If for some reason you're not into Bob Dylan or Martin Scorsese, you would have been hard pressed to completely avoid the fact that Netflix dropped what many have already claimed to be a documentary masterpiece in ROLLING THUNDER REVUE: A BOB DYLAN STORY BY MARTIN SCORSESE (I myself will be sitting down to finally watch it as soon as I finish this memo up). I collected some of the more thoughtful and thorough pieces on the release, but I could have included many, many more this week. There was plenty of other fascinating doc related articles this week, including Wendy Lee's thoughtful researched piece on documentaries as advertising, the news that long running print magazine Sight & Sound is tragically transitioning to be a digital first publication, Anthony Ferranti's investigation into making true crime documentaries, and that's just the tip of the iceberg. Until next time, Happy belated Father's Day!
-Jordan M. Smith
Truth and Legends: The Extraordinary Documentaries of Martin Scorsese
Well researched and beautifully written, Scott Tobias takes a career-spanning overview of Scorsese’s surprisingly overlooked documentaries at The Ringer: “There are certain master filmmakers like Stanley Kubrick or Quentin Tarantino who curate their careers tightly, and each new film is a years-in-the-making event. Scorsese’s adventures more closely resemble someone like Jonathan Demme, whose Talking Heads concert film STOP MAKING SENSE is in the pantheon with THE LAST WALTZ as the best of their kind, but whose nonfiction sojourns into Haiti (THE AGRONOMIST) or Jimmy Carter’s book tour (MAN FROM PLAINS) or his own family (COUSIN BOBBY) were regarded as side projects, if they were regarded at all. They weren’t MELVIN AND HOWARD or SOMETHING WILD or THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. In Scorsese’s case, it’s not necessarily unjust to file his nonfiction films a little differently—if it’s even worth caring about such filing systems at all...His docs are not lacking in substance or imagination, but they’re not exactly pushing the formal boundaries, either. Yet Scorsese is a champion of personal filmmaking, and in that respect, his documentaries are full of curiosity and passion, and a fascinating window into the things he cares about most deeply.”
Corporate Brands Try Film to Reach Young Consumers Who Skip Commercials In the Los Angeles Times, Wendy Lee researched how companies are experimenting with documentaries as a means for marketing: "Since the dawn of TV, entertainment and advertising have been closely intertwined. In the 1950s, companies sponsored programs such as ‘The Colgate Comedy Hour,’ where it was common to hear pitches for household products before the show and even see them mentioned in the program’s narratives. But as technology evolved, more consumers fast-forwarded through ads and cut the cord altogether. Brands sought out viral video content that they could sponsor on social media, fueling the growth of companies such as BuzzFeed and Vox. Now, they are going a step further by partnering directly with filmmakers. Whether the aim is to encourage people to buy photo printers, athletic shoes or even fried chicken, companies such as HP, Nike and Church’s Chicken are increasingly pouring money into documentaries in hopes of capturing the attention of consumers who shun traditional commercials. The trend has been a boon to local filmmakers such as East Hollywood’s Dirty Robber. But it has also stirred debate over the role of advertising in nonfiction storytelling."
Sight & Sound Transitioning To A Digital First Future
“After 21 years Nick James is standing down as Editor and we offer thanks for his contribution to developing the magazine. Sight & Sound is now committed to a digital-first future while retaining its print edition, and forging a new and dynamic relationship between the two fit for the demands of 21st-century publishing. To inspire and preside over this transformation we are seeking an Editor-in-Chief to manage the transition from a primarily print-based monthly title to a vibrant digital-first brand with a complementary print edition. You may not be working on a film magazine but you will have a deep love, understanding and knowledge of film, a track record in film journalism and would relish the chance to apply that enthusiasm, coupled with your hard won journalistic skills, to modernising the Sight & Sound brand.”
The Legal Realities of True Crime Docs Sharing his wisdom at Film Independent, Anthony Ferranti dives into the complicated world of making true crime documentaries: “In many significant ways, the true crime boom of our current age is far different from this bygone era of the TV procedural. But I do see a connection: both genres lay out compelling stories centered on transgressive criminal acts, slowly revealing the facts of each case and leading audiences to an often shocking final conclusion. But whereas TV writers craft fictional narratives that resolve within the hour, documentarians deal with real people—and can face real-life consequences for storytelling missteps. Nonfiction filmmakers must always consider what potential pitfalls they may be facing in order to avoid legal jeopardy. So for this month’s Doc Life, I talked award-winning director and cinematographer Skye Borgman—whose ABDUCTED IN PLAIN SIGHT has captivated audiences since its Netflix premiere in January—and Lisa A. Callif, founding partner of Donaldson + Callif and go-to attorney for Hollywood’s most acclaimed independent producers.’
