I'm in the midst of reading Valeria Luiselli's truly outstanding new novel Lost Children Archive and last night stumbled upon a brief passage that felt worthy of sharing here:
Documentary as experience. Experience as documentary. I'm quite sure many of my earliest memories were actually formed not from lived experience, but from watching home movies of my childhood. I'm sure this feeling is shared among many of us and is frequently on the minds of doc filmmakers the world over. If you haven't already checked it out, I recommend reading Luiselli's book which is set in the world of audio documentary making.
This week's memo is stacked with doc marketplace controversy, exciting production announcements, festival circuit highlights and plenty of juicy tid-bits to keep doc enthusiasts busy on this post-Mother's Day Monday morning. Read on!
-Jordan M. Smith
Documentary Business Reveals Widening Gap Between Rich and Poor
Looking closely at current state of the doc marketplace, Anthony Kaufman of IndieWire found, "there’s a widening gap between the rich and the poor. At this year’s springtime film festivals showcasing new nonfiction premieres and projects in development—Tribeca in New York, and Hot Docs in Toronto—the disparities in the industry were glaringly evident. On the marketable end of the spectrum, HBO kicked off Tribeca with Roger Ross Williams’s engaging tribute to THE APOLLO, while Netflix announced a worldwide deal for Rachel Mason’s CIRCUS OF BOOKS, about her parents’ West Hollywood gay porn bookstore, which already had the backing of TV hit-maker and Netflix producer Ryan Murphy (AMERICAN HORROR STORY, GLEE), and was the only finished acquisition announced during the Festival. Other corporate-affiliated nonfiction included the devastating AFTER PARKLAND, the first feature-length production of Disney subsidiary ABC Documentaries, and other HBO docs, including Antoine Fuqua’s Muhammad Ali portrait and Erin Lee Carr’s USA Gymnastics abuse film AT THE HEART OF GOLD. Meanwhile, hundreds of other documentaries screened without distribution partners in sight, and dozens of other documentary filmmakers scrambled to cobble together financing for new projects."
The Dronepocalypse Is Here — in Documentary Footage, at Least Writing in The New York Times, Bilge Ebiri mulled over the use of drones within recent nonfiction cinema: "In the modern dystopian imagination, the menacing shadow of the drone looms large. Unmanned aerial vehicles have already transformed warfare and surveillance in alarming ways, and many worry that the bleak, not-so-distant future will be one in which drones rule our ordinary lives — policing our streets, peering through our windows, delivering our mail and God knows what else, as their mechanical buzzing replaces the chirping of birds and the laughter of children. For documentary film viewers, sometimes it feels like the dronepocalypse is already here. Over the past few years, shots taken by drone — steadily gliding images looking down at houses and cities and fields below — have become epidemic in documentary, no matter the subject."
Sheila Nevins, Documentary Film Queen, Joins MTV Brooks Barnes reported for The New York Times, "Sheila Nevins, the grande dame of documentary film, who left HBO in 2017 after nearly 40 years, has joined MTV to start a nonfiction film and specials division. Ms. Nevins, 80, helped change the image of documentaries from stodgy to provocative during her reign at HBO, delivering the Oscar-winning CITIZENFOUR, the ribald TAXICAB CONFESSIONS and the incendiary GOING CLEAR: SCIENTOLOGY AND THE PRISON OF BELIEF — along with roughly 1,500 other films and series. At MTV, a division of Viacom, she will develop projects for the network and for outside buyers, including streaming services."
DocXchange Looks to Boost Doc Biz With Exhibitors Collective Jennie Punter covered the new collective's announcement for Variety: "When it comes to the subject of documentary features in brick-and-mortar theaters, the recent run of strong box-office performances is the headline-grabber. But Hot Docs hopes we’ll see more stories in the near future about other cities launching venues similar to its Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema, located on Toronto’s bustling Bloor Street corridor, where audiences gather to watch, discuss, and celebrate first-run documentary features year-round. To encourage venue operators or doc organizations – and, hopefully, their philanthropic supporters – to take the plunge, Hot Docs has banded with the Maysles Documentary Center (New York), Bertha DocHouse (London), and La Compagna (Florence) to create the Documentary Exhibitors Collective, which they’re dubbing DocXchange."
Grierson Trust Announces the Next Generation of Filmmakers Joining DocLab 2019 The Grierson Trust revealed year's DocLab participants: "Twelve aspiring young people will begin to turn their passion for documentaries into reality as The Grierson Trust announces the next generation of filmmakers joining DocLab 2019. The 2019 cohort is made up of 5 men and 7 women. Four of the trainees are from BAME backgrounds and two are neuro-diverse. They come from across the UK representing Essex, Hertfordshire, Durham, Jarrow, Kent, Suffolk, Glasgow, London, Liverpool and Sutton Coldfield."
