Unfortunately this week's memo begins with the tragic news that Jonathan Oppenheim, editor of many documentary films such as Paris is Burning, The Oath and most recently Blowin' Up, has died at age 67 of brain cancer. In other news, the Maysles Documentary Center is hosting an excellent and free online doc series, the Grierson Awards revealed their 2020 shortlist, the conversations around Tiger and representation in doc production continue (see Firelight Media's upcoming 'Beyond Resilience' conversation), TIFF outlined its basic plan for 2020 and its opening film, and despite this already lengthy list of reading material, that's only really the beginning of all that happened in the doc world this week. Read on and be safe!
-Jordan M. Smith
Jonathan Oppenheim Dies: Paris Is Burning Editor Was 67 Ryan Lattanzio of IndieWire shared the news: “Jonathan Oppenheim, editor of such documentaries as the ball culture classic Paris Is Burning and Laura Poitras’ The Oath, has died after a battle with brain cancer at the age of 67. Though he passed away on July 16, the news was reported on Monday. He died in New York City, with his wife Josie and daughter Netalia at his side. ‘Jonathan began his life in the arts as a painter which informed his sensibility in film. He was a talented and highly original painter but documentary film was his chosen medium,’ his wife shared in a statement shared with media. ‘The collaborative dynamic while not always peaceful was one aspect of the work that Jonathan loved. But he found an outlet for his intellectual and artistic talents in all aspects of documentary film. I can say, as well, that the film community was profoundly important to him, and served as a nurturing soil allowing his very great talents to come into flower. But the community was important to us both really; friendships he forged became our friendships and our daughter’s family; became our community as we moved through our lives together.’”
Tribeca’s IF/Then Shorts, Chloe Gbai & Caitlin Mae Burke Go to Field of Vision Daniele Alcinii reported the move at Realscreen: “Filmmaker-driven visual journalism unit Field of Vision will be the new home for the Tribeca Film Institute’s IF/Then Shorts program. Founded in 2017 with support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, IF/Then Shorts serves as a fund and mentorship program that supports creators by addressing “the imbalance of representation, perspective, power, compensation and career longevity” among independent filmmakers and media artists. The initiative supports doc short creators in the making of compelling, character-led and community-inspired stories that exemplify diversity. Tribeca had previously announced that the New York-based organization would be pausing operations on its IF/Then Shorts program indefinitely this September. As part of the move, IF/Then program director Chloe Gbai and supervising producer Caitlin Mae Burke will join the Field of Vision ranks. The pair will remain in their current roles for IF/Then Shorts.”
Maysles Documentary Center Hosts Free Streaming Series ‘After Civilization’ Filmmaker Magazine shared the news of the new online series: “Another excellent free streaming series: ‘After Civilization,’ hosted by the Maysles Documentary Center, runs through August 15th. 12 features and shorts are available to stream. Per the Center, the series’ thematic emphasis considers a very immediate question: ‘when the modern idyll of ‘civilization’ is threatened—whether through active resistance, environmental disaster, or structural collapse—what follows? In an endangered present, the future is not inevitable but to be fought for, reclaimed, reinvented altogether. How do we care for the planet while centering human life, and from where, exactly, will the seeds of collective liberation grow?’ Co-curated by Emily Apter, Annie Horner and Inney Prakash, the series includes Pat O’Neill’s landmark 1989 Water & Power; a John Akomfrah film essay from 1996, Last Angel of History, whose interrogation of pan-African history is presented through a science-fiction lens; and INAATE/SE/ [it shines a certain way. to a certain place/it flies. falls./], the acclaimed debut feature from Adam and Zack Khalil. Click here for the full line-up.”
Tiger Series by Two White Directors Is a Flashpoint for ‘Decolonizing’ Docs IndieWire's Tambay Obenson dug deeper into the story of the Tiger controversy: “‘I kicked the hornet nest,’ Gandbhir told IndieWire. ‘Yeah, but the hornet nest has definitely been growing on sort of the front porch of the white establishment for an extremely long time. … They have been working around this system, which is ultimately a white supremacist, anti-black system, forever. You have folks who have been managing to make incredible work despite the lack of access, which speaks to the resilience, bravery, and strength of the community. But we’re at a point where we can no longer tolerate this sort of white-dominant culture constantly appropriating our stories. That’s what this outcry is about.’ Tiger began when Alex Gibney’s Jigsaw Prods. optioned Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian’s best-selling biography, Tiger Woods, shortly after its publication in March 2018. Hamachek — a veteran documentary editor and a passionate golfer — pursued Gibney for the directing job; impressed with Hamachek’s take, Gibney hired him. However, this would be Hamachek’s first time to direct; Heineman would later join. Gibney has directed nearly 50 documentaries; in 2014, these included Finding Fela, a portrait of Nigerian singer Fela Kuti released by Kino Lorber, and HBO’s Mr. Dynamite: The Rise of James Brown, a look at the soul singer’s career. (Gandbhir served as that film’s editor.) Neither production, he said, saw any backlash — but he doesn’t dismiss the dissent that’s facing Tiger.”
