Greetings and welcome to 2023! I hope 2022 treated you well. As is pretty normal for the holidays, there wasn't a ton of breaking news, but there were plenty of people feeling reflective about the prior 12 months in documentary cinema. Below you'll find a bunch of worthwhile year end lists and think pieces on the state of documentary filmmaking and beyond. Wishing you and yours all the love, safety and nonfiction cinema you can get in the coming year.
– Jordan M. Smith
END OF YEAR LISTS
A.V. Club’s Best Documentary Films of 2022 Brent Simon, Mark Keizer, and Jordan Hoffman shared at A.V. Club: “While the merits of streaming and its impact on the theatrical exhibition marketplace can be debated, there’s no doubt that the advent of digital streaming has contributed to a boom in nonfiction filmmaking. Viewers who would never have seriously considered getting in their car, seeking out a theater, and plunking down $10 or $15 to watch a documentary have indulged curiosity in the genre at a massive scale. A lot of this interest, of course, comes in the form of unambitious pop-culture rehashes and true crime rib-pokers—some uninspired or unnecessary (do we really need to hear what Casey Anthony has to say?), some actually elevated or compellingly rendered. But if those types of low-hanging nonfiction fruit are largely driving the market, there is still fascinating work being done. To wit, let’s look at 14 of the best documentaries of 2022, ranked from least to most essential.”
Deadline’s Top 10 Documentaries Of 2022 Matthew Carey writes at Deadline: “Spectacular. That’s the word to describe the year in documentary film, a span that witnessed the emergence of fresh talent and the return of seasoned nonfiction filmmakers at the top of their form. It all made for the single best year for feature documentaries that I can remember. With so many remarkable films to consider, it becomes exceptionally difficult to narrow the list to a top 10. Easily 20-25 merit high praise. But with the caveat that such a list inevitably omits many worthy contenders, this is my choice of the best documentaries of 2022, in alphabetical order.”
Nonfics’ Best Documentaries of 2022 Christopher Campbell writes at Nonfics: “Welcome to the 10th annual year-end Nonfics poll results, through which we’ve determined the best documentaries of 2022. Once again, we asked critics, filmmakers, and others in the nonfiction film community to name their favorite documentary features, shorts, and series of the past year. From those entries, we have compiled a ranked list of the top 50 documentaries of 2022. Our list goes beyond those 50 titles, however. Precisely 150 qualifying titles received at least one vote in the poll, and those additional films and series are listed alphabetically after the top rankings. Other titles still were named in the poll that may have actually come out before 2022 or haven’t yet technically been released in the U.S. before the end of the year. For the latter, we have a short list of the best docs to look forward to in 2023. For anyone hoping to use this list as a barometer for the Oscars, we’d like to remind readers that the top title in our best documentaries of 2021 list, Summer of Soul, also went on to win the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. Meanwhile, this year’s Critics Choice Documentary Award winner for Best Documentary Feature, Good Night Oppy, which is no longer in the running for the Oscar, also landed in the top 10 this year.”
POV Magazine's Best Documentaries of 2022 Pat Mullen and Marc Glassman shared in POV Magazine: "Last year, POV’s team enjoyed the rare feat of agreeing on the top docs films of the year: Flee and Summer of Soul. This year, our lists of the best documentaries that 2022 had to offer found even greater consensus. We’ve therefore combined our picks into one list of the best documentaries of 2022. There are festival favourites, Oscar frontrunners, hidden gems, and, in a first, Canadian directors account for half the list. We hope our picks for the year’s best inspire some holiday viewing among our readers."
