Documentary Feature


The Producers Guild of America (PGA), announced today that critically acclaimed documentary feature BULLY will be honored with the 2013 Stanley Kramer Award at the 24th Annual Producers Guild Awards ceremony.  Director Lee Hirsch and producer Cynthia Lowen will accept the award on Saturday, January 26 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Los Angeles.


The year’s best documentaries – Ken Burns, The Central Park Five doc, Queen of Versailles, Samsara, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, and West of Memphis shut out of the Oscar race. That is mind-blowing. The new rules were supposed to stop this kind of assfuckery from happening. I remain astounded. Then again, they always have their weird ways of doing things and can’t be predicted. They seem to always resent it when others try to predict what they will or won’t do. This, I have to say, is a NEW LOW.  It’s a terrible thing, too, to have the Central Park Five win the New York Film Critics the same day AMPAS releases its 15 finalists:

The 15 films are listed below in alphabetical order by title, with their production companies:

  • “Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry,” Never Sorry LLC
  • “Bully,” The Bully Project LLC
  • “Chasing Ice,” Exposure
  • “Detropia,” Loki Films
  • “Ethel,” Moxie Firecracker Films
  • “5 Broken Cameras,” Guy DVD Films
  • “The Gatekeepers,” Les Films du Poisson, Dror Moreh Productions, Cinephil
  • “The House I Live In,” Charlotte Street Films, LLC
  • “How to Survive a Plague,” How to Survive a Plague LLC
  • “The Imposter,” Imposter Pictures Ltd.
  • “The Invisible War,” Chain Camera Pictures
  • “Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God,” Jigsaw Productions in association with
  • Wider Film Projects and Below the Radar Films
  • “Searching for Sugar Man,” Red Box Films
  • “This Is Not a Film,” Wide Management
  • “The Waiting Room,” Open’hood, Inc.

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LOS ANGELES, CA (November 30, 2012) – The Producers Guild of America (PGA) announced today the Documentary Motion Picture nominees that will advance in the voting process for the 24th Annual Producers Guild Awards.

The nominated films, listed below in alphabetical order, are:


All other nominations for the 2013 Producers Guild Award categories will be announced on January 3, 2013, along with the individual producers.

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Bob Marley’s life is very well known inside and out but Oscar winning Documentary filmmaker Kevin Macdonald’s “Marley” thinks otherwise and has enough surprises in it filled with haunting revelations to make it a real stunner. It helps that Macdonald uses breathtaking concert footage, archival treasures and interviews with almost everyone that has had an impact or was a friend to the legend. As far as Marley documentaries go, this is as full fledged a portrait of the man as we are likely to see in our lifetime.

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Once again, the documentary category will contain an embarrassment of riches. You might not be nearly as moved by many of the films in the narrative race for Best Picture as you will be by the real life issues explored in the documentary category.  As Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman reminded us in Ishtar, telling the truth can be dangerous business. Honest and popular don’t go hand in hand.  These movies tell the truth, or you could even say a truth if you’d like. They take a point of view and they sell it in a compelling way. It’s impossible to rank them, in fact. I’ve only ranked them here in order of how powerfully they hit me personally but everyone will have a different order and a different list depending on what they bring to their viewings of them. One think I can say with a fair amount of uncertainty, the ones I have chosen here are unforgettable.

1. The Central Park Five, Ken Burns, Sarah Burns and Kevin McMahon – I will never forget how badly we all dropped the ball during the Central Park Five’s hearings, how quickly we were as a society to pile on and condemn innocent teens. We were sold a lie by the media and government officials in New York City. Shame on them. Shame on us.  Ken Burns has been telling us American stories for decades.  You could almost say America is baseball, apple pie and Ken Burns. His latest, the Dust Bowl is about to hit PBS and the work he does is worth every dollar we invest in PBS, to name just one of its many treasures. But inspired by the passion and commitment of his daughter Sarah’s research into the Central Park Five case, Burns has delivered arguably his most controversial and political film to date, though he shares credit with Sarah Burns and David McMahon. Three of them together have made, what I think, is the best documentary of the year.

