First off, apologies for the break in posting. Between traveling to New York, working on various projects and the start of the Los Angeles Film Festival, I've found myself starting several posts (including the last two Monday Briefs) only to watch them go unfinished.
Truth is, this summer might be somewhat light in our coverage around these parts, although we're gonna endeavor to stay on track this month to cover two of the year's most important festivals for documentary - LAFF, which launched seemingly successfully in its new downtown digs last Thursday, and Silverdocs, which kicks off tomorrow...
In the interim, there's been a lot of news in the documentary world - shifting dates for a top festival, a legal victory for a noted filmmaker and a list that does what lists tend to do: get people talking.
But the past two weekends, the biggest headlines in the doc world were made by a film that premiered at Sundance...
Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg's docu-portrait, JOAN RIVERS: A PIECE OF WORK, was the big winner at the specialty box office the past two weekends. Opening a week ago at 7 theaters (but as indieWIRE noted - on three separate screens at NYC's IFC Center), the film took in an estimated $24,368 - the biggest per theater debut for a doc this year. In its first weekend, the film took in more than $170K, more than the combined total take of Stern and Sundberg's previous two (critically acclaimed and super serious) docs, THE TRIALS OF DARRYL HUNT and THE DEVIL CAME ON HORSEBACK.
In its second weekend, the film cooled off only slightly as it expanded to 29 screens, managing a still strong average of just under $8K per screen, bringing its grand total thus far to more than $475K. According to Peter Knegt's iW piece, IFC Films plans an aggressive rollout for the film, expanding to the top fifty markets by the 4th of July. It could be the doc of the summer (at the box office at least), and seems likely to become the 4th $1M doc of 2010 (following BABIES, OCEANS and EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP).
Also fairing quite well last weekend was Madeleine Sackler's charter schools documentary THE LOTTERY. Variance Films released the doc on a single NYC screen to a potent $17K+. THE LOTTERY screened at this year's Tribeca Film Festival and a handful of top regional fests (Sarasota, IFFBoston, Cleveland among them) before its quick and successful theatrical launch.
This weekend saw the release of another Sundance doc, 8: THE MORMON PROPOSITION, the first out of the box for Red Flag Releasing. Released on 16 screens, the film took in an average of more than $3K.
Segueing out of the theatrical box office, news continued to break last week in the Joe Berlinger/Chevron/CRUDE footage case. And this time the news was good (at least for anyone who cares about documentary)...
A federal appeals court granted Berlinger a temporary stay in the case and will soon rule on his appeal of the lower court judge's decision that he must turn over his raw footage to Chevron. This means Berlinger won't have to turn over the footage immediately, which would have been the case if the appeals court had denied his petition for a stay.
Berlinger's lawyer, Maura Wogan, told the NY Times that if the court hadn't granted the stay, "(Berlinger) would have been forced to turn over this material before the appeal was heard – he would have, in effect, lost his right to an appeal."
Berlinger will join filmmaker Morgan Spurlock for a special Stranger Than Fiction this Tuesday at NYC's IFC Center. The event will be a benefit for Berlinger's legal defense fund.
But perhaps the biggest news of the past week was announced with relatively little fanfare. Confirming rumors that have been circulating for months (we even included them in our festival profile last December), Sheffield Doc/Fest announced that their 2011 edition will be held in early June. That means two Doc/Fests in Sheffield separated by little more than seven months (they will still hold this year's event the first week of November).
The move to early June means that a year from now will host three of the our top ten doc showcases: Doc/Fest, Silverdocs and LAFF, solidifying the month as a frenzy of festival activity. We love the idea of Sheffield in June (we're still nostalgic for the defunct BritDoc, with its afternoons on the lawn and Pimm's Cups) but can't help be curious of how the move might affect the other June fests (particularly Silverdocs) and what Sheffield in June will come to mean for the year's festival season (would a film like ARMADILLO go from Cannes to Sheffield to Toronto?).
In announcing details about next year's festival, Sheffield also announced some of this year's featured titles, including Jeff Malmberg's MARWENCOL, Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady's 12th & DELAWARE (both among my favorite films of this year) and brand new work from David Sington (IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON) and Marc and Nick Francis (BLACK GOLD).
Other stuff worth reading: The LA Times' Steven Zeitchik looks at two of this year's documentaries dealing with the war in Afghanistan: Amir Bar-Lev's THE TILLMAN STORY (which played this weeked at LAFF) and Sebastian Junger & Tim Heatherington's RESTREPO, due in theatres this Friday. David Carr has more on RESTREPO in the NY Times. Jeffrey Wells also dives into RESTREPO and asks whether the film should offer viewers more than the soldier's P.O.V. (interesting discussion in the comments). The NY Times' Hiroko Tabuchi reports on the efforts by members of Japan's nationalist fringe to block screenings and intimidate theaters from screening THE COVE.
Also: indieWIRE has questions for some LAFF documentary competition filmmakers, like CAMERA, CAMERA's Malcolm Murray, ONE LUCKY ELEPHANT's Lisa Leeman and Cristina Colissimo and Chris Metzler and Lev Anderson, directors of the Fishbone documentary, EVERYDAY SUNSHINE. Karina Longworth profiles the LAFF move downtown in the Weekly.
Yours truly and my colleague Nathan Truesdell get HAMMEREDToNail with Michael Tully. While Nate and I were lucky to get the transcription treatment after a night of drinking, 45365's Bill and Turner Ross weren't so fortunate. On the eve of 45365's theatrical opening at New York's Anthology Film Archives, Tully posts a podcast he did with the Ross Brothers following this year's Cinema Eye Honors. Making it a trifecta, Tully also has a terrific review of Brett Morgan's offering in the ESPN 30 for 30 series, JUNE 17, 1994.
And finally... While we were in New York City a couple weeks ago, the POV Blog's Tom Roston unveiled his list of the 50 Most Powerful People in Documentaries, leading first with an alphabetical, unranked listing of numbers 11-50 and following with his ranked top 10. It's probably little surprise that HBO's Sheila Nevins topped Roston's tally of power folk - she's got taste, budget and an unmatched track-record (the NY Times recently ran a profile of Nevins ostensibly to promote HBO's forthcoming summer documentary series).
[We'll admit to finding ourselves on said list to be both ridiculous and flattering. Our massive power was put in perspective just days after the list was published when a grand total of 7 people showed up for one of the screenings of our new film at the IFC Center. Hadn't people gotten the memo?!]
There were - as is always the case with these lists - omissions, at least in the eye of this beholder. Not sure that you can have John Cooper, Trevor Groth and Caroline Libresco from Sundance (at #9) and not include programmer David Courier. Not having anyone from Sheffield (Heather Croall, who turned that festival around, or programmer Hussain Currimbhoy) seems like a major oversight. Although we think A.O. Scott's just fine as far as critic reps go, we'd rather see his colleague Manohla Dargis, whose criticism (even when we don't agree with it) strikes us as coming from a place of thoughtfulness - an increasing rarity these days.
We'd also argue for the aforementioned Morgan Spurlock, RJ Cutler, Jess Search, Roadside Attraction's Howard Cohen and Eric d'Arbeloff, Women Make Movies' Debra Zimmerman, Cinema Guild's Ryan Krivoshey and a handful of others who are arguably shaping the present and future of where we are in documentary.
Coming this week: Josh Fox' GASLAND, another of my favorite films of this year, premieres tonight on HBO. Fox will be on The Daily Show later this evening. Also tonight, Silverdocs kicks off, with its opening night screening of the omnibus project, FREAKONOMICS. And as mentioned above, STF hosts a benefit screening of CRUDE tomorrow night in NYC.