Hoping everyone had a lovely dual holiday weekend! This week in doc news includes Sonya Childress on social issue doc filmmaking and the American education system, Emmy predictions from Ben Travers, Documentary Plus announced it will be sharing streaming data with filmmakers and handful of excellent doc deep dives, conversations and interviews. Read on!
– Jordan M. Smith
The Hunter’s Tale Sonya Childress wrote at Medium: “Critical Race Theory has turned into the ideological bogeyman that deems any honest examination of our nation’s history as fear mongering and demagoguery. The efforts to curtail educators’ ability to examine our nation’s unvarnished history and nurture critical thinking skills in American students should concern us all. But documentary filmmakers should be particularly alarmed. Millions of dollars of public and private funding over the past few decades have supported films that explore these concepts directly. These films have filled a growing appetite for social issue documentaries. Films which have made their way into classrooms, living rooms and movements. This wave of conservative censorship may have a chilling effect on documentary filmmakers who explore justice issues in their contemporary or historical contexts. On a practical level, institutional acquisitions and individual classroom use of certain films may be blocked as schools respond to the legislation. Independent filmmakers who rely on revenue from educational distribution and college tours to recoup production costs may be the first to feel the pinch. In extreme cases, high school educators may risk losing their jobs if they integrate social issue documentaries into their classrooms.”
Emmy Predictions: Plenty of Great Choices for Only a Few Slots Ben Travers shared his estimates at IndieWire: “As documentaries and documentary series continue to grow in popularity, the competition at the Emmys continues to build. Though not enough docs submitted in 2021 to expand the category’s total nominees beyond five — it’s only eight shy of adding another slot — at least 10 (if not more) are worthy, widely seen, and well-reviewed, which makes the selection process that much harder for Emmy voters. Near the top of the list is Allen v. Farrow, HBO’s four-part series examining the sexual abuse allegations lobbied against Woody Allen. Though far from a one-to-one comparison, the network did win an Emmy for Best Documentary Special with 2019’s Leaving Neverland, another documentary about sexual abuse allegations that elicited strong reactions as well as strong reviews. Allen v. Farrow won’t soon be forgotten, and Emmy voters have shown their eagerness to support programs elevating previously squashed voices. Also on the ballot from HBO are I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, an adaptation of Michelle McNamara’s investigation into the Golden State Killer; The Vow, which follows a range of people who joined the NXIVM cult; Q: Into the Storm, a six-episode series on the forces behind QAnon; Exterminate All the Brutes, Raoul Peck’s acclaimed four-part documentary that explores the exploitative and genocidal aspects of European colonialism, from America to Africa, and its impact on society today; and finally, there’s also The Lady and the Dale, which tells the story of transgender entrepreneur Liz Carmichael, who marketed a fuel-efficient, three-wheeled car in the 1970s before succumbing to media scrutiny.”
Documentary Plus Will Share Streaming Data With Filmmakers Sam Blake shared the story at dot.LA: “Streaming service Documentary Plus is doing what Netflix never has – sharing detailed data with filmmakers about who is watching. Filmmakers can request reports from Documentary Plus with insights including performance data by city, age group, gender identity and viewing platform, as well as related films being streamed on the platform, the Silver Lake-based company said Monday. ‘My hope is by doing this we spark a very real conversation about who has the right to that data, who owns that data and what should it be used for,’ said Bryn Mooser, founder of XTR, the studio behind Documentary Plus. The move is a departure from what has become the status quo in the streaming era, wherein platforms largely refrain from sharing data with creators and viewers about the performance of shows and films. ‘It will certainly distinguish them from other streamers,’ said E. Barry Haldeman, entertainment lawyer at Century City-based firm JMBM LLP. ‘Amazon and Netflix don't give you any of that kind of stuff.’ This dearth of data stands in contrast to the broadcast era, when third-party firms such as Nielsen consistently published audience metrics, said entertainment lawyer Leigh Brecheen of Century City-based BFBST. Now, however, the proliferation of subscription-based services means there is less financial backing from advertisers to fund that kind of research, Brecheen said. That helps explain why Nielsen has been slow to track the streaming industry.”