2. Queen of Versailles – Lauren Greenfield’s documentary about one of the richest families in America and what happened to them once the money started to run out  – the film exposes what many of us already know despite the temptation towards the contrary: money can’t buy happiness. You can build the biggest house in America and still feel lonely at night. You can have so much stuff it crowds out your already too-big house and you will still want and need more stuff. It is a dizzying, depressing look at the end result of presumed success if you measure that success by how much stuff you can buy. The house is in decay because it was never finished, the trophy wife is aging and fearing being replaced, the kids are getting older and starting to notice the artifice. through it all you can’t hate the Jackie Siegel, wife of Dave Siegel. Greenfield picked a great subject because she is so charismatic. Her humanity shines through, which makes it difficult to judge her. You can’t help but be charmed by her unpretentiousness. She really is just a small town girl who bought the false ideal of what money can and can’t buy. There are some films that stop you cold, depicting characters you will never forget because that might have been you.

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Jeff Wells over at dragged out an old interview with the Central Park Jogger and Oprah in order to prove his point, that he’s been making since Telluride, that the jogger is somehow at fault for choosing to jog in Central Park (on the upper east side, I might add) after dark.

But at the same time let’s not go overboard with praise for The Central Park Five, which I don’t feel is honest and inquisitive enough to warrant Oscar consideration. Its heart is in the right place, but its embrace of a rotely compassionate liberal approach to the facts is, in my view, overly emphatic as it either ignores or fails to sufficiently explore certain points. A real-deal doc exposes all the facts of a given situation as much as possible, warts and all & let the chips fall. By my sights The Central Park Fivedoesn’t do this. Instead it pushes an argument against the wrongness of the city’s prosecution of the five youths (which we all agree with) and offers a pat, incomplete portrait of the five as well as the 1989 rape victim, Trisha Meili.

His point dissolved quickly, though, when you look carefully at the case. The rapist, that the negligent DA and law enforcement overlooked, was a crazed psycho who went after women all over the upper east side, not just in Central Park. Moreover, he could have attacked the jogger in her own neighborhood, in her parking garage or even her apartment. His rampage:

Matias Reyes was 17 when he embarked on a string of rapes on the upper East Side. Here are the crimes he was convicted of or linked to: Sept. 21, 1988 – Attacked woman in stairwell of church at 90th St. and Fifth Ave.

April 17, 1989 – Raped and beat a woman in Central Park near E. 107th St.

April 19 – Raped and beat 28-year-old Central Park jogger.

June 11 – Raped, stabbed and tried to blind a 24-year-old woman in her E. 116th St. apartment.

June 14 – Raped and fatally stabbed 24-year-old Lourdes Gonzales with three children in her apartment on E. 97th St.

July 19 – Tied up, raped and stabbed 20-year-old woman and stole her ATM card at 95th St. and Madison Ave.

July 27 – Was interrupted while beating and robbing 28-year-old woman at 95th St. and Lexington Ave.

Aug. 5 – Arrested after raping 24-year-old woman in her E. 91st St. apartment.

So you see, you merely had to be a woman living on the Upper East Side to have been one of his victims. She no more increased her chances jogging at night in Central Park than she would have going to the ATM machine or coming home to her apartment. The victim is not at fault here; law enforcement and city government are. People should have been warned about this rapist so that they could better protect themselves. But they weren’t. Why weren’t they? Because the story of the “wilding teens” was too sexy to ignore.  Whether the victim feels guilt or shame or not, whether Oprah asked her that question or not does not change the facts in the case.

Wells second complaint about the film is that it doesn’t appropriately nail the “wilding teens,” the young men who caught and blamed for the crimes then forced to confess. Wells contends that they weren’t “innocent” but were still “bad.” He thinks the documentary is supposed to adequately shame them for the other crimes they committed.  Some of those crimes they were prosecuted for but their sentences, and their whole lives from then on, were mismanaged by an incompetent court. The point of the film isn’t to pass judgment or make you feel one way or the other – it is to look carefully at how this case was bungled, how the teens were forced to confess without a parent present, and how the press and the DA and the police did nothing to catch the real killer. Not only should the wrongly accused men sue, but so should the families of the victims of the real killer.

Also worth noting: Reyes life was horrible.  Preventing crime in the first place means watching out for kids like this who turn into monsters.

Crossfire Hurricane, directed by Brett Morgen, takes a look at the Rolling Stones trajectory from obscurity to super stardom. Clips from the Marquee Club, Hyde Park, Altamont and beyond.

