All Posts by Thom Powers

101: Alex Gibney on how Theranos fooled Silicon Valley

HBO’s documentary “The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley” looks at the case of Elizabeth Holmes who created the company Theranos promising to revolutionize the field of blood-testing. The company swiftly rose to be valued at billions of dollars, but was eventually exposed as a fraud.

Host Thom Powers interviews director Alex Gibney and producer Erin Edeiken about the making of the film.

Pure Nonfiction’s theme music is composed by Andre Williams who passed away this week at age 82. We send our condolences to his family and friends. See Tricia Todd’s documentary “Agile, Mobile, Hostile: A Year with Andre Williams”

On Twitter: @alexgibneyfilm @HBODocs @thompowers @PureNonfiction

100: Inside “The Case Against Adnan Syed” on HBO

Serial, the podcast, won millions of listeners to the story of the 1999 Baltimore murder of Hae Min Lee that sent her ex-boyfriend Adnan Syed to prison. Now the case is re-opened by private investigators in a new 4-part series “The Case Against Adnan Syed” on HBO. Episode one had its world premiere at Pure Nonfiction at IFC Center.

Host Thom Powers interviewed director Amy Berg, author and advocate Rabia Chaudry, and Adnan’s classmate Laura Estrada Sandoval who appears in the series.

On Twitter: @disarmingfilms @rabiasquared @HBODocs @thompowers @PureNonfiction

99: D.A. Pennebaker, Seth Meyers, John Mulaney & more on Stephen Sondheim’s “Company”

D.A. Pennebaker’s1970  documentary “Original Cast Album: Company” captures the dramatic recording session of the Stephen Sondheim musical. The film is a cult classic among Broadway fans. Now it’s the target of a loving parody in the third season of Documentary Now!, the IFC TV series created by Seth Meyers, Fred Armisen, Bill Hader and Rhys Thomas. Their version is called “Original Cast Album: Co-op” set inside a New York co-op apartment building.

Both Company and Co-op were screened as a double feature for Pure Nonfiction at IFC Center on February 19. Host Thom Powers led a discussion with cast and crew of both productions. Featured on this podcast from “Company” are D.A. Pennebaker, cast members Teri Ralston, Dona Vaughn, Marilyn Saunders, orchestrator Jonathan Tunick and record producer Tom Shepard.

From the cast and crew of Co-op, we hear from co-creator Seth Meyers, writer and guest star John Mulaney, director Alex Buono, plus actors Renée Elise Goldsberry (“Hamilton”), Alex Brightman (“School of Rock”) and Richard Kind (“Red Oaks”).

The discussion combines talks that took place at IFC Center on February 19, 2019 and a previous screening at DOC NYC on November 9, 2018.

On Twitter: @PHfilms @sethmeyers @mulaney @AlexBuono @ReneeGoldsberry @ABrightMonster @RealRichardKind @thompowers @purenonfiction

98: Tim Wardle, Sandi Tan & RaMell Ross on “Pushing Boundaries”

“Three Identical Strangers,” “Shirkers” and the Oscar-nominated “Hale Country This Morning, This Evening” are the focus of this conversation about pushing stylistic boundaries in documentary. Pure Nonfiction host Thom Powers interviewed the filmmakers at DOC NYC in November 2018.

This is the fourth and final installment of conversations from the DOC NYC Short List. Previous episodes were:

90: Getting Political 
91: Portrait Documentaries
95: Getting Personal

On Twitter: @ttwardle @sanditan @ramellross @thompowers @purenonfiction

97: “United Skates” with Tina Brown & Reggie Brown

Tribeca Audience Prize winner “United Skates” treats you to a dazzling display of roller skating styles in black communities across America. For several generations, roller rinks provided a place for skaters to come together in harmonious movement. Now that tradition is threatened by rinks closing throughout the country. Cities are more likely to give tax breaks to corporate stores than to havens of black culture. Filmmakers Tina Brown and Dyana Winkler spent several years documenting the trend of rink closures and the activist skaters fighting to keep them open.

Host Thom Powers interviews Tina Brown and skater Reggie Brown (no relation). The conversation took place in front of a live audience at Pure Nonfiction at IFC Center in New York City. “United Skates” will be available on HBO starting February 18.

On Twitter: @UnitedSkatesDoc @HBODocs @thompowers @purenonfiction

If you’re in New York, visit us at Pure Nonfiction at IFC Center.

