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Lots of post-Sundance discussions taking place this week on the state of the current documentary marketplace. Elsewhere, Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi has been released from prison, Anthology Film Archives announced a retrospective of the work of DOC NYC alum Abigail Child, and a bunch of worthy reports from the festival circuit cropped up as well. There's plenty to read through, so happy Monday, and enjoy!
– Jordan M. Smith

Reality Check
Reeves Wiedeman writes at Vulture: “All this has left the documentary world suffering an identity crisis. What even is a documentary anymore? There is more money than ever, but it has come with expectations that didn’t exist when the industry was closer in ethics and taste to public broadcasting than to Hollywood. The people agreeing to tell their stories are now asking for control, or cash, leaving documentarians navigating a sense of responsibility (or fealty) toward their subjects; the demands of the algorithm; and their desire to make great work. For the audience, it has become almost impossible to sort works of art or journalism from glorified reality TV or public-relations exercises: An HBO Max subscriber can scroll through the documentaries tab and find two movies about Lizzo that she herself executive-produced, 41 films and series described as true crime, an Oscar-nominated movie about Russian dissident Alexei Navalny, and Wahl Street, 'a glimpse into global star Mark Wahlberg’s life as he juggles the demands of his personal and professional worlds and hustles to grow his expanding business empire.' Hollywood is now showing signs of retrenching. With budgets shrinking, filmmakers worry the problems of the doc boom could be exacerbated by a doc bust, and that the old-fashioned idea that documentaries could be trusted to tell honest, complicated stories may go down with it.”
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People, Not Stories: Pathways to Accountability in Prison Documentaries
Adamu Chan writes for Documentary Magazine: "During my 15 years in prison, numerous filmmakers and media professionals entered the facilities where I was housed with the intention of telling the stories of the people inside. Some hoped to shed light into dark spaces that our society has created; others hoped to fulfill the appetites of mainstream audiences desiring the thrill of the sensational. During my time inside, I observed an outside film crew producing a big budget film involving incarcerated people as their central participants. The directors and producers earned the trust of the incarcerated participants by approaching those relationships as friendships and making a promise of representing them in the best possible way, and with careful consideration for the stakes some people were facing. But when the film was finished, and screened inside, many of us were shocked that some characters were represented as monsters who had committed monstrous acts, and not as we all knew them to be — pillars in our community of incarcerated people.”

Iranian Film Director Jafar Panahi Released From Prison 
Announced via press release: “Panahi’s wife Tahereh Saeidi announced in a phone call to Mansour Jahani, an independent and international cinema reporter, that with the efforts of Mr. Saleh Nikbakht and Yusef Moulai, her lawyers; Per hour 19 Today, Friday, February 3, 2023, Jafar Panahi was released from Tehran's Evin prison. Saleh Nikbakht, a well-known Iranian lawyer, said in an interview with ‘Mansour Jahani’, an independent film reporter, about the latest status of the Jafar Panahi case: Although I am happy about Mr. Panahi's release; But it must be said that his release should have taken place three months ago, following the acceptance of our objection to his previous court decision. I am surprised by these ‘sledgehammer encounters’ with Mr. Panahi and other artists, writers, intellectuals and journalists and generally protestors of the status quo. As they even neglect to implement the decision of the highest judicial authority. Dr. Nikbakht continued her speech and said: The decision of the Supreme Court was issued following our objection to Mr. Panahi's previous sentence on October 18, 2022, and Mr. Panahi should have been released on bail immediately.”

