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William Holden in Picnic

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Entries in I Am Not Your Negro (3)

Tuesday
Dec262017

Doc Corner: Documentary Hits of 2017

Each day a new year-in-review / recap list of sorts. Here's Glenn Dunks

Nathaniel has already looked at the foreign language hits of the year and a the top-grossers for films by or about women, people of colour, LGBTQ and more. Now it's my turn to chime in with a look at what non-fiction movies were doing at the box office. It ain't exactly pretty - but, then, the figures below don't always paint an accurate picture for the world of documentary.

Much like the rest of the independent and arthouse scenes, festivals and VOD/streaming are becoming the primary way for audiences to see documentaries. Some of the most buzzed and most discussed of the year, for instance, are Strong Island, Icarus, Voyeur and Chasing Coral, which never received a theatrical release beyond minimal Oscar-qualifying runs. Meanwhile, other significant 2017 titles like LA 92, Oklahoma City, Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds aired on TV.

TOP 40 DOCUMENTARIES FOR 2017
Listed by US Box Office Gross only. Linked titles leads to reviews.
Oscar finalists are in bold 
🔺 = still in theaters (Note: Figures are as of 01/21/2018)

1. BORN IN CHINA $13.8 (April 21st)
As is often the case these days, a Disneynature title tops the chart. However, the figures for these Earth Day releases are diminishing. This one about pandas is the lowest-grossing of the seven Disneynature docs to be theatrically released since Earth in 2009 (so, not including The Crimson Wing: Mysteries of the Flamingo which went curiously unreleased in America). Still, this is a great figure for a nature documentary and as long as they keep churning them out hopefully people keep going in at least these modest numbers.

2. I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO $7.1 (February 3rd)
One of the lone bright spots among the first half of the year for arthouses was this Oscar-nominated James Baldwin doc. We may grimace when distributors keep films from the general public, but Magnolia were smart to see they not only had a very likely Oscar contender on their hands (it should have won, but that's not what we're here to discuss), but that there's no way for these films to thrive among the end-of-year prestige glut...

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Tuesday
Jan242017

Doc Corner: The Non-Fiction Class of 2016

This year’s Oscar race for Best Documentary Feature was a fiercely competitive one. With the strength of the 15-wide finalists list, quite frankly, it would have been hard to give us a truly bad line-up. We particularly weep for the omissions of Cameraperson, Tower, Zero Days and Weiner, but personal grouching aside about a couple of the nominees, this year’s batch is quite something. We have three films about race (one with queer undertones), a foreign language title, and the longest film ever nominated for an Academy Award.

The nominees are:

• Fire at Sea (Gianfranco Rosi, Donatella Palermo)
• I Am Not Your Negro (Raoul Peck, Rémi Grellety, Hébert Peck)
• O.J.: Made in America (Ezra Edelman, Caroline Waterlow)
• Life, Animated (Roger Ross Williams, Julie Goldman)
• 13th (Ava DuVernay, Spencer Averick, Howard Barish)

We will be looking at the documentary short nominees later (I have one title left to watch, which is proving difficult!), but now we're going to hypothesize how the doc feature nominees did it. Let us break down the imaginary math…

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Tuesday
Jan032017

Doc Corner: 'I Am Not Your Negro' is a Towering Achievement

In Doc Corner, Glenn Dunks looks at current, future and past documentaries of note...

With new year resolutions no doubt already a distant memory (it's been three days!), it’s probably time to remember that it is really hard for people to change. And I don't just mean quitting smoking. We can try all we want, but even those of us who consider ourselves ‘progressive’ probably can’t say with any real confidence that we're not set in our ways; the same person deep inside that we were a decade ago. And even if that isn’t the case, as hard as it is to change just ourselves, just think how much harder it is to change the larger mass. And with a new President about to be inaugurated on the back of violent, blatant racism, it is sadly even more pertinent to remember this.

Now, these are not necessarily ideas that are at the forefront of Raoul Peck’s superb I Am Not Your Negro, but as it was with 13th, 10 Bullets, 3 ½ Minutes, O.J.: Made in America and many other documentaries about race, it is a recurring theme that bubbles to the surface as if by default. The more we think things are changing, the more they sadly stay the same. A film about race in the 1950s and 1960s is, sadly and inevitably, a film about race in the modern age for we are doomed to repeat the sins of the past no matter what we do...

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