DOC NYC continues throughout this week and there is a ton of coverage of all the exciting stuff happening during the fest in this week's memo. There's plenty of films left to catch at DOC NYC this week, so if you haven't yet grabbed a pass, it's not too late! Additionally, Cinema Eye revealed its 2020 feature nominees, Firelight Media announced its 2019-2021 Doc Lab Fellows, Spike Lee is to be honored with the 2020 Chaplin Award, a new Seed & Spark fundraising campaign kicked off for Thomas Kolicko's new project ON STRANGE SOIL and there was a variety of excellent think pieces published exploring how documentaries have changed the cinema landscape gender-wise, distribution-wise, and otherwise in recent years. Some weeks are light on doc news, but this is not one of them. Carve out some time and read forth!
-Jordan M. Smith
ON THE FESTIVAL CIRCUIT
Talking the Bigger-than-Ever Tenth Anniversary Edition of DOC NYC Filmmaker Magazine’s Scott Macaulay spoke with the heads of DOC NYC about what to expect from this year’s edition of the festival: “Overwhelming by design — that’s the first impression offered by the 2019 edition of DOC NYC, the packed-to-the-rafters non-fiction film event currently underway in New York until November 15. Celebrating its tenth anniversary, the festival boasts over 300 events, including 28 world premieres, an expanded DOC NYC PRO seminar series, and 46 doc works in progress shown to industry attendees. Says director of programming Basil Tsiokos, “It’s our tenth anniversary, and we wanted to make it bigger and better. We just kept pushing [during the programming process] to include more and more films. ‘Every year we’ve tried to grow the festival,’ says Thom Powers, its artistic director.”
How DOC NYC Benefited From the Rising Popularity of Documentaries Brent Lang spoke with DOC NYC artistic director Thom Powers about the festival's tenth anniversary for Variety: “When DOC NYC started a decade ago, documentary film was still seen as something of a novelty. In the ensuing years, non-fiction movies have exploded in popularity with hits such as RBG, FREE SOLO, WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR and APOLLO 11 helping to fuel more interest in the genre. ‘We never could have anticipated the change,’ says Thom Powers, the festival’s co-founder and artistic director. ‘Fifteen years ago you would not propose to a date that you go and see a documentary film, but now I think you would come off as an impressive date to suggest it.’ Powers points to several factors for the turnaround. In particular, he credits streaming services such as Netflix with helping to get audiences more comfortable with watching documentaries and with making non-fiction films more readily available.”
AMERICAN FACTORY Team & Scorsese Honored at DOC NYC Tribute Event Abbey White covered DOC NYC’s Visionaries Tribute event for The Hollywood Reporter: “AMERICAN FACTORY co-director Steven Bognar detailed how he and directing partner Julia Reichert's storytelling approaches align with the Obamas', while DOC NYC artistic director Thom Powers and honoree Martin Scorsese nodded to the ongoing debate around what qualifies as ‘cinema’ during the festival's sixth annual Visionaries Tribute on Thursday in New York. Kicking off the 2019 festival, which runs through Nov. 15, the event honored five creatives in the documentary world for their various contributions to the medium. In addition to Bognar and Reichert's honors as recipients of the Robert and Anne Drew Award for Documentary Excellence, directors Scorsese and Michael Apted (COAL MINER’S DAUGHTER, 7 UP series) were presented with lifetime achievement honors. The Leading Light Award, which recognizes an individual making a critical contribution to the documentary medium in a role other than a filmmaker, went to New York Women in Film & Television executive director Cynthia Lopez. D.A. Pennebaker was also honored posthumously for his work as a director, cinematographer and pioneer of cinema verité.”