UnionDocs Announces the Return of The Pod-Pod
Announced via press release: “Announcing the return of THE POD-POD, a three-month lab for audio makers seeking community, collaboration, and inspiration from some of the brightest minds and voices in podcasting. Presented in partnership with the great folks at Gilded Audio, this 3 month lab will run from April 3rd through June 25th. We’ll host a group of ten active podcasters – half of whom will live in our residency in Ridgewood, with the rest commuting from home – to share space, ideas, and resources. With lead mentor Neena Pathak back for another round of the Pod-Pod, she will guide participants through the development of their own individual projects with bi-weekly meetings to keep folks on track. Over the course of the three months, a bold collective piece will take shape with contributions from the whole group. The collaborative project will focus on NYC’s recent boom of corner smoke shops: a vibrant trend with an uncertain future in the shadow of the city’s newly launched regulated storefronts. We’ll trace what looks to be a historic moment of change for an economic ecosystem in flux through a patchwork of neighborhood testimonies. To cap it all off, we’ll host a night of live storytelling, where participants will present their work through a mix of readings and recordings for a rapt audience. We’ll be hosting an INFO SESSION on Thursday, February 9th at 3pm to answer all your burning questions. Applications are open now through February 12th. We can’t wait to hear from you!”

Retrospective of the Work of Abigail Child Presented by Anthology Film Archives
Announced via press release: “This spring, Anthology hosts a long-overdue retrospective of the work of the moving-image artist, writer, and poet Abigail Child. A leading figure of the generation of experimental filmmakers that emerged in the late 1970s-early 1980s, Child has continued to make innovative and challenging work – in a dizzying variety of forms and on a wide range of topics – ever since…Child, who has often grouped her films into thematically and/or formally linked series, first gained widespread recognition with the seven films presented under the title 'Is This What You Were Born For?' Created between 1981-89, these works inspired (and continue to inspire) a plethora of commentary, and have become modern classics. But Child’s body of work extends far beyond this renowned series, encompassing her rarely-screened but remarkable early films; later cycles such as the Suburban Trilogy (2004-11) and the Foreign Film series (2005-14); and feature-length works produced over the past decade, including the experimental biographical films Unbound: Scenes From the Life of Mary Shelley (2013) and Acts & Intermissions: Emma Goldman in America (2017), and the recent [DOC NYC alum] Origin of the Species (2020), which explores the growing field of android development and the ethical, emotional, and psychological impacts of these technological developments.”

Sundance 2023: Corporate Docs Nab Spotlight, But Bold Indie Nonfiction Shines
Anthony Kaufman writes in Documentary Magazine: "Nowhere is the commercialization of the nonfiction field seemingly more apparent than at the Sundance Film Festival. With entertaining documentaries this year on Michael J. Fox, Little Richard, the Indigo Girls, Brooke Shields, Stephen Curry, and Judy Blume, this year’s festival could easily be framed as the further mainstreaming of the documentary form, packaged into recognizable names and formulas by the likes of Apple, Amazon, Netflix, CNN, Showtime, and Hulu. And yet, there were also some countervailing trends. Despite a perceived ‘rocky’ market for independent docs looking for buyers (as Variety proclaimed), a report by Distribution Advocates (which declared more than 80% of docs don’t sell out of major festivals), and an overall slowdown in doc sales, Sundance 2023 revealed a number of surprises, including acquisition deals for some arguably ‘uncommercial’ documentaries, and buzz around a number of projects that embraced out-of-the-box creative nonfiction storytelling that defied streaming norms. If Sundance is the bellwether of the business of U.S. documentary film, it offered a glimmer of hope to filmmakers working largely outside of the corporate and for-profit systems that have increasingly dominated the nonfiction world.”

