Are we watching too much true crime? This is the question Justin Sayles leads off with in this week's jam-packed memo and I can't say I'm not guilty myself. Other highlights include an excellent interview with Erika Dilday, executive director of American Documentary Inc., an examination of nature docs and their cinematic relationship to ASMR, a look at declining viewership of long docuseries and a few first looks from Cannes. Read on!
– Jordan M. Smith
We’re Watching More True Crime Than Ever. Is That a Problem? Justin Sayles reports at The Ringer: "The above list covers a lot of ground—stories of famous serial killers and assorted real-life bogeymen, an art-heist series with a Boston accent, the early-quarantine balm Tiger King—but these 18 films and series make up the bulk of Netflix’s output in the true-crime genre for the past 18 months. And cumulatively, they’ve spent 232 days in the streamer’s top 10—a total that covers nearly half of the days tracked by The Numbers. The instantly memeable Tiger King may have been the peak of the current wave of interest, but the biggest name in streaming doesn’t need Joe Exotic or Carole Baskin to make a hit. In fact, you can basically guarantee the company will score another one later this month when it debuts Myth & Mogul: John DeLorean. Expanding the scope beyond Netflix reveals similar trends throughout the industry. Parrot Analytics—a media-tracking company that measures audience demand with a formula that accounts for streams, search-engine traffic, illegal downloads, and social media—said in April that the documentary genre as a whole had become the fastest-growing segment of the streaming industry, with the number of series growing 63 percent between January 2018 and March 2021. In data prepared for The Ringer in May, Parrot revealed that true crime was not only the biggest documentary subgenre, but that it was also growing faster than nearly any of the others. (Interest in sports documentaries, which make up the smallest portion of the documentary market per Parrot’s data, grew slightly faster, though mostly all of that increase could be attributed to the popularity of the Michael Jordan docuseries The Last Dance.)”
Erika Dilday Talks About POV’s New Season and the PBS-Ken Burns Controversy Addie Morfoot spoke with Dilday for Variety: "Erika Dilday, who earlier this year became the first Black executive director of American Documentary Inc., oversees various ventures for the nonprofit, including management of the long-running POV series on PBS and America ReFramed, a showcase of independent documentaries on the World Channel. Formerly executive director of the Maysles Documentary Center, where she produced Albert Maysles’ final film, In Transit, she joined AmDoc from Futuro Media Group, a nonprofit that produces programming including Latino USA, where she had been CEO since 2017. She spoke with Variety about the 34th season lineup of POV, which she executive produces and kicked off July 5, along with the recent PBS-Ken Burns controversy about diversity and competing with streaming services such as Netflix.”
Pure and Simple: How Nature Documentaries Became Cinema’s Answer to ASMR Steve Rose reports at The Guardian: “The Truffle Hunters is a documentary, but it’s one of the most escapist movies of the year. There is a lot to savour: the rolling Piedmontese countryside; the almost mystical expertise of these sprightly, old Italian men; the bonds between them and their dogs; the simplicity of their lifestyles, in harmony with the natural world and uncomplicated by modern intrusions; and, of course, the food, which you can almost taste. This is the sort of lifestyle we digital-age urbanites fantasise about packing in our careers for, like Daniel Day-Lewis going off to make shoes. CGI landscapes are now commonplace at the multiplex. Some of them, such as Pixar’s recent Luca, even seek to digitally simulate an Italian village locale similar to that of The Truffle Hunters. But it is the real rural experience many of us now crave. Calm, simple, sensuous and reassuring, it’s the cinematic equivalent of ASMR. The Truffle Hunters has been described as ‘this year’s Honeyland’, in reference to the 2019 documentary centred on a wild beekeeper in remote North Macedonia (the bees are wild, not her). It ticked a lot of the same boxes in terms of pastoral splendour, patient observation and produce that would fetch a small fortune at a farmers’ market. Not to mention nostalgia for a disappearing lifestyle. Honeyland was acclaimed as one of the year’s best movies, full stop. It won Oscar nominations for not only best documentary but best international feature.”
