A Love Song for Latasha, Collective, 76 Days among other winners
DOC NYC, the country's largest all-documentary film festival, announced the winners of its 2020 awards today, lauding Cecilia Aldarondo's Landfall with the Grand Jury Prize.
The jury praised Landfall, which focuses on Puerto Rico both before and after the devastation of Hurricane Maria, “[f]or its piercing yet poetic observational gaze, rigorous control in illuminating complex issues and the logics of disaster capitalism, and collaborative production with local activists... The ambitious scope of this film transcends humanitarian narratives in weaving together present, past, and future visions of solidarity and resistance.”
To whom will paradise belong?
"While the devastation of [Hurricane] María attracted a great deal of media coverage, the world has paid far less attention to the storm that preceded it: a 72-billion-dollar debt crisis crippling Puerto Rico well before the winds and waters hit," reads a description of the film. "Landfall examines the kinship of these two storms-one environmental, the other economic-juxtaposing competing utopian visions of recovery. Featuring intimate, quotidian encounters with Puerto Ricans as well as with the newcomers flooding the island, Landfall asks: Who stands to gain and lose from this vision? To whom will paradise belong?"
Landfall's win came in what DOC NYC labels its "Viewfinders" competition. Also earning notice in that category was Through the Night, which received a Special Jury Mention for Ethics of Care. Loira Limbal's documentary examines a 24-hour childcare center in New Rochelle, New York that has proven a lifesaver for parents who work night shifts, as well as single mothers.
Jurors for the Viewfinders section were Simon Kilmurry, executive director of the International Documentary Association; Jolene Pinder, former executive director, Kartemquin Films, and Abby Sun, curator of The DocYard.
In the shorts competition, Sing Me a Lullaby, directed by Tiffany Hsiung, won the Grand Jury Prize. That jury, made up of Jackie Glover, head of documentary at ABC News, Liliana Rodriguez, artistic director of the Palm Springs International Film Society, and filmmaker Angela Tucker, praised the documentary "[f]or its ability to evoke an emotional depth that takes you on an intimate journey that is both poignant and packs a punch."
DOC NYC also awards prizes among the features and shorts named to its short lists of the year's best documentaries. The feature directing award there went to Garrett Bradley for Time, a study of Fox Rich, "an entrepreneur, author, and mother of six, who has spent 21 years fighting for the release of her husband, Rob, from a 60-year prison sentence for a first-time offense."
These are the other prizes awarded to shortlisted feature documentaries at DOC NYC:
Producing Award: Welcome to Chechnya, produced by Alice Henty, Joy A. Tomchin, Askold Kurov, and David France
Jurors’ statement: “The jury is proud to acknowledge the delicate touch, human care and creative gymnastics necessary to produce this powerful film. The filmmakers gained access to this dangerous world in which the film's subjects took great risks, and then used innovative technology to protect them, allowing these men and women to share their heartbreaking stories and inspirational acts of bravery with the world. Hats off.”
Editing Award: Boys State, edited by Jeff Gilbert
Jurors’ statement: “The jury recognizes Jeff Gilbert for delivering an expertly crafted story that is both infused with great momentum and intimacy. Jeff has masterfully shaped an engaging and well-paced film that sneaks up on the audience and reveals a metaphor for the world of American politics on the big stage.”
Cinematography Award: 76 Days, cinematography by Weixi Chen and Anonymous
Jurors’ statement: “The jurors wish to shine a light on Anonymous and Weixi Chen for risking their lives to make this film in the early days of the pandemic in Wuhan, China. In harrowing circumstances, these two brave and determined individuals achieve beautifully executed verite footage and moving compositions, bringing this hospital and its unforgettable staff into stark relief.”
Special Jury Recognition for Truth to Power: Collective, directed by Alexander Nanau
Jurors’ statement: “Kudos to the vision and tenacity of the film team that was able to elegantly realize this powerful portrait of a newspaper as it exposes a corrupt healthcare system and the influence of politics on the lives of Romanians. We deeply admire the formidable structure, attention to detail, remarkable access, and the fearlessness and determination of the filmmakers and their protagonists toward speaking truth to rotten power.”
The jury determining the awards for shortlisted features was comprised of filmmakers Heidi Ewing and Beth Levison, and film editor Carla Gutierrez.
Among DOC NYC's shortlisted shorts, A Love Song for Latasha earned the directing award.
“Director Sophia Nahli Allison implements a remarkable marriage of distinct vision and personal narrative," jurors Carol Dysinger, Chiemi Karasawa, and Bernardo Ruiz noted. "The jury is deeply moved by the bold and imaginative employment of elements to make visible to the world what so many forces have connived to make disappear. The place of one young woman in her community, her family, her friends - to make a personal story emotionally rich, relatable, and resonant for all audiences. Sophia Nahli Allison showed a director's determination to use every element to bring her vision, her passion, and her community to the screen.”
The jurors awarded a special prize for Courage Under Fire to Do Not Split, directed by Andres Hammer, a film that examines aspects of China's anti-democratic crackdown on Hong Kong.
