Good Monday morning to you, with summer winding down and the fall festivals seeming to be nearly upon us, but in the documentary feature world, August means Oscar qualifying...
Like lots of other folks with films set to debut later this year (or even later), HBO moved to qualify its forthcoming Obama documentary BY THE PEOPLE: THE ELECTION OF BARACK OBAMA by screening it theatrically in New York and Los Angeles. And while the pay network took some lumps last year for hiding its theatrical run of ROMAN POLANSKI: WANTED AND DESIRED, this year's qualifying took place in the sunshine, or at the Sunshine, to be exact.
Opening Friday and screening through this week, BY THE PEOPLE is playing at New York's Sunshine Cinema in SoHo and at LA's Laemmle Sunset 5, and while it's pretty clear that HBO didn't go to a lot of effort to screen the film for critics (note the lack of reviews at Rotten Tomatoes), they aren't screening the film in Pasadena or on W. 181 Street either (God bless, you know I do love Pasadena, so no offense). So mazel tov.
The limited response thus far from those who have written about the film seems positive, if not glowing. The Chicago Tribune's political writer Lynn Sweet writes that the film is "an important historical document" because of the exclusive access that filmmakers Amy Rice and Alicia Sands had to the campaign, and argues that we shouldn't expect a film like DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus' classic THE WAR ROOM, writing, "THE WAR ROOM didn't have Clinton".
This week also marks week 2 of the IDA's DocuWeeks Oscar qualification explosion. Now playing at the Arclight in Los Angeles: KIMJONGILIA, ROCK PROPHECIES, SEVERE CLEAR, SOUNDTRACK FOR A REVOLUTION, SPLIT ESTATE and TAPPED. At the IFC Center in NYC: DIRT! THE MOVIE, MUGABE AND THE WHITE AFRICAN, SMILE 'TIL IT HURTS: THE UP WITH PEOPLE STORY, SOUNDTRACK FOR A REVOLUTION, SPLIT ESTATE, SUNRISE/SUNSET: DALAI LAMA XIV and a shorts program.
MUGABE AND THE WHITE AFRICAN took the International Feature prize at this year's Silverdocs.
Meanwhile, the Oscar talk continues to swirl around Roadside Attractions' THE COVE. Last month, Oscar watcher Sasha Stone argued that THE COVE - along with Michael Moore's forthcoming CAPITALISM: A LOVE STORY - had a shot at a Best Picture nomination, now that the Academy's being so sweet about expanding the list of nominees to 10 films. We followed up on Stone's report here.
Now, Oscar blogger Kris Tapley jumps on the bandwagon. He argues that naming THE COVE as the first nonfiction Best Picture nominee "represents a real opportunity for AMPAS":
For what it's worth, Tapley hasn't yet moved THE COVE into his Best Picture prediction chart, but he did make room for Moore's CAPITALISM.
Oscar talk or no, THE COVE may not have the power to muscle past $2M at the box office. The film just expanded to 56 theaters and averaged a just fine $2,821 per. For comparison, FOOD INC's second week expansion to 51 theaters netted more than double - $5,651. And MAN ON WIRE's third week expansion to 59 theaters averaged $4,645. THE COVE's numbers are comparable to what Sony's EVERY LITTLE STEP did in its 6th weekend, when it averaged just under $2,700 on 59 screens. The film's total cume is now $240,000.
Despite all the attempts to set the stage for Oscar, the most blogged about documentary of the past week seems to be a film that hasn't been seen by anyone and doesn't have a definitive release date.
DON'T YOU FORGET ABOUT ME, a documentary by four filmmakers out to find out whatever happened to filmmaker John Hughes (and would anyone still care), was thrust into the spotlight after Hughes' death. Not for nothing, the team released the film's trailer the day after Hughes died and made sure to tag their post announcing Hughes death: JOHN HUGHES RIP DEAD HEART ATTACK. I guess we should admire their promotional chops if not their tact - after all, someone had to fill the void, why shouldn't it be them (at least until Hughes' emotional pen pal burst on the scene), although it's probably best not to be grinning like crazy when discussing Hughes' death on CNN.com.
Setting aside some stumbles after finding their subject unexpectedly - and sadly - in the news, the filmmakers now face an issue that we've been discussing a lot this summer: what do you do when the story changes? You make a film a search for a reclusive filmmaker who happens to die. All of your interviews are with people talking about your subject in the present tense. What do you do?
The filmmakers may have given a clue with a post on their film's blog Friday:
Stuff we missed last week: Film Independent announced that the 25th edition of the Spirit Awards will take place Friday night instead of Saturday afternoon - and that the move will mean that the 2010 Spirits will not be held in a tent on the beach in Santa Monica. The event will be broadcast in Prime Time (8 PM Pacific, 11 PM Eastern) on IFC:
Finally, what we're pondering: It's never a good thing for a film festival to have year-after-year-after-year personnel changes, so it's not without some head scratching that we're left to ponder the fate of the venerable Full Frame Film Festival, which ousted founder Nancy Buirski in 2007, saw longtime programmer Phoebe Brush depart in 2008 and has just announced a search for a new Executive Director, taking over for Peg Palmer, who took over for Buirski.
It's been an unusual time for the festival that was once assumed to be the greatest doc fest in all the land. Past festivals were seen by many as lackluster. Then, this year, Full Frame took the unusual step of publicizing the loss of longtime sponsor The New York Times just prior to this year's festival (a bid that some thought an effort to lower expectations). That said, reports from Durham this year from filmmakers and attendees were more positive than in years past, leading some to hope that a resurgance was in the offing.
Of course, it takes more than an ED to make a successful festival. It takes great programming, great audiences, supportive sponsors and a careful desire not to rest on one's laurels. Full Frame seemed to get caught flat footed by the competition from upstart festivals in Silver Spring and Columbia, MO, as well as the continued excellence of the team at Hot Docs. But most of all, one wonders if Full Frame, unique amongst the major fests for its programming-by-committee, will allow its new ED to put his or her stamp on the festival and make it their own. Until someone takes Full Frame by the horns and declares their vision for the fest, it will be difficult for Full Frame to recapture its past glory.