News from across the pond is spreading as Georgian documentary filmmakers are facing culture crackdowns from the increasingly autocratic Georgian government. Elsewhere in the world, Alanis Obomsawin was named the recipient of this year's Edward MacDowell Medal, Abby Sun announced the temporary printing pause of Documentary magazine while the staff reevaluate in the wake of former editor Tom White's exit, and a whole host of excellent festival reports from around the globe came in as well. Happy Monday.
– Jordan M. Smith
Georgian Doc Makers Join Forces to Fight the Government's Culture Crackdown Vladan Petkovic reports for Cineuropa: “Even before a proposed new law – demanding that any non-commercial organisation in Georgia that receives more than 20% of its budget from abroad register as a ‘foreign agent’ – was recently announced and then withdrawn in the parliament after huge protests, local documentary filmmakers had started joining forces. One of the founders of DOCA Georgia, the Georgian Documentary Association, which was introduced in December 2022 at the Tbilisi Film Festival, is Salomé Jashi, whose film Taming the Garden was the first documentary to catch the eye of the increasingly autocratic government. ‘Until then, I think no one in the government considered us important or cared what we did,’ says Jashi. But after winning awards at multiple festivals following its world premiere at Sundance in 2021, and getting theatrical distribution in Germany, Switzerland, the UK, the USA and Canada, the film – which deals with billionaire, former prime minister and founder of the ruling Georgian Dream party Bidzina Ivanishvili's hobby of creating a huge personal garden for himself – screened at Tbilisi later that year and raised eyebrows. The regime's crackdown on independent culture continued with the head of the Georgian National Film Center (GNFC), Gaga Chkheidze, being ousted from his position in March 2022 by Minister of Culture Thea Tsulukiani, and replaced with her deputy, Karlo Sikharulidze, a career diplomat with no experience in the film industry.”
Alanis Obomsawin to Receive 2023 Edward MacDowell Medal Pat Mullen reports for POV Magazine: "Alanis Obomsawin is the recipient of this year’s Edward MacDowell Medal. The American award honours artists who have made significant contributions to their fields. The medal will be presented to Obomsawin in an outdoor ceremony on July 23 with author and arts leader Jesse Wente offering opening remarks about her legacy and body of work. Obomsawin is the first woman filmmaker to receive the MacDowell Medal in its 63-year history. Previous filmmakers to get the honour include Stan Brakhage, David Lynch, Chuck Jones, and Les Blank. ‘Obviously, these are people who have accomplished quite a lot and it is a distinct pleasure to be counted among such a magnificent group,' said Obomsawin in a statement. 'I am very honoured.’ Obomsawin is among Canada’s most celebrated and prolific filmmakers. At 90 years young, Obomsawin is still as active as ever with the short documentary Bill Reid Remembers released last year.”
Letter from the (Interim) Documentary Magazine Editor Abby Sun writes in Documentary: “Dear Documentary Magazine Readers, I’m Abby, the Director of Artist Programs at IDA, and I’m writing to introduce myself as the interim editor of Documentary magazine. First up: in this newsletter, you will find links to pieces from Documentary magazine’s winter 2023 issue, which focuses on reverberations from Getting Real '22. They include new provocations building off of conversations started at our biennial conference, attendee reports, and the publication of all three inspiring keynote talks from documentary stalwarts Nanfu Wang, Anand Patwardhan, and Erika Dilday. We have temporarily paused printing Documentary issues in order to hold a series of visioning sessions on the future of IDA’s editorial operations. We held our first staff brainstorming meeting last Monday. After reflecting on the energy generated from that session, it’s clear that we are dedicated to printing magazine content in some form. Don’t worry—we have lots of ideas of where we can go, as well! We are able to do this visioning process thanks to the runway left to us by former editor Tom White. We are grateful to inherit Tom’s work, as well as that of the many editors who have built Documentary magazine from its inception as a photocopied newsletter, development as a monthly magazine named International Documentary, and blossoming into a quarterly full-color glossy sold on newsstands. There are columns that have been in continuous publication for decades, becoming an invaluable archive of the history of documentary film.”
