Later this week, I'm off to the U.K. for a spell. I'll be taking next week away from the Monday Memo (as well as Friday's Weekend Watch blast) while in-transit. In the meantime, it seems there is plenty to keep you busy. Ta-ta for now!
– Jordan M. Smith
The Rescue, The First Wave Among Top Documentary Emmy Winners Christy Piña writes for The Hollywood Reporter: "National Geographic’s The First Wave took home the top award at the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences’ Annual News & Documentary Emmy Awards in New York City on Thursday. Matthew Heineman’s documentary details the first four months of the COVID-19 pandemic in NYC, as healthcare workers at Long Island Jewish Medical Center risked their lives in the epic battle to keep the virus at bay. Presenters at the Documentary ceremony included Frontline’s Tamara Shogaolu, In the Shadow of 9/11 and Four Hours at the Capitol’s Dan Reed, The Rescue‘s Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin, Pray Away‘s Kristine Stolakis and Vice News’ Alzo Slade. Biologist and filmmaker Sir David Attenborough received the Lifetime Achievement honors at the ceremony, which was presented to him by Louie Schwartzberg, the award-winning cinematographer, time-lapse photographer and documentarian. Dame Judi Dench also appeared via video to celebrate Attenborough.”
The Debate over Jihad Rehab Continues Pat Mullen pieced together a thorough overview and thoughtful response to the events so far in POV Magazine: "On Sunday, September 25th, the New York Times ran a story on its front page about the documentary Jihad Rehab. The article argued that the film’s director, Meg Smaker, was the victim of an unfair pile-on after the doc premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January. Some critics praised the film’s study of four Yemeni men preparing to re-enter society after years of incarceration due to suspected terrorist links. Others, myself included, noted the impressive level of access Smaker received but were perturbed by what she did with it, as the resultant film was a minefield of ethical red flags. Those flags have risen again as the Times article gave the controversy its widest reach yet.” Filmmakers and documentary industry figures weighed in online, with some supporting Smaker, but others questioning some of the story’s reporting and its positioning of critiques of the film as part of a larger “cancel culture” push in the US. Many cited the open letter from the advocacy group CAGE written on behalf some of the men featured in the film, expressing concerns for their and their families’ safety. And the Times itself published a letter by journalist and film programmer Anthony Kaufman composed in response to its previous article: "Your article fails to capture the full story behind this problematic documentary. Condemnations of the documentary go well beyond identity politics and go straight to the core of the film." While the controversy around the film is sure to continue, Mullen makes a crucial point in his POV piece: the conversation around Jihad Rehab, and around any documentary, is not just about a filmmaker’s intentions, but should examine a myriad of questions around its subjects’ ability to give consent, its methods of production, the historical context in which a film is made, the assumptions behind who it’s being made for, and more. In his words, “As critics, programmers, filmmakers, and audience members in the documentary field, it is our job to question everything we see. That isn’t censorship. It’s active viewing, and it’s our responsibility.”
The Non-Fiction Core Application 2.0 Hajnal Molnar-Szakacs, Sundance Institute's Director of Artist Accelerator, wrote in IDA's Blog: “Nonfiction storytellers and their work have been deeply impacted by recent world events, public health crises, and overdue reckonings. The impact on the field has been far-reaching and complex. This has manifested in various ways including the ongoing need to address sustainability, safety, and security, as well as a desire for holistic culture change to make the field more inclusive, accessible, and grounded in values-based ethics-first filmmaking practice. Six years ago, Sundance Institute and IDA joined forces to launch the Documentary Core Application Project. The effort sought to create the Documentary Core Application Proposal Checklist which was a set of standardized proposal questions, terminology, and response lengths that funding and fiscal sponsorship organizations could incorporate into their existing application processes for nonfiction funding and fiscal sponsorship applications. As drivers of culture, champions of filmmakers, and institutions that seek to ensure that nonfiction storytelling will thrive, we recognized the need for the Core Application Proposal Checklist to be part of this evolution. This reflection will further the difficult questions that our field is engaging with. With this in mind, we regrouped with the IDA to re-engage with the field in a dialogue around the Documentary Core Application Proposal Checklist to ensure that the culture shifts, market forces, and collective movements are reflected in the questions asked in the Proposal Checklist.”