96: Talal Derki on filming in Syria

Syrian director Talal Derki has twice won the Sundance Film Festival’s World Cinema Best Documentary Award for “Return to Homs” and “Of Fathers and Sons.”

That first film traced the early years of Syria’s civil war. Derki working with a team of camera people followed two peaceful protestors – national soccer star Abdul Basset Sarout and his friend Ossama – as they grow more militant and take up arms.

By the time “Return to Homs”  debuted in 2013, Derki and his wife had become exiles in Berlin with their young son. But Derki quickly returned to Syria to embark on his next film “Of Fathers and Sons.” For two and half years, he filmed in northern Syria with a jihadist named Abu Osama and his family. Osama was one of the founders of Al-Nusra, the Syrian arm of Al-Qaeda. In the film, we watch his sons Osama (13) and Ayman (12) go through jihadi training camp. “Of Fathers and Sons” is now Oscar-nominated for Best Documentary Feature.

Pure Nonfiction host Thom Powers interviewed Derki on the morning he was headed to the Oscars nominees brunch. Derki discusses the life-threatening situations involved in making both films.

On Twitter: @thompowers @purenonfiction

95: Free Solo, Minding The Gap & Getting Personal

“Free Solo,” “Minding the Gap,” “On Her Shoulders” and “The Sentence” are four outstanding documentaries from the past year that test the boundaries of filmmakers to keep a critical distance. Pure Nonfiction host Thom Powers interviewed the filmmakers on a panel titled “Getting Personal” at the 2018 DOC NYC festival.

Alexandria Bombach (“On Her Shoulders”) talks about the sensitivity of filming with Yazidi activist Nadia Murad (who later won the Nobel Peace Prize). Rudy Valdez (“The Sentence”) describes filming with his family while his sister Cindy was incarcerated. Bing Liu (”Minding the Gap) discusses interviewing his skateboarding friends Zack and Keire about cycles of abuse in their families. Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi (“Free Solo,” directed with her husband Jimmy Chin) reflects on filming Alex Honnold on his life-risking climb of El Capitan without ropes.

Thanks to SVA MFA Social Documentary Program for their recording support. 
On Twitter: @ABombach @thereelrudyv @BingLiu89 @alexhonnold @thompowers @purenonfiction


Pure Nonfiction at IFC Center, the popular documentary series previously known as Stranger Than Fiction, announced its winter season line-up, featuring ten documentaries playing from February 5 to March 26. The season opens with UNITED SKATES (Feb 5), winner of the Tribeca Audience Award, about roller skating in black communities across the United States. The season includes sneak previews of two documentaries fresh from their Sundance premieres: Alex Gibney’s THE INVENTOR: OUT FOR BLOOD IN SILICON VALLEY (Mar 14) about the scandal of the fraudulent billion dollar company Theranos and Alison Klayman’s THE BRINK (Mar 26, closing night of the winter season) about the former Trump strategist Steve Bannon spreading his nationalist ideas in Europe.

Each Pure Nonfiction screening features the filmmakers or other special guests in person. The series, launched at IFC Center in 2005 and hosted by Thom Powers and Raphaela Neihausen, was formerly known as Stranger Than Fiction. It has a reputation as “a vital outpost for award-winning documentaries” (New York Times). The change in name aligns the series to the Pure Nonfiction podcast, in which Powers interviews documentary filmmakers, now in its fourth year.

“Pure Nonfiction as a screening series at IFC Center shares the same mission as the podcast to illuminate the art of documentary making, so it makes sense for them to share the same name,” said Powers.

The winter season includes a sneak preview of the new series THE CASE AGAINST ADNAN SYED (Feb 26) based on the case made famous by the Serial podcast. Director Amy Berg will present episode one prior to its debut on HBO. Other sneak previews include IT’S A HARD TRUTH, AIN’T IT (Feb 12) about prisoners learning to make films; and ONE NATION UNDER STRESS (Mar 19) with Dr. Sanjay Gupta trying to uncover why American life expectancy is falling.

