Tuesday, November 14, 2017

IDA Emerging Documentary Filmmaker Award: From Gatekeeper to Storyteller--Yance Ford on 'Strong Island,' and a Decade at 'POV'

Strong Island is Yance Ford's cinematic nonfiction exploration of racial injustice in the Long Island suburbs, told through the murder of the filmmaker's 24-year-old brother at the hands of a 19-year-old white mechanic 25 years ago. Nabbing the Special Jury Award for Storytelling at Sundance this past January, the film is as unconventionally riveting as it is emotionally searing. It's also been long in the making, having been on the indie film radar for over half a decade (or at least since Ford made Filmmaker magazine’s annual "25 New Faces of Independent Film" back in 2011).

Nonetheless, after entirely scrapping the first version of his film and returning to the editorial drawing board (in Copenhagen, guided by the folks at Final Cut for Real, rendering the doc a Danish co-production), Ford is now the rightful recipient of the IDA Emerging Documentary Filmmaker Award.

To read the rest visit Documentary magazine.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

“A Horror Film in Slow Motion”: Greg Barker on His DOC NYC Opener The Final Year

Opening this edition’s DOC NYC on November 9th is Greg Barker’s The Final Year, a truly up-close-and-personal, behind-the-scenes look at the Obama administration and its foreign policy team during its last 12 months. To say that Barker gained unprecedented access to the president’s men (and one woman) during that period is an understatement. The veteran documentarian (Homegrown: The Counter-Terror Dilemma, Manhunt: The Inside Story of the Hunt for Bin Laden, etc.) managed to shadow three heavyweight insiders — Secretary of State John Kerry, Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, and “Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications and Speechwriting” Ben Rhodes — across multiple time zones and deep inside White House offices (one literally bugged — the sight of a dead cockroach actually disrupts a strategy meeting). And all before the trio had any inkling of the biggest unconventional threat to come.

To read my interview visit Filmmaker magazine.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Monday, November 6, 2017

Y’allywood Babylon: The 20th Savannah Film Festival’s Docs to Watch Roundtable

This year’s 20th anniversary edition of the SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design) Savannah Film Festival, which lays claim to being the largest university-run film fest in the world, continued its two-decades-long tradition of mixing Hollywood wattage with downhome southern hospitality. Once again the fest honored an eclectic mix of celebrity guests of all ages (elder statesmen and women included Richard Gere, Sir Patrick Stewart, Aaron Sorkin, Salma Hayek Pinault, Holly Hunter, and Kyra Sedgwick, while the “youngsters” featured the likes of John Boyega, Zoey Deutch, Robert Pattinson, Andrea Riseborough, and Willow Shields). The festival also played host to a number of buzzy independent filmmakers, such as Sean Baker and Chris Bergoch, who were on hand to present a discussion titled “Scribble to Screen: The Florida Project” prior to their film’s screening later that night.

To read all about the dazzle and the docs visit Filmmaker magazine.

Friday, November 3, 2017

'FU'! Jay Rosenblatt and Ellen Bruno on their Omnibus (Trump-inspired) Project 'Filmmakers Unite'

Merely a week after 9/11, San Franciscans Jay Rosenblatt and Caveh Zahedi teamed up to address the national crisis, putting out a call to 150 of their fellow filmmakers to create short films or videos as a response to the mainstream media coverage. The result, Underground Zero, a feature-length omnibus consisting of 11 short works, went on to play on both HBO and the Sundance Channel (and with the participating filmmakers receiving an honorarium, along with $10K of the proceeds going to charity).

Now, over a decade and a half later, a new national crisis has emerged in the form of "a real threat to our democracy, to freedom of speech, and to civil rights," as Rosenblatt and collaborator Ellen Bruno put it in their recent call to (filmmaking) action. Reaching out to over 200 media-makers, the duo selected 13 shorts from more than 50 submissions to create Filmmakers Unite, a project that "documents diverse thoughts and feelings about the current state of our union," as they explained in their description of the project.

To read all about it visit Documentary magazine.

Thursday, October 26, 2017


Sissy Spacek still radiates youth and innocence when she enters a room.

In May, Spacek’s Bloodline, a well-received Netflix drama, wrapped up after three seasons. She’s now filming Castle Rock, Hulu’s ten-episode series based on the characters of Stephen King.

I met Spacek at last year’s Florida Film Festival, which she’d attended on the occasion of a screening of Badlands. Spacek reflected on working with “real” artists from Malick to Lynch to Altman, and also looked back on the one long learning experience that’s been her career.

To read my (long-awaited) interview visit The Rumpus.

Grappling with Qualms over A Gray State Before Moderating a Festival Q&A

As a film critic who also serves as a festival programmer I sometimes find myself in awkward positions. Such was the case recently at the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival in October, where A Gray State screened, along with the film’s director Erik Nelson and its executive producer Werner Herzog in attendance. Though I’d seen the film on screener, I didn’t have a strong opinion about it one way or another (and as I was only helping out with the international features this year my indifference didn’t much matter).

Of course, asked to moderate the post-screening Q&A I jumped at the chance. What cinephile passes up the opportunity to probe the mind of Herzog? (Albeit in a very public setting, and with the fest’s honorary chair, Kathleen Turner, sitting in the front row. Things tend to get a bit surreal in Hot Springs.)

To read the rest visit Filmmaker magazine.