Mania for Long Docuseries Ebbing as Viewership Declines Addie Morfoot reports at Variety: “Six years ago, The Jinx, HBO’s six-part series about murder suspect and real estate heir Robert Durst, reinvigorated the long-form docuseries format. A mad rush by premium cablers and streamers to come up with the next Jinx followed, with Netflix’s 10-part Making a Murderer later that year and ESPN’s format busting O.J.: Made in America in 2016 further whetting the appetite for long-form docuseries. But in the last few years docuseries have become noticeably bloated, so much so that according to several veteran docu producers, major platforms such as HBO, Netflix and Amazon are seeking shorter series or the traditional 90-minute, one-off documentary. While the explosion of docuseries may have initially garnered subscribers for streamers, viewer data structures and algorithms have convinced doc buyers that more is not necessarily better. ‘It seems clear that the data is telling these buyers that there are certain types of projects that really work in a series form and there are certain types of projects that don’t,’ says Jon Bardin, head of creative for Story Syndicate, a production company co-founded by Oscar winner Dan Cogan and Emmy winner Liz Garbus. ‘In my experience in talking to buyers it’s actually starting to swing back in the other direction. We’re getting feedback from some of the bigger platforms really pushing on the question of why this project should be a series rather than a feature.’”
Haida Modern, The Magnitude of All Things Lead Leo Awards Doc Winners Pat Mullen reports at POV Magazine: “Haida Modern topped the Leo Award winners list for the best in British Columbia documentary. The awards for the West Coast’s film scene were handed out last night with honours recognizing achievements in feature length documentary, short docs, and doc series. Awards in the top prizes went to the producers. Haida Modern, directed by Charles Wilkinson, won top prize of the night with the Leo Award for Best Feature Length Documentary. The film is a portrait of Haida artist and activist Robert Davidson. However, The Magnitude of All Things, directed by Jennifer Abbott, scored the most prizes for feature docs at the Leo Awards. It took home four Leo Awards including Best Director. Abbott’s personal study of environmental grief also scored wins for writing, cinematography, and sound. On the shorts front, Listening to Orcas, directed by Michael Allder, continued the recent upswing in popularity for whale docs with a win for Best Short Documentary. Similarly, tales from the ocean waves dominated the doc series awards with Search and Rescue: North Shore, directed by Grant Baldwin, scooping prizes for Best Series and Direction. The Leo Awards also handed out honours last night in the categories for lifestyle and reality with Get Lost, Backroad Truckers, and Pride: The LGBTQ+ History Series sharing the wealth. Additional awards for dramatic and comedy series, and feature dramatic films will be handed out in Leo Awards ceremonies throughout the week.”
Data: A Deep Dive Into Sports Documentary Viewership Gavin Bridge reports at Variety: “Variety’s 'Sports and Entertainment Summit, Presented by City National Bank,' to be held on July 14, will include the panel discussion 'Visionaries in Sports Programming,' where creative leaders in sports content discuss the state of the industry. Variety Intelligence Platform senior media analyst Gavin Bridge will be moderating that panel, partnered up with leading insights firm Maru Group to shed some light on how viewers perceive sports documentaries. The findings below will be discussed during the panel, which you can watch by registering here. Maru Group began by sizing the U.S. population who describe themselves as sports fans, given they would be the most likely group to watch a documentary based on sports. Overall, 3 in 5 U.S. adults said they were sports fans, with this slightly higher among those under 54, dropping to around half of those 55 or older. Maru then asked all survey takers if they watched sports documentaries. As with general sports fandom, the proportion doing so declines with age, with the number of those 55+ watching sports docs half that of the 35-54 group. Note that 56% of sports fans said they watch, with only 6% of lapsed or non-sports fans doing so. For that reason, VIP+ has declined to show a breakout in the analysis between sports and non-sports fans, as sports fans are overwhelmingly the audience for this content.”
