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Entries in documentaries (144)


Interview: "Virunga" Producer Joanna Natasegara

 Here's Jose with an interview with a PGA nominee on her Oscar finalist in Documentary

Virunga chronicles the battle being fought in the beautiful Virunga National Park in Congo, where a British oil corporation is putting in peril the lives of the world’s last mountain gorillas. The gorillas are defended only by a group of brave rangers, led by Prince Emmanuel de Merode, who dedicate their whole lives to defending the cause. Shot with urgency by first time feature filmmaker Orlando von Einsiedel, few other films last year felt as alive as this, as it combined thriller elements with an important call to action. It's available on Netflix.

The film continues earning mentions in non-fiction categories this awards season. First it was shortlisted among the documentary films that made it to the last round before Oscar nominations are announced, and now it has also earned a Producers Guild of America award nomination. We spoke to one of its producers, Joanna Natasegara, about working in the jungle, the role of a producer and why it’s essential for us to help Virunga National Park.

JOSE: How did you get involved in the project?

JOANNA NATASEGARA: Originally Orlando had been working on the film for about a year with Emmanuel, and based on their discussions they realized that their ambitions around the objectives of the film, meant they had to bring someone on board who could make sure all their goals could be achieved and I have a history of working in social impact films, so we were introduced at an event in the UK, and at the time we talked about it and Orlando realized he wanted me to be the producer, because the scale of the film meant he needed an extra pair of hands.

JOSE: I’m sure this was one of those projects that made you go “I have to do this”...

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Interview: James Marsh on (True) Storytelling from "Man on Wire" to "The Theory of Everything"

It's rare for acclaimed documentarians to make a dramatically successful leap into narrative features but with The Theory of Everything, a marital drama about Stephen and Jane Hawking, the 51 year old British filmmaker James Marsh (of Man on Wire and Project Nim fame) is finally doing just that. Man on Wire was one of the most successful documentaries of the past decade but his new affecting biopic, which is actually Marsh's fourth narrative feature, is already his most successful film having racked up an impressive $26 million and counting worldwide to date.

It's also been collecting plentiful Oscar buzz.  The Film Experience had a chance to chart with this articulate thoughtful Oscar winner so we jumped right in. Here's our conversation:

Nathaniel R: Given your filmography, both documentaries and features, The Theory of Everything is...

JAMES MARSH: Go ahead. You can say it.

Nathaniel R: Ha. Well, it's a much different direction for you. It's romantic drama and it's also old school biography. What prompted your interest?

JAMES MARSH: You’re right in terms of its scale for sure and perhaps its emotional spectrum. But it’s a true story and that’s my background in films I’ve done. It’s a story of a marriage as much as a biopic. That felt like an interesting challenge: to try and examine a relationship that evolves and changes over time given all the impediments and unusual and very difficult circumstances. It felt also that I could go somewhere that a documentary could not go in terms of the intimacy of the relationship. 

You're right that it's different but it does have curious connections with Man on Wire. [More...]

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Team FYC: Citizenfour for Editing

Editor's Note: We're featuring individually chosen FYC's for various longshots in the Oscar race. We'll never repeat a film or a category so we hope you enjoy the variety of picks. And if you're lucky enough to be an AMPAS, HFPA, or Critics Group voter, take note! Here's Glenn on Citizenfour.

Only one documentary has ever been nominated for an editing Oscar, which is actually rather shocking given the pure logistics of the craft. How much footage of various and how many points of view they have to juggle, not to mention how quickly the sands of reportage can shift in a film that doesn't have a clear start and finish. That one film was Steve James' Hoop Dreams, which followed the schooling and personal lives of two aspiring professional basketball players. It was one of the first documentaries I recall being truly gobsmacked by, flawed by the fact that they turned 250 hours of raw footage into a 170-minute film that just worked. It made me look at documentaries and the art of editing differently.