DOC NYC 2022: Fringe No More
Will DiGravio writes in Senses of Cinema: “Since 2010, DOC NYC, the largest documentary festival in the United States, has put forth programs that showcase a wide range of works that rally under the banner of non-fiction. This year’s edition took place across three theatres in New York City, including the SVA Theatre and Cinépolis, both in Chelsea, and at its principal venue, the IFC Center in Greenwich Village. The festival also offered a robust online program. Two works that turn to the archive for their materials prove once again that longer and more costly is not always better. Among the highlights of the festival was Sue Ding’s Makeover Movie (2022), a 19-minute film that made its world premiere at DOC NYC. Makeover Movie unpacks 100 years of the makeover trope found in films dating back to the 1920s. The remixing of movie clips recalls the burgeoning practice of videographic criticism, or 'video essays,' works that think critically about media through media. In a reflexive gesture, Ding’s friends react to her assemblage, expressing shock and disgust with the films they grew up watching, and how they internalized the misogyny. Here, form literally comes to dictate content, as the voices of Ding’s friends offer a compelling commentary accompanying the images of women having their eyebrows plucked, glasses forcibly removed from their faces, and complexions altered. By featuring women who watch, react, and reflect on these sequences as they appear, Makeover Movie finds a personal story in its examination of a pervasive phenomenon.”

Rotterdam Looks to the Future of Film Festivals After the Pandemic
Davide Abbatescianni reports at Cineuropa: “On 28 January, IFFR’s Pro Hub hosted a panel titled ‘IFFR Pro Dialogue: Film Festival Redux – What Film Festivals Can Do for Filmmakers’. The talk, moderated by producer and industry consultant Hayet Benkara, saw the participation of filmmaker Laura Citarella (Trenque Lauquen), San Sebastián International Film Festival deputy director Maialen Beloki, Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival head programmer Ellen Kim, Chicago International Film Festival artistic director Mimi Plauché, ICA/Frames of Representation representative Nico Marzano and Anna Datsiuk, programmer at the Kyiv Critics’ Week. First, the floor was given to Plauché, who spoke about her festival – now in its 59th edition – defining its scope as ‘international with a focus on first- and second-time directors’. While in terms of curation, ‘things remained the same’ during COVID-19, she said: ‘The biggest change was our approach to how we’re exhibiting.’ In terms of venues, the team moved from a ‘centralised’ approach to a more widespread one, involving more of the city’s neighbourhoods and working on easing accessibility both on site and online. In terms of volume, the number of films screened decreased, but luckily enough, audience attendance is now back to pre-pandemic levels. ‘We were more than pleasantly surprised,’ she admitted.”

Festival Report: FIPADOC SMART 2023
Steve Rickinson reports at Modern Times Review: “As the 2023 FIPADOC drew to a close, the first international documentary event of the year saw a handful of awards given out to its film selections across Industry Days and Competitions. But, aside from the traditional documentary formats, FIPADOC is also a festival that embraces new forms of storytelling. Its SMART section highlights new media works in various forms, including AR, VR, web series, and more, all within an informative foundation. Unlike some of the other new media selections across the festival circuit, the focus of FIPADOC SMART was wholly on accessibility. This accessibility included that of subject matter and presentation. So, across its selections, end users could easily navigate the technology of the respective project and understand the presented narratives without any advanced theory, academia, or abstraction. The selections featured at FIPADOC Industry Days HQ Bellevue Centre incorporated a myriad of immersive, innovative stories, web series, and 360 film experiences, pushing the envelope beyond the traditional watching experience. And, as I wrote in my highlight of the 2022 IDFA DocLab, the technology is rapidly coming to speed with the project’s narrative presentation. No more is the feeling that the narrative is constructed to serve the tech—instead, the opposite.”