Firelight Media's Beyond Resilience: After the Call Out Announced via press release: “Join us for a conversation entitled 'After the Call Out - Towards Equity, Equality, and Racial Justice'. The recent announcement that golfing icon Tiger Woods would be the subject of a two-part HBO documentary series set in motion a heated debate in the documentary industry about equity, power, and BIPOC's filmmakers' demands for structural change. Join us for a conversation with filmmakers Geeta Gandbhir, Grace Lee, Marjan Safinia and Iyabo Boyd as they reflect on the path towards equity, equality, and racial justice in the documentary field. Moderated by Marcia Smith, President of Firelight Media. Register for this LIVE event, and we'll send a link to join about 30 minutes before the start.” The event will take place Friday, July 31, 2:00 pm – 3:00 pm EDT.
MIT Tackles Misinformation Epidemic With In Event of Moon Disaster Announced via press release: “Can you recognize a digitally manipulated video when you see one? It’s harder than most people realize. As the technology to produce realistic 'deepfakes' becomes more easily available, distinguishing fact from fiction will only get more challenging. A new digital storytelling project from MIT’s Center for Advanced Virtuality aims to educate the public about the world of deepfakes with In Event of Moon Disaster (moondisaster.org). The project is supported by the MIT Open Documentary Lab and the Mozilla Foundation, which awarded In Event of Moon Disaster a Creative Media Award last year. These awards are part of Mozilla’s mission to realize more trustworthy AI in consumer technology. The project is directed by MIT Open Documentary Lab (ODL) Fellow Halsey Burgund and MIT Virtuality’s XR Creative Director Francesca Panetta. ODL Fellow Joshua Glick is the project’s Education Producer, for which he received a J-WEL grant to produce a curriculum and learning module about media literacy and misinformation to compliment the project. ODL Fellow Danny Goldfield is the project’s Installation Producer. This provocative website showcases a ‘complete’ deepfake (manipulated audio and video) of President Nixon delivering the real contingency speech written in 1969 for a scenario in which the Apollo 11 crew were unable to return from the moon. The team recruited a voice actor to record the speech, then worked with the companies Respeecher and Canny AI to reproduce Nixon’s voice and facial movements, using a combination of sophisticated deep learning and AI technologies. The result is a seven-minute film showing how thoroughly convincing deepfakes can be.”
Word Is Out: A Pioneering Documentary of Gay Voices Richard Brody revisited the 1977 film by Mariposa Film Group at The New Yorker: “Word Is Out is widely considered to be the first feature film about gay people by gay people. It is a movie of a mighty complexity built from the simple premise of people talking about their lives. Distilled from approximately two hundred interviews, it features twenty-six people, from college age to elderly, and from a variety of backgrounds and places, whose divergent lives converge around their common experiences of persecution and alienation as a result of being gay. The subjects discuss these experiences and the breakthrough moments that led them to accept their sexuality, and, in the third part of their film, they imagine a society in which L.G.B.T.Q. people will have the same freedoms as straight people—and the public action that’s needed to fight for those changes. The movie itself is one such public action. It is simultaneously a presentation to the world at large about the lives of gay people and an affirmation, to gay people themselves, that there is a community out there with which they can identify. Many of the subjects in Word Is Out discuss the lack of media representations of people like themselves, which contributed to their sense of isolation. The film provides the beginnings of such representation—and the self-aware assertion that this representation is itself an instrument of political change.”
