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This week it was all about the festivals. Sundance. Slamdance. Rotterdam and beyond. Lots of awards were given out, some festival announcements were revealed, two NYC based film series are about to kick off, and a few more notable remembrances of Jonas Mekas were published. It's quite unusual that there would be no new notable theatrical or streaming releases, though with most film journalists holed up at various major festivals it's completely understandable. If nothing else, it's a week that reminds us that we've all got plenty of documentary goodness to look forward to in the coming months.
-Jordan M. Smith


Pure Nonfiction at IFC Kicks Off Tomorrow
Last week it was revealed that the documentary screening series Stranger Than Fiction was being rebranded as Pure Nonfiction at IFC Center to coincide with Thom Powers's popular podcast of the same name. The series' Winter 2019 season opens tomorrow night with UNITED SKATES, featuring a live Q&A with director Tina Brown and subject Reggie.

The latest episode of the Pure Nonfiction podcast features a conversation between Alexandria Bombach (ON HER SHOULDERS), Rudy Valdez (THE SENTENCE), Bing Liu (MINDING THE GAP), and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi (FREE SOLO), which took place during a panel titled “Getting Personal” recorded live at the 2018 DOC NYC festival.

Film Comment Selects Begins on Wednesday
In early January the Film Society of Lincoln Center announced the lineup for the 19th edition of Film Comment magazine’s annual festival, Film Comment Selects, which runs February 6-10. According to the press release, "Standout documentaries of the festival include LOS REYES, Bettina Perut and Iván Osnovikoff’s portrait of the resident stray dogs of Chile’s first skate park; Yang Zhang’s UP THE MOUNTAIN, a moving, funny, and increasingly surprising picture of shifting generations and deep rural roots and traditions; the U.S. premiere of THE HIDDEN CITY, featuring mesmerizing subterranean imagery from the tunnels of Madrid; and Beata Bubenec’s FLIGHT OF A BULLET, a gripping window into the Russian-Ukraine conflict shot in one harrowing take."


2019 Sundance Film Festival Award Winners
On Saturday evening the 2019 Sundance Film Festival award ceremony took place with host Marianna Palka emceeing and jurors presenting 28 prizes for feature filmmaking. "Of the 28 prizes awarded tonight to 23 films – comprising the work of 27 filmmakers – 13 (56.5%) were directed by one or more women; eight (34.8%) were directed by one or more people of color; and one (4.3%) was directed by a person who identifies as LGBTQI+," noted the festival's press release. The complete list of award winners can be found here.
  • U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Documentary
    • ONE CHILD NATION directed by Nanfu Wang & Jialing Zhang
  • World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Documentary
    • HONEYLAND directed by Ljubomir Stefanov, Tamara Kotevska
  • Audience Award: U.S. Documentary
    • KNOCK DOWN THE HOUSE directed by Rachel Lears
  • Audience Award: World Cinema Documentary
    • SEA OF SHADOWS directed by Richard Ladkani
While the Sundance awards are always a big draw for those unable to be in Park City during the fest, they may also signal what films to look for during next year's award season, as noted by Kyle Buchanan in The New York Times and Anne Thompson at IndieWire, who both took shots in the dark on who might be up for Oscars next year. That brings up the question of how the general public might see these films and what docs were acquired for distribution thus far. At Variety, Brent Lang and Matt Donnelly reported the good news, "It was a return to the free-spending days of a couple of years ago...This year distributors rushed to find the next documentary breakout, showing a particular appetite for stories centering on outsized personalities or iconoclasts." If the reports coming in from the various guest critics on the Film Comment Podcast are to be believed, it sounds as though doc fans have much to look forward to in the coming year.
2019 Slamdance Film Festival Award Winners
In a much more low-key affair, "Awards were handed out Thursday at the 25th annual Slamdance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, with nine films earning honors in the jury, audience and sponsored categories." The complete list of award winners can be found here.
  • Documentary Feature Grand Jury Prize
    • KIFARU directed by David Hambridge
  • Audience Award for Documentary Feature
    • KIFARU directed by David Hambridge
  • Documentary Short Grand Jury Prize
    • TUNGRUS directed by Rishi Chandna
2019 International Film Festival Rotterdam Award Winners
Meditating on this year's International Film Festival Rotterdam award winners, festival director Bero Beyer declared, "These filmmakers don’t just show that independent cinema is alive and kicking, but that they are able to explore new cinematic grounds. We thank them for their courage and passion.” The festival's top prize, the Tiger Award, went to Zhu Shengze's PRESENT.PERFECT., "a collective portrait of a generation for whom the online and offline worlds are tightly interwoven." Meanwhile, Daniel Kasman had a pair reports on a handful of documentaries found at the festival over at MUBI's Notebook, including Federico Atehortúa Arteaga's MUTE FIRE and Peter Schreiner's GARDEN. The complete list of award winners can be found here.
  • Tiger Award for Best Film
    • PRESENT.PERFECT. directed by Zhu Shengze
  • NETPAC Award for Best Asian Film
    • LAST NIGHT I SAW YOU SMILING directed by Kavich Neang
  • Found Footage Award
    • KODAK directed by Andrew Norman Wilson
  • VPRO Big Screen Award
    • TRANSNISTRA directed by Anna Eborn
Big Sky's DocShop 2019 Panelists & Presenters
DocShop, Big Sky Documentary Film Festival's five-day filmmaker's forum and industry conference that takes place every year during the festival, revealed it's 2019 panelists and presenters. Of the many of those announced, highlights include Liz Cook of Kickstarter, Garineh Nazarian of FilmRise, Gail Gendler of Fandor, Emily Buder of The Atlantic, and Andrew Blackwell of Op-Docs at The New York Times. Focusing on Documentary Filmmaking in the Age of Information, "DocShop 2019 takes place February 18-22 and will explore progressive methods of contemporary storytelling, platforms for reaching audiences amidst fierce competition, the prolific world of online streaming and the ever-merging fields of documentary film and journalism."