The HBO premiere happens on November 15. In the UK the film will receive a theatrical release.

What is that sound? Oh, that’s the sound of panic.  The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision opened the spigot for unlimited spending on candidates by Super PACs and while Obama’s campaign is taking in substantial donations it can’t compare to dump-trucks of cash the Romney campaign commands. So many billions of dollars are at stake here, not just the money being funneled with a fire hose into swing states as we speak, but hundreds of billions in lost revenue for the next 4 years if Romney takes over to extend the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. The power elite wants a candidate they can control and Romney is their guy — an etch-a-sketch cipher who stands for nothing. The less he stands for, the less he knows, the higher his poll numbers climb.  America eats stupid for breakfast, we’ve known this for a long time, but this kind of thing seems like it crosses the line.

Now, a major cable provider is allowing viewers to watch the Obama hate movie, arguably one of the stupidest things ever put on film. A 90-minute campaign ad called a documentary and then pawned off on the American people as a legitimate film, for free. Let’s see how many people we can brainwash with out-and-out lies?

A major cable provider is offering a notorious anti-Obama movie to all its subscribers for free. The company, Armstrong Cable, operates in six states including Pennsylvania and the critical swing state of Ohio. The move comes just days after the Armstrong’s Chairman of the Board donated tens of thousands of dollars to the Romney campaign and the Republican National Committee.

The film, “2016: Obama’s America,” has been widely panned by critics and debunked by fact checkers. Written and narrated by conservative author Dinesh D’Souza, it claims Obama’s “worldview… was largely shaped by the anti-colonalist, anti-white and anti-Christian politics of Obama’s supposedly radical Kenyan father,” who was largely absent from his life. The point of the movie, according to a review in the Washington Post, is to convince viewers “that Obama hates America.” It ‘s been roundly rebuked as “fear-mongering of the worst kind.”

Armstrong recently started offering the movie for free, on demand, to all of its subscribers.

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The IDA Awards will take place December 7, 2012 with Penn Jillette hosting.

Feature nominees:
The Central Park Five
The Invisible War
Queen of Versailles
Searching for Sugar Man
Women with Cows

The shorts:
God is the Bigger Elvis
Kings Point
Mondays at Racine
Open Heart
Saving Face

Descriptions after the cut.

The five films nominated in IDA’s Feature category are: THE CENTRAL PARK FIVE, Ken Burns, Sarah Burns and David McMahon’s compelling recounting of the high profile trial and wrongful conviction of five young men in one of New York’s most sensational criminal cases; THE INVISIBLE WAR, Kirby Dick’s exposé of the staggering prevalence of rape in the military, and the profound consequences for those who experience it or try to report it; QUEEN OF VERSAILLES, Lauren Greenfield’s portrait of a modern day Gilded Age family and inside look at the world inhabited only by the super-rich; SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN, Malik Bendjelloul’s surprising and uplifting story of the power of music and one man’s journey from obscurity; and WOMEN WITH COWS, Peter Gerdehag’s observational study of the intricate and painful relationship between two sisters bound together by the family farm.

The five nominated films in the Short category are Rebecca Cammisa’s GOD IS THE BIGGER ELVIS, the story of Dolores Hart’s transformation from 60’s starlet to Mother Prioress of the Abbey of Regina Laudis; KINGS POINT, Sari Gilman’s poignant portrayal of the denizens of a Florida retirement community; MONDAYS AT RACINE, Cynthia Wade’s story of a Long Island hair salon that provides compassion, inspiration and community to women diagnosed with cancer; OPEN HEART, Kief Davidson’s chronicle of young heart patients in Rwanda and the doctors fighting to save them; and SAVING FACE, Daniel Junge and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s story of Pakistani women who have survived acid attacks, and the doctor who returns to Pakistan to help them.

From the Academy Award-nominated directors of Jesus Camp, Heidi Ewing & Rachel Grady, Detropia premiered September 7 and is showcased in select theaters across the country.

Detroit’s story has encapsulated the iconic narrative of America over the last century— the Great Migration of African Americans escaping Jim Crow; the rise of manufacturing and the middle class; the love affair with automobiles; the flowering of the American dream; and now . . . the collapse of the economy and the fading American mythos. With its vivid, painterly palette and haunting score, DETROPIA sculpts a dreamlike collage of a grand city teetering on the brink of dissolution. These soulful pragmatists and stalwart philosophers strive to make ends meet and make sense of it all, refusing to abandon hope or resistance. Their grit and pluck embody the spirit of the Motor City as it struggles to survive postindustrial America and begins to envision a radically different future.