Open City Documentary Festival Rises as Showcase for Artful Nonfiction James Harvey put forth a warm report from Open City in Documentary Magazine: “Open City Documentary Festival was founded in 2010 at University College London by Michael Stewart, who continues to direct the organization today. The festival showcases a socially engaged selection of films from around the globe each year. This year was no exception. Around 40 films screened across six venues in five days. Not one of these seemed very far removed from the social and historical circumstances of its center of production. This year’s festival focused on ‘The Art of Non Fiction.’ While this apparent theme might seem to detract from the global political climate, the recurrent preoccupation across the films appeared to regard the encounter between the political and the aesthetic.”
Cinema Eye Announces 2020 Nonfiction Film Nominees Announced via press release: “Cinema Eye, which recognizes outstanding artistry and craft in nonfiction filmmaking, today announced its full slate of nominees for their 2020 Honors, including Outstanding Nonfiction Feature and Outstanding Nonfiction Short. AMERICAN FACTORY, the latest verite documentary feature from Oscar-nominated filmmakers Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert, and APOLLO 11, Todd Douglas Miller’s recounting of the US space program through previously undiscovered archival footage, led all films with 5 nominations apiece, including Outstanding Nonfiction Feature. Those two films were joined in the Feature Film category by Waad al-Kateab and Edward Watt’s Syrian drama, FOR SAMA; Ljubomir Stefanov and Tamara Kotevska’s HONEYLAND, a portrait of a Macedonian beekeeper; Luke Lorentzen’s film about a private ambulance service in Mexico City, MIDNIGHT FAMILY; and ONE CHILD NATION, Nanfu Wang and Jialing Zhang’s investigation of China’s one-child policy. AMERICAN FACTORY, HONEYLAND and ONE CHILD NATION also received nominations in the Outstanding Direction Category, where they were joined by Feras Fayyad for THE CAVE, Mads Brügger for COLD CASE HAMMARSKJÖLD and Brett Story for THE HOTTEST AUGUST.”
Meet the 2019-2021 Firelight Media Documentary Lab Fellows Announced via press release: “Firelight Media announced today their newest cohort of Fellows selected to the Firelight Documentary Lab, the organization’s flagship mentoring program which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. The group of 12 filmmakers are culturally diverse, with impressive backgrounds ranging from public media, cultural promotion, and community organizing to investigative journalism and anthropology. Several new fellows will also be in attendance at the Documentary Lab’s 10th Anniversary Gala tonight (November 7) in Harlem, NY. The event will cap off a banner year for the program, celebrating the Doc Lab’s growth and accomplishments in the last decade, and fundraising to help expand Firelight’s continuing work to support and develop documentary filmmakers of color.”
2020 Chaplin Award Gala Will Honor Spike Lee Announced via press release: “Film at Lincoln Center is pleased to announce that Academy Award–winner Spike Lee will be honored at the 46th Chaplin Award Gala on Monday, April 27, 2020. The Chaplin Award Gala is the most important fundraising event of the year for Film at Lincoln Center, and all proceeds benefit the organization in its mission to support the art and craft of cinema...Lee’s outstanding feature documentary work includes the double Emmy–winning IF GOD IS WILLING AND DA CREEK DON’T RISE, a follow-up to his HBO documentary film WHEN THE LEVEES BROKE: A REQUIEM IN FOUR ACTS, and the Peabody-winning A HUEY P. NEWTON STORY."
Documentaries Lead the Way for Gender Parity, but Challenges Remain Addie Morfoot reported on the shift toward gender parity in documentary for Variety: “Women may be the gatekeepers of the documentary arm of the entertainment industry, but this year marks the first time they have helmed the majority of awards season’s high-profile documentaries...In late October, when the Intl. Documentary Assn. announced the nominees for the 35th annual IDA awards, six of the 10 best doc nods and all of the films nominated in the inaugural director category were directed or co-directed by women. Meanwhile, three of the five feature docus nominated for a Gotham Award were directed by women; AMERICAN FACTORY, HONEYLAND and ONE CHILD NATION received a combined total of 13 Critics’ Choice Documentary Awards noms. If a woman garners a documentary feature Academy Award in February, it will mark the fourth time a female nonfiction director has won the trophy in the past 20 years. Earlier this year director Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi took home the Oscar for FREE SOLO alongside her co-director Jimmy Chin. In 2015 Laura Poitras took the category prize for CITIZENFOUR and in 2005 Zana Briski shared the little gold man with Ross Kauffman for BORN INTO BROTHELS.”