Documentary Has a Diversity Problem — A New Movie Theater Is Trying to Solve It Eric Kohn reports at IndieWire: “For 50 years, the nonprofit documentary production company DCTV has been at the forefront of producing socially conscious nonfiction cinema on a grassroots scale. That mission extended last week to the realization of a longstanding goal with the opening of the Firehouse Cinema, a single-screen theater exclusively dedicated to showing documentary films located at DCTV’s Lower Manhattan headquarters, in the same old firehouse that co-founders Jon Alpert and Keiko Tsuno have worked for decades. Alpert has leaned into the building’s history, outfitting the concession stand with the front of an old fire truck, working with firefighters to make movies for an upcoming firefighter film festival, and even populating descriptions of his goals during an interview with firehouse puns...Beyond the kitsch, though, stands an opportunity to facilitate real change. The theater presents a promising new rental space for documentary Oscar contenders in need of qualifying runs and tastemaker events, which the owners hope will supply a sufficient revenue stream to cover operating costs as well as the underlying goal: to inject a range of diverse voices into the documentary field, while cultivating an audience for that work.”
POV Shorts Unveils Doc Lineup for Fifth Season Addie Morfoot reports for Variety: "POV Shorts will kick off its fifth season Nov. 7, with 11 documentaries highlighting topics including art as activism, freedom of expression, Americans with disabilities, intergenerational stories, and connectedness on the way. Packaged into six 30-minute episodes, POV Shorts will be available on PBS and will stream on POV.org and the PBS Video app. The season will conclude on Dec. 19. Nearly two-thirds of the season’s films were directed by filmmakers of color, and over 80% were made by women. ‘As the fifth season of POV Shorts marks a notable milestone, the series is well-represented by these outstanding stories and filmmakers,’ says Opal H. Bennett, co-producer for POV. ‘This is an eclectic group of episodes, some performance-forward, some animated, one focused on ‘POV’s’ hometown – New York City – and all conveying the unique world view of each filmmaker.’”
Announcing the 2022-2023 Karen Schmeer Fellows Announced via press release: “We have launched our 2022-2023 group fellowship program and are happy to welcome 30 new fellows! The Karen Schmeer Film Editing Fellowship is designed to cultivate the careers of talented documentary editors, associate editors and assistant editors from historically underrepresented backgrounds, identities, and experiences through mentorship to help them grow as artists and build their community. By investing in editors, we affirm and strengthen the critical role editors play in documentary storytelling. Since 2010 we have supported 82 people through our programs. From our open call for applications, thirty fellows from around the country were selected for this year’s program. The fellows and their seasoned editor mentors will meet in small groups each month over the course of one year to discuss a range of self-selected topics centered around life and work experiences, the craft of editing, and the business of it. This year there are fifteen fellows in New York, five in Los Angeles, five in the San Francisco Bay Area and five living outside these major metropolitan areas who will be meeting virtually.”
DCTV Leadership Changes Announced via press release: “To Our Students, Members, Supporters, and Community—We are excited to share a change in DCTV's leadership structure. Sade Falebita, our deputy managing director, will transition this fall into managing director for the organization. She will succeed Shannon Sonrouille, who will continue to support DCTV's work as a leadership and organizational consultant. Shannon's four years as managing director was a time of incredible transition for DCTV. We are grateful for her leadership through the construction of Firehouse: DCTV's Cinema for Documentary Film and the pandemic, including DCTV's shift to remote work and the thoughtful reopening of our office and in-person services. Shannon's guidance helped DCTV emerge from the construction, and these last 2+ years of the pandemic, stronger, energized, inspired, and engaged.”
ON THE FESTIVAL CIRCUIT
The Flaherty Presents: let’s all be lichen—programmed by asinnajaq Announced via press release: “let’s all be lichen is an Inukjuamiut’s response to 100 years of our namesake’s seminal film*. Featuring the works of largely circumpolar (Inuk, Sámi, Greenlandic, Evenk and Sakha) filmmakers, the series weaves together works by artists who have harnessed their own power and distinct voice through the moving image. The series shimmers with personal histories, the spiritual anthropocene, questions of agency, memory, and urbanization, as well as a fierce and love-filled reclaiming of the arctic imaginary. With works by Siku Allooloo, Zinnia Naqvi, Sunna Nousuniemi, Lindsay McIntyre, Chris Marker, Nivi Petersen, Svetlana Romanova, Lada Suomenrinne, Zulaa Urchuud, asinnajaq, and her father, world-renown filmmaker Jobie Weetaluktuk. let’s all be lichen is a five-part series that runs from October 10 to November 10, 2022 in New York City and online. The Opening Night on October 10 will be hosted by Anthology Film Archives and our closing event on November 10th will be hosted by eflux Screening Room. Additional screenings will he hosted on campuses and online thanks to the Colgate/Flaherty Distinguished Global Filmmaker Residency program, NYU Cinema Studies Department Friday Night Screening Series & NYU Center for Media, Culture and History, and the Flaherty’s custom-built platform virtual.theflaherty.org.”
