I've got the day (mostly) off and am debating my options for the afternoon. You yourself have quite a few options this week as far as catching up on doc news. There is a lot of movement on the festival circuit, some reflections on the depiction of violence in nonfiction cinema, contemplation on the real life repercussions of taking part in doc films from the perspective of subjects, and unfortunately, doc producer Lawrence Pitkethly passed away this week as well. Take a deep breath. It's Monday.
– Jordan M. Smith
Lawrence Pitkethly, Documentary Producer, Dies at 79 Peter Caranicas reports at Variety: "Lawrence Pitkethly, who produced and directed multiple documentary series shown on PBS and other broadcasters, died Feb. 24 at Albany Medical Center near his home in Hudson, N.Y., of cardiopulmonary arrest linked to complications from Parkinson’s. He was 79. Pitkethly is best known for American Cinema (1995), a 10-part, $7 million series for PBS, BBC and Canal Plus covering U.S. filmmaking that he produced, co-wrote and co-directed. It examined film genres, the rise and fall of the studio system, the creation of stars and other aspects of American movies through interviews with Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Clint Eastwood, Sydney Pollack, George Lucas, Quentin Tarantino, Spike Lee, Joel Coen and other major players. John Lithgow served as host; Matthew Modine, Kathleen Turner and Cliff Robertson narrated. Earlier, Pitkethly co-wrote and co-directed Voices and Visions (1988), a 13-part series on American poets, which profiled artists like Hart Crane, T.S. Eliot and Sylvia Plath.”
Reflections on Images of Violence Natalia Almada writes in Documentary Magazine: "Two articles that came out right after the Uvalde Massacre in May 2022 questioning whether graphic images of the mutilated children would change gun policy left me thinking about the role of photographic images. The fundamental question succinctly stated in the New York Times article: ‘Would dismantling graphic images of the results of gun violence jolt the nation's gridlocked leadership into action?’ Days after another mass shooting of school children, we may wish for the answer to be ‘Yes!’, as it would give us hope that such an atrocity would never happen again. Why is this question so difficult to answer? It is a question that has been asked numerous times in the history of photography’s intimate relationship with war and violence. Virginia Woolf wrote about it in Three Guineas, Susan Sontag in Regarding the Pain of Others, and in countless other instances. The question resurfaces and evades answers because it goes to the root of what photography is—and I use 'photography' when referring to both still and moving images and how images work on us. The answer that we concoct today will not suffice for tomorrow because the way we produce, consume and understand images is changing as steadily as are the forms of violence and war.”
Netflix Defeats Injunction, Airs Documentary on Korean Religious Leaders Patrick Frater reports at Variety: "Netflix and Korean public broadcaster MBC on Thursday defeated a court application for an injunction to stop the airing of their documentary In The Name of God: A Holy Betrayal. The 8-part series began airing from Friday (March 3). It is a Netflix Original, meaning that the streamer has global rights, including in Korea. The show examines ‘the chilling true stories of four Korean leaders claiming to be prophets [and] exposes the dark side of unquestioning belief.’ Among its subjects is Christian Gospel Mission, also known as Providence, and also known as Jesus Morning Star, or JMS. It shares those initials with its controversial leader Jeong Myeong-seok (aka Jung Myung-seok) who is currently awaiting trial in Korea for sexually assaulting some of his female followers. JMS sought an injunction to stop the docuseries from airing, claiming that the show is fictional, that it violates the principle of presumption of innocence and that it undermines religious freedom. However, the Seoul Western District Court said on Thursday that MBC and Netflix appeared to have made the program based on a 'considerable amount' of objective and subjective materials.”
Firelight Media Reveals Recipients of Third Annual Greaves Fund Andrew Tracy reports for Realscreen: “Firelight Media has unveiled the 2022 cohort for the William Greaves Research & Development Fund, which helps support mid-career documentary filmmakers from racially and ethnically under-represented communities. The fund, which was established by Firelight in 2020, provides recipients with up to US$40,000 each to support research and development for a feature-length non-fiction project. The non-restrictive grant can be put toward such activities as preparing film treatments, presentation decks, sizzle reels and fundraising materials, or any other needs that Firelight Media determines are essential for the creation of the project, including such items as health care or child care costs.”
Kartemquin Films 2023 Diverse Voices in Documentary Fellowship Announced via press release: “The 2023 Diverse Voices in Documentary Ends on March 13, 2023. Please review the guidelines for submitting your DVID 2023 Fellowship application. Projects with a major investor, streamer or other distributor attached to the project are not eligible. Allow yourself at least 90 mins to complete the application; we do NOT recommend applying last minute. If you need to come back to it, Submittable will save a draft of your application! Anyone currently working at Kartemquin is ineligible. Eligibility Criteria: Living and/or working on a project based in the Midwest (for the purposes of this fellowship, KTQ defines the Midwest as Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Wisconsin); Identify as Black, Indigenous, Latina/e/o/x, Middle Eastern or North African, Asian, Asian American or Pacific Islander, or other person of color; Creatives of historically/traditionally excluded communities, such as the LGBTQIA+ or disability community; Are emerging filmmakers, defined as: With 2 or fewer feature or short film credits in a lead position (Producer, Director); Filmmakers looking for structured support; Are not enrolled in a degree seeking program for the duration of the fellowship.”