Tough Film to Market? Participant Knows How to Find the Activism Audience Brian Welk reports at IndieWire: “Veda Tunstall remembers the first time film people started poking around her hometown asking questions, and it wasn’t for the documentary that became Descendant. Tunstall, a subject in Margaret Brown’s movie about the search for a long-lost slave ship near a community called Africatown, says that years before Brown showed up, other filmmakers wanted to make their own movies about hunting for the Clotilda. That didn’t go well. The community’s needs were never in mind and the story being told wasn’t their own; it was the ship’s. The investment of time and attention that Brown and production company Participant put into Descendant felt different. The film also follows actual descendants who live in Africatown and examines how their ancestors’ actions can be traced across generations. The search for the slave ship was only half the story.”
Impact Partners Documentary Producers Fellowship Announced via press release: “The 2023-2024 Fellowship will be a combination of virtual and in-person meetings. Each session explores a distinct arena and set of challenges facing documentary producers today, such as film finance, festival and sales strategy, the distribution landscape and other critical topics. This year, Fellows should have an in-progress project they are producing and will receive guidance on throughout the program. During each session, guest luminaries—eminent documentary producers and industry experts with distinct areas of knowledge—work closely with the fellows to explore issues of immediate relevance to their current projects and career goals, offering advice, strategies and best practices. Each fellow is awarded a stipend of $1,500 plus travel expenses and receives one-on-one mentorship with Executive Director Jenny Raskin and the Impact Partners team.”
Open Call for the 2023-2024 Karen Schmeer Film Editing Fellowship Announced via press release: “The Karen Schmeer Film Editing Fellowship is a year-long group mentorship program for documentary assistant, associate and emerging editors from historically underrepresented backgrounds and experiences. The fellowship will run from September 2023 to September 2024 and will consist of monthly small group meetings with seasoned documentary editor mentors. Applications will be accepted during our open call period from April 4 to May 21, 2023…The organization honors the memory of gifted editor Karen Schmeer (The Fog of War, Fast, Cheap & Out of Control, Bobby Fischer Against the World), who was killed in a hit and run accident at the age of 39, on January 29, 2010. Our mission is to cultivate the careers of an inclusive group of emerging and aspiring documentary film editors 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. This year marks the twelfth year of our programs and we have supported over 110 emerging, associate and assistant editors since the fellowship’s inception.”
DOC NYC PRO:
Creating and Executing an Impact Campaign
Documentary filmmaking has a long tradition of working to effect social change, but what can you do to make sure your work has an impact? How do you craft an impact campaign from start to finish that is tailor made to elevate the issue your film illuminates? Partnering with local and national organizations is a key ingredient to create lasting change, but how do you initiate and sustain these relationships? Join Odyssey Impact’s Evyenia Constantine and director Nailah Jefferson (Descended from the Promised Land: The Legacy of Black Wall Street) who will share their insights on how to elevate your film to inspire action and offer examples of films with effective campaigns.
The Visions du Réel Line-up Promises to be Especially Rich and Inclusive Giorgia Del Don writes at Cineuropa: “Between 21 and 30 April, Nyon will be hosting its historic festival which is now at its 54th edition. Always looking to the future and captained by Emilie Bujès, Visions du Réel is continuing to forge a path built upon boundary-breaking documentary film approaches, whether in terms of genre, format or language, advocating a refreshing and modern hybridisation of the form. Between up-and-coming young talent (24 first feature films, overall) and familiar faces at the festival, such as Swiss-Canadian director Peter Mettler, Polish directorial duo Piotr Pawlus and Tomasz Wolski, and Italy’s Mattia Colombo, who have all been selected for the International Competition, the festival is set to shine a light on a vast array of modern documentary productions. The striking number of Swiss (co)productions (37 across the various sections) is also worth a mention and demonstrates the increasing interest we’re seeing in this format.”