The RIDM Announce their 25th Edition’s Opening and Closing Films Announced via press release: “The Montreal International Documentary Festival (RIDM) is proud to announce the opening and closing films for its 25th edition, which will take place from November 17 to 27, 2022. With the intent to create a dialogue between eras and reflect on our relationship with the archives and writings of history, the programming team selected Rewind & Play by French filmmaker Alain Gomis to launch this anniversary edition. While the present illuminates the past in the festival’s opening film, the exact opposite occurs in the closing film, Wochiigii lo: End of the Peace by Haida filmmaker Heather Hatch. Contemporary industrial projects are destroying the ancestral lands of many Indigenous Nations, territories which are supposed to be protected. They cast an ominous shadow over the future of these communities – an appalling situation that’s echoed around the world by many groups.”
DOK Leipzig Announce Films of its 2022 Competitions Announced press release: “The film programme of DOK Leipzig’s 65th edition is complete! 74 short and long animated and documentary films compete for the Golden and Silver Doves this year, 48 of which are being screened in Leipzig as international or world premieres. The International Competitions, The German Competitions and the Competitions for the Audience Awards are showcasing numerous works from the documentary film sector. These include films by first-time directors as well as works by multiple award-winning filmmakers like Sasha Kulak, Mila Turajlić und Nikolaus Geyrhalter. The range of form extends from observational style to performative dramatisations to the creative appropriation of archived images. Animated films also have a strong presence in this year’s programme, with imaginative, humorous and experimental works competing in the short film competitions.”
IDFA: First Competition Titles Unveiled Alongside Masters & Best of Fests Announced via press release: “The International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam is pleased to announce its first competition lineups: the IDFA Competition for Short Documentary and the IDFA Competition for Youth Documentary, in addition to the Masters and Best of Fests selections. The festival also announces the international premiere of Martin Scorsese and David Tedeschi’s Personality Crisis: One Night Only, and a special tribute to the late Lithuanian filmmaker Mantas Kvedaravičius. Over 100 films have now been added to the IDFA 2022 program, showcasing some of the best new work by the world’s leading filmmakers as they reimagine film formats, invent new film languages, and interrogate our current reality. The 35th edition of IDFA runs from November 9 to 20 in Amsterdam.”
DOC NYC 2022
2022 Opening Night, Centerpiece and Closing Night Films First Four Titles Announced: We are thrilled to announce the first four titles of our 13th edition, including the US Premiere of Maya and the Wave as our Opening Night Film. Directed by Stephanie Johnes, the film will screen at SVA Theatre on Wednesday, November 9. Three films making their World Premieres, all currently seeking U.S. distribution, will be showcased as the festival’s Closing Night and Centerpiece Presentations. The rest of our line up will be announced in the second week of October.
Intimate Distances: A Boundary-Blurring Urban Documentary Nick Bradshaw writes in Sight & Sound: "A portrait of an urban thoroughfare as a site of latent social exchange and potential transformation, Philip Warnell’s hour-long experiment assembles diverse documentary modes into an open and unfamiliar shape…Gradually we recognise a subject: a middle-aged, white-haired woman who herself seems to be casing the terrain for something or someone. “I’m on the dance floor,” a message on screen reads as she checks out passers-by; we also see her sending private signals across the street to an accomplice, presumably the cameraperson behind the cut-in shots from street level. The improvised interview encounters that ensue, with a series of burly men, might be compared to a verité doc like Jean Rouch and Edgar Morin’s classic Chronicle of a Summer (1961), except that the woman – Martha Wollner, as we’re told in a title credit 20 minutes in which doesn’t elaborate that she’s a distinguished documentary casting director – keeps raising the same leading questions through a wireless mic: has their life ever suddenly switched track? Have they ever been driven to do something unthinkable?”
A New Documentary Series Illuminates the History and Evolution of Queer Horror Lindsay Lee Wallace writes for Time: "Imagine the year is 1935. It’s a dark and stormy night in the midst of the Great Depression, the Hays Code banning motion picture portrayals of ‘sexual persuasion and immorality’ is newly in effect, and you’re watching the Bride of Frankenstein spurn the man she was literally made for on the silver screen…No matter how you might react, you’re watching an example of vintage queer horror—a story whose uncanny inversion of the gender and sexuality norms of its time struck a note that was inaudible to some, but rang clear for those who also found themselves outside those norms. From the start, the way horror can be a funhouse mirror reflection of the cultural anxieties and preoccupation with what it means to be a monster have made it an ideal venue for stories that resonate with the marginalized. And since the fateful days of Frankenstein, Dracula, and The Picture of Dorian Gray, it has been built on integral contributions from queer creators. Queer for Fear, a four-part documentary series out now from the horror streaming service Shudder, explores the evolution of horror through a queer lens, in an expansive work from executive producers and horror veterans Bryan Fuller (Hannibal, Pushing Daisies) and Steak House (By Hook or by Crook, Disney Launchpad).”
