As I'm sure you know, Park City has been vibrating with activity since midweek as the 2020 Sundance Film Festival is now in full swing. That means plenty of Sundance happenings coming down the pike, along with a variety of big industry announcements on distro and production. That said, it also means that with so many industry eyes on Park City, there are no new nonfiction theatrical releases this week. Outside festival coverage, there's a big filmmaker backed push for better parental benefits from the Directors Guild of America, a new book of interviews on nonfiction cinema from Pamela Cohn on the way, releases from Hot Docs on its 2020 honorees and even a fascinating report from Vadim Rizov on the state of physical celluloid usage in 2019. Enjoy!
-Jordan M. Smith
Hollywood Women Push Directors Guild for Better Parental Benefits Cara Buckley covered the events for The New York Times: “Among the achievements and accolades that the photojournalist and director Jessica Dimmock has amassed are three World Press Photo prizes, an Emmy nomination, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and membership in the exclusive international photo agency VII. In September 2017, Dimmock reached another milestone, when she gave birth to her first child, a daughter, Roxanne. But after taking time to recover and care for her infant, Dimmock fell short of the yearly wages required to keep her health benefits with the Directors Guild of America. In April 2018, she lost her coverage. Now, some 50 Hollywood women, among them Amy Schumer, Amy Poehler, Ava DuVernay, Greta Gerwig, Kerry Washington and Lena Waithe, have signed Dimmock’s open letter asking the Directors Guild to change its health benefits, which many filmmakers use, and allow new parents more time to meet the minimum earning requirement. For 2020, that is $35,875 — all of which must come from guild directing jobs. Women, Dimmock wrote in the letter, ‘are penalized for having children in a way that their male counterparts are not.’ She urged the guild to relax the threshold for adoptive parents, too.”
Why The New York Times Is Getting Into the Documentary Films Business Ramin Setoodeh had the exclusive for Variety: “The New York Times is getting into the feature-length documentary business. As digital subscriptions have soared under the Trump administration, it’s been true for some time that The Times isn’t only a newspaper...It makes sense because documentary films are as popular as ever, coveted by almost every entertainment company from HBO to Netflix to Focus Features. The Times began exploring the space in 2011, when it launched its successful, and ongoing, Op-Docs series — journalism told through short films, which have gone on to land three Oscar nominations. Making these movies longer was the next logical step for Lingo, who previously ran Op-Docs and now has the title of editorial director for film and TV.”
NBC News Launches Documentary Unit, Names Liz Cole President Realscreen’s Jillian Morgan broke the story: “NBC News has officially unveiled its new documentary-focused production shingle NBC News Studios, to be led by Dateline executive producer Liz Cole, and has revealed the studio’s initial lineup of partnerships with prodcos and streamers. The launch comes just a few weeks after the division shuttered Peacock Productions, its in-house, long-form production unit. NBC News Studios will produce premium documentaries, docuseries and select scripted programming, as well as ‘content for emerging platforms.’ It promises to pair filmmakers and other ‘premier partners’ with NBC News’ resources, which include international news gathering capabilities, archives and production facilities. In terms of partnerships, Universal Pictures-owned Focus Features (WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR?) will collaborate with NBC News Studios to produce ‘filmmaker-driven’ documentaries about pivotal people and events.”
Davis Guggenheim Launches Concordia, a Documentary and Nonfiction Studio Indiewire’s Chris Lindahl reports: “AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH director Davis Guggenheim and former Participant exec Jonathan King have launched Concordia Studio, a nonfiction film and TV production company that will premiere four documentaries at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. The studio is launched in partnership with Emerson Collective, founded by Laurene Powell Jobs. ‘We’ve been working hard for two years and waiting for the right moment to announce our new studio,’ said Guggenheim, who will serve as Chief Creative Officer, Nonfiction. ‘Our strength is a small group of executives committed to great storytelling with the very best filmmakers.’”
Chicken & Egg Names 2020 Award Recipients and New Completion Fund Announced via press release: "Chicken & Egg Pictures, a leader in supporting women and gender non-conforming nonfiction filmmakers, announced today their newest slate of grantees for two of their programs. Six filmmakers will receive the Chicken & Egg Award ($50,000 award and mentorship program) which recognizes and elevates experienced documentary makers; and three projects will participate in their new Project: Hatched program ($20,000 completion fund)—designed to support directors as they prepare for the premiere of a feature-length documentary and develop a strategic engagement campaign."
