Category Archives for Latest Episodes

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

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 

92: Aretha Franklin in “Amazing Grace,” Lost and Found

In 1972, Aretha Franklin recorded her biggest selling album “Amazing Grace” as a live gospel performance over two nights at a Los Angeles church, under the direction of Reverend James Cleveland. The event was recorded by camera crews led by Sydney Pollack. Due to technical problems, the project was abandoned and the footage stored for decades. It was reawakened by former Warner Brothers music producer Alan Elliott and a team of producers. There have been legendary roadblocks to the film reaching the public, but in the aftermath of Aretha’s death in August, the Franklin family rallied behind getting the film out. The film had its world premiere at DOC NYC on November 12, 2018.

On this episode, Pure Nonfiction host Thom Powers presents highlights from the premiere. Reverend Al Sharpton delivers an invocation before the film. After the screening, producers Alan Elliott, Tirrell Whittley, Aretha’s niece Sabrina Owens and writer Nelson George conduct a conversation. And Reverend William Barber, who traveled from North Carolina to attend, delivers remarks with theomusicologist Yara Allen.

The speakers make reference to several notable figures in the audience including Lisa Wexler (daughter of “Amazing Grace” producer Jerry Wexler), the album’s drummer Bernard “Pretty” Purdie, sound mixer Jimmy Douglas, film producer Robert Johnson, Bishop Hezekiah Walker and comedian Chris Rock.

“Amazing Grace” has an Oscar-qualifying theatrical engagement for one week in New York and Los Angeles starting December 7, then it will get a wider release in 2019.

On Twitter: @TheRevAl @RevDrBarber @nelsongeorge @TirrellWhittley @thompowers @PureNonfiction

91: Mr. Rogers, Quincy Jones, Jane Fonda & Pope Francis Walk Into a Bar

The art of portrait documentaries is discussed with five filmmakers: Wim Wenders (“Pope Francis: A Man of His Word”), Rashida Jones and Alan Hicks (“Quincy”), Morgan Neville (“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?) and Susan Lacy (“Jane Fonda: A Life in Five Acts”). This conversation was recorded at DOC NYC before a live audience. The filmmakers discuss what drew them to their subjects, how they ask hard questions, and how their films reflect their own lives.


Related Pure Nonfiction episodes:
11: Morgan Neville 
46: Rashida Jones
77: Wim Wenders
90: DOC NYC Short List filmmakers on “Getting Political” 

On Twitter: @ThePopeMovie @QuincyDJones @MrRogersMovie @TremoloDocs @HBODocs @thompowers @PureNonfiction

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