Controversially denied the documentary Oscar that almost everybody thought he deserved in 1994, Steve James is in heavy (some may say unbeatable) contention 20 years later for Life Itself about the life of Roger Ebert, Hoop Dreams' biggest critical champion. Surely the irony isn't lost on James that his biggest competitor is Laura Poitras' Citizenfour, a compelling, nerve-wracking doc experience that charts the growing scandal of the American government's NSA spying network and its whistleblower, Edward Snowden. It would be some sort of twisted logic if Life Itself trumps it in the documentary category.

While I am not a fan of Life Itself, even its most ardent supporters would surely agree that one area in which Poitras' box-office hit has its star-studded competitor easily trumped is in the editing room. It was the mission of editor Mathilde Bonnefoy to collate and compile hours upon hours of research, investigation, news footage, and, of course, the film's centerpiece Snowden interview into a tight 114 minutes. It's a work of art to see Bonnefoy and Poitras so expertly know when to show us glimpses of Snowden's rapidly claustrophobic world (the hair gel sequence!) and when to pull back and reveal the bigger picture. When to see the story from the world's POV and when to give audiences the intimate portrait that allows the film its unique selling point.

Citizenfour is not exactly an unbiased picture; Poitras was specifically chosen by Snowden to tell the story of the NSA. Yet it's a miraculous feat of the craft that allows so many angles to be shown whilst letting a breaking story unfold as it happens. Bonnefoy ought to be a nominee alongside the prestige period dramas and Hollywood action movies that the Academy so frequently nominate.

Film Experience Podcast | Documentary shortlist | Glenn's review

Other FYCs
Makeup and Hair, Only Lovers Left AliveBest Actor, Locke | Supporting Actress, Gone Girl | Visual FX, Under the Skin | Cinematography, The Homesman | Outstanding Ensembles | Screenplay, The Babadook |  Original ScoreThe Immigrant 


Ebert, Snowden and Wim Wenders on High-Profile Documentary Shortlist

The Academy has announced the 15-wide documentary shortlist and apart from one title, it's is a very high-profile group of names. At least they are if you follow the world of documentary. I had discussed with a friend recently that last year's field may go down as the greatest in the category's history, but depending on how the branch votes this year they may just surpass it. I have already seen nine of the 15 and can vouch for almost all of them. Let's take a look.

  • Art and Craft
  • The Case Against 8 (review)
  • Citizen Koch
  • Citizenfour (podcast | Glenn's review)
  • Finding Vivian Maier
  • The Internet's Own Boy
  • Jodorowsky's Dune
  • Keep On Keepin' On
  • The Kill Team
  • Last Days in Vietnam (review)
  • Life Itself
  • The Overnighters
  • The Salt of the Earth
  • Tales of the Grim Sleeper (NYFF review | AFI review)
  • Virunga

There are some big names in here. Apart from the likes of Edward Snowden Roger Ebert, Alejandro Jodorowsky and Clark Terry who are the subjects of the shortlist's most recognisable titles, there's also Wim Wenders (co-directed with Juliano Ribeiro Salgado) who is contending for his third documentary Oscar citation (after Beuna Vista Social Club and Pina) and first win with The Salt of the Earth, while Nick Broomfield is angling for his first ever nomination with Tales of the Grim Sleeper despite a big career. It appears the new documentary rules are finally working in his favor! Carl Deal and Tia Lesson are back with Citizen Koch after Trouble the Water was a nominee in 2008. While, most famously, Steve James, the director of Life Itself, is no stranger to Oscar controversies (but we'll talk about that in a couple of days!)

Since we all enjoy a spot of prognasticating, I'd be looking most heavily at Citizenfour, Keep on Keepin' On, Last Days in Vietnam (they love docs about Vietnam!) Life Itself, The Overnighters, although it would be sweet to see Broomfield finally nominated for an Oscar, especially since his pair of Aileen Wournos docs so heavily influenced another Oscar-winner: Monster. Finding Vivian Maier, the blockbuster of the field (until Citizenfour overtakes it this week) shouldn't be discounted either. I'd assume Virunga a threat for a nomination but between Project Nim and Blackfish, animal documentaries appear to be out of favor at the moment.