Rolling Stone’s 13 Best Documentaries of 2022 David Fear writes at Rolling Stone: “We now have such a steady diet of documentaries available to consume, via so many different venues and in such a variety of formats, that trying to boil down an annual 'best of' list for nonfiction films and multi-episode series feels like a Herculean effort. (Next up: Our ranked list of 2022’s best sand on the beach.) But not all docs are created equal, and the baker’s dozen we choose for our top picks below represent that work that reminded us why we continue to love what documentarians can accomplish with cameras, boom mics, a vision, and the ability to be at the right place at the right time. The 13 films below may run the gamut from an anything-goes music doc to a many-chaptered, marathon-length revisionist history lesson. All of them, however, made good on their promise to give us some truth.”
Variety’s Best Documentaries of 2022 Owen Gleiberman & Peter Debruge write at Variety: “For decades now, one of the buzziest things you’ll hear at a film festival is, ‘The best movies here are the documentaries.’ It’s often a true statement, but maybe it’s not really about film festivals. For some of us, few things in the movie world can beat the vibrance of nonfiction — the excitement of filmmaking that’s suffused with realty, with life itself. Our list of the year’s best documentaries is a testament to the range of what nonfiction cinema has become. It’s history, it’s activism, it’s portraiture, it’s personal, it’s about science and music and literature and politics and royalty and family… and Pez. We invite you to compare your favorites with ours, and to sample the movies on this list you haven’t seen for the gems they are.”
ON THE FESTIVAL CIRCUIT
Berlin 2023 Announces First Special and Forum Doc Titles Nick Cunningham reports at Business Doc Europe: “Alex Gibney’s Untitled Boris Becker Documentary (UK/USA) is one of the first docs selected for Berlinale Special section while three non-fiction works were announced December 20 for Forum: El juicio (The Trial) by Ulises de la Orden (Argentina/Italy/France/Norway), Llamadas desde Moscú (Calls from Moscow) by Luís Alejandro Yero (Cuba/Germany/Norway) and This Is the End by Vincent Dieutre (France). Of Gibney’s Becker world premiere doc the festival writes how, ‘Boris Becker is the young talent who conquered Wimbledon and, after having inflamed a country, has fallen with [the] same grandness. With this multilayered documentary, Alex Gibney proves once more that he has mastered the art of storytelling.’”
Cinema Is Dead and We’re All Its Ghosts: 2022 at the Movies Mark Asch writes in Filmmaker Magazine: “‘User-generated content’ is the future of the moving image, and the present as well. A less sentimental look back at 2022 in film would probably take the measure of TikTok trends, Instagram Reels, Twitch streams, YouTube reaction videos and OnlyFans porn. Before cinema dies, you see the Ring Video Doorbell surveillance footage repackaged, America’s Funniest Cops–style, in the syndicated Ring Nation, which premiered this year (coproduced by Ring and MGM Television, both subsidiaries of Amazon). The overwhelming proliferation of digital images, recorded by consumer-grade digital cameras with ever-greater resolution, storage capacity, and ubiquity, is the story of the century. Such images are ammunition in the war for attention between big screen and small—as home viewing supplants theatrical exhibition, they are a readymade archive for the streaming glut, padding for true-crime, tabloid-revisionist, and quick-turnaround SEO-backfill docuseries, often directed by brand-name filmmakers who no longer bother to watch all their own footage. But really, when I say there’s a war for attention between the big and small screen, increasingly I must be describing not your choice to go out to the movies or to watch something at home, but rather the movements of your eyes between the television screen in your living room and the phone in your hand.”
The Short Docs Pathway--Long on Visibility and Virality, Slim on Sustainability Kelsey Brown writes in Documentary Magazine: "There’s been much talk in the documentary ecosystem over the past five years about ‘The Golden Age of Documentaries,’ and short docs have enjoyed more visibility than ever. Over the past 20 years, the digital age has revolutionized how documentaries are made and distributed, and a proliferation of platforms launched over the past decade, such as Field of Vision, The Guardian, The New York Times OpDocs and The New Yorker Documentary, have further transformed how short form cinema thrives online. When Ben Proudfoot, who won an Academy Award for Best Documentary Short this year for The Queen of Basketball, uploaded his first short doc, ink&paper, on Vimeo in 2011, he had no idea it would ignite his filmmaking career and lead to the conception of Breakwater Studios. ink&paper was picked up by a popular blog, then chosen as a Vimeo staff pick, and soon the film he made as a student at USC had over 100,000 views. ‘I could just upload it on the Internet and, boom,' Proudfoot recalls. 'When has cinema ever been that direct?’ The movie industry is one of the most exclusive, and expensive, arts industries in the world. For most people, without substantial finances and connections, it can be impenetrable.”
