It's not often that a film seems to come out of absolutely nowhere, capture audiences' full attention and make a political ruckus all in one go, but that's exactly what Tomasz Sekielski and his Patrionite funded TELL NO ONE appears to have done. Exposing disturbing truths about sexual abuse by Catholic priests and their political ties within the Polish government, the film has already garnered over 20 million views since it was posted on YouTube just over a a week ago, which seems miraculous when compared to the most recent documentary theatrical success, THE BIGGEST LITTLE FARM, which so far has a domestic gross of just $406,708. It makes me ever so curious about just how many eyeballs are seeing docs released by each of the major streaming services. While Anne Thompson explained why THE BIGGEST LITTLE FARM didn't sell to Netflix this week at IndieWire, I can't help but wonder how many more people might have seen it all in one week, how that might have altered the discourse around it, and if that might be better or worse for the film in the long run. There's still no telling.
While TELL NO ONE dominated major headlines this week, there was also some exciting doc executive swaps happening at Kartemquin and Film Independent, a pair of festival lineup reveals, new filmmaker interviews and much more to quicken the doc loving pulse on this beautiful Monday morning. Enjoy!
-Jordan M. Smith
Will a Documentary Take Down the Polish Government?
Tomasz Sekielski's crowdfunded feature TELL KNOW ONE, about child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in Poland, went viral after its release on YouTube last week, sparking much public debate. In The New York Times, Slawomir Sierakowski outlined its potential impact, "The Law and Justice and Church faithful have every right to be disoriented. In today’s highly polarized Poland, elections are won thanks to large-scale voter mobilization. And that’s what is happening now — people are angry at both institutions. That may prove the deciding factor in whether or not the party retains power. The first poll since the documentary appeared shows that the opposition European Coalition ranks 10 percent above Law and Justice, 43.6 percent to 33 percent, a 6 percentage-point drop in a week for the ruling party. But something bigger is afoot. More than almost any country in Europe, the church retains its centuries-old grip on Polish life. Will this scandal finally loosen it? Perhaps; secularism is already on the rise." Later in the week following the film's release, Agence France-Presse reported for The Guardian, "Poland has raised jail terms for convicted paedophiles to a maximum of 30 years after a groundbreaking documentary on child sexual abuse among Polish priests prompted public outrage."
Why Breakout Documentary THE BIGGEST LITTLE FARM Didn’t Sell to Netflix
At IndieWire, Anne Thompson put together a thorough profile on THE BIGGEST LITTLE FARM and its farming filmmakers: "John and Molly Chester’s 200-acre Apricot Lane Farms is a rousing success. But the Emmy-winning wildlife filmmaker (THE ORPHAN) and traditional foods chef did not see that bright future eight years ago when they were evicted from their cramped Santa Monica apartment (their dog Todd was a barker) and decamped to Moorpark, Calif. to try their hand at organic farming. When they launched the farm, John thought he was chucking his directing career. 'I quit the film business with no intention of making this film. It repulsed me,' he said, 'because what were we going to say? We had no experience farming. What was the story going to be? Would it work out? Was it a pipe dream? Was it real? Was it plausible to farm with a restored ecosystem?'"
Kartemquin Welcomes Jolene Pinder as New Executive Director
"Kartemquin Films, the award-winning Chicago-based documentary nonprofit organization, today named Jolene Pinder as Executive Director. Pinder will begin on June 10th, overseeing all aspects of operations, programs, and serving as Executive Producer on all of Kartemquin’s documentaries...Pinder joins the organization having served as Executive Director of #CreateLouisiana since 2017, where she spearheaded statewide and regional advocacy efforts and grantmaking initiatives."
Jacqueline Lyanga Joins Film Independent as Artistic Director
"Film Independent today announced Jacqueline Lyanga as the organization’s new Artistic Director. In this role she will oversee re-envisioning and expanding the organization’s year-round film, television and new media programming...Lyanga, the former Director of AFI FEST, began her collaboration with Film Independent last year as LA Film Festival Guest Director, VR and Immersive Storytelling."
Future Leaders 2019: Programmers and Curators to Watch
With all the moving and shaking going on in the ranks of film festivals around the globe, the editorial team at Screen Daily felt like it was time to look at the future of film curation: "In recent years, we have profiled the up-and-coming producers, sales and acquisitions executives and agents who are going to be ruling the business in years to come. This year, for the first time, we are profiling film festival programmers and year-round curators. These unsung heroes make a huge impact on film culture and film audience development, yet do not usually get the spotlight. In today’s oversaturated, multiplatform world, we need passionate curators and programmers more than ever to champion films and provide vital context to moving image works of all varieties."