True/False Film Festival's True Life Fund & Neither/Nor Selections
Each year the True/False Film Festival selects a film for its True Life Fund, "a philanthropic effort that raises money and awareness for the subjects of a new nonfiction film each year. The True Life Fund allows us, as viewers, to respond to the stories we see on-screen and create change by offering tangible assistance to the real-life subjects of a new nonfiction film." This year's selection has been revealed to be MIDNIGHT TRAVELER, "an improbable and moving account of a family searching for home. Filmmaker Hassan Fazili; his wife, Fatima; and their daughters, Nargis and Zahra, flee Afghanistan after the Taliban places a bounty on Hassan’s head. Frustrated at every turn by inhospitable and heartbreaking instances of a bordered world, Fazili’s filming is an assertion of his humanity and artistry amidst aching uncertainty. It is a first-person film of joy, frustration, and courage." Additionally, this year's Neither/Nor program "returns with a spotlight on Finnish filmmaker Pirjo Honkasalo and her Trilogy of the Sacred and the Satanic. This year, the series is overseen by writer-programmer Pamela Cohn."

Hot Docs CrossCurrents Doc Funds Distributed
In a quintet of press releases, Hot Docs announced the first ever recipients of its brand new CrossCurrents Doc Funds program. Mina Keshavarz's THE ART OF LIVING IN DANGER received $30,000 for the 2019 Theatrical Stream, Tamana Ayazi and Ali Atif's JEWEL OF PAMIR recieved $10,000 for the 2019 Interative/Short Stream, while the Canada Doc Fund award $160,000 to six other projects for production and development. At the same time it was revealed that four additional 2018 projects would receive a total of $45,000 in funds from the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Fund and eight African film projects had been selected to receive a total of $115,000 in development and production grants from the Hot Docs-Blue Ice Group Documentary Fund.

Berlinale Glashütte Original – Documentary Award Jury & Camera Award
Back in 2017, the Berlin International Film Festival introduced the Glashütte Original – Documentary Award, endowed with a €50,000 prize. This year's jury for the prize has been revealed to be Maria Bonsanti, Gregory Nava, and Maria Ramos. Additionally, it was announced that Agnès Varda would be one of four recipients of the Berlinale Camera, which the festival presents "to film personalities or institutions to which it feels particularly indebted and wishes to express its thanks."


2018 DOC NYC Viewfinders Competition Grand Jury Prize Winner
"See the world through the eyes of five-year-old Tibetan novice monk Hopakuli and share in his joys and sorrows as he endures the rigors of monastic life. A Little Wisdom endeavors to tell a story of children who find happiness through a simple life and the power of imagination."
Now available to stream via iTunes and Amazon Prime.
SILK CITY BOMB SQUAD Directed by Steven Mastorelli
A profile of The Bomb Squad, a freestyle bike crew from Paterson, NJ. Inspired by Nolan Price's photo book "Boots + the Bomb Squad".
BENEATH THE INK Directed by Cy Dodson
In Zanesville, Ohio, tattoo artist Billy Joe White has offered to cover up swastikas, Nazi images, and other hate-filled ink for free. And he's been very busy.


Crowdfunding has become an integral means of raising capital for documentary filmmakers around the globe. Each week we will feature an interesting new project that needs your help to cross that critical crowdfunding finish line.

This week's project:

Directed By
Sam Romero

Funding Goal: $15,000
As always, if you have any tips or recommendations for next week's Memo, please contact me via email here or on Twitter at @Rectangular_Eye.
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