DOC NYC 2018 audience award winner OUT OF OMAHA is an intimate portrait of twin brothers Darcell and Darrell Trotter, two young black men coming of age in the racially and economically-divided Midwestern town of Omaha, Nebraska. Director Clay Tweel (GLEASON) met the Trotters when they were seventeen and filmed them over a period of eight years. Their journey to adulthood illustrates how hope survives in the face of poverty, violence, and sacrifice. OUT OF OMAHA connects us deeply to its heroes and their struggle – and through that connection, compels us to address the endemic racism that plagues America today. Executive produced by J. Cole.
KNOCK DOWN THE HOUSE captures four working class candidates running for Congress in West Virginia, Nevada, Missouri and New York City. That last one is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who overcame enormous odds to become the youngest woman elected to Congress at age 29. Director/producer/cinematographer Rachel Lears and her husband producer/editor Robin Blotnick follow AOC early on from her days as a bartender. Their previous film THE HAND THAT FEEDS, about immigrants forming a union in a Manhattan deli, won the 2014 DOC NYC Audience Award.
GAY CHORUS DEEP SOUTH, PREY take Tribeca, Hot Docs Audience Awards
Reporting for Realscreen, Frederick Blichert writes, "Charles Rodrigues’s GAY CHORUS DEEP SOUTH picked up the Audience Award for best documentary at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival on Saturday (May 4). The 100-minute film follows the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus on a tour of the American Deep South following a wave of discriminatory anti-LGBTQ laws and the 2016 election...Meanwhile, directors [Matt Gallagher and Cornelia Principe of] PREY walked away with the coveted Rogers Audience Award for best Canadian doc as Hot Docs wrapped its 2019 edition on Sunday (May 5)."
Dispatches from Tribeca Film Fest 2019 Patricia Aufderheide composed an in-depth overview of this year's festival for IDA, writing, "If you were in any doubt that documentary is big business, Tribeca Film Festival was there as a refresher. Studios, platforms and networks brought their latest, biggest, and their celebrities, and Tribeca put a spotlight on them before they headed off to be slotted." Likewise, Amy Taubin covered the festival for Film Comment: "The only truly exciting screenings at a festival which programmed 111 features and 63 short films were the combos, among them the screening of David Charles Rodrigues’s documentary GAY CHORUS DEEP SOUTH (the doc audience award winner) followed by a live performance by the singers we’d just seen on the screen. That’s not to say there weren’t some pleasurable films, most of them documentaries."
cléo reviews: Hot Docs 2019 Chelsea Phillips-Carr pieced together a round-up of Hot Docs highlights for cléo: "Last year, on the 25th anniversary of the festival, Hot Docs reached gender parity in its programming for the first time in its history. For the 2019 edition, it surpassed that waypost, with 54% of its films being helmed by women. Naturally, many highlights of the festival come from the diversity of women’s voices."
AFI DOCS 2019 Announces Opening and Closing Night, Special Screenings
"AFI DOCS 2019 will open with the world premiere of HBO’s TRUE JUSTICE: BRYAN STEVENSON’S FIGHT FOR EQUALITY, directed by Peter Kunhardt, George Kunhardt and Teddy Kunhardt, and will close with RAISE HELL: THE LIFE & TIMES OF MOLLY IVINS, directed by Janice Engel. AFI DOCS runs June 19–23, 2019, in Washington, DC, and Silver Spring, MD. This year’s program also includes five Special Screenings: SEA OF SHADOWS, CHASING THE MOON, AMERICAN FACTORY, TONI MORRISON: THE PIECES I AM and RUTH – JUSTICE GINSBURG IN HER OWN WORDS."
Doc Edge Reveals 2019 Lineup and Honoree Heddy Honigmann
New Zealand's Doc Edge revealed its 2019 lineup this past week, along with the announcement of this year's Doc Edge Superhero award winner: "The Festival is also proud to honour legendary filmmaker Heddy Honigmann as the recipient of the highly esteemed 2019 Doc Edge Superhero award...Peruvian born Honigmann‘s work has been honoured widely with retrospectives at the Centre Pompidou in Paris and also at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. She has won major awards at film festivals around the world."