More Documentaries Should Be Nominated for Best Editing Oscars Douglas Laman writes at Collider: “As has been clear for years now, documentaries struggle to get much Academy Awards recognition beyond the Best Documentary Feature category and occasionally the Best Original Song section. While the very nature of documentaries means they can never compete in the acting or even (usually) the screenplay categories, there are still plenty of other places at the Academy Awards that documentaries could score some much-deserved recognition. This includes the Best Editing category, a domain that, for a variety of reasons, documentaries should be crushing it in. Instead, as of this writing, only a handful of documentaries (like Hoop Dreams) have ever graced the category, a glaring shortcoming that comes down to a multitude of factors.”
Turning Sports Statistics Into Riveting Cinema Calum Marsh writes in The New York Times: “Toward the end of The History of the Atlanta Falcons (2021), a seven-part, nearly seven-hour documentary, the writer-director Jon Bois describes a surprise 82-yard interception return by the Falcons cornerback Robert Alford, executed with just minutes left in the first half of Super Bowl LI, in 2017, as ‘one of the very most impactful individual plays in all of N.F.L. history.’ Almost any other filmmaker would have been content to leave it at that. But Bois shows his work. On the sports statistics website pro-football-reference.com, Bois explains, there is a metric called expected points that ‘estimates how many points an offense should be expected to score on a drive before a particular play and after that play.’ Subtract one from the other, and you determine the play’s overall impact. Alford’s interception return resulted in negative seven points for the New England Patriots on a drive that should have earned them three, for a differential of 10.7. Bois pulls up a chart graphing the differential ‘of all 8,982 individual plays in Super Bowl history.’ The Alford touchdown, we can plainly see, ranks as the third biggest of all-time. This was not an exaggeration for rhetorical effect. When Bois says that a play is ‘one of the very most impactful,’ he means it. Bois is the poet laureate of sports statistics.”
Chicken & Egg Pictures Seeks Senior Program Manager Announced via press release: “Chicken & Egg Pictures is excited to announce that we’re recruiting for a New York-based Senior Program Manager to join our current staff of 12. This newly created position will play an integral role in programs that Chicken & Egg Pictures is launching and expanding as part of its 2023-2025 Strategic Plan. Come and be part of a creative team that is truly passionate about supporting women and gender non-binary filmmakers. We strongly encourage and seek applicants from all backgrounds, including but not limited to women and non-binary individuals, people of color, bilingual and multicultural individuals, people with working-class backgrounds, people with disabilities, as well as members of the LGBTQIA+ community. Applications will be processed on a rolling basis until the position is filled. Early application submission is recommended. Interviews will start in January 2023.”
Meet Catapult Film Fund's New Grantees Announced via press release: “We are proud to announce our final slate of 2022 development grants – Catapult’s flagship program supporting documentary filmmakers when funding is riskiest and hardest to find. After a competitive round of review, we selected eleven new projects that dare to expand the way we think about life, death, and our connection to one another. These are stories that truly stayed with us, ranging from Latinx visionaries fighting for accessibility in our cities to a women-led expedition tracking the ‘doomsday glacier’ on Antarctica. We believe early-stage support is essential and are happy to be the first industry funder onboard eight of these projects.”
FUND THIS PROJECT
Crowdfunding has become an integral means of raising capital for documentary filmmakers around the globe. Each week we feature a promising new project that needs your help to cross that critical crowdfunding finish line.