It's a busy week for festival news with nonfiction highlights from BlackStar Film Festival, a new film from Laura Poitras set for a New York Film Festival debut, the Sundance Institute launching support programs for latinx, indigenous and AAPI filmmakers, and a whole lot more. And that's just festival news - read on!
– Jordan M. Smith
How Narrative Films and Documentaries Covering the Same Subject Can Co-Exist Douglas Laman writes at Collider: “Sometimes, a major historical event or figure cannot be contained in just one movie or even mode of filmmaking. Sometimes, these entities that once grabbed newspaper headlines have to be covered in both a narrative feature and a documentary. Take the 2018 Thai cave rescue, for example. A tremendous operation that gripped the planet, this event has been brought to life across two motion pictures. The first was the 2021 documentary The Rescue by directors Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin, while the second was the Ron Howard narrative drama Thirteen Lives starring Viggo Mortensen and Colin Farrell, released July 29. This phenomenon of both a documentary and a feature film telling the same story is quite common, but it doesn’t always mean you get two masterpieces covering a major event from the past. Often, the documentary entry in the duo gets there first and is a superior creation compared to the later narrative film effort. But just because that’s a regular occurrence doesn’t mean that the latter style of filmmaking is inherently doomed when tackling a topic that’s already been explored in a documentary form. There are ways for narrative features to ensure they’re not just rehashes of previous documentaries.”
BBC Storyville Commissioning Editor Philippa Kowarsky Exiting After A Year Jesse Whittock reports at Deadline: “Philippa Kowarsky is leaving her role as Commissioning Editor of BBC’s Storyville documentary strand after a year in post. In an internal note, BBC Films Director Eva Yates told colleagues Kowarsky would be 'leaving the team to pursue other ventures outside of the BBC'. ‘I would like to personally thank Philippa for her contribution to the success of Storyville over the past year, during which time she has built a rich and varied slate of films. I wish her all the best for her future plans.’ Kowarsky’s commissions while at the BBC included The Earth is as Blue as an Orange, which followed a Ukrainian family living under siege in 2019. Her hire was announced almost exactly a year ago, with a brief to identify and co-produce doc features from around the world. Yates said she would update ‘soon on next steps for Storyville.’ She is taking on oversight and commissioning duties for the strand in the interim. Kowarsky had joined to replace Mandy Chang, who exited for Fremantle. Previously, Kowarsky worked at Cinephil, the international sales and advisory firm which she founded in 1997 — the same year Storyville was introduced on the BBC.”
The Gotham Announces Projects Selected for the 2022 Gotham Week Project Market Announced via Filmmaker Magazine: “The Gotham Film & Media Institute (formerly IFP, and Filmmaker‘s publisher) announces today the 144 projects comprising the 44th annual Gotham Week Project Market, which includes fiction and nonfiction features, series and audio projects. Taking place both at the Brooklyn Navy Yard and online, the in person segment will run from September 19-21, while the virtual portion will be hosted from September 22-23…This year’s lineup includes 65 fiction features and series projects, 60 documentary features and 17 genre-spanning audio projects. There are 25 international projects across these selections, chosen by The Gotham’s international presenting partners.”
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ON THE FESTIVAL CIRCUIT
Docs About Remembrance & Cultural Celebration in the 2022 BlackStar Film Festival Bedatri D. Choudhury writes at Hyperallergic: “Lea Najjar’s debut Kash Kash defies expectations. Countering the smoke that floats upwards from the devastating 2020 explosion in Beirut, Najjar’s gaze jumps sideways. We go from one rooftop to another, observing three men in a game of kash hamam — players throw oranges at pigeons so that they fly higher and eventually lure other pigeons back to their respective roofs. Whoever brings in the most pigeons is the winner. One girl wants to join in, defying the limitations society imposes on her. Within this game and its incessant luring in and casting away of birds, the film finds resonance for the endless strife of Beirut at large. Kash Kash is making its North American premiere at the 11th edition of the BlackStar Film Festival, just one title in an intriguing and eclectic lineup showcasing Black, Brown, and Indigenous storytellers from around the world. This year’s program celebrates the resilience and joy in worldwide struggles against erasure and confinement. Hyperallergic has previously covered titles in this year’s program, such as dream hampton’s Freshwater and Tonya Lewis Lee and Paula Eiselt’s Aftershock.”