The PARIS IS BURNING Director on its Message: 'Be Yourself' Cassidy George of The New York Times spoke with filmmaker Jennie Livingston as her LGBTQ+ classic sees its restored rerelease: “What were your intentions in creating this portrait of the ballroom community? - I stepped into a community where people were geniuses at becoming themselves, geniuses at using words and far beyond brilliant at using dance forms to express themselves. Their self-invention was such a complex cultural commentary. It questioned what America is and proved the political power of creating identity. It was a story that touched me, and that I felt people should know. I wanted to give people in the world of ballroom the opportunity to speak in the medium of film. My intentions were to tell a story, to tell it well, and to have other people recognize the complexity, brilliance, usefulness and beauty of this world.”
ON THE FESTIVAL CIRCUIT
Sheffield Doc/Fest 2019 Award Winners
“The Sheffield Doc/Fest Grand Jury Award honours one film that best displays excellence in style, substance and approach to documentary filmmaking. This year’s Grand Jury Award goes to MIDNIGHT FAMILY directed by Luke Lorentzen. The jury, Jeremy Deller (Artist), Charlotte Cook (Producer), and Jenn Nkiru (Artist-Filmmaker) said, ‘For the Grand Jury prize we would like to award a technically accomplished film that combines family drama with serious moral questions for the participants and viewers alike. A film that examines the corruption of individuals within a pernicious market system, and that acts as a timely warning to the dangers of privatised healthcare. We also felt this film was a true celebration of the potential of independent filmmaking.’ The Jury also gave a Special Mention to Hazzan Fazili’s MIDNIGHT TRAVELER and Waad al-Kateab and Edward Watts FOR SAMA, described as two unique and unforgettable films examining the most pressing human rights crisis of our generation.”
7 Documentary Projects Receive Support From IDFA Bertha Fund
“The IDFA Bertha Fund has supported six new documentary projects with €40,000 each through the IBF Europe - International Co-Production funding scheme, and one new project with €50,000 through the NFF + IBF Co-production scheme. The two programs aim to boost collaboration between independent European producers and producers in Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East, and parts of Eastern Europe.”
A Sneak Peek at the 30th Human Rights Watch Film Festival Covering the action for Filmmaker Magazine, Lauren Wissot writes, “The 30th anniversary edition of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival (running June 13-20, and co-presented by Film at Lincoln Center and the IFC Center) has much more to boast than its smartly slimmed-down lineup of 13 feature-length films (11 docs and two narrative works). In addition to the requisite post-screening panel discussions with filmmakers, subjects and special guests, there’s this year’s added bonus of actual behind-the-lens parity. With half the films directed or co-directed by women, the majority directed by filmmakers of color and, perhaps most importantly, half helmed by filmmakers with actual roots in the places they’re documenting, HRWFF has done something truly remarkable – put its human rights mission into post-colonial film festival action.”
A Vivid Tale of Father and Son
Eunice Lau's ACCEPT THE CALL is having its premiere at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival. Adeel Hassan of The New York Times spoke to director Lau about the project: “How did you find this story, and why did you devote so much time to it? - When the news broke four years ago of six Somali teenagers arrested by the F.B.I. for attempting to leave the country to join ISIS, I had a suspicion that they were drawn to ISIS because of the impact the “war on terror” had on them. I wanted to investigate my theory. As a journalist and filmmaker, I feel it is my duty to delve deeper into understanding why this phenomenon is happening. I didn’t expect to take three years to tell this story, but I realized that I am dealing with a very traumatized family and community, and it takes them time to process and make sense of that trauma. As a filmmaker, I have to respect that journey that Yusuf is taking to find his truth, and at the same time, I had to earn Zacharia’s trust before he felt he could open up to me.”
8 Hidden Indie Gems at This Year’s BAMcinemaFest The staff at IndieWire put their heads together to list a selection of films to keep an eye out for at BAMcinemaFest, including to docs: “This month’s BAMcinemaFest isn’t just for New York cinephiles. The annual Brooklyn festival routinely boasts a slate that includes some of the year’s best indie offerings from festivals earlier in the year, and while the latest edition is no exception, it also has a number of notable world premieres and under-the-radar offerings.”
