Documentary Feature

This Variety story is from all the way back in early September but it says that National Geographic Entertainment picked up The Wildest Dream, a doc based on the mystery behind George Mallory’s Everest climb. I’m one of the people out there who geek out on anything having to do with Mount Everest and the people who died there. Why? I have no idea – I just know that it fascinates me for a variety of reasons. Anyway, I guess it’s better than my Donner party obsession. The Everest thing is primarily due to this book.

Anyway, The Wildest Dream will also be dedicated to the late Natasha Richardson, who voices Mallory’s wife Ruth. Liam Neeson is Mallory. From Variety:

Mallory’s remembered as having said, “Because it’s there” in reply to the question “Why do you want to climb Mt. Everest?” He and his climbing partner disappeared in 1924; they were 800 feet from the Everest summit before the clouds closed in.

The film will feature new photos and footage of the early climbers, along with the 1999 expedition that uncovered Mallory’s body on Everest (bodies that die there, stay there).

China's Unnatural Disaster
Three of these are HBO films.

Voters from the Academy’s Documentary Branch viewed this year’s 37 eligible entries and submitted their ballots to PricewaterhouseCoopers for tabulation.

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

“China’s Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan Province,” Downtown Community Television Center, Inc.
“The Last Campaign of Governor Booth Gardner,” Just Media
“The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant,” Community Media Productions
“Lt. Watada,” Chanlim Films
“Music by Prudence,” iThemba Productions, Inc.
“Rabbit a la Berlin,” MS Films
“Tell Them Anything You Want: A Portrait of Maurice Sendak,” Outside Productions
“Woman Rebel,” Women Rebel Films


Pete Hammond has the news that an underdog, self-distributed documentary is the first screener to be sent out to the almost 6,000 member Academy, adds Hammond:

Being the first screener sent out is a nice distinction, and¬†giving voters plenty of time to see it has resulted in good nomination luck for the likes of “Little Miss Sunshine,” “Junebug” and last year’s “Frozen River,” among others.

It’s an interesting, strategic move to have an interview with Hammond coincide with the mail-out – it gives Hammond a scoop, and it brings lots of publicity to the film. However, this is a long shot, knowing those pesky documentary voters. On the other hand, it can’t hurt, not with this team behind it. Nicely played.

VH1, which aired the film over the summer, paid for the manufacturing and shipping of the specially made screeners for the Academy and other key awards groups. The network could not send out the commercial DVD because Academy rules are very strict about packaging on screeners sent to their membership, and all contenders must produce special versions with no frills if they want to get them to the voters. The publicity firm 42West is working on the awards campaign, which is being shepherded in part by Cynthia Swartz, a veteran of the golden years at Oscar-savvy Miramax.


Well, this is it!

Tonight, at the Venice Film Festival, I will premiere my new movie, “Capitalism: A Love Story.” After 16 months of production, I am proud to present this work of mine to you. It is unlike anything you’ll see on the silver screen this year.

Twenty years ago this week I premiered my first film, “Roger & Me.” Tonight, my new film will premiere at the oldest film festival in the world, the Venice Film Festival in Venice, Italy. It is an incredible honor they’ve bestowed on us, and we feel very privileged to be able to present “Capitalism: A Love Story” tonight in Venice.

Michael Moore’s letter on his website.

Early review from the AFP:

Asserting that Americans have been brainwashed to believe that capitalism is “compatible with God’s law,” Moore runs black and white footage of hypnotists using twirling spirals to mesmerise their patients.

“I must have missed that part of the Bible when Jesus embraced capitalism,” says the filmmaker, followed by a sequence using scenes from Franco Zeffirelli’s “Jesus of Nazareth” in which the Son of God’s lines are dubbed with him giving investment advice.

Getting semi-serious, Moore recalls that before Reaganomics, the wealthiest Americans were taxed at 90 percent, people had four weeks’ vacation and their pensions were untouchable.

It looks like the filmmakers of The Cove can claim a victory in the dolphin killings occurring in Japan, scheduled each September. From EW’s Pop Watch:

Yesterday, O’Barry returned to Taiji for the start of the dolphin killing season, but this time, he says, “there were no dolphin killers in sight.” Granted, this time he came with a small entourage of international journalists, including members of the Japanese press, so only time will tell whether the practice is over for good. But like Super Size Me (which seemingly got fast food restaurants to offer more healthy choices on their menus), and An Inconvenient Truth (which injected global warming into the mainstream discussion in a big way), the makers of The Cove can feel proud that at the very least several dozen dolphins are alive today thanks to their efforts.

