With the upcoming holiday this week, I anticipate the next few days will be light in news. With this in mind, everyone must have launched their announcements last week, as this is a memo of epic proportions. There is reporting on the Justice Department's reversal of the Paramount Decree of 1948, a new look into how streaming services are radically altering the distribution landscape, and the news of Canadian filmmaker John Kastner's death. Then there is the award season update in the Independent Spirit Award, the PGA's Documentary Motion Picture Award, and the Grammy Award nominations. And that's just the tip of the ice berg, as they say. Dig in and enjoy Thanksgiving!
-Jordan M. Smith
4 Ways a New Justice Department Decision May Reshape Moviegoing Writing at Polygon, Peter Labuza examined how undoing the Paramount Decree of 1948 will have consequences in 2019: “On Monday, Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim announced an unexpected policy change for the Justice Department’s antitrust division: a reversal of the Paramount Decree of 1948. This decision comes on the heels of broader public concerns surrounding monopolies, after the merger of AT&T and Time Warner, and of Disney and 21st Century Fox. It also follows the now-constant beating of the drums for the government to break up massive companies like Amazon, Google, and Facebook. Delrahim’s decision on the Paramount Decree reflects part of a larger department policy to review hundreds of legal orders that some refer to as ‘horse and buggy’ policies — ones so old that they no longer actually apply to the businesses they regulate. Comparing his choice to Martin Scorsese’s famed quote about cinema being what is inside and outside of the frame, Delrahim declared, ‘Antitrust enforcers, however, were not cast to decide in perpetuity what’s in and what’s out with respect to innovation in an industry.’ The decision, which the DOJ will bring to federal courts for a review, would allow companies in the movie business to not just buy movie theaters, but to use them in unexpected ways that could compound current concerns surrounding competition and market share in the industry. Your theatrical viewing options may already seem dominated by too few companies making the same type of movie. And this could make the problem worse.”
The Streaming Era Has Finally Arrived. Everything Is About to Change. In an ominous piece for The New York Times, Brooks Barnes casts a warning: “Every three decades, or roughly once a generation, Hollywood experiences a seismic shift. The transition from silent films to talkies in the 1920s. The rise of broadcast television in the 1950s. The raucous ‘I Want My MTV’ cable boom of the 1980s. It is happening again. The long-promised streaming revolution — the next great leap in how the world gets its entertainment — is finally here. Streaming services, of course, have been challenging the Hollywood status quo for years. Netflix began streaming movies and television shows in 2007 and has grown into a giant, spending $12 billion on programming this year to entertain more than 158 million subscribers worldwide. There are 271 online video services available in the United States, according to the research firm Parks Associates, one for seemingly every predilection — Pongalo for telenovelas, AeroCinema for aviation documentaries, Shudder for horror movies, Horse Lifestyle for equine-themed content...While all this was happening, however, the three biggest old-line media companies — Disney, NBCUniversal and WarnerMedia — largely stayed on the sidelines. Charging into the streaming fray would mean putting billions of dollars in profit from existing cable networks like USA, Disney Channel and TBS at risk. Building video platforms of the size needed to compete with Netflix and Amazon would be frightfully expensive. And mastering the underlying technology would require a sharp learning curve. Better to bide their time. When it became clear that protecting their existing business model was more perilous than embracing the future, no matter how disruptive in the near term, they would act. That time is now. And everything is changing.”
RIP John Kastner: 1946-2019 Pat Mullen reported John Kastner’s passing at POV Magazine: “The late documentarian died on Thursday, November 21. He was at his home in Toronto with his partner Susan Teskey. Kastner left behind three children and a significant body of work. The news of Kastner’s passing was brought to our attention by the NFB. During his prolific career making documentaries for film and television, Kastner won four Emmy Awards for FOUR WOMEN (1978), FIGHTING BACK (1980), THE LIFER AND THE LADY (1984), and LIFE WITH MURDER (2010). LIFE WITH MURDER, a tough and sobering portrait of a family both ripped apart and united by a homicide, also won the Donald Brittain Award for best social/political documentary at the 2011 Gemini Awards.”