Restarting Indian Doc Film Festival Bhubaneswar (IDFFB) 2022 With a Bang
Dr. Sneha Krishnan reports for Senses of Cinema: “Worldwide, film festivals are slowly emerging in their physical avatars after the pandemic-induced break since 2020. Screening of independent documentary films in small cities had taken a backseat. In Odisha, one of the eastern states in India, Film Society Bhubaneswar (FSB) organized the 3rd Indian Documentary Film Festival of Bhubaneswar (IDFFB) from 14th–16th October 2022. FSB was launched in 2004, formed by filmmakers, artists, cinephiles and academics. The film society is managed by volunteers and has organised an independent documentary festival since 2018. It is the sole surviving film society in the province of Odisha (where the population is 46 million) and the city of Bhubaneswar (with a population of one million), where the festival takes place, is not known for its independent documentary scene. The organised distribution of documentaries is non-existent in India and even more so in Odisha. 'The festival plugs the gap of access to contemporary independent documentary films.' This is achieved by making independent films available to a physical audience and the viewing experience is further enhanced by post-screening conversations with the directors. Previously, the festival was supported by donations from friends and families, annual individual contributions of members (25 USD per person). The effect of the pandemic on membership was immense, and reduced it to just 40 members. Thus, the organising of the festival itself is a larger story that needs to be told. Emerging from the pandemic, working with universities and educational institutions this year’s festival attracted around 3,000 people over three days. All of the films screened at the festival were screened physically for the first time in the province, with a live audience. The film screenings intended to provoke conversation – each work conversing with another preceding or succeeding work.”

CPH:DOX 2023 Unveils Opening Film
Announced via press release: “The Greenlandic-Danish film Twice Colonized by Lin Alluna has been selected as the opening film at this year’s CPH:DOX. It will furthermore compete in the festival competition; NEXT:WAVE. The opening of CPH:DOX 2023 will take place on 15 March at the international concert venue in Copenhagen, DR Koncerthuset. How can we rewrite the history of colonialism and improve living conditions for Indigenous people? These questions are raised by Danish filmmaker Lin Alluna and renowned Inuit  lawyer Aaju Peter in Twice Colonized that has now been selected as the opening feature at CPH:DOX 2023.”

25th Thessaloniki Doc Film Festival: Tributes to Two Unique Directors
Announced via press release: “Two unique directors who change our glance at the world will cross paths at this year’s 25th Thessaloniki International Documentary Festival, through two exciting tributes. One is from Greece, the other one comes from Austria, but they both share the common vision of exploring the truth, the boundaries and the unseen aspects of our world. The TiDF’s tribute to beloved documentarist Stavros Psillakis unveils stories of everyday people often caught in borderline situations, while the movies directed by radical filmmaker Nikolaus Geyrhalter outline the calamitous desire of humanity to place our planet under control. The Festival will bestow to both directors an honorary Golden Alexander.”

Echoes of Ji.hlava IDFF Feb 5 kick-off in Belgium 
Nick Cunningham reports at Business Doc Europe: “The traditional presentation of the Ji.hlava festival selection will commence in Belgium with the winner of the Ji.hlava’s Czech Joy 2022 competition Kapr Code by Lucie Králová. This experimental documentary about the Czech composer Jan Kapr will be receive its Belgian premiere in the Flagey Cinema on Sunday February 5 as part of the Festival Cinema de Ville. The official opening of the Echoes will take place in the seat of the European Parliament on Tuesday, February 7 with the screening of Pongo Calling. The documentary by Czech director Tomáš Kratochvíl captures the story of Roma activist Štefan Pongo and his family who left the Czech Republic for the UK to escape racial stereotypes and discrimination. After the screening, there will be a debate with the protagonist David Pongo and his family moderated by Marek Hovorka, director of Ji.hlava IDFF…The 11th Echoes of Ji.hlava in Belgium are organized by the Ji.hlava IDFF in co-operation with the Czech Centre Brussels, Royal Institute of Theatre, Cinema and Sound, Festival En ville!, KASK School of Arts Gent and are supported by the City of Jihlava, Vysočina Region, and Embassy of the Czech Republic in Brussels. See the full Belgian programme of Echoes of Ji.hlava IDFF.”

Special DOC NYC Encore Screening

dir. Simon Lereng Wilmont

“An important story [that] depicts the lives of children growing up in the midst of the war with the adults trying to protect them. The screening of this film right now is an opportunity to make the voices of Ukrainian children sound stronger and louder and to draw attention to the problems of childhood during the war of aggression which Russia started…The film shows the unvarnished truth of how a group of strong-willed social workers tirelessly make everything possible to create a much-needed safe space for children in a special orphanage near the front line.”