Kartemquin Teams with Hulu on Accelerator Program for Filmmakers of Color Announced via press release: “Today at the Sundance Film Festival Kartemquin Films and Hulu announced a two-year partnership that will offer an unprecedented opportunity for alumni of Kartemquin’s acclaimed Filmmaker Development Programs. Combining Kartemquin’s expertise in nurturing emerging, diverse midwest-based filmmakers and projects with Hulu’s groundbreaking support of original documentaries, the Hulu / Kartemquin Accelerator program will launch in March 2020. The annual program will support two selected alumni of Kartemquin’s Diverse Voices in Docs, KTQ Labs, and KTQ Internship programs through the crucial development period when they are seeking major financial support for production and editing, and a potential commission or acquisition.”
Pure Nonfiction Winter Season to Open with Kopple's DESERT ONE Announced via press release: Pure Nonfiction at IFC Center has announced its winter season will open on Feb 11 with Barbara Kopple’s DESERT ONE, followed by a Q&A with the Oscar-winning director. The film plays like a political thriller focusing on the 1979 crisis when Iranian militants took Americans hostage at the U.S. embassy, an event that affects relations between the two countries to this day. Further titles in the winter season will be announced in the coming week. Tickets and season passes are now on sale.
LUCID DREAMING: CONVERSATIONS WITH 29 FILMMAKERS
By Pamela Cohn
"LUCID DREAMING is an unprecedented global collection of discussions with documentary and experimental filmmakers, giving film and video its rightful place alongside the written word as an essential medium for conveying the most urgent concerns in contemporary arts and politics. In these long-form conversations, film curator and arts journalist Cohn draws out the thinking of some of the most intriguing creators behind the rapidly developing movement of moving-image nonfiction. The collection features individuals from a variety of backgrounds who encounter the world, as Cohn says, 'through a creative lens based in documentary practice.' Their inspirations encompass queer politics, racism, identity politics, and activism."
Buzzy Films to Check Out at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival Kenneth Turan previewed the festival for The Los Angeles Times: “For 50-plus weeks of the year, Park City, Utah, happily presents itself as the home of the world’s largest ski resort and all that that implies. But for the next 10 days, something bigger comes to town, something so consuming that one luxury hotel felt safe promising potential guests there would be ‘virtually NO ONE on the mountain.’ That would be the Sundance Film Festival, the independent film colossus, which last year attracted 122,000 attendees from 48 states and 35 countries and generated $182.5 million in economic activity, numbers even the massive ski mecca would find hard to match…As to what’s screening at Sundance itself, the news is good. Having had the opportunity to sample a variety of what’s in store, I was struck not only by the continued remarkable strength of the festival’s documentaries but also by the involving adult dramas that are rare elsewhere but plentiful here. Here are the films that made the strongest impression on me…”
Sundance 2020: Docs & Docuseries Are Among the Hottest Buys Chris Lindahl looked at the doc market at Sundance for IndieWire: “‘There’s no shortage of great projects, but there’s been a shortage of studios that want to finance or co-finance them,’ [Bryn] Mooser said. There’s also no shortage of buyers for those projects. For proof, take a look at what Netflix is bringing to the festival. Half of its record eight-film slate is documentaries, including the high-profile Taylor Swift movie MISS AMERICANA. Netflix’s latest acquisition, made last week, was MUCHO MUCHO AMOR, a profile on Puerto Rican astrologer Walter Mercado that counts XTR among its financiers. The price tag on those acquisitions are undisclosed, but the hottest documentaries command huge sums on the open market. In the fall, Apple TV+ paid a reported $25 million for the R.J. Cutler-directed film about musician Billie Eilish, while YouTube last month spent $20 million on a 10-part Justin Bieber series. With the eyes of Hollywood tastemakers and cinephiles alike locked squarely on Park City, Netflix isn’t just tapping into Sundance’s built-in PR machine. It’s sending a clear message about what its subscribers — and by extension, mainstream audiences — want: prestige, filmmaker-driven stories that often invite viewers to take a deeper dive into familiar people and subjects. Call it the nonfiction equivalent of branded IP; there’s plenty of it for sale at the festival. It’s no surprise, then, that many nonfiction titles for sale at Sundance have all rights up for grabs, a necessity for streamers looking to release films to their subscribers across the globe. For mission-driven documentarians who want to spark conversation about social issues, that’s a particularly attractive proposition.”
Sundance Documentary Coverage: A Twitter Thread
As the week progresses, our own Thom Powers is collecting all the documentary reviews and coverage he can find in an ongoing Twitter thread, found here.
Stanley Nelson & Raymonde Provencher to Be Honoured at Hot Docs Festival In a pair of press releases, Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival revealed “that it will pay tribute to award-winning Canadian filmmaker Raymonde Provencher with this year’s Focus On retrospective, an annual program showcasing the work of a significant Canadian filmmaker,” and “that it has chosen multi-award-winning director and producer Stanley Nelson as the recipient of its 2020 Outstanding Achievement Award.” Additionally, the festival announced that “the 2020 Hot Docs Festival will showcase recent works from Northern Ireland in our Made In program.”