Streamers Give the Documentary Field a Boost Reporting for Variety again, Addie Morfoot examined how streaming services have broadened the distribution field for doc filmmakers: “It’s been said that the golden age of nonfiction filmmaking is upon us. From THE JINX to CITIZENFOUR to FREE SOLO the documentary sector has exploded creatively and commercially in the past few years. Key to the docu spike has been Netflix’s decision to enter the arena in a big way — and with a fat checkbook. When Amazon and Hulu followed, they helped raise the market value of documentary films to a new high. Now streaming services from Apple, Disney and WarnerMedia are coming to town. While no one knows what effect they will have on the nonfiction space, if the past years are any indication, the field will become even more saturated, mainstream and perhaps less theatrical than ever before. Last year was a banner year for documentaries at the box office. Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin’s Academy Award-winning FREE SOLO took in $29 million; Morgan Neville’s WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR? grossed $22.8 million and Julie Cohen and Betsy West’s “RBG” garnered $14.4 million. But those were just three of 166 docus made last year that received a theatrical release. The majority of the 166 docs played in obscure theaters in New York and Los Angeles for just one week in order to quality for Oscar consideration.”
Finding the Truth in a Time of Media Mistrust: The Documentary Roundtable The Hollywood Reporter’s Rebecca Keegan brought together some of this year’s most well regarded filmmakers for a roundtable discussion on the state of nonfiction cinema: “In an era when trust in mainstream media is dwindling, documentaries are thriving — and tackling the shifting idea of truth itself. In her personalized policy dive, ONE CHILD NATION, Nanfu Wang, 34, examines the facts as a generation understood them in China; in his account of an oligarch, CITIZEN K, Alex Gibney, 66, plumbs Russia's disinformation culture; and in her portrait of Imelda Marcos' return to power, THE KINGMAKER, Lauren Greenfield, 53, dives into image creation in the Philippines. Boosted by deep-pocketed streaming services, the doc space is now open to an ever wider group — as Julia Reichert, 73, and Steven Bognar, 56, learned this year when the mysterious party interested in buying AMERICAN FACTORY, their Dayton, Ohio-set tale of a culture clash between working class America and China, turned out to be none other than Hollywood newcomers Barack and Michelle Obama, via their production company at Netflix, Higher Ground. ‘The industry keeps changing,’ says Asif Kapadia, 47, whose profile of Argentine soccer star DIEGO MARADONA will be released by HBO in the U.S., a streamer in Latin America and a traditional theatrical distributor in Europe.”
While DOC NYC is surely the place to hit up a doc this week, there are a quartet of new theatrical releases: Sam Bathrick's DOC NYC alum 16 BARS, playing at the Village East Cinema, Lauren Greenfield's THE KINGMAKER, playing at Quad Cinema, Billy McMillin's THE ALL-AMERICANS, showing at AMC Empire 25, and Lesley Chilcott's WATSON, showing at Cinema Village.
How 3 Documentary Shorts Rallied for Justice, Culture and the Environment Tara Bitran checked out three Oscar hopefuls for The Hollywood Reporter: “Bruce Franks Jr., 35, doesn't need a cape to prove he's a superhero in St. Louis. ‘You can't walk down the street without people approaching him — wanting to talk to him, celebrate him, come to him with their problems,’ says Smriti Mundhra, 39, who co-directed ST. LOUIS SUPERMAN with film school classmate Sami Khan, 40. The doc, which is MTV Documentary Films' first acquisition, follows the activist, battle rapper and state representative as he tries to pass a bill on the House floor that would effectively declare youth violence a public health epidemic, provide critical funding to address the root causes of gun violence and mark June 7 as Christopher Harris Day in honor of his brother, who was killed at just 9 years old. ‘We weren't just here to do a puff piece, or some sort of bullshit thing about how great it is to uplift this community. We were going to tell a story that was his story, warts and all,’ Khan says.”