Two docs hit theaters in limited release, Sarah Kerruish and Matt Maude's Tribeca selected GENERAL MAGIC and John Chester’s DOC NYC’s 2018 Opening Night selection, the Neon-released THE BIGGEST LITTLE FARM, while Sacha Jenkins' four hour hip-hop odyssey WU-TANG CLAN: OF MICS AND MEN is now streaming via Showtime.
The All-Seeing Eye: On Abbas Kiarostami
Writing extensively for Harper's Magazine, Max Nelson previewed Janus Films' new touring retrospective, The Films of Abbas Kiarostami, coming to New York’s IFC Center and other venues around the country this summer: "During the first six years after the revolution, Kiarostami concentrated on documentaries. Many of them turned on scenes of order and discipline. FELLOW CITIZEN and FIRST GRADERS both follow harried officials—a traffic cop, an elementary school principal—who spend the movies fielding excuses, giving out rebukes, and exhausting themselves trying to regulate and manage the slippery movements of the people they’ve been assigned to control. The short ORDERLY OR DISORDERLY (1981) contrasts anarchic scenes of kids mobbing a water fountain and piling onto a school bus with vignettes in which they go about the same business with brisk efficiency. Before long, it breaks down. The filmmakers keep having to redo the last example, an intersection at rush hour, when the traffic won’t cooperate. Perez argued that it was Kiarostami’s mischievous way of asking how a director could impose order “on unruly life.”"
National Geographic Dives Into Jacques Cousteau Doc With Oscar-Lauded Team Anthony D'Alessandro broke the news at Deadline: "National Geographic has set its next documentary, which will focus on famed ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau. Two-time Oscar-nominated and two-time Emmy-winning director Liz Garbus (THE FARM, ANGOLA USA, WHAT HAPPENED, MISS SIMONE?) will direct and produce, with Oscar winner Dan Cogan (ICARUS) as producer. Oscar winner Evan Hayes (FREE SOLO) will also produce under his ACE Content banner. The doc will feature never-before-seen 4K footage of Cousteau with exclusive access to the Cousteau Society Archives. Its focus will be on the inventor-explorer-environmentalist-filmmaker revolution, i.e., giving mankind the resources to explore the ocean with the Aqua Lung, calling attention to ocean pollution, and his longtime collaboration with the National Geographic Society."
Ciara Lacy's OUT OF STATE Streaming at Independent Lens
Stream Ciara Lacy's OUT OF STATE via Independent Lens for free through June 5th. "OUT OF STATE is an inside look at the lives of two native Hawaiians, David and Hale, sent thousands of miles away from the tropical islands to a private prison in the Arizona desert. In this unlikely setting, the men find a community of other native Hawaiians and discover their indigenous traditions from a fellow inmate serving a life sentence. Hoping for a fresh start and eager to prove that the experience has changed them forever, they finish their terms and return to Hawai’i. But once on the outside, they struggle with life’s hurdles and wonder if it’s possible to ever go home again."
The Documentary Life Episode #103 with guest Thom Powers
On the latest episode of The Documentary Life podcast, host Chris G. Parkhurst interview's DOC NYC's own artistic director: "Thom Powers has been more in touch with documentary filmmaking and filmmakers than most anyone I know. Which makes sense, since he made docs for about a decade, programs for two of the most prestigious film festivals (TIFF and DOCNYC), and is now the host of the podcast, Pure Nonfiction. Please join us as we have a candid conversation with one of the industry’s more recognizable voices. A conversation, one doc filmmaker to another. One podcaster to another."
Firelight Media Documentary Lab Open Call
"The Firelight Media Documentary Lab is an 18-month fellowship program that supports filmmakers from racially and ethnically underrepresented communities working on their first or second feature length documentary film. The Lab provides filmmakers with customized mentorship from prominent leaders in the documentary world, funding, professional development workshops and networking opportunities." The deadline for submissions is Monday, June 17th at 11:59pm EST.
"In ReFocus: The Films of Barbara Kopple, a range of international scholars trace Kopple’s career to date, analysing her contributions in the contexts of funding, style, production and reception, and examining her films’ interrogations of social class using the lenses of gender, sexuality and race. In a shifting digital media landscape, Kopple’s critical reputation is also assessed, alongside her enduring influence on contemporary filmmakers."
FEATURED STREAMING DOC SHORT
Directed by Elivia Shaw and Paloma Martinez
“Do you see flames or smoke or both?” - “Do you know what she took? Is she breathing?” - “I just want you to take a deep breath. You’re pretty hysterical. Ma’am, why are you screaming?” These are just a few of the high-stakes situations that 911 operators faced over the course of a single night at the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management.
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