Afghan film Etilaat Roz opens the 38th DOK.fest München Announced via press release: “The daily newspaper Etilaat Roz, based in Kabul, investigated corruption and abuse of office. For this, the independent medium was awarded a prize by Transparency International in 2020. After the hasty withdrawal of US armed forces in mid-August 2021, the US army frantically organised final evacuation flights, president Ghani fled the country and the Taliban took power. As a staff member, Abbas Rezaie observes editor Zaki Daryabi and his team at close quarters during the critical weeks of upheaval: Is it possible to continue working under these circumstances? How can the sources and staff be protected? Who can be put on the evacuation list? Zaki Daryabi has to make difficult decisions. A dramatic chamber play that reflects world history in a very confined space.”
Lu Chuan’s Olympic Documentary Set to Open Beijing Film Festival Patrick Frater reports for Variety: "Beijing 2022, the official documentary about the 2022 Winter Olympic Games, has been set as the opening film of the revived Beijing International Film Festival. It is directed by noted narrative and documentary filmmaker Lu Chuan (Kekexili, City of Life and Death and Disney’s Born in China) and will have its world premiere at the festival. The festival will run April 22-29 and be based in the Huairou district which has become an out of town hub for the film industry, as well as other venues in the Chinese capital. For the past three editions the BJIFF has been held online due to disruptions caused by China’s strict anti-COVID measures. Organizers said that the festival will operate in nine sections including a feature competition and include some 160 film titles. A jury headed by Zhang Yimou will determine the section’s Tiantan prizes. State media reported that the competition will include between ten and 15 titles, with titles announced so far including Adios Buenos Aires, Driving Madeleine, Scrapper and To Catch a Killer.”
dok.incubator Unveils its Eight Doc Projects for 2023 Nick Cunningham reports at Business Doc Europe: “The Prague-based rough-cut training workshop dok.incubator has announced its final selection of 8 documentaries for 2023. The programme will gather project teams from Europe, Iran, and Bhutan to work together with international editors, producers, and sales representatives. For the upcoming eight months their goal is to sharpen their film’s cut, shape its dramaturgy, and create marketing strategy, preparing each film for festival premiere in 2024. ‘Every year we see that the current social and political situation is imprinted into the films that apply for our workshop. I believe we brought up fresh and diverse perspectives and that this year’s selection carries many important messages of the contemporary world,’ says Andrea Prenghyova, the dok.incubator CEO.”
CPH:DOX 2023: The Platinum Anniversary Edition Lauren Wissot writes in Filmmaker: “If there’s one thing pandemic shutdowns have proven over these past few years, it’s that (far too) many film festivals can just as easily be covered online. (Do I really need to hop on a plane and into a faraway cinema to view the latest Netflix Original?) That, thankfully, is not the case when it comes to the Copenhagen International Documentary Film Festival, now in its 20th year and still one of the most punk rock rebellious events around, as evidenced by e.g. the fest’s decision this edition (March 15-26) to team up with Kunsthal Charlottenborg, the palatial contemporary art space (literally, as it’s housed in Charlottenborg Palace) that’s long served as festival HQ, to present British artist Jeremy Deller’s head-spinning Welcome to the Shitshow! Through a variety of media—everything from photography and film to graphics and sculpture—Deller takes the attendee on a time-warped trip through British culture from Bowie and Depeche Mode to The Troubles and Brexit. In other words, the perfect way to reenergize between screenings, caffeine optional (the fest’s pop-up cafe conveniently located a few steps from the entrance) but not required.”
