Ziv highlighted the online release of ANATOMY OF A SNOW DAY, a short directed by a 12 year old named Zachary Maxwell, which had its world premiere last year at DOC NYC. A pair of shorts in Joe Callander’s MIDNIGHT THREE & SIX and Elizabeth Lo’s HOTEL 22 also made their debut as part of the ongoing New York Times Op-Docs series. And while on the topic of Op-Docs, Heather McIntosh of the POV Documentary Site Blog wrote a piece on the coming semester in which she intends to teach a junior-level course in news writing and reporting based around the series.
And lastly before we get to a wealth of festival coverage, a slew of great articles regarding the development and promotion of documentaries and documentary filmmaking were also published this week. Leading off, an article by Katharine Relth which was published on the IDA blog gives a list of helpful tips for creating a sustainable doc career. Director and critic Charlie Lyne took to his Ultra Culture blog to list 10 things he learned while self-releasing his raucously fun essay film BEYOND CLUELESS in the UK. In great news for doc development, Sundance has announced the groundbreaking new Transparency Project as part of their #ArtistServices Workshop “that will allow aggregated film financial data to be shared among producers and filmmakers using an online analytics tool”. Scott Macaulay of Filmmaker Magazine has the in-depth story. Lastly, as quoted from Adam Benzine‘s report at Realscreen states,”The Independent Television Service (ITVS) and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation have formed a partnership to encourage collaboration between journalists and indie filmmakers”. Exciting opportunities on the development horizon!
Now that Sundance is in full swing, it is near impossible to keep up with every single relevant publication of the week. That said, here we go none-the-less, but before I get to all the news coming out of Park City, there were a few interesting stories that came out this week that looked back, including a great piece at The Talk House by Jeff Reichert, director of REMOTE AREA MEDICAL, on the most overlooked docs of 2014, while, writing for NonFics, Christopher Campbell reflected on what he considers the top ten best Sundance documentaries of all time. For The Guardian, Guy Lodge considered the possibilities of what docs could take home an Oscar next month, while David Bloom over at Deadline reported that the recently Oscar nominated LAST DAYS IN VIETNAM would be available to stream for free at PBS from Feb. 5 to Feb. 7. Bridging the gap between last year and the here and now, Tom Roston wrote a piece for the POV Blog that highlighted a few overlooked films of 2014, as well as a handful of docs making their premiere at Sundance this week.
Among the many other thorough previews of the many films making their way into the world via a Park City premiere were David Fear and Phoebe Reilly‘s top 25 most anticipated Sundance films for Rolling Stone, Kate Aurthur & Adam B. Vary‘s comparable piece for Buzzfeed, and a list of the 15 best black films at Sundance by Julie Walker for The Root – each touching on the fact that docs are making an ever-increasing imprint on the visibility of the massive American fest. At Variety, Addie Morfoot previewed the many docs profiling a variety of famous folks, while at What (not) To Doc, Basil Tsiokos concluded his massive profiling of every non-fiction film at Sundance, as well as a quick preview of others making their debut at the parallel running Slamdance. Our own Thom Powers also listed his personal docs not to be missed right here at Stranger Than Fiction.
One of the things that sets Sundance apart from other domestic fests is its feroscious sink or swim massive market place, as evidenced by a variety of reports on the issue this week, such as Gregg Goldstein‘s look at documentary distro prospects for Variety or Brian Stelter‘s article on how digital distribution is shaking up the Sundance marketplace at CNN Money. Also, let’s not forget Anya Jaremko-Greenwold‘s filmmakers’ guide to the distributors at Sundance at Indiewire, nor in the same vein (though not directly Sundance related), Meredith Miller‘s filmmakers’ guide to non-theatrical and educational rights, also at Indiewire, and Cynthia Close‘s write-up of the new edition of the doc-makers’ resource, ‘Clearance & Copyright’, at IDA. Writing new distro deals for Realscreen, Michael Speier reports that Vimeo and Indiegogo have entered a distribution partnership, while CNN is launching its own short form documentary strand.
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.