NBCU Academy & NBC News Studios Tap 7 Filmmaker Projects For Doc Fellowships Ted Johnson reports at Deadline: “Seven filmmakers’ projects will each receive $45,000 as part of the inaugural Original Voices Fellowships launched by NBCU Academy and NBC News Studios. The recipients also will receive a one-year fellowship to support their feature-length nonfiction film projects. That includes access to archive research, mentorships, story and edit consultations and distribution strategy expertise. They also will get marketing and publicity guidance and production resources. NBCU Academy was launched as part of NBCUniversal News Group Chairman Cesar Conde’s Fifty Percent Challenge Initiative, with the goal of an employee base of 50% women and 50% people of color.”
The 2021 DOC NYC x VC Storytelling Incubator, a new initiative from DOC NYC and the Video Consortium, provides 15 emerging documentary filmmakers from underrepresented perspectives with hands-on creative consultation and professional guidance from established industry voices through a unique year-round mentorship program.
15 first-time documentary feature makers or video journalists from traditionally underrepresented perspectives will be paired with 15 documentary veterans who represent the diversity of the field. Mentors will provide feedback on the mentee’s work-in-progress nonfiction film, offering year-round advice and insight on story, creative process, and funding and distribution potential over the course of six meetings, including one intensive meeting to take place during DOC NYC’s annual November festival as well as a series of mentee group meetings. In addition to mentorship support, mentees will also receive free access to DOC NYC’s year-round online program of educational events; discounted access to its 8-day professional conference, DOC NYC PRO, and waived submission fees to its Only In New York industry networking program for works-in-progress.
Sundance Institute’s Documentary Fund Adds Assistance to Artists with Disabilities Announced via press release: “Last fall, we announced changes to our priorities and application questions for the Sundance Institute’s Documentary Fund. These changes were made with the intention of supporting a more equitable nonfiction ecosystem, and they included focusing on projects by artists from historically underrepresented communities, projects with budgets under $1 million, artists from regions with a developing film industry that was deeply impacted by COVID, and artists and creative teams with a deep connection to the subject matter of their projects. You can read about our latest group of supported artists here. As we continue to look for ways to increase accessibility to the fund and build a more equitable and diverse field, we have decided to launch a new application assistance program. During our winter grant fund cycle, which will be open through July 26, we will provide small stipends to artists who self-identify as deaf, hard of hearing, having a disability, or living with a mental illness to help offset additional costs associated with disability-related barriers.”
The 2021 Tribeca Festival Announces Award Winners
Announced via press release: "The 2021 Tribeca Festival, presented by AT&T, announced the winners of its competition categories. The juried awards, honors storytelling across mediums, including features, shorts, documentaries, immersive, and for the first time ever, podcasts and games...The Jurors for the 2021 Best New Documentary Feature Competition were Kirby Dick, Matt Tyrnauer, and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi. Best Documentary Feature: Ascension, directed by Jessica Kingdon. Produced by Kira Simon-Kennedy, Jessica Kingdon, Nathan Truesdell. Art Award: Clifford Ross’s Waterline VI, 2020 Pigment Ink on Rag Paper. Best Editing, Documentary Feature: Shannon Swan, The Kids, directed by Eddie Martin. Produced by Shannon Swan. Best Cinematography, Documentary Feature: Bing Liu & Joshua Altman, All These Sons, directed by Bing Liu, Joshua Altman. Produced by Zak Piper, Kelsey Carr, Bing Liu, Joshua Altman."
Museum of the Moving Image's First Look Returns with a Special Summer Edition Announced via press release: “First Look, the Museum's acclaimed festival of innovative new international cinema, introduces New York audiences to formally inventive works that seek to redefine the art form while engaging in a wide range of subjects and styles. The festival’s tenth edition—shifting to mid-summer and extended to two weekends—First Look 20/21 presents still unseen works from the 2020 iteration of the festival alongside over a dozen additional programs, making it the biggest and most wide-ranging edition to date. All First Look 20/21 programs will be presented in the Museum’s two theaters, with filmmakers appearing either in person or via live video. A selection of films will also be available for online viewing after their on-site premiere, details forthcoming.”
newportFILM Outdoors Series Returns Announces 12th Annual Summer Line Up Announced via press release: “After pivoting to a drive-in and virtual format for the summer of 2020, newportFILM announced today a return to a full line up of weekly outdoor screenings for newportFILM Outdoors. An exciting lineup of world-class documentaries kick off on Thursday, June 17th with Sally Aitken’s Playing with Sharks from National Geographic Documentary Films and runs through September 9th with closing night film Havana Libre. Among the highlights are Questlove’s award-winning Summer of Soul (...Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) from Searchlight Pictures, Jeremy Workman’s award-winning Lily Topples the World from discovery+, Mariem Pérez Riera’s festival favorite Rita Moreno: The Girl Who Just Decided to Go For It from Roadside Attractions, Misha and The Wolves from Netflix and My Name is Pauli Murray from Amazon Studios. New this year, audiences can vote for their favorite film of the season through the 2021 Audience Award sponsored by BankNewport.”