It’s Time for Docs to Be Seriously Considered for Oscar’s Best Picture At Variety, Tim Gray makes a case for a sea-change at the Oscars: “In 2009, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences expanded Oscar’s best pic contenders from five to 10. Then-president Sid Ganis hoped this would open the category to animation, foreign-language films and documentaries. Animation and international have scored a few best-picture noms, but docus remain the final frontier. Maybe 2019 is the year when they make it. There are certainly films this year worth consideration...Back on Feb. 10, 1942, Variety reported AMPAS was inaugurating awards for doc features and shorts, ‘stressing the growing importance of this class of production.’ The importance has grown.”
Documentary in the Age of Media: The Legacy of Luis Ospina Ela Bittencourt looked at MUBI’s retrospective ‘A Matter of Faith: Three Films by Luis Ospina’ for Notebook: “Born in Cali and educated in film at UCLA, Ospina, who died this past September, transplanted the idea of vampirism to his native country. In the mockumentary short THE VAMPIRES OF POVERTY (1977), which he shot with his friend, Carlos Mayolo, the ‘vampires’ were the filmmakers themselves. Mayolo and Luis Alfonso Londoño play sensationalist journalists, in the process of filming a television exposé on poverty and misery in Cali. The film followed on Ospina’s more straightforward documentary, in which he captured the side of his city that was too ugly to be shown off to tourists who flooded the city during the VI Pan-American Games (LISTEN, LOOK!,1972). But this denunciatory impulse—to lift a veil on reality—soon turned self-reflective. Ospina responded to the increasing omnipresence and sensationalism of news reporting in a vein similar to his international counterparts: from Eduardo Coutinho in Brazil to Marcel Łoziński and Želimir Žilnik in Eastern Europe and the Balkans, filmmakers were questioning how television was transforming the practice of documentary filmmaking.”
"I Said Marvel Movies Aren’t Cinema. Let Me Explain." Martin Scorsese was given the opportunity to explain himself in The New York Times: “Many franchise films are made by people of considerable talent and artistry. You can see it on the screen. The fact that the films themselves don’t interest me is a matter of personal taste and temperament. I know that if I were younger, if I’d come of age at a later time, I might have been excited by these pictures and maybe even wanted to make one myself. But I grew up when I did and I developed a sense of movies — of what they were and what they could be — that was as far from the Marvel universe as we on Earth are from Alpha Centauri. For me, for the filmmakers I came to love and respect, for my friends who started making movies around the same time that I did, cinema was about revelation — aesthetic, emotional and spiritual revelation. It was about characters — the complexity of people and their contradictory and sometimes paradoxical natures, the way they can hurt one another and love one another and suddenly come face to face with themselves. It was about confronting the unexpected on the screen and in the life it dramatized and interpreted, and enlarging the sense of what was possible in the art form. And that was the key for us: it was an art form.”
DOC NYC ALUMNI
Andres Caballero & Sofian Khan's THE INTERPRETERS 2018 DOC NYC International Perspectives
Will have its primetime premiere via Independent Lens on November 11th.
Stephen Wilkes' JAY MYSELF 2018 DOC NYC Metropolis
Will arrive on OVID.tv for streaming on November 15th.
Maxine Trump's TO KID OR NOT TO KID 2018 DOC NYC Modern Family
Will have its theatrical premiere on November 15th.
FEATURED STREAMING DOC SHORT
DEAD. TISSUE. LOVE
Directed by Natasha Austin-Green
An intimate experimental documentary exploring and examining a female necrophile, as she journeys and recounts her life experiences.
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