TONI MORRISON: THE PIECES I AM offers an artful and intimate meditation on the life and works of the acclaimed novelist. From her childhood in the steel town of Lorain, Ohio to ‘70s-era book tours with Muhammed Ali, from the front lines with Angela Davis to her own riverfront writing room, Toni Morrison leads an assembly of her peers, critics and colleagues on an exploration of race, America, history and the human condition as seen through the prism of her own literature. Inspired to write because no one took a “little black girl” seriously, Morrison reflects on her lifelong deconstruction of the master narrative.
DIEGO MARADONA, making its world premiere at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, is the latest from director Asif Kapadia. Pure Nonfiction host Thom Powers interviewed Asif about that film along with his previous documentaries SENNA (about Formula One race car driver Ayrton Senna) and the Oscar-winning AMY (about singer Amy Winehouse). Their conversation took place in March at the CPH:DOX festival in Copenhagen.
Sheffield Doc/Fest Lineup Revealed
"Says Melanie Iredale, Interim Director, Sheffield Doc/Fest, 'This year’s Doc/Fest is a celebration of internationalism, creativity and discovery; looking at the world with new eyes and giving a platform to a multitude of voices and ideas. I am so excited today to be unveiling a line-up of 180+ Films and 28 Alternate Realities projects - from over 50 countries around the world, and over 50% of which are made by women. Live Events will feature music to voguing to social experiment; guests ranging from Asif Kapadia to Ai Weiwei to The Slumflower to Werner Herzog to Tea Uglow. Artist Charlotte Jarvis will grow ‘female' sperm! Only at Doc/Fest'."
AFI Docs Lineup & Impact Lab Announced
"'Each year, the AFI DOCS slate includes a variety of films exploring topical issues, intriguing personalities and compelling voices,' said Michael Lumpkin, Director, AFI Festivals. 'This year’s festival offers audiences a chance to discover new perspectives on familiar topics and unique stories they may be hearing for the first time — demonstrating the power of documentary film to connect and inspire across a diverse range of subjects. We are happy to announce that 48% of this year’s slate is directed by women, with 68% produced by women." Additionally, the festival announced that the 2019 Impact Lab, its fellowship and training program will include "four feature documentary films — 17 BLOCKS, BORDER SOUTH, GAY CHORUS DEEP SOUTH and A WOMAN’S WORK: THE NFL’S CHEERLEADER PROBLEM — and the short documentary film ST. LOUIS SUPERMAN."
Sundance Institute Announces 2019 New Frontier Story Lab Fellows
"Sundance Institute announces six projects selected for the 2019 Sundance Institute New Frontier Story Lab, which supports independent artists working at the cutting-edge convergence of film, art, media, live performance and technology. The New Frontier Story Lab is a week-long immersive experience that empowers creatives with individual story sessions, conversations about key artistic, design and technology issues and case study presentations from experts in multiple disciplines." Lab participants include Sandra Rodriguez and Michael Burk, Klasien van de Zandschulp and Emilie Baltz, Razan AlSalah and Momchil Alexandrov Alexie, Jenny (QinYa) Guo and Xin Liu, Eve-Lauryn Little Shell LaFountain, Michael Fallik and Laura Emel Yilma.
Cannes 2019 Documentary Overview
The ever vigilant Basil Tsiokos previewed the nonfiction offerings at this year's Cannes Film Festival at What (not) To Doc: "As in the past, nonfiction takes a backseat at Cannes, with only 13 documentaries among the more than 60 features presented, and only one doc between both autonomous sidebars...Documentaries rule the Special Screenings, with more than half of the small strand devoted to nonfiction."
Andrey Paounov's large scale art installation doc WALKING ON WATER and Chuck Smith's DOC NYC Metropolis Grand Jury Prize winner BARBARA RUBIN & THE EXPLODING NY UNDERGROUND are both in limited theatrical release, while Antoine Fuqua's boxing heavyweight WHAT'S MY NAME hit HBO. It's one of those weeks where you secretly decide whether you're an art nerd or a sports jock. Either way, you're watching a doc.
