We'll close 2008 with a look back on 15 of our favorite posts from the home team. It's been a very exciting year as far as things go with this little corner of the web. We've more than doubled our traffic from 2007 - and, of particular resonance to me, during those stretches when we were off making a new film, our readers seemed to return as soon as regular posting picked up again. That's no small thing.
Further, we've been constantly touched by the kind words of both colleagues and strangers during this year. If one can claim a goal to these writings - beyond a personal desire to promote a vision of theatrical nonfiction as a viable and growing art form - it's that I hope that we provoke conversation. And we hope that in some small way we present thoughts and ideas that are compelling, interesting, challenging, crazy or comforting.
We'll be back up and at it soon in the new year, with a look back at our favorite films, the most important issues and developments in nonfiction as well as our coverage of the Cinema Eye Honors Shortlist, due to be announced next week. Then we will be off and running at Sundance.
But first, a look back at what we did here, this year:
"Where once this debate was seemingly contained between the two dominant schools of nonfiction in the mid-1900s – direct cinema (where invisibility is the goal and the ideal) and cinema verite (which implicitly recognizes that the camera’s very presence alters the reality), over the past few years we have seen a Nonfiction New Wave that rejects dogmatic strictures of form and that is, ironically, a return to the genre’s roots.
This Nonfiction New Wave not only embraces every kind of stylistic tool (and is especially fond of animation and graphic design), it also seems not to fear that space between truth and fiction, between documentary and narrative. And it was on full display at this week’s Sundance Film Festival, which, over the past several years (as seen in 2007's MANDA BALA (SEND A BULLET), ZOO and CHICAGO 10, among others) has been a leading proponent of the movement."
"This information is conveyed through a variety of highly stylized interviews and recreations of Dalia's meeting and courtship. These recreations reach a fever pitch when the film introduces a singer/songwriter who has composed a maudlin ballad lionizing Dalia's story and the courtship between Dalia and her Christian beau is seen in music video form. Even as someone who is a strong proponent of stylization and construction, it felt like the movie was going off the rails - and we're only 20 minutes in.
But to Broinowski's deep credit, this sense of spinning out of control is all part of the plan, because it turns out that Khouri may have made the whole story up. It may be that Khouri is one of the greatest - or most desperate - con women alive. And for the next hour plus, Broinowski pulls back layer after layer of one of the most intriguing and fascinating films I've seen in some time. Who is telling the truth? Who is lying? What part of the filmmaking is completely fabricated? Is the backdrop behind Khouri even real? Broinowski weaves a technically brilliant storyline that includes her own deft and pinpoint interview skills."
"Look, God bless HBO. They've been pushing documentary as much or more than anyone for decades. And Lord knows that Sheila Nevins should have been invited into the Academy years ago. I give them that and a bag a chips...
What they won't do is give the film a real theatrical opening. Put the movie at the Film Forum or the IFC - two venues that would likely take the film in a second - and let it get reviewed and be seen by paying audiences on a big screen? Nope, not interested. Even though a film about Polanski that was a hit in Park City might actually be a big draw in Manhattan (not to mention doc-phobic LA)? Still not interested and please go fuck yourself."
"Perhaps had I not seen the two films practically back to back, the comparisons would not be so startling. But seeing two women in AXE apply for FEMA assistance followed by a similar scene in TROUBLE, one could not help but be struck by the more complex and profound truths in AXE. For me, this was a thread that carried throughout the films, with Pincus and Small's wearing its discomforts, sometimes awkwardly, for all to see, while TROUBLE rested on its strong heroine, a woman whose personal journey seemed surprisingly static, given the circumstances. One couldn't help but wonder what lay just beneath the surface of the performer at the center of TROUBLE. Might not Roberts have more turmoil beneath her mask than she lets on for the camera? And if so, why aren't we seeing it?"
"But when Celia starts pushing to use footage from David's unfinished BLUE YONDER as well as outtakes from the Maysles Films archives, Albert resists, saying that he's working on his own autobiographical film and wants to save the footage for that project. This leads Celia into a spiral of emotion, a swirl of self-shot therapy sessions, scenes from the mental home that she checked herself into as a teenager, and confrontational meetings and phone calls with Albert. It all climaxes with a tearful, screaming phone rant wherein she bellows to her uncle, 'What better context is there than a daughter's search for her father?'
That question betrays the fact that Celia, who perhaps one day will come into her own as an artist, is on shaky ground both legally and as a filmmaker. Although much is made about that fact that Judy Maysles "meant" to retain the rights to BLUE YONDER from her settlement with Albert, the fact is that she didn't. So Celia hopes the audience will ignore the legal standing and side with her on moral grounds, but one would be hard pressed to think of any kind of business situation where a child would have the rights that Celia presupposes."