—Oleksandra Matviichuk
(Head of Center for Civil Liberties)
Watch at IFC Center on February 8th

Documentary Filmmakers Need to Stop Saying They Make Documentaries
Eric Kohn writes at IndieWire: “On his recent promotional tour for Pinocchio, Guillermo del Toro went on more than one tirade about how 'animation is a medium, not a genre,' and more than children’s entertainment. That’s a message that documentaries could have used at the 2023 edition of the Sundance Film Festival, which provided a stark reminder that the non-fiction community needs to start talking about its work in broader terms than the so-called 'genre' that limits its appeal. Blockbuster documentaries about treasured icons, thrilling subjects, and complicated pop-culture figures were everywhere at Sundance. For the most part, they came with distribution: Apple had STILL: A Michael J. Fox Movie and Steph Curry: Underrated, Amazon premiered Judy Blume Forever, and Netflix brought diving survival saga The Deepest Breath. Then there was… well, pretty much, everything else. No disrespect to any of the aforementioned titles (I haven’t seen them all), but it was disheartening to find that the festival’s most exciting documentary undertakings — and there were plenty — remained in limbo, as buyers sought the projects with obvious commercial appeal.”

The Way We Were
Anna Shechtman writes in Film Comment: “Annie Ernaux, the most recent winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, made a movie with her son. This sentence is technically true, but The Super 8 Years, which received its general release two months after October’s Nobel announcement, feels like a work by Annie Ernaux proper—not a collaboration with others, not an adaptation from one medium to another, but a translation of her writing from text to speech, by way of the author’s voiceover, and (if, like me, you watched the film with English-language subtitles) back to text again. This is not to say that the images of The Super 8 Years—drawn from home movies shot by the author’s late ex-husband, Philippe Ernaux, and assembled by David Ernaux-Briot—are incidental. Images are never incidental in Ernaux’s writing. In fact, the film’s visuals, shot between 1972 and 1981—depicting the author (in her thirties), her mother, her in-laws, and her two sons (moving into adolescence)—will seem strangely familiar to Ernaux’s readers.”

“A Collaboration of Kindred Expression”: Editor Mark Bukdahl on Twice Colonized
Staffers at Filmmaker Magazine wrote: “Greenlandic Inuit activist and lawyer Aaju Peter is the subject of Twice Colonized, a documentary by filmmaker Lin Alluna. Through her work, she forces colonizing forces Denmark and Canada to pay for their crimes, while also inspiring Westerners to grapple with the ways that they are also complicit in imperialist injustices. As she’s preparing for an Indigenous forum at the EU, however, her youngest son suddenly dies, bringing forth an extended period of intense grief and an eventual path toward healing. Editor Mark Bukdahl talks about cutting the film, including his non-cinematic inspirations and how ‘editing is an exercise in empathy.’”

A Conversation With Helen Hood Scheer & Kristy Guevara-Flanagan
Christopher Reed writes at Hammer to Nail: “The documentary Body Parts is an insightful, hard-hitting exposé of the damage done by the male gaze, whether it be the way it treats women on screen or affects their self-image off screen. It premiered at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival. where I reviewed it (I also put it on my list of best films of the year). Directed by Kristy Guevara-Flanagan and produced by Helen Hood Scheer, the movie features a varied collection of interviews and archival footage, all of which help to make the case for needed industry change. Body Parts is finally getting both a theatrical and VOD release starting February 3, and I was able to chat via Zoom with both the director and producer last week. Here is a transcription of that conversation, edited for length and clarity.”
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.

This week's project:

Women & the Wind
By Kiana Weltzien

Goal: $25,000
The articles linked to in Monday Memo do not necessarily reflect the opinions of DOC NYC.
They are provided as a round up of current discussions in the documentary field.
As always, if you have any tips or recommendations for next week's Memo, please contact me via email here or on Twitter at @Rectangular_Eye.
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