Left out of the field? Well, considering there were 134 semi-finalists, that's a long list! However, some of the more high-profile titles that didn't make the shortlist cut include The Dog, 20,000 Days on Earth, Rich Hill, Happy Valley, Particle Fever, National Gallery, Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me, Antarctica: A Year on Ice, Manakamana, Nas: Time is Illmatic, Finding Fela and Whitey: United States of America vs James J Bulger. Just quietly, I know it was popular and was assumed a shortlist placing, but I'm kind of glad Red Army isn't on here. I wouldn't be surprised if a few of those - The Dog, Manakamana and the Nick Cave-centric 20,000 Days on Earth especially - popped up on critic organisation lists though. As far as Oscar goes, however, they're sadly done.

Do you follow the documentary category now that bigger films and bigger names are finding themselves on the list? What are you doc hunches?


Candid Kidman (and Naomi) in 'The Last Impresario'

Glenn here with a bit of a photography break. I had anticipated catching far more films at DOC NYC, the documentary festival that is wrapping up its season here in New York. One film that I was able to catch, a nominee for Best Documentary at the "Australian Oscars", was Gracie Otto's The Last Impresario. It is a delightfully portrait of the life and career of the so-called most famous man you have never heard of, Michael White, and an entertaining trip down the film and theatre industry's memory lane. Otto discovered White when visiting the Cannes Film Festival and sought to document him, looking at the way he changed London's West End with original productions of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Oh! Calcutta! and many more, before getting into film production with the likes of Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

One of the film's best moments is when Otto is interviewing the man on a bench in one of the few quiet corners of Cannes when who should walk by but Mick Jagger. White and Jagger chat like old friends (which they are) while Otto's camera sheepishly looks away, afraid of the potential wrath of celebrity by intruding. The film is full of little moments like this, but for Film Experience readers, however, the highlight will likely be the albums of photos that White allows Otto access to (White was a fan of taking candid photos on a polaroid camera). Included amongst them are a plethora of celebrities as well as these shots featuring Nicole Kidman and one with BFF Naomi Watts (and frizzy red hair!). While I am unsure when the first two photos were taken, I recognise the dress in the third photo as what she wore to the red carpet Cannes premiere of Dogville!

How much do you love this gals and why haven't they made a movie together since Flirting (1991) ?!?


Interview: Director Stefan Haupt of "The Circle" 

Jose here. This year's Oscar race for Best Foreign Language Film includes many films featuring gay characters or dealing with LGBT issues, one of them being Swiss entry The Circle, a documentary/drama hybrid that tells the story of the groundbreaking title publication, which became one of the most popular LGBT magazines in the post-WWII era. The film, opening in limited release today, focuses on the story of two members of the network that helped create The Circle, schoolteacher Ernst Ostertag and drag entertainer Robi Rapp, who not only survived the repression of the era (which included a serial killer who targeted gay men in Zurich) but eventually became the first same sex couple to get married in Switzerland.

I had the opportunity to talk to the film's director Stefan Haupt, about this landmark project and what Oscar could mean to help share this wonderful story. Interview after the jump...

Click to read more ...


Podcast: A Most Violent Citizen Four Theory in Selma, Alabama


It's a new festive and festivalish episode of the podcast. Since Oscar fever has begun to spread we refer to it even more than usual as we discuss the AFI premieres, Ava DuVernay's Selma with this podcast's boyfriend cinematographer Bradford Young, John Goodman's scene stealing in The Gambler, Jessica Chastain clawing her way into Supporting Actress, Citizen Four's competition for Documentary gold, and split reactions to The Theory of Everything

The podcast features Nick Davis, Joe Reid, Katey Rich, special guest Anne Marie Kelly, and your host Nathaniel R

38 minutes
00:01 Premieres: A Most Violent YearSelma, The Gambler
13:20 Jessica Chastain's fingernails
15:24 Sophia Loren's hips
18:10 Citizen Four 
28:17 The Theory of Everything

You can listen at the bottom of the post or download on iTunes. Continue the conversation in the comments! 

AFI Memories, Citizen Four, Theory of Everything

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