“The jury could not ignore the tremendous tenacity and courage it took to turn such perilous events into a greater political narrative," jurors said in a statement. "We recognize the courage to capture the chaos as great events unfold in the individual and collective acts of resistance. We give this award for both the courage in production and the bravery of its final form and applaud the success of this endeavor."
DOC NYC also awards prizes in its Metropolis section, recognizing films that highlight New York City and New Yorkers. These were the winners in that category:
Grand Jury Prize: Five Years North, directed by Zach Ingrasci and Chris Temple and produced by Jenna Kelly
Jurors’ statement: “For its use of a keen empathetic eye to capture individual stories and its ability to blend them to create a multi-dimensional, far-reaching portrait of a pressing issue, we recognize Five Years North with the Grand Jury Prize. The prolonged filming period not only shows the patience and dedication of its filmmakers, but reveals the nuance and complexities of the participants’ lives and stories.”
Special Jury Recognition for Best Use of Archival Material: Wojnarowicz, directed and produced by Chris McKim and produced by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato
Jurors’ statement: “For its meticulous use of archival elements to enliven a life and its work, we recognize Wojnarowicz with a special jury recognition. The craft of the film beautifully mirrors the melding of life, art, politics, and the culture of New York City that defined its subject.”
DOC NYC also announced the following:
[F]or the first time ever, DOC NYC will extend its program for an additional ten-day DOC NYC Encore, running through Sunday, November 29. Available online to audiences throughout the United States, the Encore program will present more than 70 features from DOC NYC’s 2020 edition, including select award winners, while also continuing to offer new DOC NYC Live filmmaker conversations, presented on Facebook Live, daily November 20-24. For a lineup of DOC NYC Live events and a list of Encore films, see www.docnyc.net.
Voting for the festival’s Audience Award continues through November 19; the winner of the award will be announced shortly after voting closes.
January 2021 event will be "online and in the real world"
Sundance is getting ready for a film festival unlike any other in its 30-year+ history.
The festival, the first under the leadership of new director Tabitha Jackson, released a teaser-trailer today heralding the cinematic event, which will run from January 28 to February 3, 2021. The dates alone suggest how different this festival will be from past ones -- shorter than the normal 10-day gathering of cinephiles, industry players, filmmakers, actors, musicians and others in Park City, Utah.
"...[F]or the first time ever, we are bringing the festival to you—both online and in the real world across the US and beyond," Jackson writes on the festival website. "We invite you to explore the program, join the conversation, and experience this new festival with us."
A new chapter filled with possibilities. Despite the challenges this year has brought, nothing could stop us from celebrating independent film, visionary artists, unique perspectives, and you, our adventurous audiences.
The 2020 event, the last under longtime director John Cooper, snuck in just before the U.S. and other parts of the world shut down because of the COVID-19 emergency. This January's festival cannot escape the impact of the pandemic, however, and will unspool more along the pattern adopted by other festivals in 2020, with screenings, panels and events done virtually. Details about the "real world" component of the festival haven't been released, but other festivals managed to hold some public screenings at drive-in theaters. That may or may not be possible in cities around the U.S. given that Sundance is held n the middle of winter.
The teaser-trailer highlights many of the personalities drawn to Sundance over the years and some of the festival's breakthrough films, including Little Miss Sunshine (2006), Napoleon Dynamite (2004), American Psycho (2000), Precious (2009), Whiplash (2014), and Boyhood (2014). The trailer also gestures towards notable documentaries that have premiered at Sundance, such as Strong Island (2017), Paris Is Burning (1990), O.J.: Made in America (2016), and last year's Dick Johnson Is Dead.
Watch the teaser-trailer here:
Mr. SOUL!, My Octopus Teacher, MLK/FBI and St. Louis Superman among other winners
Kirsten Johnson's Dick Johnson Is Dead has been named the best nonfiction film of the year at the Critics Choice Documentary Awards.
Johnson also was named best director by the critics group, in an announcement made by press release today instead of an awards ceremony, a break from tradition forced by the Covid-19 pandemic.
In Dick Johnson Is Dead the director attempts to come to terms with her aging father's mental and physical decline by staging his death in a variety of ways. The film, winner of a special award at Sundance for innovative nonfiction storytelling, is streaming on Netflix.
"Oh my goodness, I am just insanely honored to be named as best director," Johnson said in a video posted to YouTube on Monday. "This was a film of 'we' -- he [my father], he and I, we, the entire team that made it. Everyone was incredibly emotionally brave as we attempted to face the fear of death together and embrace what cinema can do for us."
This was a film of 'we...'
Best First Documentary Feature went to Melissa Haizlip for her film Mr. SOUL! which tells the story of her late uncle, Ellis Haizlip, the host and producer of a talk and variety show that aired on public television in New York from 1968-1973. The innovative program showcased Black arts and featured prominent guests including Patti LaBelle, Sidney Poitier, Harry Belafonte, Stevie Wonder, Al Green, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, Muhammad Ali, and Jesse Jackson.
