All Posts by Thom Powers

116: Iyabo Boyd of Brown Girls Doc Mafia

Brown Girls Doc Mafia started as an impromptu meet up in 2015 and has grown into an organization with over 4000 members of women and non-binary people of color working in documentary.
Pure Nonfiction host Thom Powers interviews the group’s founder Iyabo Boyd. She talks about her work at the grant funder Chicken & Egg, as a producer of the documentary “For Ahkeem”, and how covid-19 and this summer’s street protests over racial injustice have galvanized BGDM. The organization has just launched a new directory on its website and is currently crowdfunding for its growth. Please support them on GoFundMe. Beyond her documentary work, Iyabo also directed the short feminist comedy “Me Time” and is working on her first fiction feature. More details at

On Twitter: @iyabo_iyabo @browngirlsdocm
@thompowers @PureNonfiction

115: Uncovering China’s “One Child Nation”

“One Child Nation” investigates China’s policy of pressuring families to have only one child. Filmmakers Nanfu Wang and Jialing Zhang grew up in China during the years of the policy that lasted from 1979 to 2015. Pure Nonfiction host Thom Powers interviews them about the making of the film and their strategies to avoid government surveillance and intimidation. Nanfu previously came under suspicion from Chinese authorities for her first film “Hooligan Sparrow” about a female human rights activist.

On Twitter: @OneChildNation @WangNanfu @thompowers @PureNonfiction

114: “For Sama” Inside Syria

The Oscar-nominated documentary “For Sama” takes a personal journey through the war in Syria. Waad Al-Kateab became a citizen journalist, capturing the siege of Aleppo and events of her own life. We watch her fall in love and get married to a doctor, Hamza, who shares her commitment to stay in Aleppo. The film is framed as a message for their daughter Sama who’s born during the war. In 2016, Waad and her family were finally forced to evacuate. In exile, she teamed with British filmmaker Edward Watts to shape her footage through a long editing process. Pure Nonfiction host Thom Powers interviews Waad and Edward about their collaboration.
On Twitter: @forsamafilm @thompowers @PureNonfiction

113: Inside “American Factory”

Barack and Michelle Obama picked the film “American Factory” to be the first film backed by their company Higher Ground. Now the film is Oscar nominated for Best Documentary Feature and available on Netflix. 

Pure Nonfiction host Thom Powers interviews filmmakers Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert about their long history filming inside the factory in their hometown of Dayton, Ohio. They previously made “The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant” that chronicled the demise of its original incarnation. That film was Oscar nominated for Best Documentary Short in 2009. Several years later, the city gained new hope when the Chinese company Fuyao reopened the plant to manufacture industrial strength glass for vehicles. Bognar and Reichert gained access to all levels of the factory from the Chinese management to the American workers. They benefited from working with Chinese field producers Lulu Men, Siyan Liu, Danni Wang, and co-producers Mijie Li and Yiqian Zhang.

The interview lingers over the challenges of maintaining such intimate access, especially after the tensions rise over a battle to unionize at the factory. “It’s one thing to gain access and it’s another thing to gain trust,” says Reichert.

This conversation was recorded in New York at the School of Visual Arts MFA program for Social Documentary in August 2019. Two recent events loomed in the background and come up in the conversation. One is the passing of documentary pioneer D.A. Pennbaker. The other is a mass shooting in Dayton that took place just a few days prior.

On Twitter: @thompowers @PureNonfiction

112: Sundance 2020 Preview

Hear insider tips and exclusive clips on documentaries at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Pure Nonfiction host Thom Powers got an early look at over 25 films premiering at the festival. In this annual preview episode he discusses his favorites that will be looking to secure distribution deals. 
Last year, our Sundance Preview gave listeners early exposure to films like “Knock Down the House” and “American Factory” that went on to Sundance acclaim. This year, Powers’ picks include:
The Fight
Boys State
The Dissident
Giving Voice
The Truffle Hunters
The Mole Agent

On Twitter: @thompowers @PureNonfiction

111: Profiling Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison, who passed away in August at age 88, is the subject of a new documentary currently in theaters “Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am.” Filmmaker Timothy Greenfield-Sanders had known Morrison since the early 1980s when he began photographing her. In 2006, she gave him the inspiration to create the documentary trilogy “The Black List” in collaboration with Elvis Mitchell.
Pure Nonfiction host Thom Powers interviewed Greenfield-Sanders in May at the IFC Center. They discuss his long history with Morrison, his interview with Oprah and his collaborators on the project including interviewer Sandra Guzman.

On Twitter: @ToniMorrison @tgsfilm @thompowers @PureNonfiction

110: Joshua Wong on Hong Kong

“Joshua: Teenager vs Superpower” on Netflix follows the Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong who started leading protests at the age of 14. His actions helped give rise to a democracy movement that brought over a million people to the streets this summer. Pure Nonfiction host Thom Powers interviewed Joshua and the film’s director Joe Piscatella at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2017 when the documentary made its debut and Joshua was 19. Since then, Joshua served time in prison for charges related to organizing a demonstration. He was released from prison after two months in June 2019.

On Twitter: @joshuawongcf @PureNonfiction @thompowers

109: Running with Beto

Beto O’Rourke rose from obscurity to political stardom in 2018 when he ran for the Texas Senate seat against incumbent Ted Cruz.
Filmmaker David Modigliani follows that journey in “Running with Beto,” now playing on HBO. On this podcast, Modigliani is joined by three Beto volunteers who are prominently featured in the film: Shannon Gay, Marcel McClinton and Amanda Salas. Their discussion was moderated by DOC NYC senior programmer Karen McMullen in front of a live audience at New York’s Metrograph theater. 

On Twitter: @PureNonfiction @thompowers

108: Asif Kapadia on Ayrton Senna, Amy Winehouse & Diego Maradona

“Diego Maradona”, making its world premiere at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, is the latest from director Asif Kapadia. Pure Nonfiction host Thom Powers interviewed Asif about that film along with his previous documentaries “Senna” (about Formula One race car driver Ayrton Senna) and the Oscar-winning “Amy” (about singer Amy Winehouse). Their conversation took place in March at the CPH:DOX festival in Copenhagen.

On Twitter: @asifkapadia @PureNonfiction @thompowers

107: Rachel Lears on filming Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

“Knock Down the House” captures four working class candidates running for Congress in West Virginia, Nevada, Missouri and New York City. That last one is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who overcame enormous odds to become the youngest woman elected to Congress at age 29.

Director/producer/cinematographer Rachel Lears and her husband producer/editor Robin Blotnick follow AOC early on from her days as a bartender. Their previous film “The Hand that Feeds,” about immigrants forming a union in a Manhattan deli, won the 2014 DOC NYC Audience Award.

“Knock Down the House” is now playing on Netflix. This interview, moderated by DOC NYC senior programmer Karen McMullen, was recorded with a live audience for the screening series Pure Nonfiction at IFC Center.

On Twitter: @jubileefilms @PureNonfiction @thompowers

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