DOC NYC PRO
No Ordinary Man: A Case Study in Cross-Border Collaboration July 15 at 1 pm - 2:30 pm ET
DOC NYC PRO and The Consulate General of Canada in New York present a 90-minute case study on new documentary No Ordinary Man, the story of revered American jazz musician Billy Tipton. For decades, Tipton’s life story was framed as the triumph of an ambitious woman who passed as a man in order to pursue a music career. In No Ordinary Man, Canadian directors Aisling Chin-Yee and Chase Joynt, American co-writer Amos Mac, and Canadian producer Sarah Spring, reimagine Tipton’s story, painting a portrait of a musician and celebrated trans icon. Through the film, the filmmakers and Tipton’s son Billy Jr. reckon with Tipton’s complicated and contested legacy: how do you tell the story of someone who was hiding in plain sight yet desperate to be seen?
Cannes Film Festival: Val, The Velvet Underground and Famous Jerks Kyle Buchanan reports for The New York Times: “As the documentary Val begins, a young, bare-chested Val Kilmer lounges on the set of Top Gun and claims that he’s nearly been fired from every movie he’s made. Then Kilmer’s lips twist in a smirk. He’s not playing for sympathy. He’s bragging. At the Cannes Film Festival on Wednesday, two documentaries debuted about famously prickly pop-cultural figures, but despite that promising first scene, Val would rather recontextualize the actor as a misunderstood softy. Perhaps you remember the stories about Kilmer, a major 1990s movie star whose career fizzled amid rumors that he was difficult to work with. Well, Val, directed by Ting Poo and Leo Scott, lets the 61-year-old actor retell those tales more sympathetically, in his own voice...Much is made, too, of Kilmer’s romance and marriage to the actress Joanne Whalley, though we hardly hear her speak in all of Kilmer’s home-video footage. After they divorce and he fights for more time with their children, the film lets his noble, aggrieved phone calls to Whalley play out nearly in full. I’d expect that unchallenged point-of-view from a celebrity memoir. I’m not sure I buy it in a documentary. By contrast, the new Todd Haynes documentary The Velvet Underground, which also debuted at Cannes on Wednesday, is all too happy to confirm every story you’ve ever heard about the singer-songwriter Lou Reed being a self-obsessed jerk. Like Kilmer, Reed claimed that anyone who beefed with him was simply interfering with his artistic process, but unlike Val, this film isn’t afraid to show how badly Reed wanted to be famous, and how much he resented collaborators who could wrest the spotlight from him.”
Cannes 2021: A Front Row Seat with Mark Cousins’ The Story of Film Jason Gorber interviewed Cousins for POV Magazine: “Cousins’ latest documentary, The Story of Film: A New Generation is very much is more of the same, with the director bringing viewers up to date with the ten years of output that has occurred since his first odyssey. It confronts, in slightly tangential ways, the lockdown that drove movie-watching further indoors and put public spaces into a kind of sleep. Scheduled to be the first film screened at Cannes prior to the official opener, it’s somewhat surreal to watch this survey of everything from esoteric art projects to brash blockbusters during these ever-evolving times. (At the time of writing, Ontario’s own theatres remain closed to the public after nearly seven months.) Cousins’ addendum to his overall project will please fans of the Story of Film series, but may frustrate detractors even more. Whatever your response to his laconic narration and scattering of carefully curated clips, it’s clear that his love of movies emanates from every frame. Some selections are inspired and surprising, while others feel at best tangential and others downright redundant. Cousins’ own interspersed contributions collected as part of a global journey are mixed. Yet this time when many have suffered so much, it’s wonderful to be able to welcome something contagious that’s truly good for the soul.”