Doc Motion Picture Nominees Announced For 2020 Producers Guild Awards Announced via press release: “The Producers Guild of America (PGA) announced today its 2020 Documentary Motion Picture nominees that will advance to the final voting process for the 31st Annual Producers Guild Awards. The Producers Guild Awards honor excellence in motion picture and television productions, as well as the most notable names in the industry shaping the producing profession.” The nominees are ADVOCATE, AMERICAN FACTORY, APOLLO 11, THE CAVE, FOR SAMA, HONEYLAND and ONE CHILD NATION.
2020 Grammy Award Nominees Include 4 Docs Up For Best Music Film Announced via press release: Beyoncé Knowles-Carter & Ed Burke's HOMECOMING, A.J. Eaton's DAVID CROSBY: REMEMBER MY NAME, Stanley Nelson's MILES DAVIS: BIRTH OF THE COOL, and Morgan Neville's SHANGRI-LA are among the nominees up for Best Music Film for concert/performance films or music documentaries at the 2020 Grammy Awards.
ON THE FESTIVAL CIRCUIT
Cleveland & Tribeca Partnering for If/Then Shorts Pitch During 2020 Festivals Announced via press release: “Tribeca Film Institute (TFI) and Cleveland International Film Festival (CIFF) are inviting stories and storytellers from the American Midwest to pitch their stories during the 2020 Cleveland International Film Festival. The IF/Then Shorts Pitch calls for original stand-alone pitches of short documentaries (running 10-20 minutes) about the American Midwest that explore a range of socially, politically and culturally relevant topics. The 12 eligible states are Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. TFI and CIFF will jointly select up to six finalists who will be invited to pitch their projects to a panel of industry judges on Sunday, April 5, 2020 during the closing weekend of CIFF44. The winner will be announced that evening during the CIFF44 Closing Night Ceremony.”
Filmmakers at Risk initiative Created by European Film Academy, IDFA & IFFR In an exclusive for Screen Daily, Melanie Goodfellow reported on the new initiative: "The European Film Academy (EFA), the International Documentary Festival Amsterdam (IDFA) and the International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR) are joining forces to create the International Coalition for Filmmakers at Risk, a permanent organisation aimed at supporting filmmakers facing political persecution for their work. The body would advocate for film professionals who have been imprisoned, face prosecution or censorship for their work and views. The final framework is still being developed but its remit would include running coordinated campaigns publicising the cases of filmmakers in peril and providing legal representation. EFA executive director Marion Doering and deputy chairman Mike Downey, IDFA artistic director Orwa Nyrabia and outgoing IFFR chief Bero Beyer are spearheading the initiative.”
DOX BOX Makes Push to Boost Arab, African Documentary Filmmakers Christopher Vourlias report on DOX BOX for Variety: “After being appointed director of DOX BOX earlier this year, the acclaimed French-Egyptian documentary filmmaker Jihan El-Tahri had a vision for how she could foster the continued evolution of a Berlin-based organization already devoted to the development of a sustainable documentary industry in the Arab world...DOX BOX has launched a range of new initiatives to complement its already successful editing residency in Berlin, which hosts documentary filmmakers at a critical stage of their editing for up to 12 weeks. People’s Stories: Past and Present is a support program for documentary projects addressing, questioning and breaking social taboos. Art & DOX is focused on bringing down the walls between different visual genres in the audiovisual industry. DOX Garage offers tailor-made consultancies or hands-on mediation for documentary projects facing a particularly thorny predicament.”
Sundance Institute Announces Future of Culture Initiative Announced via press release: “Sundance Institute today announced the Future of Culture Initiative, an action plan that includes partnerships with Johns Hopkins University and Stanford University in order to implement key recommendations from a two-year global field scan that analyzed strategies for improving equity and inclusion in emerging media. The initiative puts artists in discourse with technologists, scientists, policymakers, advocates and business leaders to imagine and design for the future of culture.”