"I too am highly skeptical of this "Pennebaker" fellow - if that is his real name. Who is he anyway? Some kid who just started posting stuff on Current? Good thing he somehow hitched his star to James Carville, cause that's where the serious documentary money is."
Three posts from May 14, 2008 on the crumbling of THINKFilm:
Big Trouble in Indie Land: Is THINKFilm On the Ropes?
BREAKING: THINKFilm's Financial Troubles Date Back to Last Fall, A Flood of Lawsuits Coming
David Poland on the Trouble with Trouble
"If I invite someone over to my house, I feel like it's my responsibility to feed them, give them something to drink and tell them where everything is. It's what we like to call "being a good host". If while that person is at my house I ask them to do something to make my house better - painting, fixing, setting up my edit system - then it's also my responsibility to compensate them in some way.
Funny then how so many film festivals have lost sight of their host function, gearing up with the expectation that their guests bear some of their costs of living.
I don't have much sympathy in this regard. There are already too many festivals. No one is forcing you to create a cinema event in your town. But if you're going to do it, then I feel your most basic responsibility is to be a good host."
"Although Horn gets Steve Gilula, the COO of Fox Searchlight, to go on record saying that the distributor was disappointed given the acquisition deal (which Horn pegs at 1.5 million) and marketing costs, he closes with much seriousness on a capper from Gilula that is laughable to anyone who knows the history of Fox Searchlight's dabbling in doc features:
Yes, that's right kids, the company that hadn't bought a doc in more than a decade (Horn erroneously calls YOUNG@HEART Searchlight's first doc pickup) is officially now "very cautious" about acquiring nonfiction. Someone alert the media."
Things We Learned From a Summer of Filmmaking
September 1, 2008
"Ask me how I am and I’ll likely tell you that I’m exhausted.
But that rings incomplete at the moment. Inappropriately nondescriptive.
Truth is I’m full up of emotion and experience.
Yes, my muscles ache, my sense of direction is off, my body crying for sleep despite coffee with two added shots of espresso. But just past that is someone trying to make sense of what he has seen and lived and filmed over the past three months."
"We had the right to protest Raddon's contribution. We have the right to make our feelings known in Park City in January. We have the right to protest the temples and churches that funded and campaigned for Prop 8.
But when a film festival becomes the battleground for our political, religious and social disagreements -- when film festival offices become places not of engaged debate but of enforced agreement -- something is lost. Lost for artists who require a laboratory for their most outrageous ideas, for audiences who seek out viewpoints that differ from their own, for a culture that is far too enclosed in the me-too-ism of talk radio, political blogs and cable news.
A film festival should be a place where we can engage, disagree, argue, fall in love, be frustrated and experience art from a variety of voices, diverse by nature of their race, their religion, their sexual orientation, their region, their nationality, their socio-economic status, their gender."
Manohla, Manohla, Manohla
December 15, 2008
"Now, I've got plenty of issues (as do others) with the state of film criticism related to documentaries, and Dargis is no exception. She's more than once given head scratching praise to films that I consider to be exceptionally by the numbers or even off-the-rails mistaken - and she seems far more supportive of experimentation and form-busting in narrative than she is for nonfiction, which strikes those of us 'round here as mighty old fashioned.
But when you create art - and if you haven't figured it out by now I do think that nonfiction films are (or at least can be) art - are you really supposed to be seeking the 100% fresh tomato rating? You want to create discussion, debate, passion. And sure, occasionally it's great if most (if not quite all) look upon what you've done and pat you on the back and give you laurels and awards and a bevy of praise...
In an age when film critics are underpaid, being bought out, termed out and forced out, I say let's raise a glass for the good writers who love movies, whether we agree or disagree with their judgments. The democratization of film writing has reduced the power that critics once held - which is likely one of the key reasons (along with newspaper cutbacks) for the perilous state of film criticism. But the ability of so many voices - whether in the NY Times or on our humble blog - to join the conversation encourages us to engage, to expand, confront and continue the conversation for any film that's worth a damn."
For Your Consideration: MAN ON WIRE for Best Picture
December 30, 2008
"There are those who are ideologically pure on this topic. They don't feel that any animated, foreign language or documentary films should be up for Best Picture. That's why we have those categories, they remind. Yet, most don't hold such stringent views and argue that we should be honoring the best films, irregardless of country or live action/animation. However, even these folks haven't been pitching for MAN ON WIRE, or frankly, even discussing it. Did it just not occur to them? Is there any special reason that we are only to consider documentaries that are egregiously shunned by the Academy or those that gross over $100 million?"
Happy New Year, everyone. See you in 2009.