Holy cow, it's February already? That means we are 1/120 of the way through the twenty-teens.
More the the point, with the wrap of Sundance yesterday, we now have a sense of where the year is heading and some of the films we'll still be talking about next year at this time. Think about it, by this point last year we already had our first looks at Oscar shortlisters THE COVE, FOOD INC., THE BEACHES OF AGNÈS, BURMA VJ, VALENTINO and EVERY LITTLE STEP (the above a mix of Sundance and Toronto '08 titles). Which films from this year's Sundance will we be still talking about in early 2011?
A word of caution to folks celebrating RESTREPO's grand jury win at Sundance - only 3 films in the past decade won the Sundance Documentary Grand Jury Prize and went on to be nominated for an Oscar. Can you name them? (answer a little later in our broadcast)
If you were hearing the buzz out of IDFA (and from certain quarters it was deafening), one can't help but be surprised that Lixin Fan's LAST TRAIN HOME failed to pick up a single award in the World Cinema Documentary competition. The jury for that strand (which included filmmaker Jennifer Baichwal, PBS correspondent Jeffrey Brown and Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival director Asako Fujioka) seemed to value films that made them laugh - aside from editing winner A FILM UNFINISHED and special jury prize recipient ENEMIES OF THE PEOPLE), they heaped prizes on three films (THE RED CHAPEL, HIS & HERS and SPACE TOURISTS) that were notable for their use of humor.
We've wrapped up the early critical response to all of last night jury winners. Here's a recap:
Grand Jury Prize
Directed by Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington
Special Jury Prize
Directed by Josh Fox
SMASH HIS CAMERA
Directed by Leon Gast
Cinematographers: Laura Poitras and Kirsten Johnson
JOAN RIVERS: A PIECE OF WORK
Editor: Penelope Falk
WAITING FOR SUPERMAN
Directed by Davis Guggenheim
World Cinema Documentary
Grand Jury Prize
THE RED CHAPEL
Directed by Mads Brügger
Special Jury Prize
ENEMIES OF THE PEOPLE
Directed by Rob Lemkin and Thet Sambath
Directed by Christian Frei
HIS & HERS
Cinematographers: Kate McCullough and Michael Lavelle
A FILM UNFINISHED
Editor: Joëlle Alexis
Directed by Lucy Walker
Nearly simultaneously on Saturday night (although lasting til midnight in Los Angeles) the DGA Award ceremonies were underway, where Louie Psihoyos and THE COVE won yet again, continuing what seems like an unbroken march to Oscar glory next month.
One caveat though and it's a big one. While much is made about the fact that the DGA winner is almost always the Oscar winner for Best Director (go Bigelow), the DGA couldn't be a worse predictor of the Documentary Feature Oscar if it tried. In the two decades that the DGA has been giving out a Documentary Directing prize, it's only matched up with Oscar once. 1 out of 20. And that was the very first year (Barbara Kopple for AMERICAN DREAM). So the DGA is on a 19-year streak of not predicting the Oscar winner.
So, it falls then to THE COVE to break that streak and the DGA curse. Just as it falls to FOOD, INC. to break the Gothams curse. Maybe it's gonna be Agnes Varda after all?
My predictions for tomorrow's Oscar nominations?
THE COVE and FOOD INC. seem like locks. In my patented Oscar formula, 3 of the 5 nominees are "high profile theatrical releases" and those two certainly fit the bill. The third? I'd wager EVERY LITTLE STEP or VALENTINO. I'm leaning towards VALENTINO.
The other two nominees usually can be pegged either as "international films" or "political films". Sometimes a film qualifies as both - social/political issues set in a foreign land. And while it's not poilitical, at this point, I'd be surprised not to see THE BEACHES OF AGNÈS recognized. It's maybe not the lock that THE COVE and FOOD, INC. are, but it seems pretty close. For the final slot? One of the following: BURMA VJ, GARBAGE DREAMS, THE MOST DANGEROUS MAN IN AMERICA, MUGABE AND THE WHITE AFRICAN, SERGIO or WHICH WAY HOME - all of which seem to have their passionate supporters.
In the end, I think that fifth slot is gonna go to the IDFA and Full Frame Grand Jury winner (not to mention two Cinema Eye Honors - International and Editing) BURMA VJ.
My five: THE BEACHES OF AGNÈS, BURMA VJ, THE COVE, FOOD INC. and VALENTINO.
Sundance Stuff We Missed: Lots of news this past week in Park City, notably a sale for FAMILY AFFAIR to Oprah Winferey's OWN Network - the first sale to the network since it announced its monthly Documentary Film Club. The Hollywood Reporter is also predicting sales for THE TILLMAN STORY (they say to The Weinstein Co.), CATFISH (numerous distributors are interested) and Adrian Grenier's TEENAGE PAPARAZZO.
WIth the close of Sundance, get ready for an onslaught of festival announcements in the coming weeks. True/False is scheduled to announce their full line-up later this week. They've already pegged their True Vision recipient for this year - Laura Poitras, who will bring THE OATH to Columbia, MO.
Manohla Dargis did her annual Sundance wrap and heralded LAST TRAIN HOME, RESTREPO, TILLMAN and Tamra Davis' JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT: THE RADIANT CHILD. Later, she wrote about the state of independent narrative film, wondering if it was time once more to "blow the whole thing up". It's a great piece that ties together the visionary work of Lance Weiler, the shuttering of Miramax, the evangelizing of Ted Hope and this year's Sundance experiment of putting titles up (for a fee) on YouTube during the festival.
The latter - which offered five titles for viewing via YouTube (for a $3.99 fee) - may not be the shining city on the hill of our self-distribution dreams. Three of this year's NEXT titles (the Sundance strand for low and no-budget films) were availble for rental - not one was able to get more than 300 views during its kickoff weekend (the equivalent of less than $1,200 per film, despite prominent placement on YouTube's home page. The film with the most views out of the five? Sundance 2009's THE COVE (and the only documentary in the bunch), which notched a grand total of 303 total views in a three-day period.
Now, for the answer to our quiz. Which three Sundance Documentary Grand Jury winners in the 2000s went on to be nominated for the Best Feature Documentary Oscar? LONG NIGHT'S JOURNEY INTO DAY (2000), CAPTURING THE FRIEDMANS (2003) and TROUBLE THE WATER (2008).