Documentary Insider

Another whirlwind doc roundup…

February 24th, 2007

Time for another whirlwind doc roundup.

Big Sky Marquee
Outsite the Wilma the marquee brings in the locals.

I got back from Big Sky Documentary Film Festival on Tuesday. I think a good time was had by all. The locals are thrilled to have guests. And the guests are thrilled to be visiting the 60,000 person town. I stayed at the Red Lion Inn. Sounds fancy, I know. They’re all about your comfort. In the middle of the night I was dreaming about trains and woke up to find this.

dreaming of trains
Note the Railroad Crossing!

I had a lot of shorts to watch over the course of 4 days as a member of the documentary shorts jury and I dove right in on Friday as the festival kicked into full swing. The festival played a whole program of films from the International Documentary Challenge. It’s very cool. Teams sign up, get a genre and then have 5 days to make a short doc. It’s pretty amazing that anything works out at all. The 2007 edition of the Challenge is just around the corner and runs March 1-5.

Court House
Missoula Court House looks like a movie set

I spent the evening doing a movie and dinner. And really I think it’s a great thing for the festival to market as an activity. I went to see The War Tapes and then joined some fellow jurors and friends for dinner at 515. We ate in the wine bar, which has a different menu than the upstairs la-de-da restaurant. But we managed to eat everything (maybe a few too many things) and gorge on two orders of wild boar short ribs from the upstairs menu as well. Ooooh…what a waitstaff will do to keep a group of 7 from up and leaving.

Liberty Lanes
Now this is a classy place!

Damon   Steve
Festival Director Damon Ristau with docmaker and jury member Steve James.

Adam beams
Producer Adam Singer gets his highest ever bowling score.

The rest of the fest included more films, panels, parties and even a late night of bowling at Liberty Lanes (Steve James is a pretty good bowler!). My last night in Missoula I spent two hours deliberating with the shorts jury while Can Mr. Smith Get to Washington Anymore? screened in the 1,100 seat Wilma Theatre. By the time my co-jurors and I emerged with our Big Sky winners freshly picked I watched Mr. Smith producer Mike Kime answer questions about the film and from what I could tell from the Q&A and major audience response Mr. Smith picked up some new fans.

Mike answers
Mike Kime takes on the HUGE Wilma Theatre.

Feature Hams
The feature jury – Doug Whyte, Sky Sitney & Mike Steinberg

Here are the 2007 Big Sky Documentary Film Festival Award Winners:

Best Feature
The Cats of Mirikitani

Director: Linda Hattendorf

Best Short
A Revolving Door

Director: Marilyn Braverman

Best Mini Doc
Ha Ha Ha America

Director: JD Ligon

Big Sky Award

Salvation Mountain

Director: Travis Peterson

Artistic Vision Award
The Colour of Olives

Director: Carolina Rivas

Artistic Vision Award

Director: Wojciech Kasperski

A view from one of the daily hikes in Missoula.

The festival staff and volunteers were incredibly accommodating. It was great to watch docs with friends and make new ones in the friendly town.

Wednesday night I attended the International Documentary Association’s annual celebration of Academy Award nominated docs. It was a nice evening. And quick too!

Robert   Davis
Davis Guggenheim talks about his father.

Oscar noms
Some of the Oscar noms pose up.

On Saturday the IDA will be showing all the nominated films at the Writer’s Guild Theatre. It usually sells out. I’m planning on seeing Iraq in Fragments. It’s my only missing film from the category. See you there.

A week from today I’ll be at True/False in Columbia, MO. They’re showing The Fighting Cholitas along with a whole slew of great docs. I’m looking forward to another great time there! They’ve also started some cool interactive stuff on their website (the T/F Experience). Oooooooooh…

SXSW is fast approaching. Have fun! I won’t be there this year. So I’ll be looking to my fellow bloggers for news and inspiration.

Oh – AND – be sure to set your Tivo, program your VCR or just plain plop yourself down on the couch with a snack and watch Can Mr. Smith Get to Washington Anymore? on Independent Lens. It premieres February 27th. Check local listings.

Big Smith and Homemade Hillbilly Jam in Memphis…

February 22nd, 2007

HHJ dates PC

Sundance 2007 Review – Zoo

February 21st, 2007

Just when you thought I couldn’t possibly write any more about Sundance. Here’s a guest review from Darianna Cardilli.