Sheffield Doc/Fest’s Artistic Team for its 2020 Edition Revealed Announced via press release: “Following the appointment of a new Festival Director, Cíntia Gil, we are happy to announce the rest of our artistic team for the 2020 edition. Women comprise 60% of Doc/Fest’s programming team. The aim of the group of film programmers, artists, curators and film critics is to bring to Doc/Fest a renewed artistic vision founded on a strong engagement with cinema, art, and the political potential of such a festival in our times. Sheffield Doc/Fest’s artistic team will apply the principle of celebrating, sharing and debating non–fiction arts as a collective form of engagement in their approach to programming, exploring the ways in which filmmakers, artists and public may reinvent meanings and create new possible worlds.”
IDFA on Stage Brings Documentary to Life Damon Wise reports for Variety on IDFA's new program: “One of the innovations of Orwa Nyrabia, artistic director at IDFA, a leading documentary festival, has been to present a wide range of live productions to enhance the film experience, blurring the boundaries between documentary, music, and performing arts. Curated by Jasper Hokken, the section called IDFA On Stage… is incredibly diverse, ranging from more traditional projects, such as the Belgian theater piece TRUE COPY, to concert films (THE LONG RIVER SLIDES) and a near-unclassifiable new media mash-up called A Machine for Viewing, which features cinema, VR and performance. It is a measure of the fast-moving and ever-evolving nature of Hokken’s project that he already has half an eye on next year’s selection.”
Two of the most notable releases of the week are newly streaming - Waad Al-Kateab & Edward Watts' moving depiction of the Syrian war FOR SAMA is now streaming thanks to PBS's Frontline, as Eva Orner's revelatory BIKRAM: YOGI, GURU, PREDATOR has arrived on Netflix. Theatrically, Kim Longinotto's photography portrait SHOOTING THE MAFIA is showing at the Quad, Agnès Varda's posthumously released swan-song VARDA BY AGNÈS is showing at both Film Forum and the Lincoln Center, and Lily Zepeda's MR. TOILET: THE WORLD’S #2 MAN is showing at the Village East Cinema. It's worth noting four out of the five releases this week are DOC NYC alumni (all but VARDA BY AGNÈS)!
Documentary vs. Biopic: Which Is Better? Gregory Lawrence debates the question while comparing a variety of notable examples for Collider: “What form of film is more effective at exploring the ins and outs of a true subject: a documentary or a biopic? Are there certain parts of a subject’s psychological profile that are better suited to a fictionalized treatment? Are historical contexts better served for the journalistic approach of a doc? What can each form of film teach us about how we tell real-life stories? To tackle these questions, I decided to compare and contrast five real-life stories given both a documentary and biopic, and see which work is ultimately the most effective. It’s time… for the Documentary vs. Biopic Battle Royale.”
16 Great Documentaries from 2019 and How to Watch Them Vox’s Alissa Wilkinson has put together a solid list of her favorite docs of 2019 thus far: “A ‘documentary’ is never just one thing. It might be a memoir, a polemic, a comedy, a thriller, a romance — the sky’s the limit. Truth is frequently stranger than fiction, and if we’re lucky, much more interesting, too. Nonfiction movies can teach us about the world we live in through the stories of people living halfway around the world or right next door. Many of 2019’s documentaries are no exception, and many of the finest were recently shown at the DOC NYC film festival, the biggest documentary festival in the country. Here are 16 worth noting, ranging from heartbreaking family stories and illuminating explorations of social issues to tales of cults and con artists.”
Why Should We Care Who Writes Film History? Justine Smith reflected on director Mark Cousins’ latest cinematic road trip, WOMEN MAKE FILM, for Little White Lies: “Mark Cousins’ latest documentary, WOMEN MAKE FILM: A NEW ROAD MOVIE THROUGH CINEMA, is a sprawling 14-hour lesson in film history told through the eyes of female directors. Divided into 40 chapters and narrated by Tilda Swinton, it sees Cousins explore the past from a personal, individual perspective. While the project implies a political motive, the work itself carries a gentle, almost placid, tone. There’s bewilderment in Cousins’ voice as he wonders aloud, ‘Why has this beautiful film been forgotten?’ The answer is obscured by the complex conditions of history telling and collective memory. Even before Cousins’ epic has reached mainstream audiences, some critics have questioned the validity of a man presenting this ‘alternative’ history of women in film. But Cousins brings invaluable knowledge to the table and should be applauded for championing so many underrepresented filmmakers. As in his earlier THE STORY OF FILM: AN ODYSSEY, he subverts the predominantly white, Western-centric canon.”
