Still from AJ Schnack's SPEAKING IS DIFFICULT
Despite the outrage over racial exclusion in this year’s Oscar nominations and the Academy’s announcement that they will be swiftly enacting a whole host of changes to ensure greater diversity in the make-up of future votes, in the doc world, all eyes have been fixated on this year’s Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. While Anthony Kaufman looked back at the films that had a lasting impact from last year’s fest in Filmmaker Magazine, everyone from Tom Roston to Christopher Campbell, through Kenneth Turan, Amy Taubin, Trevor Groth and Brooks Barnes have been listing their most anticipated films of the fest, each noting a variety of exciting docs on the horizon. At indieWIRE, Eric Kohn outlined why Sundance continues to be such an important beacon of cinema in a sea of international film festivals, while our own Thom Powers and Raphaela Neihausen spoke on WNYC this about why New Yorkers should care about the happenings in Park City this week.
Looking at the festival’s lineup as a whole, one will soon notice that this year’s hot button issue weaving throughout a whole host of films is that of domestic gun violence, and not the gratuitous action film type. Leading the conversation are non-fiction films like AJ Schnack’s SPEAKING IS DIFFICULT, Kim Snyder’s NEWTOWN, Stephanie Soechtig’s UNDER THE GUN and less directly, Robert Greene’s KATE PLAYS CHRISTINE. Writing for The Los Angeles Times, Steven Zeitchik explores the depths of this topical programming decision, noting, “When the Sundance Film Festival begins Thursday, it will do so with a rare accumulation of movies about the subject of gun safety. All of them hope to raise questions, if not provide solutions, in a place that has long been a ground zero for cultural movements.” Brooks Barnes of The New York Times awknowledged that “This year Sundance programmers, with deep commitment to freedom of expression, and their selected filmmakers seem to be taking a position that real guns, not the movie kind, ought to be more tightly policed.” Likewise at Nonfics, Christopher Campbell also took notice of the program, stating that “This time it’s about the issue of real gun violence in America — the problem with constant mass shootings and the debate over gun control and the 2nd Amendment.”
Back here at Stranger Than Fiction, we are ramping up for our 2016 Winter Season, which begins next Tuesday at the IFC Center with Craig Lowy’s high flying OXD: ONE EXTRAORDINARY DAY, about Elizabeth Streb’s Extreme Action Company and their attempt to perform on some of London’s most beloved landmarks. Season tickets, as well as individual tickets, are currently on sale. As an aside, I’d also like to point out that this week Thom Powers launched the online home of his soon to be released new documentary focused podcast, Pure Nonfiction.
David Carr in 2008. Photo by Stephen Chernin of Associated Press.
With NBC news anchor Brian Williams losing the world’s trust over a pack of lies and the tragic death of 60 MINUTES correspondent Bob Simon in an automobile accident, this week has been rough for journalism, but the passing of beloved New York Times cultural commentator David Carr late Thursday evening may be the toughest to take for many in the documentary filmmaking community. His family at The Times have put together a loving tribute with various articles from co-workers like A.O. Scott and many links to video moments with Carr, while Andrew Rossi, the director of PAGE ONE: INSIDE THE NEW YORK TIMES, a film in which Carr came to the fore as the heart and soul of the newspaper, wrote his own memorial to the man who he inevitably became friends with following the film.
In the wake of the unfortunate news, Variety’s James Rainey wrote his own appreciative piece on Carr’s unlikely career in journalism and Realscreen’s Barry Walsh collected responses to the news from the documentary community. Just hours before Carr collapsed in the offices of The Times, he hosted a discussion with the team behind CITIZENFOUR – Laura Poitras, Glenn Greenwald and Edward Snowden – as part of the TimesTalks series hosted at The New School’s John L Tishman Auditorium in New York.
Looking up, Stranger Than Fiction continues tomorrow at the IFC Center with BEST OF EGG: THE ARTS SHOW (2000-’03), curating the cream of the crop from a show considered by many to be one of the best arts programs ever broadcast in America. The screening begins at 8pm with a post-screening Q&A featuring producers Jeff Folmsbee, Mark Mannucci and others to follow.
20 FEET FROM STARDOM was one of the docs to receive an Oscar nomination this week.
This week the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) loosed the list of nominees for the Oscar awards on the world. At Nonfics.com, Christopher Campbell had coverage, along with a reaction from director Jehan Noujaim, with Adam Benzine on the news at Realscreen. Larry Rohter of the New York Times also reported on the nominations with an eye toward the themes of politics and entertainment. At the POV blog, Tom Roston shared his impressions of the list and named snubs. Both Michelle Kung of the Wall Street Journal and Joan E. Solsman of cnet took note of the fact that THE SQUARE was the first Netflix “original” documentary to earn an Oscar nod. Paula Bernstein shared info on where nominated films could be screened online in a piece for Indiewire. And at the Thompson on Hollywood blog at Indiewire, Sheerly Avni interviewed Rithy Panh, director of doc THE MISSING PICTURE, which earned a nomination in the foreign language category.
The Sundance Film Festival also kicked off this week. At Realscreen, Kelly Anderson spoke with programmer Caroline Libresco to preview some of the docs to keep an eye on. In a piece for Indiewire’s Reel Politik section, Anthony Kaufman took a look at the film THE GREEN PRINCE. And in a separate piece for the SundanceNOW blog, Kaufman wrote a piece identifying trends and players to keep an eye on at Park City. Paula Bernstein of Indiewire wrote on the influence that Chicken & Egg Pictures has had on getting women documentary filmmakers some festival shine. Ondi Timoner previewed the docs playing at the festival in an episode of Bring Your Own Doc. Writing for Variety, Addie Morfoot noted that most festivals, including Sundance, seemed to privilege left-leaning docs over their rightward counterparts. In a piece for the Sundance website, PARIS IS BURNING director Jennie Livingston wrote on the experience of being branded a failure as a filmmaker.
At the International Documentary Association (IDA) website, Michael Galinsky interviewed Jesse Moss, director of THE OVERNIGHTERS. Kevin Ritchie of Realscreen spoke with LIFE ITSELF director Steve James. Michael Dunaway of Paste Magazine also interviewed Steve James, as did Matt Zoller Seitz at RogerEbert.com.