Suzannah Herbert & Lauren Belfer's WRESTLE Streaming via Independent Lens
The film debuts in tonight on PBS at 10:00 pm and will be available to stream at the Independent Lens website at the same time. "Wrestle goes inside the lives of four members of the high school wrestling team at Huntsville’s J.O. Johnson High School--a longstanding entry on Alabama’s list of failing schools. Teammates Jailen, Jamario, Teague, and Jaquan show that needing a win can be about much more than just beating your opponent on the mat, as they face challenges that go far beyond a shot at the state championship. As their tough love coach Chris Scribner comes to terms with his own past while wading into the complexities of race, class and privilege, these determined kids push each other to be accountable not just to their coach but to themselves."
AFTER PARKLAND Shows Life Beyond the Headlines for School Shooting Survivors
Writing for Teen Vogue, Emma Sarran Webster ruminated on and spoke with the filmmakers of the Tribeca debuted AFTER PARKLAND: "It’s a fairly familiar scene, as far as school dance preparations go: As her date gets help with his bow tie, Victoria Gonzalez stands in front of the mirror, adding the final touches to her updo — including making sure the delicate flowers are in place just so. Except the flowers aren’t just cute accessories Victoria bought at her local florist that day; the baby’s breath are pieces of a bouquet from her late boyfriend, Joaquin Oliver, who was murdered on February 14, 2018, one of 17 people murdered in a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida."
Doug Block on the 20th Anniversaries of HOME PAGE and the D-Word
With the re-release of his debut doc HOME PAGE, Doug Block has been making the press rounds, this time talking with Monica Altmayer of Nonfics: "I’m still an idealist. I mean The D-Word started as my blog that I was keeping about the making of the film, but when the film was done, it turned it into a community site that’s celebrating its 20th anniversary now, too. It’s now one of the biggest online forums on the internet, much less for documentary, and it’s totally idealistic. We don’t charge any fees; it’s run completely by volunteers. There’s no advertising, we’ve never promoted it, it’s everybody’s. We have over 17,000 members from 130 countries, and that’s all by word of mouth. They found it by reading about it or hearing about it or doing a web search."
A Conversation with Rachel Lears, Director of KNOCK DOWN THE HOUSE Christopher Llewellyn Reed of Hammer to Nail spoke with Rachel Lears, the filmmaker behind Netflix's latest doc hit: "We didn’t follow 30 candidates and then cut it down in post. We definitely went through a casting process in the early stages of production. The project started with the idea of regular working people transforming themselves into viable candidates and running on this unified slate. I had heard about the organizations Brand New Congress and Justice Democrats, that were recruiting folks for this, and started out convincing the organizers there to get on board with the documentary project, and to introduce me to candidates which they were in the process of finding through crowdsource nominations."
Through the Looking-Glass: Tsai Ming-liang’s YOUR FACE
Celebrated Taiwanese filmmaker Tsai Ming-liang's YOUR FACE received a special screening in Toronto as part of MDFF Selects, and to mark the occasion Adam Cook wrote a thoughtful piece on the film for CinemaScope: "While it’s unlikely that Tsai, in the nominally 'documentary' context of this project, consciously set out to combat or undermine the talking-heads format that continues to dominate that genre, he nevertheless succeeds in reminding us how a close-up is not for a sound bite but for faces, emotions. Cinema allows us to study the human face in a way real life does not permit, and YOUR FACE emphasizes that privilege and breathes life into one of film’s oldest (and now most over-utilized) techniques. In this amorphous chapter of Tsai’s post-narrative career, his camera is as inspired as ever, looking and finding more with every frame."
How Documentarians Protect Their Projects… and Themselves Matt Warren shared some doc filmmaking secrets at Film Independent pulled from the Film Independent Forum panel “Documentaries: Safety, Sanity and Security” which took place on April 27th at the new LMU Playa Vista campus: "Sure, there are plenty of things that narrative filmmakers need to worry about. Things like drunken actors, waning daylight or the sudden loss of key location. But when compared to the sorts of ethical, legal and existential questions vexing and bedeviling nonfiction filmmakers—uncooperative film subjects, reluctant interviewees, niggling lawsuits, the occasional accusation of exploitation—simply trying to get your leading man sober enough to deliver one or two lines upright without looking into the camera starts to look like a walk in the park."
"In an era of reality television, historical re-enactments, and designer packaging, MacDougall defends the principles that inspired the earliest practitioners of documentary cinema. He urges us to consider how the form can more accurately reflect the realities of our everyday lives. Building on his own practice in filmmaking, he argues that this means resisting the pressures for self-censorship and the inherent ethnocentrism of our own society and those we film."
FEATURED STREAMING DOC SHORT
Directed by Remington Smith
A portrait of the disparate but connected worlds of workers and revelers at the fastest two minutes in sports, The Kentucky Derby.
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