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Welcome to 2022! We've taken the last couple weeks off to refresh and enjoy some time off with our families, but that doesn't mean the doc news cycle shutdown altogether. The Oscar shortlists were revealed, with lots of DOC NYC alumni named to them; COVID continues to wreak havoc with in-person events and theatrical release schedules; an outstanding interactive companion piece to All Light, Everywhere was released online; and according to Jon Pareles, 2021 might have been the year of musical documentary deep dive. I wish you all the best in the coming year. Be well and watch aplenty.
– Jordan M. Smith

DOC NYC 2021 Alumni Make the Oscar Shortlist
A big congratulations to our alumni—13 features and 9 shorts—that were named to this year’s Oscar shortlists for Documentary Feature and Documentary Short Subject. Features included DOC NYC selections AscensionAtticaFaya DayiThe First WaveFleeIn the Same BreathJuliaProcessionThe RescueSummer of SoulThe Velvet Underground and Writing with Fire—all of which screened at the 2021 festival with filmmakers in person for Q&As—and our virtual Spring Showcase selection Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry. Festival shorts that made the cut were AguilasAudibleA Broken HouseCamp Confidential: America’s Secret NazisCoded: The Hidden Love of J.C. LeydendeckerThe FacilityLynching Postcards: Token of a Great DayThe Queen of Basketball and When We Were Bullies.

2022 Cinema Eye Honors Postponed in Light of Omicron Variant Surge
Announced via press release: “In light of the surge in COVID-cases and the increased transmissibility of the omicron variant, we have decided to postpone this year’s Cinema Eye Honors Awards Ceremony. We will take a look at where things stand during the first week of the new year, with hopes that the possibility exists for a safe, in person event later in January or February. Due to the change in schedule, we are also shifting our voting window. We will have more details about that in the new year. While we are incredibly disappointed, we know from last year’s all-virtual event that we can create connections and build community even when we aren’t able to gather in the same room. Therefore, we will be moving all of our pre-ceremony events to virtual celebrations. We are incredibly grateful to our supportive sponsors and partners in these events for working with us this past week as everything has so quickly shifted. We will be reaching out to this year’s nominees with more details.”

Screen’s Guide to the 2022 Documentary Oscar Shortlist
Charles Gant, John Hazelton, Wendy Ide and Neil Smith write at Screen Daily: "The Independent Spirit Awards can rightly claim to be aligned with the taste of the US Academy documentary chapter, with all five of the Spirits’ nominees for best documentary – Ascension, Flee, In The Same Breath, Procession and Summer Of Soul – landing on the Oscar shortlist. This quintet is joined by other high-profile contenders such as The Rescue (from Free Solo Oscar and Bafta winners Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi) and Todd Haynes’ The Velvet Underground. There’s a notable international flavour to this year’s Oscar documentary shortlist, particularly in terms of subject matter, with the aforementioned Ascension (about work life in modern China), Flee (an Afghan refugee) and The Rescue (the Thai cave rescue mission) joined by In The Same Breath (China’s response to the Covid pandemic), Simple As Water (a portrait of Syrian families), Writing With Fire (Dajit female journalists taking on India’s establishment) and two films with African subjects: Faya Dayi (the stimulant khat in Ethiopia) and President (Zimbabwe’s 2018 presidential election).”

Introducing All Light, Expanded, An Interactive Companion to All Light, Everywhere
Sandbox Films announced via press release: "An exploration of the shared histories of cameras, weapons, policing and justice. As surveillance technologies become a fixture in everyday life, the film interrogates the complexity of an objective point of view, probing the biases inherent in both human perception and the lens."

American Experience Announces Winter-Spring Season
Announced via press release: “American Experience returns on Monday, February 7, 2022, with four new documentaries that explore American history through fresh and diverse perspectives, with subjects ranging from a 1900 San Francisco bubonic plague outbreak to the fascinating history of jeans, from the Los Angeles water wars to a look at pioneering African American diplomats. ‘This unique moment in our nation’s history presents an opportunity to think about the stories we tell and the filmmakers we work with to tell them,’ said executive producer Cameo George. ‘American Experience is expanding our pool of storytellers and three of our Winter-Spring titles are directed by filmmakers who are new to the series. We’re excited to present this upcoming slate and to continue to innovate and expand our focus in seasons to come.’”

Updates on COVID-19 Heath Safety Protocols for the 2022 Sundance Film Festival
Announced via press release: “The health safety of our community is paramount. The 2022 Sundance Film Festival has been designed as a hybrid event that has flexibility for attendees to participate in-person and/or online. Early on, the Festival put in place strict in-person health safety measures requiring all participants to be fully vaccinated and to wear masks in all venues and lines. Testing requirements were added, requiring community members (employees, volunteers, artists, press and industry) to show a negative test completed within 48 hours prior to arriving at the Festival, with additional testing requirements for those attending private  gatherings of artists taking part in Q&A’s or press activities. We have been closely monitoring the daily developments of Omicron and continue to follow expert advice and national and local guidance. We are continuing to evaluate enhanced safety measures for onsite elements around capacity, non-film events, and food and beverages. In addition to our existing health safety measures of requiring vaccinations, mask wearing, and testing to maximize safety, today we are announcing the following policy updates for the in person Festival and sharing details on vaccine verification procedures and onsite vaccination verification and testing hub locations.”