Laura Poitras’ Nan Goldin Doc All the Beauty and the Bloodshed Set for NYFF Ryan Lattanzio reports at IndieWire: “Film at Lincoln Center has announced that Oscar-winning Citizenfour director Laura Poitras’s All the Beauty and the Bloodshed will be the Centerpiece selection for the 60th New York Film Festival at Alice Tully Hall on October 7. Photographer and documentary subject Nan Goldin will design the 60th New York Film Festival poster, which will be revealed at a later date. The film will weave two narratives, per the synopsis: the fabled life and career of era-defining artist Nan Goldin and the downfall of the Sackler family, the pharmaceutical dynasty Goldin personally took on in her fight to hold accountable those responsible for the deadly opioid epidemic. Following her own personal struggle with opioid addiction, Goldin, who rose from the New York 'No Wave' underground to become one of the great photographers of the late 20th century, put herself at the forefront of the battle against the Sacklers, both as an activist at art institutions around the world that had accepted millions from the family and as an advocate for the destigmatization of drug addiction.”
Sundance Launches Initiatives for Latinx artists, Indigenous Non-fiction Filmmakers Andrew Tracy reports at Realscreen: “The Sundance Institute has launched a two-pronged initiative, the Latine Fellowship and Collab Scholarship, which aims to provide professional development opportunities to 11 emerging Latinx artists. The first component of the new program, the Latine Fellowship, will provide six Latinx artists who have previously received support from the Sundance Institute with a year-long, multidisciplinary fellowship that comprises creative and tactical support for their projects, as well as an unrestricted grant of $10,000. The second arm of the initiative, the Latine Scholarship, will offer five early-career Latinx artists who have no prior history with the Institute a free membership for the digital community platform Sundance Collab. The membership will allow the recipients to take a live online course, access previous master-class sessions via the platform’s video library, and take advantage of exclusive networking and community-building virtual events. The grantees will also receive detailed feedback on their projects, and have further opportunities to connect with Sundance staff and artists.”
Sundance Institute Launches New Annual Fellowship & Scholarship for AAPI Artists Samantha Bergeson reports at IndieWire: “The Sundance Institute announced a new annual scholarship and fellowship program for Asian American filmmakers, in partnership with the Asian American Foundation (TAAF). Officially titled ‘Sundance Institute | The Asian American Foundation Fellowship and Collab Scholarship,’ the program provides Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) artists with “creative and tactical support to develop their skills and grow professionally” and improve AAPI representation in film and TV. The new fellowship will annually promote emerging artists in both fiction and nonfiction storytelling with funding provided by Panda Express and the MacArthur Foundation. The Fellowship and Scholarship are made possible by support from TAAF, through a $400,000 grant provided by its AAPI Giving Challenge partner Panda Express, with MacArthur contributing $140,000.”
Werner Herzog, Maria Augusta Ramos, Among Many Others, at Doclisboa’22 Announced via press release: “Doclisboa unveils the first confirmed titles for the 20th edition of the festival: 5 films that take part of the From the Earth to the Moon section, featuring unique looks that build bridges between history and the future, and 5 films from the Heart Beat section that bring a diversity of representations of the art world. The beating heart of Doclisboa is once again playing cards between dance, music and literature. The life and work of legendary vocalist Ronnie James Dio, one of the biggest names in Heavy Metal history, through the testimonies of family and close friends, crossed with archival footage, is featured in DIO: Dreamers Never Die, by Don Argott, Demian Fenton. In Dreaming Walls, directors Amélie van Elmbt and Maya Duverdier take us through the history of the mythical Chelsea Hotel, home to so many artists, filmmakers and musicians in the 1960s, such as Patti Smith, Leonard Cohen or Stanley Kubrick, and whose future seems compromised due to the gentrification that is sweeping the city of New York.”
TIFF Announces Wavelengths Titles for 2022 Fest Pat Mullen reports at POV Magazine: “The Toronto International Film Festival has announced more titles for this year’s festival. TIFF released the selections for the Wavelengths, Discovery, and Midnight Madness programmes. The highlight on the documentary front is a new work from Véréna Paravel and Lucien Castaing-Taylor (Leviathan, Caniba) who will bring De Humani Corporis Fabrica to the festival for its North American premiere. The film is a portrait of the human body in hospital, told through a specially designed camera that affords unique perspectives and access. Last year’s Wavelengths programme delivered some of the top docs of the festival including A Night of Knowing Nothing and Futura. Other highlights in the Wavelengths line-up include the world premiere of Antoine Bourges’ Concrete Valley, his second feature after the hybrid drama Fail to Appear (2017). Ashley Mackenzie (Werewolf) will also debut her second feature at TIFF by bringing the drama Queens of the Qing Dynasty to the festival after an acclaimed debut at the Berlinale.”
Sergei Lozintsa, Ari Folman to Hold 28th Sarajevo Film Festival Masterclasses Modern Times Review reports: “The 28th Sarajevo Film Festival has announced a series of talks in its Masterclasses Programme, featuring some of the most famous names in fiction and non-fiction. Among the seven events, filmmakers Sergei Loznitsa (Donbass, Babi Yar. Context, The Natural History of Destruction) and Ari Folman (Waltz With Bashir will hold talks on 14 August (11:00 – 12:00) and 15 August (10:00-11:30), respectively. Entrance to Sarajevo Film Festival Masterclasses is free of charge, with tickets available online at tickets.sarajevo.ba or at the Main Box Office (Bosanski kulturni centar, Branilaca Sarajeva 24). Further Sarajevo Film Festival Masterclasses comes from Paul Schrader, Ruben Östlund, Jesse Eisenberg, Jasmila Žbanić, and Michael Winterbottomom.”
