Mark Cousins has changed the way film history is understood. He opened up a global perspective in his book and film series called The Story of Film and now he’s uncovered a hidden history in Women Make Film. The 14-part series is rolling out on TCM this fall along with 100 films by international women directors. Tilda Swinton, one of Mark’s longtime collaborators, is executive producer and a key voice in the series. In June 2019,
Pure Nonfiction host Thom Powers interviewed Mark in his hometown of Belfast for the inaugural Docs Ireland festival. Mark reflects on his connection to the city that he also explored in the film I Am Belfast. The wide-spanning conversation covers an earlier book that Mark edited with Kevin MacDonald Imagining Reality: The Faber Book of Documentary and his efforts to look beyond the western canon. He describes his personal discoveries of nonfiction directors like Japan’s Noriaki Tsuchimoto and India’s Mani Kaul. In discussing “Women Make Film,” Mark highlights the work of Malvina Ursianu and Xhanfise Keko as examples of directors who were largely ignored by film history. Throughout the conversation, he returns to the theme of looking to re-enchant himself with cinema.
Cameron Bailey is the artistic director of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). The 2020 festival takes place September 10-19 adjusting to the extraordinary circumstances of the pandemic. In this interview with TIFF documentary programmer Thom Powers, Cameron discusses what shaped his career path and explains the significance of the image on his office wall (of M’Bissine Thérèse Diop in Black Girl). He also describes the history of TIFF’s Planet Africa section that he started in 1995. In honor of Planet Africa’s 25th anniversary, Cameron will host free online conversations on its Origin Stories (Sept 13) and on Black Film Now (Sept 16).
Among the documentaries playing at #TIFF20 are works by past guests of Pure Nonfiction. Hear their prior interviews and learn more about their new films at these links:
Frederick Wiseman’s City Hall
Werner Herzog and Clive Oppenheimer’s Fireball: Visitors from a Darker World
Sam Pollard’s MLK/FBI
Gianfranco Rosi’s Notturno
Dawn Porter’s The Way I See It
Comedy meets poignancy in Maite Alberdi’s “The Mole Agent.” The Chilean director follows a private investigator who goes undercover to infiltrate a retirement home. His client fears the staff is mistreating the residents. Inside the retirement community, the mole agent Sergio witnesses a generation struggling with loneliness and lost connections to their families.
Alberdi’s earlier film “Tea Time” (2014) also looked at senior citizens and won countless festival awards. She followed with “The Grown Ups” about people with Down Syndrome striving to gain more independence in middle age.
Her films have a distinct visual style that appear more like fiction than a documentary with careful framing shot with heavy cameras on a tri-pod rather than handheld. Some viewers wonder how much of her films are constructed. She answers that question and more in this interview with Pure Nonfiction host Thom Powers.
“The Mole Agent” is currently available on VOD on Apple, Amazon and other platforms.
On Twitter: @moleagentfilm @thompowers @PureNonfiction
Ja’Tovia Gary was recently profiled in The New York Times. If you don’t know her work yet, let this podcast be your introduction. Her most recent project “The Giverny Document” exists both as a 42-minute film and an art installation. It’s a work that makes eclectic connections between Nina Simone, Claude Monet’s gardens and the police killing of Philando Castile. It also pays homage to the classic French documentary “Chronicle of a Summer” as Ja’Tovia stands on a Harlem street corner to ask Black women, “Do you feel safe?”
You can read more about her work at jatovia.com and newnegressfilmsociety.com.
On Twitter: @jatovia @thompowers @PureNonfiction
McMillion$ is a 6-part HBO series that details an elaborate scam over the McDonald’s Monopoly game. For over 10 years, the key game pieces worth up to a million dollars were being stolen and given to hand-picked “winners.” Pure Nonfiction host Thom Powers interviews the filmmakers James Lee Hernandez and Brian Lazarte who spent several years uncovering stories about the scam told for the first time. The conversation also includes two people featured in the series: A.J. Glomb who got involved in the distribution of stolen game pieces and George Chandler who unwittingly received a stolen piece worth a million dollars.
This conversation was recorded before a live audience at the IFC Center in February, 2020.
On Twitter: @IAmJLH @thompowers @PureNonfiction #McMillionsHBO
Brown Girls Doc Mafia started as an impromptu meet up in 2015 and has grown into an organization with a membership of more than 4000 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 iyaboboyd.com.
On Twitter: @iyabo_iyabo @browngirlsdocm
“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.
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
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.
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 Truffle Hunters
The Mole Agent