DOC NYC Final Submissions Deadline Is Approaching!
“Submissions are now open for DOC NYC, America’s largest documentary festival! Our 10th-anniversary edition of DOC NYC will take place on November 7-14, 2019. Submissions can be made via FilmFreeway for our features/shorts by clicking here. To submit for the work-in-progress Only In New York program, please click here. We look forward to reviewing your work! Our Final Deadline is July 1 for Features/Shorts and August 31 for Only In New York.”
Sophie Huber's BLUE NOTE RECORDS: BEYOND THE NOTES is currently playing at The Metrograph, while Martin Scorcese's second foray into the life of Bob Dylan with ROLLING THUNDER REVUE is now live on Netflix and can also be found at IFC Center, and Leila Conners's climate change doc ICE ON FIRE is available via HBO.
ROLLING THUNDER REVUE: A BOB DYLAN STORY BY MARTIN SCORCESE
Apply to the (Egg)celerator Lab
“Attention doc filmmakers: There are just a dozen days left to apply to the (Egg)celerator Lab for first- and second- time nonfiction filmmakers. This program brings together ten projects, with a special focus on projects by self-identifying women and gender nonconforming directors. In this year-long intensive mentorship program, these ten projects receive: $35,000 in grant funding for the production of their feature-length film; monthly mentorship with members of Chicken & Egg Pictures' senior creative team; three creative retreats focused on career sustainability and creative development; industry and funder connections; and peer support from the (Egg)celerator Lab cohort. The deadline to apply for the 2020 (Egg)celerator Lab is June 25, 2019 at 3:00 pm EDT.”
The Critic Lady Erika Balsom makes use of Orson Welles’s final film THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND and its fictional take on Pauline Kael to examine the place of the lady critic in film history via Film Quarterly: "Is it a coincidence that the field has become increasingly open to a diversity of voices precisely at the moment that its financial viability and cultural prestige have vertiginously declined? For some, it is easy to be wistful for the good old days – but it’s hard to feel that way when the good old days weren’t good for people like you. The inability to entirely remake the present merits looking for the small openings it affords. If a certain idea of professional criticism is in crisis, perhaps a bigger space can be cleared for other forms of engagement, forms of writing and publication that push beyond snap judgments, new releases, and, yes, bravado, to expand the possibilities of what film criticism can be. Harold Ross’s remark about film criticism being for ‘women and fairies’ wasn’t true in his time. Perhaps it can be today.”
Oscars 2020: Best Documentary Feature Predictions Anne Thompson already has her eyes on the 2020 prize for IndieWire: “January’s Sundance Film Festival is the most effective launchpad for any documentary Oscar hopeful. With a field overloaded by competitive non-fiction, it’s essential to get a head start, a distributor, an early release date and build a profile before narrative features grab the media attention in an overcrowded fall. Some high-profile non-fiction features, like Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi’s box-office star and eventual Oscar-winner FREE SOLO, break out of fall festivals like Telluride, Toronto, and New York. However, titles like those are the outliers.”
DOC NYC ALUMNI NEWS
Brian Kaufman's 12TH AND CLAIRMOUNT 2017 DOC NYC American Perspectives
Now available to stream via Amazon Prime.
RaMell Ross's HALE COUNTY THIS MORNING, THIS EVENING 2018 DOC NYC Short List
Will be released on DVD/Blu-ray tomorrow via Cinema Guild.
Janet Tobias & Claus Wehlisch's MEMORY GAMES 2018 DOC NYC Jock Docs
Will be available to stream via Netflix on Wednesday.
Brian Ivie's EMANUEL 2018 DOC NYC American Perspectives
Will have a limited special theatrical presentation via Fathom Events tonight and Wednesday.
Shannon Service & Jeffrey Waldron's GHOST FLEET 2018 DOC NYC Viewfinders
Is currently in limited theatrical release at IFC Center.
FEATURED STREAMING DOC SHORT
Directed by Meredith Lackey
The United States and China are in the midst of a power struggle: a new “Cold War” of technology with companies like Huawei at the center. CABLESTREET offers viewers an unprecedented look inside the notorious telecoms company.
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.