Apple Donates Profits From John Lewis Documentary to Museums Announced via press release: “In tribute to the life and legacy of civil rights hero and US Congressman John Lewis, Apple will donate its portion of the proceeds from the documentary John Lewis: Good Trouble to the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee, and the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. ‘Representative John Lewis’s life and example compel each of us to continue the fight for racial equity and justice,’ said Lisa Jackson, Apple’s vice president of Environment, Policy and Social Initiatives. ‘This film celebrates his undeniable legacy, and we felt it fitting to support two cultural institutions that continue his mission of educating people everywhere about the ongoing quest for equal rights.’ ‘The life and legacy of John Lewis, a National Civil Rights Museum Freedom Award recipient, is celebrated throughout the museum,’ said Terri Lee Freeman, the National Civil Rights Museum’s president. ‘This timely contribution will help expand our digital platforms, allowing us to reach many more students, parents, and educators globally, and to continue as a catalyst for positive social change, as Representative Lewis encouraged us all to be. We are grateful to Apple for this incredible gift honoring him.’”
One Virtual Premiere, One Million Views In Peter Broderick's latest Distribution Bulletin, he looks at the successful self release of DOC NYC alum Five Seasons: The Gardens of Piet Oudolf: "Attention Guinness World Records: During its 3-day virtual premiere, Five Seasons was viewed over 1 million times around the world. No distributor required. This documentary about garden design attracted a larger audience in a single weekend than most documentaries ever achieve in their entire lifetimes. Five Seasons powerfully demonstrates the unprecedented potential of virtual screenings. I define a virtual screening as the online availability of a film during a limited time period (usually 2-72 hours). Unlike physical screenings that are limited to a single venue with a certain number of seats, virtual screenings can be viewed worldwide by an unlimited number of people."
ON THE FESTIVAL CIRCUIT
TIFF '20 Opens With Spike Lee’s Concert Doc David Byrne's American Utopia Announced via press release: “The 45th edition of the Toronto International Film Festival, taking place September 10–19, is tailored to fit the moment, with physical screenings and drive-ins, digital screenings, virtual red carpets, press conferences, and industry talks. This year’s selection comprises a lineup of 50 new feature films, five programmes of short films, as well as interactive talks, film cast reunions, and Q&As with cast and filmmakers. Information regarding film selection, screening venues, ticket sales for both Members and the public, accreditation, and TIFF’s Industry Conference will be available in the coming weeks. The worldwide health crisis has affected everyone working in the cultural industries, and TIFF has been severely impacted. Its role in the ecosystem of the film industry was the impetus to move forward, to deliver a film festival that inspires and engages audiences, and to serve as a beacon of hope for Toronto, for filmmakers, and for the international film industry. TIFF is the cornerstone of a $2-billion-a-year film industry in Toronto, generates more than $200 million in annual economic activity for the City of Toronto and the Province of Ontario, and is the chief market to launch Canadian film content into the global marketplace.”
Open City Documentary Festival 2020 / Digital Edition Announced via press release: “The tenth edition of Open City Documentary Festival takes place on Sept 9th – 15th. Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Open City Documentary Festival 2020 will take place as a digital edition...The Film Programme will present a curated selection of new work across 24 film events. These will be available to UK audiences as affordably priced video-on-demand rentals, with windowed access available during the festival period. Filmmaker Q&As will be included in the rental packages alongside complementary shorts selected by filmmakers or the festival programming team. A number of additional special events will also take place online, with full details to follow. Savings made on the costs of arranging filmmaker travel and accommodation will be redirected towards granting an increased appearance fee to all filmmakers screening new work at the festival, in addition to the usual screening fees that are paid to each selected film. The Industry Programme will be streamed live online during the week of the festival, and will be free to access worldwide. It will feature 20+ events involving leading non-fiction practitioners working across film, audio and cross-media.”
24th Annual American Black Film Festival Lineup Unveiled Announced via press release: “With a record number of entries, ABFF Ventures LLC., today revealed its slate of films in competition for the 24th annual American Black Film Festival (ABFF) scheduled to take place online August 21-30th at abff.com. ABFF also announced that IMDb (www.imdb.com), the world's most popular and authoritative source for information on movies, TV shows and celebrities, will simulcast The Best of the ABFF Awards Ceremony on its homepage on August 30, closing night of the Festival. The ABFF Online Edition will continue the tradition of the live festival: featuring the best of independent Black cinema, studio premieres, conversations and panels, along with virtual networking events. This year, ABFF is introducing the first annual John Singleton Award for Best First Feature for a director of African descent. ...Also featured in the festival will be a spotlight screening of the Documentary film, Yusuf Hawkins: Storm Over Brooklyn, courtesy of HBO. The film is the winning project of the inaugural Feature Documentary Initiative created by the American Black Film Festival (ABFF) and Academy Award-winning production company, Lightbox. Premiering on HBO and streaming on HBO Max on August 12, the film was directed by Muta’Ali Muhammad (Life’s Essentials with Ruby Dee), and is about a black teenager who was murdered in 1989 by a group of young white men in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. Hawkins’ death and the official response to it sparked outrage in New York, unleashing a torrent of racial tension and spurring tireless civil rights activism that exposed deep racial prejudices and inequities which continue to plague the country today.”