Full Frame Presents “The Creative Power of BIPOC Editors” Lauren Wissot reports for Filmmaker Magazine: “'If I could log in right now I would,' Dawn Porter raved in one of the many enthusiastic testimonials sprinkled throughout Full Frame’s engaging 'The Creative Power of BIPOC Editors,' an online launch/celebration of the BIPOC Documentary Editors Database. Expertly edited (surprise surprise), the swift-moving event (approximately an hour long) took place on June 3rd but is still well worth checking out. Whether you’re a veteran producer looking to hire beyond the usual (white) suspects or a student just beginning to build your reel, this database instruction manual/guide to best BIPOC hiring practices/panel discussion/showcase of the diversity of BIPOC work (completely forgot that Jason Pollard edited Dylan Bank and Daniel DiMauro’s Get Me Roger Stone) is jam-packed with stellar advice. (Not to mention entertainment. The 'Editor Habits' segment includes a breakdown of 'Must-Have Snacks': 'Does coffee count as a snack?' 'Cheetos with chopsticks – otherwise your keyboard gets dirty.') Highlights included three featured speakers, all of whom have been cutting for decades (while racking up too many awards to mention). And all could speak to both their own personal experience as the only BIPOC person in the editing room, and as to why it’s crucial for the industry – and society at large – that it not stay that (87% white!) way.”
Summer Nights, Sabaya Claim Top Awards at Docaviv’s 23rd Edition Andrew Jeffrey reports at Realscreen: “The 23rd edition of Docaviv revealed its official award winners on Wednesday (July 7), with top honors going to Summer Nights for best Israeli film and Sabaya for best international film. Summer Nights, directed by Ohad Milstein, delves into a child’s subconscious as he falls asleep and drifts into the depths of his own mind. Meanwhile, Sabaya, from director Hogir Hirori, follows the rescue operation to save thousands of Yazidi women and girls taken by ISIS. Docaviv’s best director award, meanwhile, was given to Tomer Heymann for his film I Am Not. Listen to the Beat of Our Images by Maxime and Audrey Jean-Baptiste won the nod for best short film. Their work uses archival footage to show the effects of forced relocations and accelerated modernization in French Guiana, after Charles de Gaulle’s decision to move the French space program there. The Beyond the Screen award was given to A La Calle by Nelson G. Navarette and Maxx Caicedo, and the Artistic Vision award in the Depth of Field competition, the strand that recognizes films pushing the envelope in the documentary genre, went to By the Throat from Effi & Amir.”
The Awards of the 23rd Thessaloniki Documentary Festival Announced via press release: “The 23rd Thessaloniki Documentary Festival came to an end. This year’s successful edition was a hybrid event with online screenings in March (4-14/3), tributes and educational screenings during the spring and with online and on-site screenings from June 24 to July 4, 2021. Cinephiles and filmmakers met again, one and a half year later, in cinemas, the natural space for a Festival, in a state of anticipation, joy and emotion. During the ten days of the festival, 92 films were screened at nine open-air theaters and 142 films were screened online. In the open-air theaters the screenings had a capacity of 75% and 80 screenings took place, compared to 300 screenings that took place during the 21st Thessaloniki Documentary Festival, in March 2019. In total, 48,000 viewers watched the screenings of the hybrid 23rd Thessaloniki Documentary Festival. At the same time, 3,500 people from all over the world listened to the podcasts that participated in the new section of the Festival. In the context of Agora Docs, 310 meetings took place online and on-site with cinema professionals from Greece and abroad. Significant agreements for future film projects were made during these meetings. We would like to thank the filmmakers and talents who participated in the Festival, as well as the juries. It is with great pleasure that we announce the awards of the 23rd Thessaloniki Documentary Festival.”
PBS Short Film Festival 2021 Announced via press release: “The PBS Short Film Festival is part of a multiplatform initiative to increase the reach and visibility of independent filmmakers from across the country and amplify the voices of diverse content creators. Since its inception in 2012, hundreds of films celebrating love, acceptance, family, strength, equality, friendship, loyalty and more have been presented under the festival’s banner. The 2021 festival carries the tagline 'A Decade of Being Seen' as a reminder that the festival has always striven to amplify the untold stories of America. Starting at midnight on Monday, July 12, audiences can watch and share all 25 films. In addition, a panel of nine jury members will select their favorite film of the festival for the Juried Prize.”