All About Crowdfunding Tuesday, February 18, 2020
So you have an idea for a project – you just need the money to put your plan into action. How do you even start? In this deep dive into crowdfunding, you’ll hear from highly popular crowdfunding platforms such as Kickstarter and Seed & Spark, among others, about how their platforms work, how successful projects are funded, and the dos and don’ts of crowdfunding. We’ll discuss different options for crowdfunding platforms, along with case studies and examples from each, and you’ll have the opportunity to ask questions from key players at the organization. In addition, we’ll speak with marketing and budgeting pros to help you build your project once you’ve received your funding. By the end of the day you’ll know which platform is right for you, and best practices on how to raise anything from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand. Go get that money!
Sustaining Your Career as a Filmmaker Thursday, February 20, 2020
Making a living as an independent filmmaker—or any kind of artist—has never been easy, but CraftEd has assembled a group of pros to help you chart out a course for a sustainable career. From learning how to juggle a flexible day job that lets you develop new skills and also get paid; to finding groups that offer professional, funding and creative support; to learning how to market yourself to employers and audiences, this all-day event gives you tools to smooth your path, whether you’re working in film or in another creative art. The day includes a coffee & bagel breakfast, as well as a post-seminar happy hour for networking with presenters and attendees.
Use discount code “CES_MONDAYMEMO” at checkout for 20% off.
The 27 Movies (More or Less) Shot on 35mm in 2019 Yes, as Vadim Rizov confirms at Filmmaker Magazine, some folks do still shoot on film: “Since I’ve already compiled a shot-on-35mm dossier for each previous year’s US theatrical releases five times, it’s not super-surprising that as soon as the internet learned DETECTIVE PIKACHU was shot on 35mm, a number of people eagerly tweeted at me to let me know/make sure it wasn’t missed in this year’s edition. Irony poisoning aside, that turns out to be a surprisingly productive place to begin. The official tally of films shot, in whole or part, on 35mm for calendar year 2019 is 27, the total shot solely on 35mm is 18; PIKACHU intersects with a number of common refrains. One concerns cost-effectiveness: DP John Mathieson explained to the producers ‘that when shooting film on set there’s a particular discipline—you roll sound, roll camera, come up to speed and if something goes wrong you cut—unlike in digital where there’s a tendency to just keep the camera rolling and to do takes again and again […] this results in significant overtime costs for the crew over the course of a production, not to mention the hidden dollar costs spent on transcoding, quality control and back-ups. There’s the pricing argument about film versus digital blown straight out of the water.’”
Why We Look Up: Traveling Space & Time in APOLLO 11 & MINDING THE GAP I missed Angela Woolsey’s inquisitive look at these two films last week at Vague Visages, but felt it deserves your attention: “When I think about APOLLO 11 and MINDING THE GAP, I see a brilliant blue sky. It yawns over Florida at the height of summer on July 16, 1969, drawing the gaze of thousands eager to observe history in the making. The same sky encases Rockford, Illinois, almost half a century later, as four boys careen out of a parking garage and into a street so empty they could be the only people alive. On the surface, the documentaries appear to be in opposition, one a Cold War-era fantasy and the other a decidedly contemporary, sobering reality. Indeed, MINDING THE GAP’s Rockford feels like a product of the space-race-obsessed world captured by APOLLO 11, a representation of the America left behind once promises of prosperity and innovation gave way to extreme income inequality and gutted social safety nets. The generation that put men on the moon valorized a stoic, industrious model of masculinity; their descendants wrestle with a culture that views emotion as weakness and the capacity to endure or inflict violence as strength.”
A Legendary Documentary Maker Closes ‘an Open Wound’ Elisabetta Povoledo covered the Rotterdam debut of Cecilia Mangini's DUE SCATOLE DIMENTICATE for The New York Times: “In December 1965, Cecilia Mangini joined her husband, Lino Del Fra, in North Vietnam to work on a movie about the war. Three months later, the United States-led bombing campaign got so bad that local officials ordered the couple to leave. Determined to continue, they wrote a letter to the president of the communist state, Ho Chi Minh, asking to stay. It is unclear whether he ever saw their plea, but in any case they left, reluctantly. She says the unfinished film remained ‘an open wound’ for them. ‘When I think that we could have made public what we saw,’ she said, rather wistfully, on a recent January morning. That open wound is partially healing because of DUE SCATOLE DIMENTICATE (TWO FORGOTTEN BOXES), a documentary Ms. Mangini co-directed that is being presented at the International Film Festival Rotterdam this weekend. Prompted by the rediscovery of two boxes of negatives in a cupboard in her apartment in Rome, the film intersperses some of the photographs and notes from that trip with more current musings on aging, as Ms. Mangini — widely credited as Italy’s first major female documentary filmmaker — creeps toward her 93rd birthday in July.”
