Friday, January 21, 2011

Sundance News

Sundance 2011 kicked off Thursday night and there's already plenty of news to discuss. So let's dive into it:

- Sony Pictures Worldwide acquired the U.S. and Canadian rights to Morgan Spurlock’s latest documentary The Greatest Movie Ever Sold. The documentary becomes the first success story of films seeking distributors and it hasn't even premiered yet (screening this Saturday)! The Greatest Movie Ever Sold focuses on product placement in entertainment and . Currently, Sony plans on releasing the film in early April.

- Sundance first major film? That's right, a documentary. Ok, technically three other films also kicked off the festival last night, but still, it's nice to see the documentary love coming from the great champion of independent cinema. What was the film? Why none other then Sing Your Song, a documentary following 83-year-old singer Harry Belafonte. Are you intrigued? I know I certainly am.

- Earlier this week,
The Ford Foundation announced a five-year plan to pour $50 million into documentaries. The program, called JustFilms, plans to distribute money in several ways, including donations to festival workshops and funding individual films. If your a filmmaker (or just curious) head on over to their website for more details:

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Sundance Jurors Selected

Earlier this week, Sundance Film Festival announced its Jury members for their upcoming festival. Now Sundance covers every genre but we only really care about the documentaries, so if you want to read about the other Jury members, head on over to

From Sundance:

- Jeffrey Blitz directed the documentary Spellbound, Lucky and multiple episodes of NBC's "The Office."
- Matt Groening created the longest-running comedy in television history…The Simpsons.
- Laura Poitras is working on a trilogy of films about America post 9/11. The first two films, My Country, My Country and The Oath, have already received numerous awards.
- Jess Search is the Chief Executive of the Channel 4 BRITDOC Foundation which has given funding and support to over 60 British documentaries.
- Editor Sloane Klevin won an Emmy for her work on the feature documentary Taxi to the Dark Side. Her latest project is Freakonomics, for which she edited segments for Alex Gibney, Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady.

- José Padilha, is a Brazilian producer, writer and director. He directed and produced the documentaries BUS 174, Garapa and Secrets of the Tribe, as well as the feature film Elite Squad.
- Mette Hoffmann Meyer is head of documentaries and co-productions for Danish DR TV.
- Lucy Walker has directed four award-winning feature documentaries: Devil's Playground, Blindsight, Countdown to Zero, and Wasteland.

So what do you think of the Jury line up? Personally, I'm a fan of most of the choices, though I'm curious to see how Groening fits in with the rest of the members. What are your thoughts?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Big Winners at Cinema Eye Honors Awards

Not exactly as high profile as some other award shows, the Cinema Eye Honors is one award show our website can truly support. In it's fourth year, this award show is all about nonfiction cinema. To quote their mission statement, "Cinema Eye’s mission is to advocate for, recognize and promote the highest commitment to rigor and artistry in the nonfiction field."

Their awards show was hosted last night, but will air on the Documentary Channel on January 30, 2011 (so get your TiVo ready!). But really, let's be honest, all you care about is who won:

Outstanding Achievement in Nonfiction Feature Filmmaking: "Exit Through the Gift Shop"
Outstanding Achievement in Direction: Laura Poitras, "The Oath"
Outstanding Achievement in Production: Mila Aung-Thwin and Daniel Cross, "Last Train Home"
Outstanding Achievement in Editing: Chris King and Tom Fulford, "Exit Through the Gift Shop"
Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography: Lixin Fan, "Last Train Home"
Outstanding Achievement in Original Music Score: Norbert Möslang, "The Sound of Insects: Record of a Mummy"
Outstanding Achievement in Graphic Design and Animation: Juan Cardarelli and Alex Tyson, "Gasland"
Outstanding Achievement in an International Feature: "Last Train Home"
Outstanding Achievement in a Debut Feature Film: "Marwencol"
Outstanding Achievement in Nonfiction Short Filmmaking: "The Poodle Trainer"
Audience Choice Prize: "Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work"
Legacy Award: "Grey Gardens"
Spotlight Award: "The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceaucascu"Heterodox Award: "Putty Hill"

So what do you think? Is Exit Through the Gift Shop the best documentary of the year? Is Last Train Home worthy of three awards? I tend to agree with the previous years' winners, but this year, I see some debate.

Monday, January 17, 2011

'Crude' Filmmaker loses Court Appeal

Joe Berlinger is not a journalist. At least that's what a Federal Appeals court says.

The filmmaker for 2009's Crude is unable to invoke journalistic privilege and is no longer legally able to refuse to turn over more than 500 hours of raw footage from his documentary.

According to the judges, “Given all the circumstances of the making of the film... as reasonably found by the district court, particularly the fact that Berlinger’s making of the film was solicited by the plaintiffs in the Lago Agrio litigation for the purpose of telling their story, and that changes to the film were made at their instance, Berlinger failed to carry his burden of showing that he collected information for the purpose of independent reporting and commentary.”

Lawyers for Chevron have sought Berlinger's footage for months because they believe it demonstrates collusion between the plaintiffs in the Lago Agrio lawsuit and a court appointed independent expert.

For those who don't know, Crude chronicles the lawsuit brought by a group of Ecuadoreans who say Texaco's (now owned by Chevron) Lago Agrio oil field polluted their water supply. It remains locked in legal battle.

Berlinger (and most other documentary filmmakers) are understandably upset by the ruling which continues to wedge a distinction between documentaries and journalism.

What do you think? Should Berlinger be considered a journalist? Or do filmmakers operate in an unprotected gray area?