Then again, who is going to want to go and hunt with much of the US watching? It would have tossed gasoline on that fire in a big way. Source: various Twitterers.

AJ Schnack is talking up The Cove not being included (so far) in the Tokyo Film Fest lineup. The fest is funded by the Japanese government and is it so surprising they wouldn’t want the movie shown? There is some disagreement on it, however, and no one at the Tokyo Fest is every going to admit that they’d were given orders not to include the film. But what’s kind of funny is how the supposed theme of the thing is “green.”

Meanwhile, Schnack reports that, unfortunately, The Cove is not doing well box-office-wise, “slipping 40% from the previous week and now down to 29 theaters and total box office of $537K.” This is perhaps because it is a subject that is very difficult to digest, so to speak. In tough times, audiences seek happier films, that sort of thing. Awards attention, that’s what this film needs.

It Might Get Loud opens next week. I urge you all, especially you young ones, to seek this out.  Sneak Peak at

It’s one thing to award the Gore doc the big prize during the Bush administration; it’s something else entirely to award the Obama doc during the Obama administration. Nonetheless, the new doc about the Obama campaign is getting a qualifying run, according to AJ Schnack over at ATWT.

The trick appears to be to get the qualifying run but also not dampen any buzz a bigger opening, with proper reviews, could cause – thus, as Schnack points out, the Doc will be screened in just a couple of venues and currently has no critical blowback. Gee, I wonder what Ann Coulter is going to think of it? This doc comes at a time when the right is coming at Obama with claws outstretched so reception of this film, no doubt, is going to be somewhat controversial. Oscar will be in the mix, especially if the film is shortlisted and even nominated. Here is a great piece about the filmmakers and the doc itself.

Food for thought: could a movie made about the Republicans ever get anywhere near the Kodak?

More docs are getting their qualifying, says Schnack – and, as it seems to be going lately, the doc and foreign language race are among Oscar’s most fascinating:


DisneyNature will release Earth on April 22nd, Earth Day, and if it makes a boatload of cash it could be a contender for the doc race, even if it isn’t particularly hard-hitting. Earth was made by the same filmmakers who did the dazzling Planet Earth, Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield. It also revives a Disney/nature tradition that was Oscar-friendly back in the day. So, will it be just a fun day at the movies for the kids? Or will it be something more?

More gorgeous stills after the cut.

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Intended to be inspirational and awe-inspiring rather than raise worrisome environmental concerns, Disney’s epic Earth is positioned as March of the Penguins minus all the Inconvenient Truth. The dramatized story of 3 wildlife families spans 42 countries, and took 5 years to shoot over 2000 hours of film in the field (so brace yourself for the director’s cut). Due to be released on April 22 (Earth Day), the timing is auspicious in another way too. With a DVD release just in time for the holidays, Blu-ray discs sent out instead of traditional single-layer screeners will made every other documentary this year look like dirt. Except, in order to vote for it, Academy members will still have to see Earth in a theater. As if that ever enhances the chances that the best documentaries will win — or even be nominated.

Philadelphia muralist Isaiah Zager is the subject of his son Jeremiah’s documentary, In A Dream, whose trailer comes to us via Cinematical. Winner of the audience award at SXSW Film Festival a couple of weeks ago, the film will be screening across the country on a schedule you can find at the In A Dream blog. Steven Rea of The Philadelphia Inquirer:

Like the dazzling, colorful mosaics that Isaiah has pasted to buildings around town – crazy-quilt images of people (often the artist himself), shards of shattered mirror, cracked crockery, bottles, bicycle wheels – his life has been kaleidoscopic, yet singularly focused. Now 68, Isaiah and his wife, Julia, have been fixtures in Philadelphia since the hippie days of yesteryear. She runs the Eyes Gallery and he runs around town, looking for blank walls to cover. There are more than 100 of his murals in the city, and the “magic garden” in front of his studio has become a tourist destination…

Mixing old home movies, wonderful animated sequences derived from Isaiah’s art, and scenes of Isaiah at work, of Julia in agony, and of their eldest son, Zeke, grappling with his own demons, In a Dream captures a family imploding. Their lives are laid bare, in broken bits, like the ceramic that Isaiah uses for his art, and they come together in In a Dream with sadness and beauty, rage and insight.