Three Documentary Filmmaking Tips Every Director Should Know The AMERICAN FACTORY team shared some filmmaking tips with Chris O'Falt of IndieWire: “The co-directors Julia Reichert and Steven Bognar have had a long career in documentary film, working together for the last two decades, while Reichert’s career was recently celebrated with a 50-year retrospective at MOMA earlier this year. While on IndieWire’s Filmmaker Toolkit podcast, talking about their Oscar nominated 2009 short film about the closing of one of America’s most iconic factories, THE LAST TRUCK: CLOSING OF A GM PLANT, and their remarkable new Netflix documentary AMERICAN FACTORY, about the reopening of that same plant by the Chinese company Fuyao, the duo talked about the keys to both career sustainability and what has allowed them to gain access to their subjects and stories.”
Andrew Berends Film Fellowship Application Deadline Approaching
"Andrew Berends was a courageous and talented filmmaker who sought out stories in places which the mainstream media ignored. He shone a light on communities, people, and children facing unimaginable hardships. He traveled, shot, edited, and promoted his work with intense fervor and dedication. The Andrew Berends Film Fellowship was born out of the desire of Andy’s family, friends, and colleagues to keep his memory alive and active in the world of documentary where he himself thrived. The mission of this fellowship is to support emerging filmmakers from all walks of life that embody Andy’s spirit and determination, with a focus on sharing unheard stories. We hope that the Fellowship experience will help Fellows make a shift in their careers to the next level of success and artistic fulfillment." The application deadline is Sunday, December 1st.
The Doc Life: One Expert’s Advice on Getting Started with Nonfiction VR Anthony Ferranti dives into the craft of VR nonfiction filmmaking at The Doc Life: “I spoke with producer Amanda Shelby about the craft of VR documentary filmmaking. An award-winning creative strategist and technologist currently serving as ‘Chief Alchemist’ at GRX Immersive Labs, where she has partnered with creators to make multi-platform experiences spanning VR180, 360-degree video and augmented reality. Shelby shared some advice about getting started in documentary XR, including tips about camera equipment and best approaches to shooting, editing and more. ‘First, I want to say that traditional filmmaking can be more forceful [than VR],’ Shelby says. In traditional film, she continues, ‘You have a 16×9 frame, and everyone has to look there. A VR project is very different. You coerce the audience to go on this ride with you. The energy is softer—meaning you have to consider how people are going to feel a lot more.’”
DOC NYC ALUMNI
Michael Apted's 63 UP 2019 DOC NYC Special Events
Will have a theatrical release on November 27th.
Alan Berliner's LETTER TO THE EDITOR 2019 DOC NYC Masters
Will have its primetime premiere via HBO on December 4th.
Luke Lorentzen's MIDNIGHT FAMILY 2019 DOC NYC Winner's Circle
Will have a theatrical release on December 6th via 1091.
Arwen Curry's WORLDS OF URSULA K. LE GUIN 2018 DOC NYC Portraits
Will receive a DVD release on December 10th via Grasshopper Film.
Chuck Smith's BARBARA RUBIN & THE EXPLODING NY UNDERGROUND 2018 DOC NYC Metropolis
Will receive a DVD release on December 17th via Juno Films.
Rob Garver's WHAT SHE SAID: THE ART OF PAULINE KAEL 2018 DOC NYC Behind the Scenes
Will have a theatrical release on December 25th.
Hassan Fazili's MIDNIGHT TRAVELER 2019 DOC NYC Winner's Circle
Will have its primetime premiere on December 30th via POV.
FEATURED STREAMING DOC SHORT
DAYS OF BLACK AND YELLOW
Directed by Lofty Nathan
Co-Directed by Willie Miesmer & Ray Levé
New York cab and black car drivers are facing economic and emotional hardship in a city dominated by ride-share apps. As these long standing industries are decimated by economic and political forces, drivers are forced to cope or fight back.
FUND THIS PROJECT
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.