2022 Sundance Don’t Miss Docs
Basil Tsiokos writes at What (not) To Doc: “The 38th Sundance Film Festival will run January 20-30 — in-person in Utah, online, and via seven satellite screens across the US — with an announced lineup of 82 features, 6 episodics, 15 New Frontier projects, 59 new short films, and 40 retrospective short films. As a Senior Programmer for the Festival, I’m excited for audiences to experience this fantastic slate in a few short weeks. For the purposes of this space, I especially don’t want any of the feature docs and long-form episodic nonfiction to be overlooked. So, starting this coming Monday, I’ll be posting simple, individual pointers to each of these projects in the lead up to the festival, in a feature I’m calling Sundance Don’t Miss Docs.”

Slamdance To Go Entirely Virtual in 2022 Beginning January 27th
Announced via press release: “Due to concerns around the Omicron variant, and for the safety of its staff, filmmakers, and audience, the Slamdance Film Festival will forgo the in-person portion of its hybrid event in Park City, which was scheduled to run January 20-23. Slamdance will continue its virtual festival program with an accessible and robust lineup of virtual screenings, events, and live Q&A’s running January 27-February 6. The January 27 start date is a week later than originally planned, which allows the festival team to transition many of the events that were planned for the physical edition to the online format.”

IDFA 2021: World-Premiering Sociopolitical Docs to Watch For in 2022

Lauren Wissot reports in Filmmaker Magazine: “Covering this year’s hybrid IDFA from home was both blessing and curse. On the downside, I wouldn’t be attending any screenings in one of the most gorgeous cinemas in the world – Amsterdam’s now century-old (and now ‘Royal Theater’) Tuschinski — nor experiencing all the new media wonders of IDFA DocLab. (Even with the free online exhibition running from November 19-28 I had to forego all VR as I don’t have a headset on hand.) Then again, I did avoid the city’s pandemic-induced partial shutdown (turned closing weekend lockdown) while still having access to the pretty packed P&I library. This included a wide-ranging selection of eye-opening sociopolitical docs from the premiere-only Frontlight section (dedicated to taking “an artistic approach to exploring the urgent issues of our time”). So after such a highly unpredictable 2021 it’s nice to have at least one sure bet: That the following four character studies – all world premieres – will be sparking thorny conversations throughout the fest circuit in the hopefully more ‘normal’ year to come.”

For Pop Music, 2021 Was the Year of the Deep Dive
Jon Pareles writes at The New York Times: "The pandemic, it seems, sent certain enterprising music lovers into editing rooms. For those still leery of gathering for a live concert, the 2021 consolation prize was not a slew of ephemeral livestreams, but an outpouring of smart, intent music documentaries that weren’t afraid to stretch past two hours long. With screen time begging to be filled, it was the year of the deep dive. Those documentaries included a binge-watch of the Beatles at work in Peter Jackson’s The Beatles: Get Back; a visual barrage to conjure musical disruption in Todd Haynes’s Velvet Underground; far-reaching commentary atop ecstatic performances from the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival in Questlove’s Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised); and a surprisingly candid chronicle of Billie Eilish’s whirlwind career — at 16, 17 and 18 years old — in R.J. Cutler’s The World’s a Little Blurry. The documentaries were about reclaiming and rethinking memory, about unexpected echoes across decades, about transparency and the mysteries of artistic production.”

Full Bloom: Quinces in Víctor Erice's Dream of Light
Patrick Holzapfel writes at MUBI’s Notebook: “In Victor Erice’s Dream of Light (1992) we are invited to observe Antonio López García trying to paint the quince tree in his backyard in the magical autumn sun of Madrid. The literal translation of the film’s title, El sol del membrillo, refers to that sun in late September when the quince begins to ripen. It’s a beautiful light people are suspicious of. It was long believed that children should not be exposed to the sunlight at that time of the year. A beautiful light that catalyzes death. The sun, cinema. López García is going to fail to capture it. He declares: ‘The end result is not as important as being close to the tree. I follow the tree.’ Throughout his career, which began in the 1960s, the painter has repeatedly focused on the sweet smelling quince belonging to the rose family. He has captured its deciduous glory like no one else. It’s the neglected fruit of paradise. Each autumn it appears like a golden miracle. Its skin is layered as if it was exposed to hundreds of years of sun, yet, at the same time, it feels like it was just born, soft and eternal. Fewer and fewer know how it tastes any more. Those who see it, think it’s a lemon or an apple. Oh, those fools! Those who know it, speak with respect as if it was something that belongs to a different world. They are right. Before there was powdered gelatin it was customary to harvest quinces. Today it’s a memory of grandmothers preparing delicious quince jam in stuffed kitchens. Everything smelled like heaven and booze.”