SXSW 2023: Queendom, You Were My First Boyfriend, and Another Body Catalina Combs writes in Documentary: "SXSW 2023 was one for the books. For five days, I entered a world full of inspiration, creativity, unique voices, and the most delightful humans. I started my adventure with a keynote talk from actor and best-selling author Priyanka Chopra Jonas, who had the best things to say about diversity in the film industry. Not only is it important to have diverse people in front of and behind the camera, but it is equally important to have diverse languages spoken. The conversation also dove into the difficulties and challenges of being a woman and woman of color in the entertainment industry. Another fine voice among the featured speakers this year was human rights activist Martin Luther King III and his wife, Arndrea Waters King. I concluded my time in Austin with the online conversation special event. Their discussion highlighted how much representation matters. Throughout his life, Martin Luther King III has worked with individuals deeply committed to the struggle for human rights and a nonviolent society. These conversations were the bookends to my SXSW experience, which centered on the victories, pushbacks, and the need to be more vigilant and intentional with our art in whatever form it takes. I heard from and watched a variety of voices in my four and half days at SXSW, and I barely scratched the surface.”
Join the DOC NYC Team!
DOC NYC Associate Director of Filmmaker & Industry Initiatives
The DOC NYC Associate Director of Filmmaker & Industry Initiatives oversees outreach, recruitment, and selections for the following festival honors and programs:
The annual 40 Under 40 list recognizing notable emerging filmmakers
The Documentary New Leaders leadership program for rising industry stars
The Industry Roundtables (formerly known as “Only In New York”) meeting forum for filmmakers with works-in-progress
The Storytelling Incubator mentorship program for first-time filmmakers
Claire Simon’s Notre corps Beatrice Loayza writes in Cinema Scope: “Claire Simon’s Notre corps—which captures the visitations and procedures in the gynecological ward of Paris’s Tenon hospital, a public institution located a few blocks from Père Lachaise—understands this compromise, but offers a rebuttal as well: it honours the body’s possibilities and delicate particularities by expanding that gaze to encompass the lives beyond the bodies, the unique frictions engendered by supposedly objective methods. Simon’s work as a writer, director, and cinematographer of both narrative films and documentaries is rooted in the 'direct cinema' teachings of the Ateliers Varan, a documentary training program founded by Jean Rouch, and her new film—which premiered in the Berlinale’s Forum section—unfolds with the same chat-heavy, observational approach of her previous documentaries, including Le concours (2016), a Wiseman-like study of the admissions process to France’s top film school, La Fémis; and Premières solitudes (2018), which is made up almost entirely of conversations between groups of teenagers.”
Compensation and Transfiguration: Alison O’Daniel’s The Tuba Thieves Jordan Lord writes in Documentary: “A caption in Alison O’Daniel’s film The Tuba Thieves (2023) refers to 'quiet air'—a description of sound but also of sensation and (shared) substance, reattuning what it means to listen away from hearing and toward the material means by which listening occurs. When I experienced the film at MoMA’s Doc Fortnight 2023, fresh from its premiere at Sundance, the way I listened to this quiet air was not just through my ears. Balloons were distributed to each audience member, conducting vibrations into our hands. Held together with a room full of other people holding balloons, literally holding their own breath, I listened to this ‘quiet air’ by feeling the captioned words on the screen touching my brain touching the balloon’s calm, springy surface. At other moments in the film, the balloon vibrates with all kinds of noisy air—the shaking roar of airplane engines, the rhythmic clatter of drums, the enveloping suspense of waves and things that sound like waves (skateboard wheels and traffic on the freeway)—that move the film across many different times and places. As the film cuts between them, it shows sound as not just noise but also elemental matter that shapes and segregates environments, affecting and acting upon the bodies of the people who inhabit them.”