Reflections on 4 Festivals/4 Countries/4 Weeks in the time of COVID-19 Toni Bell reported on the experience for Documentary Magazine: "The world has radically changed over the past four months. Not only has the work of documentary filmmakers been significantly disrupted, but so has the celebration of that work. We are certainly adapting to this brave new world that has been thrust upon us; the hopefully temporary loss of those spaces for celebration should be contemplated, if not grieved. Festivals are our party, our reward after years of work and labor in isolation. Watching a filmmaker's work on the big screen, seeing them doing a Q&A, and taking their work into the new world to bring knowledge to us all is like attending a high school graduation. I feel like that distant cousin or that long-time neighbor who watched a film move from a stumbling development baby to a full-fledged distributed adult. And I couldn’t be more proud. Of course I wasn't there for all the ups and downs, but I’ve seen the struggles and was hopefully there for important moments to lend a hand. Since COVID-19 hit I have: coached Film Independent Documentary Lab Fellows; presented on ‘How to Create a Viable Audience & Distribution Plan’ and served on the pitch forum at the South East European Film Festival; coached Women in Film Financing Intensive filmmakers; taken meetings with filmmakers participating in TFI Network, Hot Docs Deal Maker, Sheffield Doc/Fest Alternate Realities, and KVIFF. I have also taken meetings with filmmakers for NALIP. All these were done and/or will be done virtually. These moments have been fulfilling and robust; there is so much incredible, innovative, rich work. But I do miss the festivals. I do miss seeing my documentary family and celebrating.”
Reimagining the Film Festival Landscape: The 27th Sheffield Doc/Fest Sofie Cato Maas covered the festival for Senses of Cinema: “The 27th edition of the UK’s largest documentary festival, the first year under the leadership of Doclisboa’s former director Cíntia Gil and her new artistic team, took place on an online film platform called DocPlayer. The whole program presented on this platform, of which I can only highlight a small section here, is firmly rooted in both historical and contemporary actuality and closely interwoven into the conflicts and contradictions that we are faced with now, thus manifesting cinema both as consolation and a radical platform for change. There are several main themes that become visible and weave through all the strands, yet they all relate to one concept that has suddenly become of greater importance than before the pandemic: namely the landscape and how it represents change, history, memory and, above all, displacement. The Ghosts & Apparitions section occupies a unique position by offering an inventive context surrounding contemporary new documentary cinema, while simultaneously creating parallels between the present and the past. This strand forms an investigation into cinema’s representation of history and its ability to alter it alongside memory and the spectators’ vision of reality. Cinema’s visual flexibility makes the invisible visible as it forces its spectators to look at reality in a different way.”
Oscars 2021: Early Best Documentary Feature Predictions Anne Thompson looked toward next year’s nominations at IndieWire: “One secret to success in the documentary Oscar race is getting into the competitive Sundance lineup. While notable recent examples of fall openers winning Oscars include Citizenfour and Free Solo, most nominees still get their initial boost at Sundance and became must-sees for documentary branch voters. The Sundance 2020 list is massive. Emerging strong from this year’s festival were five Netflix titles, from Nicole Newnham and James Lebrecht (audience award winner Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution, produced by the Obamas), Lana Wilson (Taylor Swift portrait Miss Americana), Rachel Mason (kinky family bookstore Circus of Books), Sam Feder (Disclosure, about trans portrayal in media) and Kirsten Johnson (tribute to her father Dick Johnson is Dead), two from Neon (’90s Biosphere 2 saga Spaceship Earth and artist and muse story The Painter and the Thief,) and two from Magnolia (ACLU booster The Fight, from the filmmakers behind Weiner, and Alexander Nanau’s health system expose Collective), as well as Ron Howard’s heart-tugger Rebuilding Paradise (NatGeo), Bao Nguyen’s Bruce Lee biodoc Be Water (ESPN), A24/Apple’s provocative look at government Boys State, Amazon’s Time, by Garrett Bradley (the first black woman to win the Directing prize), and Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw’s foraging story The Truffle Hunters (Sony Pictures Classics).”