Edgar Wright Talks with Ron and Russell Mael (Sparks) on the Talkhouse Podcast
The conversation appeared on The Talkhouse: “On the latest episode of the Talkhouse Podcast, director Edgar Wright chats with musicians Ron and Russell Mael of the beloved cult band Sparks, who are the subject of Wright’s deeply enjoyable new documentary, The Sparks Brothers. In a wide-ranging conversation, the friends and collaborators veer from gripping discussions about food to in-depth explorations of the Mael brothers’ longstanding love of their other creative passion, cinema, which finally resulted in Leos Carax directing their film Annette – which opens the Cannes Film Festival next month! They also discuss record-store hijinks, the genesis of past projects, compare notes on trailers, and much, much more. A veritable smorgasbord of an episode, it’s a real pleasure to listen to three people who so obviously relish each others company.”

Observe and Subvert: An Interview with Lynne Sachs
Inney Prakash spoke with the filmmaker for The Metrograph: “Whether portraying artists, historical figures, family members, or strangers, filmmaker Lynne Sachs has always found rivetingly indirect methods of representing her subjects. The San Francisco Weekly called her 2001 film Investigation of a Flame, about the Vietnam War and the Catonsville Nine, a group of Catholic activists who burnt draft files in protest, an 'anti-documentary.' Sachs herself now uses the phrase 'experimental documentary' as shorthand for describing the formal elements that constitute her particularly idiosyncratic and collage-like cinematic vernacular, notable in work like the decades-in-the-making Film About A Father Who (2020). Rooted in her days in San Francisco’s experimental scene, Sachs’s concerns are deeply material; they regard the matter that makes up the world as inextricable from the technology that reproduces it. Her investigation of New York City laundromats, The Washing Society (2016), co-directed with playwright Lizzie Olesker, struck me as an apt departure point for our wide-ranging discussion about and around this material awareness, as well as the larger concerns that bridge the gap between her films as works of art and Sachs’s  advocacy for worldly change.”

Film Scholar David Bordwell Health Scare
David Bordwell writes at Observations on Film Art: “After fifteen years of fairly steady blogging, we suspended putting up new entries in early October. We were reluctant to go into explanations of a fluid situation, but now things are stable enough for us to set out what happened. I had surgery for oral cancer in July and August, followed by brief hospital stays. My doctors, all excellent, have said and continue to say that my prognosis for recovery is good. After a hiatus of rest at home, when I posted two blogs, I went in for radiation treatments and chemotherapy. This process took six weeks and has left me very tired, while also dealing with side effects of the treatments and medications. Since then, I simply have lacked the energy and concentration to write anything new. I try to find time for clerical cleanup work on my book manuscript, Perplexing Plots: Popular Storytelling and the Poetics of Murder. The plan is to submit it for production in March at Columbia University Press. But Kristin, who has been devotedly taking care of me, and I now have a routine that should permit at least occasional blogging. She will of course provide her annual list of Best Films of the Year for 90 Years Ago, and she has some other ideas. I hope as well to offer something, though naps and streaming always seem to obtrude...It’s been heartening to see that we still get many pageloads every day; some of our efforts seem to endure. In addition, my colleagues here and elsewhere have been wonderfully kind in offering their support during these days. There are still months to go, but Kristin and I remain confident.”

Vox’s Favorite Documentaries of 2021 and How to Watch Them 
Alissa Wilkinson writes at Vox: “Fiction films tend to take up most of the air in the room when it comes to ‘best movies of the year’ lists. But avid movie lovers know that the greatest innovations and most forward-thinking filmmakers are working in nonfiction, turning our shared realities and individual perspectives into absorbing, enlightening films. And in recent years, there’s been a resurgence of interest in the form. Great documentaries challenge not just what we think about the world but the way in which we look at it, and force us to think about ourselves in new ways. They ask us to reevaluate the very act of watching a movie, or think about the roles we perform in our daily lives. So it’s no wonder that so many of this year’s best films were nonfiction. Below I’ve collected 16 of the best documentaries, which explored everything from groundbreaking artists and musicians to democracies and surveillance society to the difficult act of healing from trauma, and a lot more.”

Variety’s Favorite Documentaries of 2021
Owen Gleiberman writes at Variety: “We’ve never been too crazy about the phrase ‘embarrassment of riches.’ Why the embarrassment? Can you really have too much of a good thing? When it comes to documentaries, we think you can’t, so we prefer to categorize the best documentaries of 2021 as a pride of riches. We included 20 on this list because we didn’t feel, in our right minds, that we could do without any of them. And the range of movies here is a testament to the vast spectrum of work now being done in the non-fiction arena. A number of the films we chose are music docs, but that’s simply because there was so much extraordinary, impossible-to-ignore work in that area. Yet the movies on this roster also encompass subjects like race, politics, art, food, the police, the animal kingdom, the environmental crisis, the opioid crisis, and a rescue mission more gripping than any thriller. To anyone who doubts that docs rule, our response is simple: get real.”
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:

Sweet Science: The Rise of a Super Middleweight
Directed by
Kevin Antcliff

Goal: $12,500
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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