Brooke Shields and the Curse of Great Beauty Rhonda Garelick writes in The New York Times: “What is the price of great, commercially celebrated beauty? What pain and loss accompany it? And what happens to a young girl turned into an icon before even hitting puberty? These key questions are addressed in Pretty Baby, a thoughtful and moving documentary about Brooke Shields that premiered on Hulu on April 3. Ms. Shields was a generational touchstone of the 1970s and ’80s, an omnipresent vision — in magazines, television ads and films — of astonishing natural beauty. Luminous deep-blue eyes under those famous dark brows, delicate features, dimpled smile and a glossy brunette mane. By the time she was a preteen, her look had developed — or rather, been groomed into — an improbable blend of Renaissance angel and vamp. She was a living contradiction, conveying both doll-like innocence and premature, sexualized knowingness. At 11, playing a child prostitute in Louis Malle’s film Pretty Baby, she was required to do a kissing scene with the actor Keith Carradine, then 29. At 15, she starred in Blue Lagoon, an Adam-and-Eve tale of castaway teenagers discovering sex on a deserted island. (The director of Blue Lagoon tried to sensationalize the film further by intimating, falsely, that the young Brooke had lost her own virginity during production. ‘They wanted to sell my actual erotic awakening,’ Ms. Shields says ruefully in the documentary.)”
Director Alex Gibney on Boom! Boom! The World vs. Boris Becker Jon Wertheim writes for Sports Illustrated: "The tennis crowd will like Boom! Boom! for what it is. A proper tennis documentary that gives real insight into the sport’s beauty and pitfalls. There’s plenty of Becker nostalgia from the ’80s and ’90s and interviews with many leading lights—McEnroe, Borg, Wilander; Stich; conspicuously not Agassi—of the era. The beguiling Ion Ţiriac, worthy of a doc in his own right, steals scene after scene. (Aside: You can’t help but think that if Becker had stayed with Ţiriac and not exchanged him for yes-men, he would be fabulously wealthy today.) Djokovic figures prominently in Part 2, including one startling bit of titillating insight. The non-tennis crowd will appreciate Boom! Boom! for what it is not. Neither fawning nor cruel, it avoids easy tropes. It is not a tidy three-act redemption story. It’s also not a takedown. Becker is 55 now, and his ability to mount the ultimate comeback and repair his life is left as an open question. For this film to soar, Becker had to play ball. All credit to him for continuing to sit for Gibney’s interviews and bare himself, even as the plot changed and circumstances darkened. But Gibney had to play ball, too. Like a tennis player, his willingness to change his tactics and rhythm mid-match, was, as they say in the sport, ultimately the key to this win. In advance of the release, we spoke with Gibney.”
Stripped-Down Popemobiles Alissa Wilkinson writes for Film Comment: “At the end of Gianfranco Rosi’s new documentary, In viaggio: The Travels of Pope Francis, the Pope is praying. Pleading with God to 'illuminate our consciences,' he asks that humankind not be abandoned to its deeds. ‘Stop us, Lord,’ he says. ‘Stop us.’ Those are startling words to hear out of the mouth of the most famous figure in Christendom. In the movies, popes are sometimes anxious and reluctant, sometimes pompous and preachy, sometimes corrupt, and sometimes just weird. Less often are they shown interceding on behalf of humanity. But the prayer is very much in keeping with the portrait of Francis that Rosi paints—equal parts joyful and contrite. It’s not at all difficult to see what prompted the documentary, constructed largely out of publicly available archival footage shot during Francis’s travels. (The Vatican, however, provided Rosi with higher-resolution footage than what you can get on the internet.) The director’s previous films, including Fire at Sea (2016) and Notturno (2020), bring the crises of the global poor and the displaced to vivid life in deeply humane and personal ways. Those same people—migrants, refugees, the imprisoned, the neglected—are whom Jorge Mario Bergoglio has focused much of his work on since assuming the title of Pope Francis a decade ago.”
DOC NYC Selects: Letter to the Editor
Date: Tuesday, April 11 Time: 7:00pm ET Venue: IFC Center, 323 Sixth Ave, NYC TRT: 85 minutes
After its New York City premiere at DOC NYC 2019, Alan Berliner’s visual essay reflecting on photojournalism took a hiatus from public availability. Re-launching at DOC NYC Selects, Berliner’s transformation of a 40-year collection of photographs (clipped from The New York Times) into a meditation on what will be lost if print newspapers go away is at once profound and playful.
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