Classic revivals are a key part of the screening series. The season includes a double bill (Feb 19) with D.A. Pennebaker’s ORIGINAL CAST ALBUM: COMPANY (1970) about a studio recording of the Stephen Sondheim musical; joined with a new parody of the film from the series DOCUMENTARY NOW! titled ORIGINAL CAST ALBUM: CO-OP. Pennebaker will present the films with other colleagues who were part of the original. Other classics include the 20thanniversary of Doug Block’s HOME PAGE (Feb 21) about the emergence of a confessional culture on the internet; THE TRIALS OF MUHAMMAD ALI (Mar 5) that will memorialize director Bill Siegel who passed away last December; and THAT RHYTHM…THOSE BLUES (Mar 12) in a new restoration of the 1988 film that explored rhythm and blues music in the 1940s and 1950s.

The Pure Nonfiction winter season takes place at the IFC Center every Tuesday night at 7:30 pm for eight weeks, plus special Thursday screenings on Feb 21 and Mar 14. Each event includes a discussion with the filmmakers, followed by a gathering at a nearby bar. Season passes are now on sale for $99 for 10 films. The full season schedule appears below. For more information, visit

Pure Nonfiction at IFC Center: Winter 2019 Season | 7:30pm Tuesdays at IFC Center, Feb 5 – Mar 26

Each show features a Q&A with the director or other special guests

Feb 5: Opening Night – UNITED SKATES (2018, Q&A w/ dir. Tina Brown & subject Reggie)

Feb 12: IT’S A HARD TRUTH, AIN’T IT (2018, Q&A w/ dir. Madeleine Sackler)

Feb 19: Double bill:

ORIGINAL CAST ALBUM: COMPANY (1970, Q&A w/ dir. D.A. Pennebaker & others)


Feb 21: Thursday specialHOME PAGE – 20thanniv. (1999, Q&A w/ dir. Doug Block & others) 

Feb 26: THE CASE AGAINST ADNAN SYED – episode one (2019, Q&A w/ dir. Amy Berg)

Mar 5: THE TRIALS OF MUHAMMAD ALI (2014, Q&A in memory of dir. Bill Siegel w/ his colleagues)

Mar 12: THAT RHYTHM…THOSE BLUES – newly restored (1988, Q&A w/ dir. George T. Nierenberg)

Mar 14: Thursday SpecialTHE INVENTOR: OUT FOR BLOOD IN SILICON VALLEY (2019, Q&A w/ dir. Alex Gibney)

Mar 19: ONE NATION UNDER STRESS (2019, Q&A w/ dir. Marc Levin)

Mar 26: Closing Night – THE BRINK (2019, Q&A w/ dir. Alison Klayman)

Tickets for Pure Nonfiction screenings are $17 for the general public and $14 for IFC Center members. A Season Pass covers admission to all 10 evenings and provides free popcorn at all screenings.  It is available for $99 ($80 for IFC members).

94: Sundance 2019 Preview

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Steve Bannon, Miles Davis & Toni Morrison are among the prominent documentary subjects at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Pure Nonfiction host Thom Powers got an early look at many of the year’s most anticipated films. In this third annual Sundance preview, he shares exclusive clips and insights on what to expect.

Films discussed (in chronological order):
Knock Down the House 
The Brink
Where’s My Roy Cohn? 
American Factory
Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool 
Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am
Ask Dr. Ruth
Mike Wallace Is Here 
The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley 
Sea of Shadows 
Apollo 11 and Vanity Fair on Apollo 11 
The Biggest Little Farm 
Untitled Amazing Jonathan Documentary 
Cold Case Hammarskjöld
This is Personal
Hail Satan? 

Thanks to the hard-working publicists who met our podcast deadline, especially the folks at Acme, Brigade, Cinetic, Dish Communications, DKC, Falco Ink, HBO Documentary Films, Magnolia, Neon, Participant Media, Susan Norget Promotions, Sunshine Sachs and apologies to anyone we’ve forgotten.

On Twitter: @thompowers @PureNonfiction

93: Astra Taylor on “What is Democracy?”

Cornel West, Wendy Brown and Rev William Barber are among the thinkers and activists captured in the new film “What is Democracy?”. Filmmaker Astra Taylor previously made two other documentaries on philosophers “Zizek!” and “Examined Life.” In addition to her work as a filmmaker, she’s also the author of “The People’s Platform” and the forthcoming “Democracy May Not Exist, but We’ll Miss it When it’s Gone.” As an activist, she is a co-founder of The Debt Collective and she also performs with the band Neutral Milk Hotel.

Taylor discusses the multiple facets of her career with Pure Nonfiction host Thom Powers.

This interview was recorded at SVA’s MFA Social Documentary department.

On Twitter: @astradisastra @thompowers @PureNonfiction 

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