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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
“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 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.
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.
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.
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”