Brooklyn Film Festival’s 24th Edition: “The Clearing” Announces Award Winners Announced via press release: “Brooklyn Film Festival’s 24th edition: The Clearing, which was staged both in person at Windmill Studios and online, wrapped up Sunday, June 13th, and has announced the winners of the festival’s awards. Three groups determined the winners: 1) The external panel of judges, 2) The festival Board of Directors, and 3) the Audience. Through the resources of industry-related sponsors, selected filmmakers are awarded more than $50,000 in cash, products and services. To learn more about the BFF selection process and check the full awards breakdown: visit winners and award prizes. Seiva Bruta [Under The Heavens] directed by Gustavo Milan picked up the coveted Grand Chameleon Award. Corral won Best Narrative Feature and Life & Life took home the award for Best Documentary Feature.”
Critic’s Notebook: Tribeca 2021 Docs Steve Dollar covered the festival for Filmmaker Magazine: “Real-life film festivals are back! Or so I hear. After its 2020 plans for public exhibition were scuttled by the pandemic, the Tribeca Film Festival – sorry, I mean ‘Tribeca Festival,’ that increasingly problematic word ‘film’ now scrubbed from the moniker for ease of branding – was back in New York City movie houses this week for its 2021 edition. Audiences could also take advantage of online screenings (Tribeca At Home) in a hybrid format that makes programming accessible across the country. The festival, consistent for years as a launchpad for strong nonfiction film, remained so. There were plenty of docs devoted to boldfaced names (Rick James, Jackie Collins, Wolfgang Puck, the Norwegian pop trio a-Ha, among many), likely to appear soon on a streaming platform near your remote control. Dig a little and there also was trickier work that aimed to unsettle form and cut to the quick.”
James Baldwin, Terence Dixon, and Documentary Authorship in Meeting the Man Jessica Boyall wrote about the film in MUBI’s Notebook: “In Meeting the Man: James Baldwin in Paris (1970) director Terence Dixon sets out to portray Baldwin as a writer rather than a political figure. To do so he devises what he termed ‘a system and scheme’ to project Baldwin, focusing on his literary relationship with Paris, where Baldwin lived for the first nine years of his newly flourishing career. It’s a formula that lends itself to cinematic articulation, with elegant vignettes of the city—its symmetrical streets, the River Seine and the Bastille—poetic in their accompaniment to Baldwin’s lacerating prose. However, as cinematographer Jack Hazan recalls, ‘Things did not go to plan,’ for Baldwin swiftly disabuses the filmmakers—Hazan and Dixon—of the fallacy that they are the most influential element in the documentary mix.”
Summer of Soul: Reclaiming The Harlem Cultural Festival Karas Lamb spoke with Ahmir ‘Questlove’ Thompson about his doc debut in Seen: “It’s kind of weird the way the producers of the film, David Dinerstein and Robert Fyvolent, contacted me in the summer of 2017 about this mythical festival that allegedly took place fifty years ago. I’m the kind of person, especially the kind of pop art collector, that often meets people that know about the amount of collecting I do—the auctions I go to and the things I acquire. There’s always that one guy that says, ‘Well, I have this particular Prince piano that you don’t know about in a warehouse stored over . . .’ You know, that sort of thing. I thought it was an attempt to flex. Then I thought, Stevie Wonder, Sly, Nina Simone, BB King, and Max Roach? This concert took place and was filmed in Harlem fifty years ago and no one knows about it? There’s almost nothing about it on the internet. I thought it was some elaborate story. They said, ‘No, we have something that we think you’d be interested in seeing.’ My whole thing was: pics or it didn’t happen. The next week they sent me clips, and my jaw dropped.”
A Film Tries to Make a Difference for Domestic Violence Survivors Melena Ryzik reported on the film in The New York Times: “In 2013, Tanisha Davis, a 26-year-old woman from Rochester, N.Y., was sentenced to 14 years in prison for killing her boyfriend, at whose hands she suffered, she said, nearly seven years of abuse, including choking, death threats and a beating on the night he died. The judge agreed that she was a victim of domestic violence but said her response did not merit leniency. ‘You handled the situation all wrong,’ he told her. ‘You could have left.’ In 2021, because of a new law that allows survivors of domestic violence more nuanced consideration in the courts, the same judge released Davis, thanks in part to a documentary that helped frame her case. It’s not uncommon for documentary projects to have an impact on legal proceedings, once they’ve found an audience and built public attention. But the film that helped Davis, And So I Stayed, was not yet released — it wasn’t even finished — when the filmmakers, Natalie Pattillo and Daniel A. Nelson, put together a short video for the court, describing her life.”