The New Yorker’s David Denby says, “Detropia, a lyrical film about the destruction of a great American city, is the most moving documentary I’ve seen in years.”

It has its share of forlorn images the office buildings with empty eye sockets for windows; the idle, rotting factories with their fantastic networking of chutes, pipes, and stacks. Yet the filmmakers, Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing (who comes from Detroit), are so attuned to color and shape that they have made a beautiful film. We’re looking at new ruins, American ruins the remains of industrial ambition, a kind of impromptu graveyard of capitalism and the survivors, hanging on, exhibit a mix of awed mournfulness and good cheer. The city’s history is evoked by such chroniclers and guides as George McGregor, a warmly sympathetic union veteran; Crystal Starr, a young video blogger, who breaks into abandoned buildings and installs herself in offices now trashed and empty, as if she had worked there years ago; and Tommy Stephens, a former teacher, who warns of revolution if the middle class continues to be eviscerated. At the end, as young people move in to claim the cheap real estate, the movie hints at a fresh surge of capitalist ebullience and a possible revival.

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William Blake once wrote that exuberance is beauty. Despite the success of Ben Affleck’s Argo here, this fest seems to be driven by women filmmakers. This is most surprising, since we just came out of such an bad year for women. But three of them were the major forces behind their projects that told important stories, sometimes personal, sometimes not. I came here feeling the pressure of time and age – and frankly feeling some despair about the state of things for women. I never expected I would leave here feeling hopeful not just for women this year but for the doors they creaked open this year, how they managed to do it, how well they did it, and how successful they’ve become doing it.

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Some trailers don’t need accompanying synopsis or explanation. This isn’t one of those. Joshua Oppenheimer’s documentary about Indonesian Death Squads will screen in Toronto as well, and the TIFF site is where I found the best observations about the bizarre proceedings.

“I have not come across a documentary as powerful, surreal, and frightening in a decade,” wrote Werner Herzog after seeing an early preview of The Act of Killing, and both he and Errol Morris were impressed enough to sign on as executive producers. A chilling and revelatory exploration of the sometimes perilously thin line between film violence and real-life violence, the film investigates a murderous, oft-forgotten chapter of history in a way that is startlingly original and bound to stir debate: enlisting a group of former killers to re-enact their lives (and deaths) in the style of the film noirs, musicals and westerns that they love.

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Hoop Dreams

A few facts about today’s news item worth paying attention to — as told to me by Michael Moore himself in a phone call this evening:

1) The entire branch of 166 documentary filmmakers will now get to vote on the doc nominees, where in the past that privilege was limited to private screenings by a selection committee.
2) Screeners for the documentaries will now be sent out to all members where before they had to view them in a theater during a specific time and vote that day.
3) They will get the films quarterly.  They will receive around 15 films every few months to watch instead of having to cram them all in at the end of the year — they still have to qualify, but they will be seen.
4) The new rules effectively protect the smaller fish from being chased out because the big fish have more money to manipulate the broken system.
5) The reviewing policy was written with conditions that heavily benefit the filmmakers, not the critics and not the Academy.  Any filmmaker can appeal if no critic is sent to review their film.  Why was this system implemented?  It’s explained below.

Moore says, though, that after two years of trying to get these rules changed — something I’ve never seen any individual do in the 13 years I’ve been covering the race — the way it all came down was ultimately “heartbreaking.”  Though he was only elected a year and half ago, Moore says it’s a cause that’s been close to his heart as he’s watched year after year the great documentaries virtually ignored, “The Academy says it’s decided what the Best Documentary of the year is. But if only 5% of the Academy are deciding that we’re not telling the truth. Wouldn’t it be more honest,” he said, “if we let the whole Academy vote.”