    Let’s face it: every year at Sundance there’s a shocking documentary – a televised gangbang, fraternity rape cases, etc. which earn it the moniker “Shockdance”. So when I read in theprogram that there was a doc about a man who had died from having sex with a horse, out came my highlighter. I will admit it I was intrigued and ready to be shocked. Alas, ZOO was not at all what I expected, nor all that shocking. Which is not to say it was disappointing. On the contrary, it was a beautiful, mesmerizing and nearly hypnotic discourse on the relationship between man and nature. Artfully crafted with stunning cinematography and a wistful score, the film is a 100% reenactment using audio interviews from some of the key figures in the incident. Apparently bestiality is not a crime in Washington State. Nor do the members of the zoophile community interviewed display any remorse for their actions or sexual preferences, (only regretful that a friend of theirs died from a perforated colon and that their activities were unmasked). Tired of judgmental human beings, they feel animals are more accepting (no need for the travails of dating or choosing the right restaurant apparently) and they see their fetish as just a love for animals, except it’s more ‘eros’ than ‘agape’. For the rest of us who love horses, but not quite in that manner, it was haunting and upsetting. Executed without any judgment, it’s an excellent example of how to portray a ‘villain’s ‘ point of view with kindness. It is only when operating room footage of a gelding of a stallion is shown that the full impact of these actions comes home, and the horror sinks in. ZOO is unsatisfying only in a voyeuristic sense. If it’s titillation you’re looking for, you’ll have to dredge the dark bowels of the Internet.

zoo still 12
Man loves horse in ZOO.

ZOO is playing at the upcoming True/False Film Festival in Columbia, MO.

Wanna write for Let us know!

Where the Sky is Big…

February 16th, 2007

I’m in Missoula, Montana for the 4th annual Big Sky Documentary Film Festival. People keep asking me if it’s cold here. It is.

I got in last night and hoofed it the Wilma Theatre. It’s the real home of the fest. It’s got about 1100 seats and I think almost all of them were full for the World Premiere of a new HBO doc, Montana Meth. The film is disturbing. Montana apparently has the 2nd highest meth problem in the United States. Just what I wanted to know before I walked the 10-minute walk back to my hotel alone.

I’m on the jury here – looking at short docs and mini docs (what’s a mini doc?!). I’ll post some pics of the theatre later.

Also Can Mr. Smith Get to Washington Anymore? is showing here on Monday night. There’s a great review in the alternative weekly paper the Missoula Independent.

Save PBS and NPR!!!

February 8th, 2007

Reading this makes me cry. Please sign the petition and tell everyone you know to do the same. You can copy the note below including the link and send it out in an emil.

Sarah Jo

    President Bush just proposed drastic cuts to NPR and PBS. We’ve stopped similar cuts in the past, but enough is enough: With the new Congress, we can make sure this never happens again.

    We need Congress to save NPR and PBS once and for all.

    Can you help out by signing this petition to Congress? It’s really easy—just click the link below:


Sundance 2007 – one day early

January 19th, 2007

I’ve arrived the first weekend, I’ve stayed through the closing night party, but I’ve never gotten to Sundance a day early. It might be the best thing I do this whole trip. I fled LA Wednesday morning on 2 hours sleep and a California Pizza Kitchen tuna salad. Sundance starts at the Delta terminal. Everyone’s chatting about the movies they’re going to see, they made, they programmed, they saw at a super secret special location, but didn’t like that much. It’s time to turn on until flight time. I picked up an LA Times and was thrilled to see Kenneth Turan’s pre-fest coverage. He only mentioned one short in the piece, “irresistible short doc (The Fighting Cholitas)…” I got chills! By the time we loaded up I was ready to pass out. I slept most of the one-hour flight with my noise reducing headphones keeping out the voices of the publicists chattering behind me.

Got in, ate dinner at the Vietnamese place off Main Street (tasty but a little overpriced – 10$ for rice noodles!?), went to Albertson’s for essentials (a first day Park City must!) worked and went to bed with the intent of being ready and rested for Thursday.

Soup o Matic
One incredible toxic soup selection at Albertson’s.

I’ve got a pretty solid schedule of movies to see and parties to hit and today was the just the beginning. Late start was a good thing because I ran into the entire Fighting Cholitas crew at the hospitality suite at the Marriott Headquarters. We hooked up and went to opening reception of New Frontier on Main. It’s in the basement of the Main Street Mall in the old location of the Digital Center and showcases new technologies.

Met the whole crew of a new doc called Official Rejection at a shuttle stop. Can’t miss them. They’re all sporting hats with their logo, the title of the film in festival laurels. The film is about the craziness that goes on as filmmakers try to get their films into festivals.

Happy Rejection
The Official Rejection team was in high spirits and it wasn’t just the altitude!

And for the first time (drum roll please) I made it to the opening night movie! Hooray! I was surprised the Press & Industry screening wasn’t full. But I was glad I got there early to get an unobstructed view for Brett Morgen’s new doc Chicago 10.