Staging the Self in Nonfiction Cinema: Kirsten Johnson & Joshua Oppenheimer Announced via press release: “A very special opportunity to join two of the most ground-breaking filmmakers of recent years, Kirsten Johnson (Cameraperson, Dick Johnson is Dead) and Joshua Oppenheimer (The Act of Killing, The Look of Silence), as they discuss the use of performance in nonfiction cinema and how they collaborate with their participants. This dialogue is the first in a series of events hosted by the Documentary of the Imagination research project at CREAM at the University of Westminster. The project is led by Joshua Oppenheimer and Rosie Thomas and funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). The event is co-hosted by Doc Society and CPH:DOX.”
Firelight Media Unveils Grantees for 2021 Impact Campaign Fund Barry Walsh reports at Realscreen: “Harlem-based production company Firelight Media has chosen its seven grantees for its Impact Campaign Fund, its artist support program designed to address a resource gap in the non-fiction space for impact and audience engagement-related projects by and for communities of color in the U.S. The fund, created in 2020, supports the creation of audience engagement and impact campaigns associated with films made by current or former Firelight-supported filmmakers. The prodco solicited applications for projects that are socially relevant, address or engage underrepresented issues or communities, and are accountable to the impacted communities their films represent. From there, Firelight Media selected seven projects, awarding each with grants ranging from US$10,000 to $25,000, and the opportunity to gain impact and engagement strategy support and advising. Recipients will use the grants to build engagement campaigns to cultivate and captivate wide diverse local, regional and national audiences.”
Two New Projects Announced for Hulu / Kartemquin Accelerator Program Announced via press release: “Kartemquin Films announces the two projects that will participate in the second year of the Hulu / Kartemquin Accelerator: Freedom Hill by director Resita Cox and Still Searching by director Latoya Flowers. The Accelerator program offers two alumni of Kartemquin’s acclaimed Filmmaker Development Programs $20,000 each towards production, and mentorship through 2021 within the award-winning Kartemquin collaborative production model. The Accelerator program builds upon a successful relationship between Hulu and Kartemquin on the Oscar and Emmy nominated documentary Minding the Gap, directed by Bing Liu and produced by Diane Quon, which also won a Special Jury Prize for Breakthrough Filmmaking at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. This relationship continued in the accelerator’s first year in 2020 supporting directors Colette Ghunim and Reveca Torres. Ghunim and Torres originally developed their projects through Kartemquin’s Diverse Voices in Docs program, while this year’s selected participants, Resita Cox and Latoya Flowers, are alumni of Kartemquin’s Internship program.”
IDA+XRM Media Incubator Announced via press release: “The IDA+XRM Media Incubator supports short vérité documentary films from around the globe, with an emphasis on emerging filmmakers and new perspectives. Both a fund and a mentorship program, the Incubator provides production and post-production grants and mentorship from Academy and Emmy award-nominated directors to filmmakers crafting character-driven observational shorts. Inclusion and diversity, both in terms of the filmmaking team and subject matter, are a priority of the fund. With major support from XRM Media, the Incubator will grant three filmmakers with $25,000 each. In 2021, the Incubator mentors are Oscar-nominated directors Skye Fitzgerald (Hunger Ward) and Smriti Mundhra (St. Louis Superman), and Emmy-nominated director Nadia Hallgren (Becoming). Application Deadline: Monday, August 2, 2021”
DOC NYC ALUMNI
Cecilia Aldarondo's Landfall
2020 DOC NYC Viewfinders Grand Jury Prize
Will be broadcast on PBS via POV tonight.
Rosalynde LeBlanc & Tom Hurwitz's Can You Bring It? 2020 DOC NYC Metropolis
Will be released in theaters and virtual cinemas on July 16th.
Aisling Chin-Yee & Chase Joynt's No Ordinary Man 2020 DOC NYC Portraits
Will be released in theaters on July 16th.
Michèle Stephenson's Stateless 2020 DOC NYC Viewfinders
Will be broadcast on PBS via POV on July 19th.
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