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“Battle for Brooklyn” (RUMER Inc.)
“Bill Cunningham New York” (First Thought Films)
“Buck” (Cedar Creek Productions)
“Hell and Back Again” (Roast Beef Productions Limited)
“If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front” (Marshall Curry Productions, LLC)
“Jane’s Journey” (NEOS Film GmbH & Co. KG)
“The Loving Story” (Augusta Films)
“Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory” (
“Pina” (Neue Road Movies GmbH)
“Project Nim” (Red Box Films)
“Semper Fi: Always Faithful” (Tied to the Tracks Films, Inc.)
“Sing Your Song” (S2BN Belafonte Productions, LLC)
“Undefeated” (Spitfire Pictures)
“Under Fire: Journalists in Combat” (JUF Pictures, Inc.)
“We Were Here” (Weissman Projects, LLC)

Truly excited about We Were Here, which focuses on the AIDS pandemic in San Francisco in the 1980s, Project Nim about how we mistreat lab chimps and have grossly underestimated their intelligence and failed them completely in captivity, Buck, Undefeated, Paradise Lost and Bill Cunningham New York. I can’t wait to see all of these films.

Left off the list, Senna, The Interrupters, Page One: Inside the New York Times, Into the Abyss.

The cumulative effect suggests a world in which murder, desperation and operatic levels of tragedy are workaday (one town is actually called Cut and Shoot). As well as losing her brother and mother in the attacks, one woman tells how she also lost almost every other member of her family (plus dog) in a variety of colourful accidents, suicides and slayings in the six years beforehand. She unplugged her phone soon afterwards: “I just couldn’t handle another call.”

…What you’d like more of is the men at the centre of the crime, for Herzog to grapple directly with their obfuscations, their religious conversions. Yet they remain opaque, behind their glass panes and grills, just as the pregnancy of one of their wives (who fell for him while working on his appeal) stays mysterious. But these are the kind of surrealities Herzog also does best. He coaxes stories of mysterious monkey attacks and ravenous alligators from the least likely places, lingers in auto graveyards, where impounded vehicles – including the one which motivated these murders – sit until tree roots spring up next to the gearstick. For something with such a morbid draw, Into the Abyss leaves you startled by life. (The Guardian UK)

Poster after the cut.

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The Cinema Eye nominations have been announced! Please note short film nomination for Tim Hetherington, the reporter/filmmaker who was killed in Libya.

Outstanding Achievement in Nonfiction Feature Filmmaking

The Arbor
Directed by Clio Barnard
Produced by Tracy O’Riordan

The Interrupters
Directed by Steve James
Produced by Alex Kotlowitz and Steve James

Nostalgia for the Light
Directed by Patricio Guzmán
Produced by Renate Sachse

Position Among the Stars
Directed by Leonard Retel Helmrich
Produced by Hetty Naaijkens-Retel Helmrich

Project Nim
Directed by James Marsh
Produced by Simon Chinn

Directed by Asif Kapadia
Produced by James Gay-Rees, Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner

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Beverly Hills, CA – The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences today announced that the field of Documentary Short Subject contenders for the 84th Academy Awards® has been narrowed to eight films, of which three to five will earn Oscar® nominations.

The eight films are listed below in alphabetical order by title, with their production company.

  • “The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement,” Purposeful Productions, Inc.
  • “God Is the Bigger Elvis,” Documentress Films
  • “In Tahrir Square: 18 Days of Egypt’s Unfinished Revolution,” Downtown Docs
  • “Incident in New Baghdad,” Morninglight Films
  • “Pipe Dreams,” Leslie Iwerks Productions
  • “Saving Face,” Milkhaus/Jungefilm
  • “The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom,” Supply & Demand Integrated
  • “Witness,” Buche

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A couple of filmmakers have been hard at work putting together a film on the typewriter and how it fits into our modern world.  Apparently there is a wave of support as younger people (re)discover the typewriter and all of its gloriousness.  I don’t think my daughter ever put her fingers on one and probably has no idea how cool they once were. Some writers still use them.  Sure, computers have mostly replaced them but even in a blackout you can still use a typewriter.  I love this idea and this trailer, which is why I pledged to support them in raising funds to get the whole film made (possibly for Oscar consideration as a doc one day, who knows).  Either which way, if you’d like to help support them, you can do so by going to Kickstarter.  They’ve raised 4845 against 20,000. Any sponsors out there — cough cough — Tom Hanks — are welcome also. Big wads of cash always welcome too. But of course, anything would be welcome as their project depends on their reaching their goal.  Here’s the trailer.

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