Tomorrow morning is an early one. 8:30 screening of the doc shorts.

You too can survive the perils of elevation and too many people…

January 16th, 2007

Mark Bell posted a pretty good Sundance survival guide on Film Threat.

Garrett Scott Documentary Development Grant

January 10th, 2007

I just heard about this grant for first time doc makers.


    What: This grant funds first time documentary makers for travel and accommodations at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, April 12-15, 2007. For four days, grant recipients will be given access to films, participate in master classes and be mentored by experienced filmmakers. TWO filmmakers will be chosen for the grant in its first year.

    Deadline: Applications must be postmarked by February 5. Applicants will be notified by email in mid-March.

    About the Grant: Garrett Scott made a distinctive mark in documentary films during his short career. Without any formal training in film, he directed Cul De Sac: A Suburban War Story, examining the case of a methamphetamine addict who stole a tank from an armory and went on a rampage through the San Diego suburbs. The film prompted Filmmaker Magazine to cite Scott as one of 25 New Faces of Independent Film. He went on to make Occupation: Dreamland, co-directed with Ian Olds, about U.S. soldiers in Falluja, Iraq. It won prizes at Full Frame and the Independent Spirit Awards. Both films were broadcast by the Sundance Channel. In 2005, Scott died of a heart attack at age 37.

    Scott’s work examined how the forces of state power and economics impact individuals. Stylistically, his films broke convention, giving audiences new perspectives on familiar milieus like suburbia or war torn Iraq. He was a beloved member of film communities from San Francisco to New York City and several points in between.

    His friends, family and colleagues established this development grant to help other emerging filmmakers reach their potential. The grant’s selection committee looks especially for filmmakers who somehow fulfill Scott’s example, by bringing a unique vision to the content and style of contemporary documentary making.

    Criteria: Applicants must be a U.S. citizen or green card holder, living in the continental United States; any age 18 or older. By “first time filmmaker,” we mean someone who is in the early stage of their documentary career and not yet received significant recognition (such as major festival play or broadcast). All applicants should anticipate finishing their first project by March 2008. You can still qualify as a “first time filmmaker,” even if you’ve made shorts or student projects or worked professionally as a crew member on other people’s films. Or if you’ve recently completed a documentary that hasn’t been released yet. The grant is open to students and non-students alike.

    How: Applicants should send a 2 page letter addressing these areas:

    1) Project summary: Describe the documentary you’re working on. It doesn’t matter whether the film is a short or a feature. Describe the characters, structure, visual approach and what stage you’re at.

    2) Director’s statement: Describe how you came to filmmaking and how you’ve trained as a filmmaker. It doesn’t matter whether you went to film school or are self-taught. Describe what you want audiences to take from your film.

    In addition, if applicants have a 5-10 minute sample of their work or work-in-progress, please send that as well on DVD or VHS (NTSC format). A sample work isn’t required to apply. But if the selection committee has to choose between several strong applicants, the sample work will become a factor in making the decision.

    Submit two copies of both the letter and work sample along with your…


    Send to:
    Full Frame Documentary Film Festival
    324 Blackwell Street. Suite 500
    Washington Building, Bay 5
    Durham, NC 27701
    attn: Garrett Scott Documentary Grant

You can also make a donation to the grant in Garrett’s honor by following this link.

Movies and food in 2007…

January 9th, 2007

We made it through another holiday season full of top 10 lists. Here are a few that caught my eye. I didn’t do one this year. Either I didn’t see as many films as I normally do or I just didn’t like that much stuff. I’m hoping 2007 really grabs me. I hope Sundance floors me. I hope independent films actually are independent. The possibilities are endless. People keep asking me if I have any New Year’s resolutions. I don’t really. I just want to see good movies and eat good food. Ahhh…one can dream.

There are lots of chances for these lofty dreams of mine to come true over the next few months. SXSW announced the first little bit of their program. I could potentially see good films there AND eat BBQ and tacos (2 of my favorite things to eat!). The festival will announce its full selection of feature films on February 6, 2007 and the full selection of short films on February 13, 2007. Here are the docs we know about so far.