How HONEYLAND Became an Oscar Game Changer Sara Aridi of The New York Times elaborated on why exactly the dual Oscar nomination for HONEYLAND is a game changer: “The Oscar race is in full swing, and all eyes are on the big contenders: JOKER! MARRIAGE STORY! ONCE UPON A TIME...IN HOLLYWOOD! Yet one little-known movie amid the star-studded titles has quietly broken ground. HONEYLAND is the first film to be nominated for best documentary and best international feature (the category formerly known as best foreign-language film). It follows Hatidze Muratova, a middle-aged beekeeper whose peaceful life in the North Macedonian countryside is disrupted when a chaotic family moves in next door. The movie premiered at the Sundance Film Festival last year and came out on top with three awards, including the grand jury prize for documentary in the world cinema showcase. It went on to win accolades at smaller festivals across the globe and is still riding high. It has a 99 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and, in December, The New York Times critic A.O. Scott named it the best movie of 2019.”
Watching the Watchers: How CAMERAPERSON Enriches the Act of Filming So Mayer explores the complex artistry at the heart of Kirsten Johnson’s masterful and moving CAMERAPERSON for Sight & Sound: “‘Look at the baby looking,’ says the midwife in Nigeria as she places the first-born twin into a crib. If Johnson positions herself in relation to professionals whose unwavering gazes offer protection through their investigation of the worst of human behaviour, she also locates herself with the bright-eyed child observing the world cautiously and exuberantly, seeking such protection. There are children everywhere in CAMERAPERSON, and they are not regarded as better seen than heard – even when they are playing with an axe on a family farm in Foca. Johnson’s toddler twins look directly into the camera, and speak to the person behind it, the person they love and depend on. Through them, above all, CAMERAPERSON asserts documentary as a practice – and documentation – of interdependence, of the connections between people, of our need for each other’s care. Johnson’s toddlers are the viewer’s mirror: like the baby in Nigeria, we are learning how to look – and how, before the surveillance state renders it impossible, to speak about what we see, and how we are seen.”
Interview: Bill and Turner Ross Nicolas Rapold of Film Comment spoke with the brothers Ross about their latest film, BLOODY NOSE, EMPTY POCKETS: “When an old bar closes down, something special dies with it—not just a place, but a place to be. The dive in Bill and Turner Ross’s warmly inviting BLOODY NOSE, EMPTY POCKETS, screening in the U.S. Documentary section at the Sundance Film Festival, is one such place, dimly lit, filled with mementos and bric a brac, and, gradually over the course of the film, filling with people and their memories. It’s closing time for good, and regulars amble in for one final night of drinking and camaraderie, soul-baring and screwing around. But how do you capture that story, really? For the Ross brothers, some assembly was required to catch lightning in a bottle, so they gathered disparate drinkers together in a bar whose hominess stands in for any roadside bar on the edges of Las Vegas. And much as a bar takes on a life of its own when the hours inch along and the clock melts away, a sense of life takes shape before our eyes here as well. It’s worth remembering that one milestone in experimental American nonfiction was Lionel Rogosin’s grimly booze-based New York concoction ON THE BOWERY, and the Ross brothers film is rather a sweet dream of a farewell, if at times bittersweet, with old-timers seated alongside younger generations bringing their own baggage.”
DOC NYC ALUMNI
Ofra Bloch's AFTERWARD 2018 DOC NYC International Perspectives
Will have have its VOD release on January 28th.
Shamira Raphaëla & Clarice Gargard's DADDY AND THE WARLORD 2019 DOC NYC Modern Family
Will have its primetime premiere on AfroPoP on February 3rd.
Judith A. Helfand's COOKED: SURVIVAL BY ZIP CODE 2018 DOC NYC Viewfinders
Will have its primetime premiere on Independent Lens on February 3rd.
FEATURED STREAMING DOC SHORT
Directed by Hunter Ray Barker
"She’s an actress, she’s a sex symbol, she’s a superstar, she’s my mother. Sandie 'The Goddess Bunny' Crisp is the last truly glamorous star left in Hollywood. Born in Santa Monica, CA, stricken with polio, the transgender cult diva is a she-devil on six wheels. She’s a ballerina with a perfect pirouette and it wouldn't be hard to find her in a gold lamé dress belting love ballads to garbage men or liquor store clerks. This is my love letter to her. I love you, mom."
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.