Two GameStop Documentaries Miss the Forest for the Memes Elizabeth Lopatto writes at The Verge: "I was somewhat surprised that both Netflix and MSNBC chose to make documentaries about Wall Street Bets, GameStop, and retail traders. The majority of the action takes place online, after all. So what is the visual here? Watching someone type text into a box? As a result, MSNBC’s feature, Diamond Hands: The Legend of WallStreetBets, and Netflix’s series, Eat the Rich: The GameStop Saga, rely heavily on stock footage. In the case of Diamond Hands, this has a ’90s MTV type of vibe; in the case of Eat the Rich, it seems like editors just slapped together whatever was handy and cheap. In both cases, these appear to be less art and more 'content,' the kind of thing that’s cheap for streamers to commission. The story is gripping — certainly I found it gripping while it was happening — but the choice to make a documentary or a TV show about it is puzzling. At least Diamond Hands feinted at an aesthetic; Eat the Rich seems to be too openly contemptuous of its viewers to have considered more creative uses of stock. Both pieces of content felt rushed, trying to capitalize on attention while it was still there.”
Nothing Compares: How Sinéad O’Connor’s Activism Helped Change the World Sylvia Patterson reports at The Guardian: "Nothing Compares is a beautifully constructed and impressionistic story of the rise and fall of O’Connor, from 1987 to 1993, told against the backdrop of the religious oppression that formed her, and through the lens of present-day feminism. It was an idea forming in Ferguson’s mind since the early 1990s, growing up in a divided, violent and religiously repressed Northern Ireland, where contraception was frowned upon and abortion illegal. For Ferguson and her teenage friends growing up in Belfast, O’Connor in her Doc Martens declaring the Catholic church ‘evil’ was the lone public voice they ‘absolutely needed at that time’. By 2019, the year Northern Ireland finally legalised abortion (four years on from Ireland legalising same-sex marriage), O’Connor’s legacy, to Ferguson, seemed all but forgotten, lost to marginal gossip over her mental health issues. She saw a narrative which she felt needed correcting, for the uninitiated young, especially. ‘I’ve always been interested in revisionist female histories,’ she says. ‘So many women are reduced to footnotes in history or seen through the ‘tragic heroine’ lens. I couldn’t bear that for Sinéad. In Ireland, the tide has been turning, but until the last maybe seven years, she was as ridiculed there as she was everywhere else.’”
A Trip to Infinity and the Delicate Art of the Math Documentary Dan Rockmore writes in The New Yorker: "Several years ago, I tried to explain infinity to a class of fifth graders. In the story that I told them, I was preparing to eat a piece of cake when a friend walked in on me. Being polite, I gave her half. Before I could eat my half, another friend came by, so I split it again. This happened again and again—in the story, I have a lot of friends—and my snack kept getting smaller. How much cake would I have at the end of this? 'None!' many of the fifth graders yelled. Together, we wrote a sum on the board: ½ + ¼ + . . . We agreed that, eventually, if you kept writing numbers forever, they had to add up to one. Then we talked about a different infinite sum that had been making its way around the Internet: 1-2+3-4+ . . . When I convinced them that it equalled ¼, I was pretty sure that their murmurs of “mmm” were not dreams of cake. A new documentary, A Trip to Infinity, tries to serve up this feeling of wonder to Netflix’s massive audience. Populated by a diverse and engaging cast of mathematicians, physicists, and a stray philosopher or two, the film, by Jonathan Halperin and Drew Takahashi, explores the infinite, with its puzzles and paradoxes, not only as a mathematical construct but also as an idea that helps us calibrate the vastness of the universe and grasp what it would mean for something to go on forever, and ever, and ever.”
Riotsville, U.S.A. is a Window onto the Bizarre Beginnings of Police Militarization Alissa Wilkinson writes at Vox: "In fuzzy, grainy footage, a crowd of protesters on Main Street clamors, shouting, signs in their hands. Toward them moves a group of police officers, armed and ready to put down an uprising. Men dressed in 1960s-style shirtsleeves and slacks run in and out of buildings with law enforcement in hot pursuit. It looks stilted and unreal, like they’re rehearsing a scene. Like something from a movie. While it’s not a movie set, it’s not real life, either — or, well, not exactly. These are scenes from Riotsville, U.S.A., a new documentary made entirely from archival footage, much of it shot by the US government in the 1960s. It shows something extraordinary: As uprisings became more common across the country and the turbulent decade wore on, the government constructed 'Riotsvilles' on two military bases. There, they staged protests and rebellions using soldiers from the US Army to play both protesters and police, then allowed police forces from across the country to learn from the military how to put them down.”
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