‘The People That Are Within These Frames’: A Community Offers Self-Portraits Raillan Brooks shared the piece in The New York Times: “Founded in 2011, the Bronx Documentary Center is a gallery and teaching space in the Melrose neighborhood that offers screenings, exhibitions and education programs in documentary film and photography to members of the local community. The aim, said Bianca Farrow, the center’s education manager, is to help people use photography ‘as a tool to be confident in themselves, in the stories they have to tell, and creating a community interested in exploring their own histories.’ As part of that mission, the center operates the Bronx Junior Photo League, a nine-month photography and college success program, and the Bronx Senior Photo League, courses for older adults held at senior centers in the borough. Over the last year, the pandemic ruled out in-person instruction. But the center adapted: It offered classes virtually or as phone calls, and sent each student a camera, which they used to document their own lives as the world shifted around them. Earlier this year, The New York Times asked both the senior and junior leagues to make self-portraits; how they defined self-portrait was up to them. Their photos are included in a year-end exhibition at the gallery, now on display until June 20. For more, visit bronxdoc.org.”
Alvin Ailey, Rita Moreno, and the Privacy of Art Helen Shaw reports at Vulture: “This year’s Tribeca Film Festival includes two documentaries about truly legendary performers. In many ways, the films echo each other: They’re both about children of the Depression, artists whose struggles against racial oppression made them “firsts” in their fields, artists who have won both the Presidential Medal of Freedom and are Kennedy Center Honorees. The films themselves shine like medals around the artists’ necks: Love — or worship — sits at the core of each project. (These are deferential, at times often promotional documents.) But Jamila Wignot’s Ailey and Mariem Pérez Riera’s Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It are alike in another way too. They both demonstrate the limitations of trying to explicate genius. Talking heads can honor Alvin Ailey’s choreography; they can pay tribute to Rita Moreno’s spirit of tungsten steel. But neither documentary can really draw us inside its object — Ailey because the man himself is gone (and hard to know when he lived); Rita because her stories have already been polished to a high diamond shine.”
Pure Nonfiction 136: Fran Lebowitz on Pretend It’s a City Shared via Pure Nonfiction: “Fran Lebowitz is one of New York’s great conversationalists. Martin Scorsese's new Netflix series Pretend It’s a City lets her talk at length about her five decades of living in New York City. Pure Nonfiction host Thom Powers interviews Lebowitz about working with Scorsese and her long friendship with Toni Morrison to whom the series is dedicated. Lebowitz also shares her opinions on the New York mayoral election and discusses her mother Ruth.”
Edgar Wright Talks with Ron and Russell Mael (Sparks) on the Talkhouse Podcast Shared via The Talkhouse: “On the latest episode of the Talkhouse Podcast, director Edgar Wright chats with musicians Ron and Russell Mael of the beloved cult band Sparks, who are the subject of Wright’s deeply enjoyable new documentary, The Sparks Brothers. In a wide-ranging conversation, the friends and collaborators veer from gripping discussions about food to in-depth explorations of the Mael brothers’ longstanding love of their other creative passion, cinema, which finally resulted in Leos Carax directing their film Annette – which opens the Cannes Film Festival next month! They also discuss record-store hijinks, the genesis of past projects, compare notes on trailers, and much, much more. A veritable smorgasbord of an episode, it’s a real pleasure to listen to three people who so obviously relish each others company.”
DOC NYC ALUMNI
Zeshawn Ali's Two Gods 2020 DOC NYC Portraits
Will be broadcast via Independent Lens tonight.
Miles Hargrove's Miracle Fishing 2020 DOC NYC Investigations
Will be released on Blu-ray/DVD via Gravitas Ventures on June 24th.
Malia Scharf & Max Basch's Kenny Scharf: When Worlds Collide 2020 DOC NYC Arts & Culture
Will be released in theaters and VOD on June 25th.
Beth B's Lydia Lunch: The War is Never Over 2019 DOC NYC Metropolis
Will be released in theaters and virtual cinemas on June 30th.
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