About That Alex Jones Documentary Rebecca Onion writes at Slate: “The documentary Alex’s War, directed by Alex Lee Moyer, which was released last week, has been applauded by some (including Jones himself) for its supposed even-handedness and fairness in its treatment of the InfoWars founder. Glenn Greenwald quizzed Jones and Moyer at a Q&A after the documentary’s premiere in Austin in July, his presence a gift to Jones’ credibility that led to much furor in some online circles. But is Alex’s War admirably verité—Moyer told New York that one of her influences was D.A. Pennebaker’s hands-off 1967 Dylan documentary Dont Look Back—or is it oddly credulous of a figure who has done nothing to deserve that treatment? I asked Friesen—who, as a Jones completist, had already seen the documentary (and podcasted on it!)—to help me understand what the film was really doing. I reached him in his hotel room in Austin, where he was covering Jones’ latest legal proceedings in the matter of the Sandy Hook parents he had accused of being crisis actors—a trial which has become quite the media spectacle this week, making Alex’s War’s ‘view from nowhere’ approach seem even stranger by comparison. Our conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.”
The Case of the Artist and the True-Crime Documentary Mike Hale writes in The New York Times: “If you’re the sort of television viewer — like me — who watches true-crime documentaries and spends the whole time wondering exactly how you’re being manipulated, this week brings an opportunity to peek behind the curtain. It comes in the form of two pretty good series, one released last year and one that premiered in America on Thursday, about a harrowing and seemingly endless case, the 1996 murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier at her vacation home on the southern coast of Ireland. The case has so many of the ingredients of true-crime fascination that it hardly seems real. The victim was beautiful, demi-famous (her husband, Daniel, was a leading French film producer) and far from home in a haunting, dramatic landscape. The killing, two days before Christmas, was brutal and without eyewitnesses. A suspect, a freelance journalist named Ian Bailey who aggressively reported on the murder, was arrested twice by police and released without charge both times by prosecutors. The investigation by the Garda, Ireland’s national police force, was dogged by charges of incompetence and corruption. Bailey went to court twice, suing a group of newspapers and then the police; he lost each time, cementing his status in the public mind as a murderer who got away with it.”
Irma Vep and The Rehearsal Shared via Devika Girish at Film Comment: “This week’s podcast initially began as a sequel to our episode about Irma Vep from a few weeks ago, in which Adam Nayman and Beatrice Loayza joined us to discuss Olivier Assayas’s new HBO series. We had only seen four episodes at the time, and we wanted to reconvene our guests for a follow-up, now that the miniseries has finished its eight-episode run. But as we dug into the film-within-a-film rabbit holes of Irma Vep; its commentaries on auteurism and autofiction; and how it blurs the lines between reality, narrative, and fantasy, we realized that it echoed the themes of another series everyone has been talking about recently: The Rehearsal, starring writer/director/creator Nathan Fielder. So this episode brings you a double dose of meta: Irma Vep and The Rehearsal, and the ethics of making movies about oneself, other people, and moviemaking itself.”
8 Ways to Teach With Short Documentary Films From The Times Jeremy Engle writes in The New York Times: “Death metal-singing grandmothers. Gravity-defying dancers on nine-foot stilts. The dangers of 'sharenting.' Coming-of-age with autism. What really happened at Stonewall. The whereabouts of smooth-voiced, permed-haired Bob Ross’s vast collection of lost paintings. These are just a few stories and themes we have explored in our weekly Film Club since it began in 2015. Every Thursday during the school year, we feature a short documentary film from The New York Times and a set of five open-ended questions intended to encourage thoughtful and honest dialogue, either in your classroom or in the comments section. These films — drawn from Times Video series like Op-Docs, Modern Love, Diary of a Song and Conception — offer viewers an intriguing and unique perspective of the world and ask students to think deeply about themes like ethics, human rights, gender identity and scientific discovery. And each one is typically under 12 minutes. As with other short texts like stories, poems and articles, mini-documentary films can stimulate discussion, debate, thinking and writing. And, they can serve as a refreshing break from print media to help students explore curriculum themes and practice important literacy skills. You might use Film Club weekly in your class as a tool for regular writing and discussion. Or, if you’re looking for specific ways to make short documentaries a part of your curriculum, below, we present eight ideas for teaching with the series. For each topic, we suggest several films to watch, questions for discussion and activities to go further.”
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