    Directed by Dollan Cannell
    This documentary examines the incredible and controversial story of 638 alleged plots to kill Cuban leader Fidel Castro. From CIA agents to Cuban exiles, exploding cigars to femme fatales, the film also provides a startling glimpse into the evolution of Cuban politics. (North American Premiere)

    Directed by Lauren Lazin
    Oscar-nominated filmmaker Lazin delivers her latest documentary story with the sad tale of Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, from platinum-selling pop act TLC. Weaving video-diary footage of Lopes’ last days before dying in an automobile accident, with the story of her personal and professional roller-coaster ride, this new film is both a memorable music doc and a personal account of the fragilities in fame. (North American Premiere)

    Directed by Debbie Melnyk & Rick Caine
    Featuring: Noam Chomsky, Janeane Garofalo, Ben Hamper, Christopher Hitchens, Harlan Jacobson, Dave Marsh, Albert Maysles, Michael Moore, Errol Morris, Ralph Nader, John Pierson, Roger Smith.
    A documentary that seeks to separate fact, fiction and legend tracks Michael Moore on tour during the release of the explosive Fahrenheit 9/11, all the while chronicling the politically supercharged climate in America that has fueled Moore’s transition from mere filmmaker to icon of the political left. (World Premiere)

    Directed by Rob Vanalkemade
    From producer Morgan Spurlock comes this entertaining and enlightening documentary look at the commercialization of the Christmas season. The famous Reverend Billy and his Church of Stop Shopping serve as the anchor for a disturbing and humorous portrayal of the way Christmas has evolved over centuries in America. (World Premiere)

In February there’s the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival. I’ve been invited to be on the jury there. I’ve never been to Montana. The festival just announced the program and it’s here. They’re showing Can Mr. Smith Get to Washington Anymore?, but don’t worry, I don’t think I’m judging features. (What kind of food is special to Montana?)

Oh, sorry…did I forget something? Duh…the 2007 Sundance Film Festival kicks off January 18 with Brett Morgen’s new doc Chicago 10. I’ve started pouring over the catalog deciding what to see and do. There are many good-looking panels this year including one featuring This American Life (if you’ve never listened it’s now free on iTunes). I probably shouldn’t put that in my blog since I don’t have a ticket yet. But…I’m pretty excited about it. Also At Risk Films is repping a doc short playing in front of Miss Navajo. The Fighting Cholitas is 20 minutes and it’s ready to knock your socks off!

TheFightingCholitas FilmStill 1
You should come and see some of this.

    THE FIGHTING CHOLITAS (Playing in front of Miss Navajo)
    U.S.A., 2006, 20 Minutes, color

    Mariam Jobrani

    A group of bold, female, Bolivian wrestlers push the limits of their culture by performing the acrobatic maneuvers of lucha libre every Sunday in El Alto, a low-income extension of La Paz.

    Saturday, Jan 20 9:15 PM Holiday Village Cinema III
    Sunday, Jan 21 4:30 PM Broadway Centre Cinemas VI, SLC
    Sunday, Jan 21 8:30 AM Prospector Square Theatre
    Friday, Jan 26 5:30 PM Prospector Square Theatre
    Saturday, Jan 27 3:00 PM Screening Room, Sundance Village

    The Fighting Cholitas premiered at NYC Shorts Fest and won the prize for Best Documentary and has just been selected to screen at Cinequest and the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.

I’ll be blogging a lot during the festival. And I really want to take more pictures this year. I always talk about indieWIRE’s great coverage of Sundance (and they’re already up and running), but I came across a new source of info, Docs That Inspire. It’s a great blog and an excellent resource to the documentary community.

Now here are some belated photos from the IDA Awards ( a place where I got nothing to eat). I was pretty slammed with Can Mr. Smith Get to Washington Anymore? duties so I handed my camera off to fellow blogger and doc maker AJ Schnack. He snapped most of these. Thanks AJ! He’s got his doc honor roll going. Check it out.

Not really that close to Al Gore
I’m pretty sure that’s Al Gore.

All Stars
Zach Niles & Banker White nominated for best doc for Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars.

Christopher   Jared
Winner of the Jacqueline Donnet Emerging Documentary Filmmaker Award Christopher Quinn with Sidetrack Films Jared Moshe.

James   Nancy
James Longley, winner of the IDA Award for best feature for Iraq in Fragments with publicist Nancy Willen.

Lucy   Danielle
Blindsight‘s Lucy Walker and friend Danielle Parsons.

That’s me and AJ Schnack!

Trials of Darryl Hunt filmmakers Ricki Stern & Annie Sundberg.

SJ  Heather  Janice   Helen
Yours truly with filmmaker Heather Ross, Janice Van Wagner and filmmaker Helen Hood Scheer.

Can Mr. Smith Get to Chicago? Yes!

December 22nd, 2006

Can Mr. Smith Get to Washington Anymore? opens Friday, December 22 at FACETS in Chicago. Drop your wrapping paper and grab 100 people and go see this award winning doc!

Fri., Dec. 22 at 7 & 9 pm
Sat., Dec. 23 at 4:30, 6:30 & 8:30 pm
Tues., Dec. 26-Thurs., 28 at 7 & 9 pm
Sat.-Sun., Dec. 30-31 at 2:30 pm