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.”
While TIFF 2017 has now come and gone, this past week saw plenty of wrap ups and reviews still filing in, including my own wrap-up of the best docs I saw this year in Toronto over at Nonfics. Included amidst these films is Frederick Wiseman’s EX LIBRIS – THE NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY, which also appears in the Top Picks of MUBI’s Notebook and The Film Stage‘s list of the best films at TIFF (see also: Wiseman on the latest episode of The Close-Up podcast). According to the 36 critics who voted in IndieWire‘s annual TIFF survey, Brett Morgen’s JANE was the best doc of the fest, while Rolling Stone shortlisted Jason Kohn’s LOVE MEANS ZERO and the folks at Vox name dropped Greg Barker’s THE FINAL YEAR and Agnès Varda and JR’s FACES, PLACES as their favorites. Meanwhile at Filmmaker Magazine, Tiffany Pritchard reported on TIFF’s Doc Conference, “an entire day of panels and talks were presented.” Probably the most thorough coverage of docs at TIFF this year can be found over at POV Magazine’s TIFF Hub, where tons of reviews can be found, as well as a handful of interviews, including this new one with Wavelength’s programmer Andréa Picard.
The Camden International Film Festival takes place during TIFF, and thus generally gets a bit overshadowed, but at Film School Rejects, Christopher Campbell argues that the festival “allows nonfiction fans to feel like most movie fans,” noting that “many documentary film festivals hold special pitching events for filmmakers, but they tend to be behind closed doors. Camden opens theirs up to the public, and this year’s took place before a sold out crowd at the Camden Opera House.” At CIFF proper, Ziad Kalthoum’s TASTE OF CEMENT and Jonathan Olshefski‘s QUEST took home Best Documentary Feature and the Audience Award, respectively, reports Daniele Alcinii at Realscreen. Looking internationally, Basil Tsiokos previewed the new nonfiction films to have their debuts at this past weekend at South Korea’s DMZ Docs, as well as the domestic, NYC based Urbanworld Film Festival.
In the hustle and bustle of festival happenings, I failed to mention last week that on September 14th the Cinema Eye Honors announced their 2018 Shorts List, including Laura Checkoway’s EDITH + EDDIE (which Cher boarded as executive producer this week, reports Chris Gardner at The Hollywood Reporter), Elaine McMillion Sheldon’s HEROIN(E), and Laura Poitras and Henrik Moltke’s PROJECT X. Apparently I wasn’t the only one late on the uptake, as Kate Erbland reported the news nearly a week later at IndieWire.
After ten days of film-going, the Toronto International Film Festival came to a close last night after the Grolsch People’s Choice Documentary Award was bestowed upon Agnès Varda and JR for their L’Œil d’or winning collaboration FACES, PLACES at the awards ceremony at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. The week prior, the Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences voted to honor Varda with an Oscar at the annual honorary Governors Awards to take place in November, reported Anne Thompson at IndieWire.
Unsurprisingly, there have been reams of coverage coming out of Toronto, from round-ups such as Thompson‘s documentary breakouts or The Hollywood Reporter‘s Best of the Fall Festivals, which names Greg Barker’s “fascinating, frequently moving” THE FINAL YEAR and Brett Morgan’s “wondrous, moving account of” trailblazing wildlife conservationist Jane Goodall among its rank, as well as copious doc reviews logged (too many to individually list here) by the hardworking folks over at Cinema Scope, MUBI’s Notebook, IndieWire, Nonfics & POV Magazine. In IDA’s The Feedback, Tom White spoke with director Erika Cohn about her TIFF debuted feature THE JUDGE, which had a rough cut preview earlier this year as part of IDA’s DocuClub. Jeremy Elphick talked to Ben Russell about his new mining doc GOOD LUCK, “his lengthy relationship with Suriname, and the experience of shooting for the first time in Serbia,” at 4:3. Additionally, Nicolas Rapold interviewed Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel, the directors behind the much discussed CANIBA, “about the film’s aesthetics and ethics beachside at the Venice film festival, where CANIBA had its world premiere before screening at TIFF and in Projections at the New York Film Festival.” Let’s not forget that the team at Realscreen covered TIFF’s Doc Conference, with Jessica Mach on gender barriers in the doc industry, Daniele Alcinii on lessons in privately financing your documentary, and Selina Chignall on building a career in documentary. More will surely surface in the week to come.
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.
In a week in which scientists successfully actualized teleportation and Trump found himself mired in a Russian influenced campaign scandal, it may have been difficult to wade through the news stories to find the notable documentary related stories (light as they may be this week). Most noteworthy are the 2017 Emmy Awards nominations, which include AMANDA KNOX, THE BEATLES: EIGHT DAYS A WEEK – THE TOURING YEARS and 13TH among those in the running for Outstanding Documentary Or Nonfiction Special, and O.J.: MADE IN AMERICA, OKLAHOMA CITY and THE WHITE HELMETS up for an award for Exceptional Merit In Documentary Filmmaking.
Looking at the festival circuit, Basil Tsiokos noted that the 34th Jerusalem Film Festival is now in full swing (with a fascinating selection of docs in competition), while both the Melbourne International Film Festival and the Locarno Festival have announced their programs. More immediately relevant, today PBS is launching its 6th Annual PBS Online Film Festival where 25 films, including POV’s OUR VOICES ARE RARELY HEARD are available to stream through July 28th.
Though festival lineup announcements bring new feature length titles to the fore, PBS’s newly revealed fall lineup includes Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s 18-hour, 10-part series, THE VIETNAM WAR, which will have its world premiere on Sundays through Thursdays beginning September 17th. Other notable fall inclusions are Michael Collins’ ALMOST SUNRISE (which Glenn Kenny warmly wrote about at RogerEbert.com this week) and John Scheinfeld’s CHASING TRANE.