Read: Groundhog Day, Harold and Maude: Director Kirsten Johnson on her cinematic inspirations for Dick Johnson Is Dead
MLK/FBI was chosen as Best Archival Documentary. Sam Pollard's film interrogates the campaign of intimidation and harassment conducted by the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover against the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Another Civil Movement hero, John Lewis, is the subject of Dawn Porter's documentary John Lewis: Good Trouble, which was named Best Historical/Biographical Documentary.
"It's a real pleasure to get that award," Pollard said of receiving Best Archival Documentary. "We were ecstatic when we heard the news."
Boys State, directed by Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine won Best Political Documentary, while Best Science/Nature Documentary went to My Octopus Teacher, directed by Pippa Ehrlich and James Reed.
Two of the categories at the Critics Choice Documentary Awards resulted in ties. Best Sports Documentary was shared by Ali & Cavett: The Tale of the Tapes, directed by Robert Bader, and Athlete A, the film by Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk that examines the sexual abuse scandal that brought shame upon USA Gymnastics.
Best Music Documentary was shared by Beastie Boys Story, directed by Spike Jonze, and The Go-Go's, directed by Alison Ellwood.
St. Louis Superman was named Best Short Documentary. The film directed by Smriti Mundhra and Sami Khan and produced by Poh Si Teng, centers on Bruce Franks Jr., a #BlackLivesMatter activist and battle rapper who became a state legislator in Missouri. Franks, whose older brother was shot to death in front of him when he was a child, used his time in office to argue that gun violence should be treated as a public health emergency.
In a video acceptance speech from Phoenix, Arizona, Franks spoke of the movement to combat systemic racial injustice in America.
"...What I will tell you about is the political persecutions that are going on right here in Phoenix for those who are uplifting their voices, for those who are standing against injustices," he said. "This is the reason why we say Black Lives Matter, this is the reason why we say we must defund the police. And this is the reason why we will be in the streets until the world understands that ya'll gonna stop killing us."
"I’m incredibly proud of what we have accomplished over the past few years," Kilmurry said
The IDA's Simon Kilmurry announced his intention today to leave his post as executive director of the documentary organization in mid-2021.
Kilmurry, former executive producer of the PBS series POV, joined the IDA in 2015. Under his leadership, the IDA expanded its grant-making capacity, notably with the establishment of the Enterprise Documentary Fund, which "provides production funds to feature-length documentary films taking on in-depth explorations of original, contemporary stories and integrating journalistic practice into the filmmaking process."
In a press release, the IDA noted other accomplishments under Kilmurry's tenure, among them "advocacy work... expanded in support of filmmakers’ rights internationally, including serving as the plaintiff in an ongoing lawsuit against the Trump administration’s visa requirements in partnership with Doc Society, the Knight First Amendment Institute and the Brennan Center for Justice."
"It's been an honor to be at the helm and I'm very proud of all we've accomplished - the future is bright," Kilmurry wrote in a tweet. He did not announce his future plans once he steps down, but in his tweet he noted, "I'm looking forward to new challenges in 2021."
Kilmurry added in a statement, “IDA’s reach and impact has grown exponentially thanks to the incredible contributions of my colleagues and the board of directors. I’m happy to leave IDA as a more vital and stronger organization on every measure and know it will continue to have an immense impact on our field.”
The IDA board of directors will conduct a search for Kilmurry's replacement, a process to be led by James Costa and Lauren Lexton, co-vice presidents of the board.
“The IDA will continue to be a leader in the field because of the legacy that Simon Kilmurry leaves behind for us to carry forward," IDA Board President Brenda Robinson said in a statement. "Simon has been transformative for this organization and has positioned the IDA to thrive for many more years to come.”
'Assassins' Documentary Asks, Did Two Young Women Really Intend to Murder Kim Jong-un's Half-Brother? [Video]
Trailer released for Ryan White's film that opens in theaters next month
In 2017 two young women entered the departures area of Malaysia's international airport, came up behind a pudgy, middle-aged man and put their hands over his eyes. Within an hour that man was dead, poisoned by VX nerve agent that entered his eyes through the women's fingers.
The murdered man was Kim Jong-nam, eldest son of North Korea's former ruler Kim Jong-il and half-brother of current dictator, Kim Jong-un. The story of how Kim was bumped off and whether his assailants knew what they were doing -- or were duped into committing an assassination -- is told in the new documentary Assassins. Ryan White (The Keepers, The Case Against 8, Ask Dr. Ruth) directed the film, which will be released in theaters December 11 through Greenwich Entertainment and available on video on demand platforms beginning January 15. 2021.
The two women who killed Jong-nam claimed they had simply been hired to pull a video prank and had no idea what they were really doing.
"The spectacularly brazen murder happened in broad daylight, filmed entirely by security cameras," notes a press release for the film. "But if the murder was extreme, the story that came next was even more bizarre: The two women who killed Jong-nam claimed they had simply been hired to pull a video prank and had no idea what they were really doing. The Malaysian government scoffed, arrested and imprisoned the women and put them on trial for murder, facing execution."
A trailer was released for the documentary today. Watch it here:
Matthew Carey is a documentary filmmaker and journalist. His work has appeared on Deadline.com, CNN, CNN.com, TheWrap.com, NBCNews.com and in Documentary magazine.