DOC NYC Selects:
New Weekly Documentary Series Launches March 21
Inaugural Spring 2023 Season of Screening Series at NYC’s IFC Center Features Sneak Previews of Sundance, SXSW and Venice Hits, with Filmmakers in Person!
Film at Lincoln Center & MoMA Announce Lineup for New Directors/New Films 2023 Filmmaker Magazine reports: “Today, Film at Lincoln Center and MoMA announce the lineup for New Directors/New Films 2023, which will run from March 29-April 9 in New York City. Boasting 27 feature films and 11 shorts, the 52nd edition of the festival will open with Savanah Leaf’s A24 film Earth Mama and conclude with Vuk Lungulov-Klotz’s Mutt, which recently won the Special Jury Award winner at Sundance…Included among this year’s ND/NF crop are several films we’ve covered on the festival circuit over the past year, including Gush from 25 New Faces of Independent Film alum Fox Maxy, Alexandru Belc’s Metronom, Dmytro Sukholytkyy-Sobchuk’s Pamfir, Graham Foy’s The Maiden, Milisuthando Bongela’s MILISUTHANDO and Sophia Mocorrea’s The Kidnapping of the Bride. Additionally, films from 38 countries are represented in the 2023 lineup.”
2023 Sundance Institute Momentum Fellows Announced Announced via press release: “Today the nonprofit Sundance Institute announced the eight participants selected for the fifth annual Momentum Fellowship, a program designed to support and provide coaching to mid-career artists with a focus on career development during a pivotal moment in their creative practice. Created to support storytellers from historically marginalized communities who have recently achieved a noteworthy accomplishment, such as a highly regarded feature film or series, Momentum provides fellows with a full-year program of deep, customized support around the goals they have identified for themselves to level up in their craft and career. The Momentum Fellowship is a program of Women at Sundance, with support from Equity, Inclusion and Belonging.”
Visions du Réel 2023 Special Guest: Alice Rohrwacher Announced via press release: “The Special Guest for the next edition of Visions du Réel (21-30 April 2023) will be Italian director, screenwriter and editor Alice Rohrwacher. A leading figure for a new generation of Italian auteurs, she is a prominent voice in contemporary cinema. Visions du Réel is honoured to welcome Alice Rohrwacher and her daring vision as part of a masterclass (Saturday 22 April) and to present a retrospective look at her fiction, hybrid and documentary work. This invitation is offered in collaboration with HEAD – Genève.The Special Guest for the next edition of Visions du Réel (21-30 April 2023) will be Italian director, screenwriter and editor Alice Rohrwacher. A leading figure for a new generation of Italian auteurs, she is a prominent voice in contemporary cinema. Visions du Réel is honoured to welcome Alice Rohrwacher and her daring vision as part of a masterclass (Saturday 22 April) and to present a retrospective look at her fiction, hybrid and documentary work. This invitation is offered in collaboration with HEAD – Genève.”
Take Part in the MIPDOC and MIPFORMATS Pitch Competitions Announced via press release: “The MIPDOC Project Pitch is a unique pitching competition highlighting new Doc & Factual TV projects with the greatest potential for commissioning and multiplatform extension. Dedicated to creators and producers seeking financing or copro for projects in development, the competition offers high-visibility in front of a jury of leading decision makers from the global Doc & Factual Content Industry. Call for entries are now open!”
Echoes of Ji.hlava to sound in NY and Romania Nick Cunningham reports at Business Doc Europe: “The Echoes of Ji.hlava programme continues March 6-9 in New York and March 7-11 in Bucharest as the Czech doc fest screens a selection of the documentaries culled from the festival’s 2022 competition sections. In New York the programme will open March 6 with a double screening of 7:15 – Blackbird directed by Judith Auffray, awarded Best World Documentary Film 2022, and Deserters directed by Damir Markovina, which won Best Central and East European Documentary Film and Best Sound Design. Next on the New York program will be the March 7 screening of Jana Ševčíková’s Those Who Dance in the Dark. The showcase will wind up March 8 with Kunstkamera directed by Jan Švankmajer. All screenings will take place in NY’s Bohemian National Hall. Meanwhile, between March 7 and 11, Ji.hlava IDFF will screen five further competition films in Bucharest.”
Berlinale 2023: Minor Choruses, Major Films Erika Balsom reports for Film Comment: “The relationship of cinema to first-person expression is an uneasy one. In literature, sole authorship is the rule; in film, the inverse holds true. Despite the auteurist celebration of individuality—and the rich tradition of single-person filmmaking that does exist in the avant-garde—it typically takes a village to make a movie. Nevertheless, contemporary nonfiction is marked by a strong tendency to tell one’s ‘own’ story. In the ruins of objectivity, the personal reigns. It can even take on the force of an ethical imperative—one must make one’s positionality clear. A question then emerges: how to best represent the ‘I’ in a medium so bound to a collective mode of production? Certainly not in any straightforward way. The making of a nonfiction film is a complex field of relations, encompassing all those who work on the film and appear within it. Any honest articulation of the authorial self that arises out of this nexus will be impure, unstable, thoroughly embedded within a social context. Say goodbye to the illusion of an autonomous and unique individual subject—a fiction so dear to fiction film. In its place can arrive something more compelling, truer to life: a dispatch from the uncertain interval between the ‘I’ and the ‘we.’”
