After a week filled with all kinds of documentary developments, we're now settling into a week that's slightly less packed. Today, the Sundance short films are announced and on Sunday, the Los Angeles Film Critics are scheduled to announce their 2009 winners.
Already the DC Film Critics jumped to the front of the line last night by announcing FOOD, INC. as their winner (it had earlier been revealed as one of five nominees along with ANVIL!, THE COVE, CAPITALISM: A LOVE STORY and GOOD HAIR.
Another winner yesterday? Oscar shortlister MUGABE AND THE WHITE AFRICAN, which won the Best Documentary award at the British Independent Film Awards.
If you haven't been paying attention this week, you missed a humdinger, what with Sundance announcements, Gotham & IDA winners, Spirit nominations and the like. If you missed any of it, here's a recap:
We unveiled The Horse Race and examine FOOD, INC.'s Oscar chances in light of a big week ahead, just before...
...FOOD, INC. wins the Gotham for Best Documentary and...
...is nominated for a Spirit Award in the same category, giving it the rare pre-Oscar sweep of major doc award nominations. Others up for Best Feature include probable spoiler ANVIL!, MORE THAN A GAME, OCTOBER COUNTRY and WHICH WAY HOME.
The IDA unveils seven of its winners four days before the Friday ceremony which ultimately crowns ANVIL! as its Best Documentary Feature. The love at the IDAs and probable love at the Spirits makes us wonder if we shouldn't reconsider ANVIL's very remote Best Picture chances.
In the midst of all this, THE COVE gets some love from the National Board of Review.
And finally, two leading Cinema Eye nominees - BIG RIVER MAN and LOOT - open at the IFC Center in NYC and a couple of cranky conservatives try to exact some kind of revenge on Al Gore and AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH and the LA Times bungles the story.
The Sundance announcements always bring mixed emotions - the excitement of a whetted appetite for what's coming next year and the knowledge that literally thousands of filmmakers were disappointed not to hear Park City's clarion call.
Filmmaker Magazine's Scott Macauley addresses those who received the form emails:
"The first thing: for a few days, forget about it. Don’t think about your film. This weekend go out to a concert, or a museum, or a park. Watch football. Probably don’t go to the movies. If you were obsessively refreshing this site or Indiewire all week to see the Sundance list, take a break from not only your film but film itself.
Next week dive back into it. And as you do so, recognize the one thing you now have that all those Sundance filmmakers don't: time. Time to take a second look at the film, screen it, refine it, finesse, or perhaps just find the right post-production vendor. Time to fine tune the DIY marketing and distribution plan that you really wouldn’t have been able to pull together by mid-January."
indieWIRE's Eugene Hernandez re-runs his letter from one year ago to those who got in and to those who didn't. We'll have our own festival guidance here shortly.
One of the items we missed in our travels last month was the assertion, just after the Oscar shortlist was announced, by James Toback that something untoward had occurred during the Oscar campaign of his film, TYSON and the culprit was someone or someones at the Academy Documentary branch. Sayeth Toback to the NY Times' Michael Cieply:
"Reached by phone on Thursday, Mr. Toback suggested, without giving details, that an irregularity in the process had contributed to what he saw as a snub.
At a time when the validity of even presidential elections is questioned, Mr. Toback said, “how is some tiny, dirty covert weirdly protective little group within the Academy going to be immune?”
Pressed for details, Mr. Toback said only that he had experienced something connected with the selections process, “which I put fully in the category of extortion that I did not go along with.”
Mr. Toback added that he was “furious” at himself for “having chosen to be passive and quiet in the face of that extortion.”"
WTF? Extortion? Tiny, dirty covert wierdly protective?
First off, you gotta imagine there's one hell of a follow-up question from Cieply, right? I mean, it's not like he's just gonna run Toback's claim of extortion without some kind of evidence or explanation, is he?
While Cieply does take the time to check in with Doc Branch chair Rob Epstein (who basically responds, this is the first I'm hearing about it and, also, WTF?), he never gets anything more out of Toback. I guess that's what "without giving details" is supposed to mean. But if Toback isn't prepared to give details, does the story have any place at the NY Times? Particularly with the screaming headline "Oscar Short List of Documentaries Draws Controversy"?
Other stuff: Movieline checks in with Oscilloscope's Adam Yauch and unveils the company's new Circle of Trust DVD club (10 discs for $150 with an option to buy the back catalog at half price). Oscilloscope may have its first Oscar nominees this year in BURMA VJ and narrative film, THE MESSENGER.
Thom Powers posts a distribution case study with HELVETICA and OBJECTIFIED director Gary Hustwit that details the director's amazing successful DIY strategy:
"He broke down the economics of an average screening in the southwest: rent a theater for $800, spend $1000 on travel; and $200 on entertainment. Total costs: $2000. In this case, he sold out 350 seats priced between $15-20; and made an additional $600 from poster sales. Total gross: around $5600. In cities where the theater rental was more, he’d price tickets higher; seek more seat inventory; or offer two shows. Traditionally, advertising is a high expenditure for distributors. In this example, Hustwit spent no money on ads. All the marketing was based on email blasts and partnerships with local organizations. For HELVETICA, Hustwit personally appeared at over 100 screenings; for OBJECTIFIED, he had a less demanding itinerary of 50 stops."
Finally, we wandered over to our pal Agnes Varnum's blog (we admit it had been awhile since Agnes hadn't been posting much recently) and found that the following had been posted in the comments section in mid-October:
"I don’t have anything to write about documentary and I’m not sure that the other stuff going on in my life at the moment is blog worthy, or whether I even want to write about what I’m up to these days...
My blogging life has given me so much. I’ve gotten to travel and meet interesting people... I’ve gotten to see films that bear witness to the real things that are happening all over our globe, and I’ve gotten to talk with people who have brought those stories back. Those of us who have made a career in documentary really are witnesses to the world. I have always taken that very seriously and I take work seriously and I’m worried that I’m missing out on other aspects of life. I don’t blame documentary for anything bad in my life, but perhaps such a singular focus is not a healthy thing. My work at the Austin Film Society doesn’t require this blog, it requires me to blog about their stuff and Austin stuff. While I’m thinking of posts for this blog, it takes away from my energy to do it at work, as I’m now devoting much more time to non-digital activities.
I can’t say that this will last forever or that I won’t want to blog again. But I can only do it when I’m self-motivated, so, if I have the urge to chitty chat, it probably be over at AFS or on Facebook and Twitter is where you are more likely to find me."
Agnes was one of the folks who really inspired me as this blog started to get rolling four years ago and while I totally understand her desire to focus on her "real life", I'm sad that the rich "digital life" she created, particularly in our documentary space seems to be coming to a close.
You can follow me on twitter at www.twitter.com/ajschnack. I'll be tweeting regularly this awards season on critics and guild prizes as well as posting random nonsense.