Wikipedia says: “Embedded in many of his works are the words ‘Art is the Center of the Real World’. His murals reflect an appreciation for the imaginative human and sensual element in the potentially bleak urban environment.” Beautiful portrait of Isaiah Zagar after the cut.

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“…in the category for which I should have been nominated,” as he said just now on HBO’s Real Time.

He also revealed that the Oscar’s are cutting back on glitz this year. In fact, Maher says, “Sean Penn will arrive in a rented huff.”

(Religulous DVD trailer after the cut)

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It happens every year. The defacto choice in a category becomes mirage-like, shimmering in the distance and we wonder, briefly, if it is really as solid as we think it is. Even the most secure winner can look like a mirage at times, which is sort of how this revelation from Kris Tapley at InContention comes off; I appreciate that he saw Man on Wire first and the other docs second, which could account for the replacement of feeling. On the other hand, as he points out, this is very likely how the other voters will be seeing things:

I have a lot of respect for “Man on Wire.” I think it’s blend of energetic interviews with Philippe Petit and stock footage of his daring high-wire act is at times quite beautiful. The score is magistrial, a lullaby throughout. Yet overall, I can’t imagine the film would have the same emotional resonance if it weren’t a sort of ghost story, given the fate of the twin towers. And I can’t help but marvel at the innovation of the other contenders more so than the piecing together of older material and manifestation of scenes to push “Wire”’s story forward.

And I doubt I’m the only one. I don’t have any insight into the voting committee of this year’s documentary contenders. I haven’t made any calls to find out who’s voting for what. So this is purely a speculative piece. But we must keep in mind that, while most of the other categories can allow for a voter to choose without having seen this or that contender (thereby allowing the groupthink to sway opinion in some instances), members of the Academy who wish to vote in the documentary field must watch each of the nominees in order to have a say. And when you stack up the competition, “Man on Wire” seems a bit flat.

It is unfortunate that the docs, the foreign films and the shorts I think are the only categories where voters have to seen all five contenders (seeing them should be mandatory for all Academy members, in my fascist opinion) to vote. This is usually why weird shit goes down at the Oscars that no one sees coming. I think Kris dismisses the idea of the ghost story, though, too quickly; those are some pretty powerful ghosts. But I’ll reserve judgment until I see them all.

QUESTION: I think that the debate that you’ve been having, your calls to expand the idea of what documentary can be – if that’s been a debate, it seems to me that you’ve won.

WH: No, come on, it’s not winning or losing. We are not in horse races. No, it is just finding, how shall I say, finding an adequate answer to the massive onslaught on our sense of reality. And I’m speaking of digital effects in cinema and photoshop and virtual realities on the net and video games and reality TV, you can continue on. In the last decade a massive onslaught on our sense of reality and we, as filmmakers, are called upon to redefine our sense of reality. That’s what’s behind it. And cinema verite’s the answer of the ‘60s.

Encounters at the End of the World director Werner Herzog talking to All These Wonderful Things.

All These Wonderful Things has announced the complete nominees for the 2008 Cinema Eye awards for non-fiction film. The group was born out of frustration with the Academy’s and other awards groups methods for choosing documentaries. Here is how it’s shaking down:

Ari Folman’s acclaimed animated film, WALTZ WITH BASHIR, received a record-setting 7 nominations, including nods for Director, Producer, Editor, Music, Animation, International Film and the top prize, Outstanding Achievement in Nonfiction Feature Filmmaking. In addition, Ari Folman leads all nominees with four individual nominations.

Guy Maddin’s MY WINNIPEG received six total nominations, while James Marsh’s MAN ON WIRE had five. Margaret Brown’s THE ORDER OF MYTHS, which received four nominations, and Marina Zenovich’s ROMAN POLANSKI: THE ORDER OF MYTHS are also in contention for the top award.

Of the five films nominated for the top prize, only one – MAN ON WIRE – is on the Oscar shortlist for Best Feature Documentary.