Announcing the Grierson Awards Shortlist for 2020 Announced via press release: “The COVID-19 pandemic’s presence can be felt in the shortlist for multiple categories alongside some of the most talked about programmes of the year, including Prince Andrew and the Epstein Scandal: The Newsnight Interview and Mary Beard's Shock of the Nude. The impact of the pandemic is also evident in the Best Documentary Series category with Hospital Special: Fighting Covid-19 and also in the Best Arts or Music category with Grayson's Art Club. Meanwhile, big screen, big hitter For Sama features in the Cinema category and small screen returners 24 Hours in Police Custody, Long Lost Family and Race Across the World appear within Best Series and Best Constructed Series shortlists...The 104 shortlisted films and eight presenters will now go forward to final nominations and judging ahead of 48th annual awards ceremony on 10 November 2020. The BBC dominates the Science and Natural History categories and tops the shortlist with 44 entries in the running overall. Netflix has over 50% of the Best Series shortlist with 12 films in total. Channel 4 have 11 in the mix. ITV has five films listed, Sky has three, Al Jazeera, Apple+, Nat Geo and Amazon Prime all have two each. Completing the list with a film apiece are Channel 5, Discovery, S4C, BT, ESPN, YouTube and Fields of Vision while the remainder is made up of festival and university screenings alongside theatrical releases.”
Cinema Eye Honors Feature and Short Submissions Now Open Announced via press release: “We have now opened submissions for both Feature and Short Films for the 2021...We’re making it easier than ever to qualify for Cinema Eye - and please note, if you decide that you want to hold off submitting your film until next year, we’ll make sure that next year’s rules allow for that. As so much in our world has changed in 2020, we know that this version of Cinema Eye will look different that any previous edition - and that our traditional timeline of announcing nominees and celebrating the awards will be pushed. We’re actively engaged in conversations both inside and outside of our team about what these 2021 Honors will look like and when they will take place. Our goal is to have a timeline set when we send out our August Dispatch. If you have thoughts, ideas or hopes for this year’s Honors, we encourage you to reach out.”
Two releases this week: Gero von Boehm's photographer bio pic Helmut Newton: The Bad and the Beautiful hit virtual cinemas, while Sam Hobkinson's crime mini-series Fear City: New York vs The Mafia arrived on Netflix.
Rachel Leah Jones & Philippe Bellaïche’s Advocate 2019 DOC NYC Winner’s Circle
Will be broadcast on POV on July 27th.
Gabe Polsky’s Red Penguins 2019 DOC NYC International Perspectives
Will be released on VOD services on August 4th.
Justin Pemberton’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century 2019 DOC NYC New World Order
Will receive a Blu-ray/DVD release via Kino Lorber on August 4th.
Scott Crawford’s Creem: America’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll Magazine 2019 DOC NYC Sonic Cinema
Will be released in virtual cinemas on August 7th.
Marlon Johnson & Anne Flatté’s River City Drumbeat 2019 DOC NYC Sonic Cinema
Will be released in virtual cinemas on August 7th.
Archana Atul Phadke’s About Love 2019 DOC NYC Modern Family
Will have its primetime premiere via POV on August 10th.
Daniel Claridge & Andrew Coffman’s The Queen’s Man 2019 DOC NYC Investigations
Will receive a Blu-ray/DVD release via Gravitas Ventures on August 11th.
Reiner Holzemer’s Martin Margiela: In His Own Words 2019 DOC NYC Art + Design
Will be released in virtual cinemas on August 14th.
Chris Hegedus & D.A. Pennebaker’s Town Bloody Hall 2019 DOC NYC Masters
Will receive a Blu-ray/DVD release via The Criterion Collection on August 18th.
Barbara Kopple’s Desert One 2019 DOC NYC Masters
Will be released in virtual cinemas on August 21st.
FEATURED STREAMING DOC SHORT
The Lonely Goalkeeper
Directed by Andre Andreev “In Andre Andreev’s The Lonely Goalkeeper, legendary goalie Bob Wilson takes us back in time to when he reigned as his team’s last resort against an onslaught of soccer balls. Wilson has gone down in history for his contributions to Arsenal, part of England’s Premier League, the most popular soccer league in the world. His memories — and the lessons he draws from them — take us to the moment we find ourselves in now: one where those in the last line of defense are the greatest heroes of all.”
FUND THIS PROJECT
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