Center Stage at Thessaloniki Doc Fest’s Pitching Forum Christopher Vourlias reports for Variety: "Stories of war and its devastating human toll, migration across borders, the struggle for human rights and the battle to save a rapidly warming planet are among the themes that take center stage on March 6 during the Thessaloniki Pitching Forum, the co-production and co-financing platform of the Thessaloniki Documentary Film Festival. Fourteen projects representing filmmakers from 21 countries will be pitching before an audience of international industry guests including producers, broadcasters, funding bodies and festival programmers, as well as a jury comprised of Eleni Chandrinou, a consultant and producer from Cigale Films; Nevena Milašinović, a sales and acquisitions executive from Lightdox; and Sara Rüster, international distribution manager at the Swedish Film Institute. Eleven more films that are nearing completion and looking for festival premieres and distribution will also be screened as part of the Agora Docs in Progress program.”
Expert Tips on Funding Your Documentary:
Join Us for Our Next DOC NYC PRO Event
Funding is a key aspect of making your film, but often the most confusing and uncertain part of the process. Feeling empowered and equipped to have agency over the process can lighten the load. Join producer Darcy McKinnon (Neutral Ground) as she provides a detailed overview of the funding process, budgets, funding sources like labs/fellowships and the importance of having your pitch ready at all times!
What Happens to Documentary Subjects When the Cameras Leave? Tim Adams reports for The Guardian: “I spoke to Ratliff last week about Subject. I had just re-watched The Staircase and some of the HBO series in preparation, so her face on my Zoom screen looked unnervingly familiar. That sensation was a quick reminder of how all the old categories – fact, fiction, reality, drama – have become blurred, because everything comes at us from the same screen. Ratliff could almost laugh at some of the implications of that, if it were not also her life. In discussing reaction to the competing versions of The Staircase she mentions that a friend recently directed her to a Facebook chat, in which viewers were debating the drama versus the documentary. One said she ‘preferred the new one because the acting was better’. Two events prompted Ratliff to become involved with Subject. The first was the publicity surrounding the Netflix launch. The second was her dad’s decision to appear on the American primetime talk show Dr Phil, partly to promote a book he had written, Behind the Staircase. The Peterson children had all been hoping they could stay away from more headlines. His going on Dr Phil, Ratliff says, ‘was such a strong violation of myself and my family that I thought: I need to bring in cameras. I think I need to tell this from my side.’”
How an HQ Trivia Documentary Started a ‘Drama Vortex’ Online CT Jones reports for Rolling Stone: "The Tinder Swindler. Zola. The Dropout. Inventing Anna. Fyre Fest (both of them). We’re in a golden age of entertainment taken directly from our social media timelines. The competing streaming services have created a race to document the most viral moments before the internet forgets them. Documentaries are often the perfect way for key players to regain control of their stories or share their own personal experiences behind the headlines. But in our extremely online age, the same news, chaos, and drama that makes the perfect fodder for a documentary can infiltrate the work itself, making a film the center of discourse — sometimes, long before anyone has ever seen it. Glitch is one such doc.”
Jon Bois on the Art of Sports Docs Ryan Swen reports for Filmmaker Magazine: “Over the past eight years, Jon Bois has become a key pioneer of documentaries made for the internet. As the creative director of Secret Base, the YouTube channel of sports blog network SB Nation, his work across three series—Pretty Good, Chart Party and now Dorktown, co-written by Alex Rubenstein—takes often unconventional and lesser-known sports stories as a jumping-off point for increasingly ambitious, deftly handled portraits of some of Americana’s most crucial mainstays. By focusing equally on the minutiae of statistics, the highs and lows of a game and the many human dramas within sports teams and the cities surrounding them, Bois and Rubenstein establish a potent investment in the narratives that they craft, finding continuity and suspense in what might otherwise come across as the arbitrary nature of a career or season.”
Interview: Luke Fowler Erika Balsom spoke with Fowler for Film Comment: “The subjects of Luke Fowler’s poetic portraits run the gamut: the radical psychiatrist R.D. Laing, labor historian E.P. Thompson, queer disco composer Patrick Cowley, Fowler’s mother, his neighbors. Typically shot on 16mm, the Scottish artist’s films draw on archival materials to create impressionistic encounters with life trajectories. They mark a double departure from representational norms, refusing both the linear narratives that tend to characterize biography and the concern with likeness that has been historically integral to the practice of portraiture. Mum’s Cards (2018), for instance, juxtaposes images of index cards that Fowler’s mother, a sociologist, used to keep track of her reading, with voiceover comprising fragments of an interview with her. She never appears; the film does not pretend to tell the whole of her story.”
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