Legendary filmmaker Werner Herzog, whose ENCOUNTERS AT THE END OF THE WORLD received four nominations, joins Margaret Brown, Ari Folman, Guy Maddin and James Marsh in the category of Outstanding Achievement in Direction. Margaret Brown becomes the first woman to be nominated for the directing prize.

Looks like Waltz with Bashir will win big.

AJ Schnack brings the news that the International Documentary Association (IDA) has announced its winners in all but the top prize category. Schnack thinks it will be down to Young @ Heart versus Man on Wire. Also in the running for Doc Feature, Waltz with Bashir, also poised to do some damage in the awards race in one way or another.

I read a few sites with commentary on the Oscar documentary short list but I must admit I was waiting to hear what AJ Schnack over at All These Wonderful Things had to say and it turns out it isn’t bad:

Let’s get one thing out of the way. There will be no outraged commentary this year. For one, we’ve tried to swear that kind of thing off after last year’s debacle and our subsequent response. For another, despite the numerous flaws in the Academy’s process (and Lord knows they are legion), it’s not a terrible shortlist this year, despite some high profile omissions.

In fact, the Academy, through no fault of its own, managed to include veterans (Errol Morris, Werner Herzog, Steve James & Peter Gilbert, Stacy Peralta) as well as first timers (Ellen Kuras, Jeremiah Zagar) and still found room for the two front-runners (James Marsh’s MAN ON WIRE and Carl Deal & Tia Lessin’s TROUBLE THE WATER). This despite a process that made it ever increasingly simple to qualify for Academy eligibility.

Women filmmakers took yet another hit this year:

Two years ago, women filmmakers dominated the shortlist. This year, just two films (the aforementioned BLESSED IS THE MATCH and PRAY THE DEVIL BACK TO HELL) were credited solely to a female filmmaker. Last year, only one film had that distinction. (TROUBLE THE WATER and THE BETRAYAL have one woman sharing credit with a man, although Ellen Kuras gets the primary credit on THE BETRAYAL.) Brown, Burstein and Zenovich are among the filmmakers missing from this year’s list.

AMPAS released the contenders for the Documentary Feature and they are:

“At the Death House Door”
“The Betrayal (Nerakhoon)”
“Blessed Is the Match: The Life and Death of Hannah Senesh”
“Encounters at the End of the World”
“The Garden”
“Glass: A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts”
“In a Dream”
“Made in America”
“Man on Wire”
“Pray the Devil Back to Hell”
“Standard Operating Procedure”
“They Killed Sister Dorothy”
“Trouble the Water”


Indiewire posted the nominees for the International Documentary Association Awards. It is starting to look like one of the sure things in this year’s doc race is Man on Wire, as it’s the one that is finding itself on almost every list thus far. Young@Heart is not eligible for the Oscar, neither is Waltz with Bashir (which is eligible for Foreign and Animated). It doesn’t appear to be shaping up like a political year for docs, though, unless you count Trouble the Water – because how do you talk about Katrina without talking about the government?

Fataculture’s Nick Plowman called Stranded one of his favorite documentaries of the year and reviews it here. And Kassim the Dream looks pretty fabulous too (trailer above).

The full list of nominees:

Distinguished Documentary Achievement: Feature
Kassim The Dream,” directed by Kief Davidson
Man on Wire,” directed by James Marsh
Stranded: I Have Come From a Plane That Crashed on the Mountains,” directed by Gonzalo Arijon
Waltz With Bashir,” directed by Ari Folman
Young@Heart,” directed by Stephen Walker

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As a huge fan of such films as The Krays, The Long Good Friday, and the BBC miniseries, The Krays, this looks like the dog’s bollocks.

Press Release: A VERY BRITISH GANGSTER, the acclaimed profile of the notorious British gay crime boss, Dominic Noonan and his family, has qualified and been entered into the Academy Award Documentary Competition for consideration. Directed by Donal MacIntyre Рan award winning BBC investigative reporter – the film was the result of a four year odyssey with Noonan and his team of enforcers, as he lurched from trial to trial, evading convictions on charges involving a million dollar kidnap and torture case, a $1.2 million heroin deal and gun running.

Alan Maher, production executive of the Irish Film Board said, “We are thrilled with the success of A VERY BRITISH GANGSTER and are proud to have this film represent the best of Irish cinema for a chance at Oscar gold.”

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