The British film magazine Sight & Sound has announced its first-ever list of the greatest documentaries of all time. The top 50 films includes T/F selections The Fog of War (T/F 2004), Man on Wire (T/F 2008), Waltz with Bashir (T/F 2009), The Act of Killing and Leviathan (T/F 2013). Also included are the Iranian films The House is Black and Close-Up which played T/F as part of our 2014 Neither/Nor series.
This list is generated by a survey of film critics, programmers and academics. A separate list ranks the choices of documentary filmmakers. We’ll have much more to say about this survey when we can dig through all of the individual ballots, to be published on August 14.
The Fog of War, Errol Morris, T/F 2004
Man On Wire, James Marsh, T/F 2008
Waltz with Bashir, Ari Folman, T/F 2009
Leviathan, Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel, T/F 2013
The Act of Killing, Joshua Oppenheimer, T/F 2013
The House is Black, Forough Farrokhzad, 1963, Neither/Nor 2014
Close-Up, Abbas Kiarostami, 1990, Neither/Nor 2014
Posted August 1, 2014
We’re having a summer sale in our online store. We’ve marked down numerous items and are offering free shipping for orders over $100. Swing by and take a look!
We’ve extended the deadline for True/False 2015 art installation proposals. You now have until September 8 to give us your take on “The Long Now”. Check out our Call to Artists page for more info.
Posted July 29, 2014
The Boone Dawdle always features a sunset concert on the limestone bluffs overlooking the Missouri River. After exiting the trail at Les Bourgeois Winery in Rocheport, we’ll all grab a bite, a libation or two and kick back. This year we believe we’ve found a fitting accompaniment for your post-ride buzz.
The duo Drakkar Sauna, multi-instrumentalist Jeff Stolz and guitarist Wallace Cochran, channel an assortment of musical influences, soaring vocal harmonies and a love of World Championship Wrestling into an upbeat and infectious brand of folk. Their lyrics subject classic country themes to inventive word-play, creating a stream of ideas both humorous and poignant.
See for yourself in the short Drakkar Sauna concert below.
We hope that you’ll join us for this fun concert. Tickets for the Boone Dawdle are on sale now.
Posted July 26, 2014
We are excited to announce our 2014 Boone Dawdle Film, An Honest Liar.
James “The Amazing” Randi rose to fame first as a magician and then as a debunker of fraudulent psychics. His rivalry with Uri Gellar flourished in front of Johnny Carson’s cameras, igniting a national discussion. This expertly crafted film goes beyond typical historical fact-collecting, though, rejecting adulation to present a clear-eyed take on Randi’s professional and personal life and uncovering a story unknown until now. It’s funny, exciting, and, ultimately, even a bit of a love story. The perfect film, then, for a hot summer’s night and the perfect capstone to T/F 2014.
Co-director Justin Weinstein in person to answer your questions. Tickets for the Boone Dawdle are on sale now.
T/F is in search of a few more members of the 2015 Canary Screening Committee. We are looking for folks who are are thoughtful, articulate writers, can help us identify films of interest to the festival programmers, and are available for 2 meetings per month. Screeners are required to watch at least 50 submissions over 5 months, and will receive a pass to the 2015 fest. See the application for more detail - Apply here by August 6. Questions? e-mail us at: email@example.com
Posted July 24, 2014
T/F needs YOU to volunteer at this year’s Boone Dawdle on August 16! It’s a super-fun, long, hot day spent on the trail and at Les Bourgeois. We’re particularly looking for folks who are willing to work on the Bike Loading Team — that means you’ll miss the movie and the party (we’ll feed you dinner from Les B, of course!), but you get all of the other volunteer perks, PLUS a General Volunteer Pass for T/F 2015! If you’re interested in being a Juggernaut in 2015, your Bike Loading hours will count towards the 40 required to receive a Juggernaut pass. Sign up here by August 1!
Posted July 17, 2014
Technology continues to revolutionize documentary filmmaking. Increasingly light-sensitive cameras liberate filmmakers to capture nighttime scenes; miniature, waterproof cameras are cheap; skeleton crews allow subjects to feel more comfortable revealing themselves. In this year’s “Beyond Pretty Pictures” panel, these ongoing innovations serve as the jumping off point for a wide ranging conversation on the art of nonfiction. Moderator Omar Mullick (These Birds Walk) quizzed Linda Västrik (Forest of the Dancing Spirits), Ewan McNicol (Uncertain), and Victor Kossakovsky (Demonstration) on how they harness technology to tell better stories.
Check out this short clip, an exchange on how doc subjects see themselves on film and how they react to these reactions.
If this excerpt peaked your interest, you can watch the whole thing on our video page or download the conversation as an audio mp3. Our panels were filmed by our friends at Columbia Access Television.
Posted July 10, 2014
We’re perpetually in search of interesting new approaches to the documentary form. That’s why we we were thrilled that both critics and audiences responded enthusiastically to the most unique experience at True/False 2014, Dusty Stacks of Mom. In it, experimental filmmaker Jodie Mack utilizes stop-motion animation to explore her mom’s old poster shop and the familiar images that people choose to hang on their walls. This odd and hilarious journey is structured around a reimagining of Pink Floyd’s iconic album Dark Side of the Moon with new lyrics sung by Mack herself.
Dusty Stacks returns to Columbia this Wednesday, July 2, as the centerpiece of Light Your Light Shine, a program of Mack’s animation structured like an experimental film rock concert, complete with opening acts and a blowout 3D finale. Let Your Light Shine is the final installment in Ragtag Cinema’s 2014 Homebrewed Series, their fourth annual survey of American microbudget filmmaking.
For a quick preview of Mack’s work, check out her irresistible take on a classic pop song, Unsubscribe #4: The Saddest Song in the World.
I got the chance to talk with Jodie a couple months back about her mom’s poster factory and constructing a film around a classic album. We chatted via Skype while she worked on a collage in Paris.
T/F: Hey Jodie! I wanted to start by asking about your relationship to your mom’s poster shop and all of the stuff there.
JM: I actually worked there in high school doing data entry and rolling posters. Another one of my chores was taking inventory, counting all of the individual posters once a year. So I did actually feel pretty familiar with the material. And its been interesting returning there as an adult, having this material in mind, where the images they used to sell end up and how popular some of them still are.
T/F: Do you consider the movie a documentary?
JM: I think it’s definitely a type of documentary. Documentary was definitely a genre I was hoping to speak to when making it. I’m generally a more abstract, experimental filmmaker, but in all cases it’s the material that guides the way I want something to go.
I thought about lots of documentary strategies for conveying information and how animation functions as part of that in documentary. There’s certainly a lot of animation in documentaries these days, but there is also graphics and charts, titles or what not, things like that. The big question when starting out was how to convey information . . .
I like musicals and I’ve made a musical before, so it seems like in some ways, yeah, it’s just the voiceover narration being delivered in song. Totally normal, totally conventional (laughs). Do you think it’s a documentary?
T/F: Yeah, definitely. One of the things I was really thinking about it while watching is how ubiquitous these images become and how they take on new meanings as they spread out into the world. I thought that was something that you documented.
JM: Yeah, I hope so, it’s tricky because I’ve sort of taken on the lowest forms of imagery. I think that some people might find it hard to engage with. I don’t know how it comes of, if I’m celebrating it, or critiquing it or just paying attention, just noticing.
T/F: So when you chose Dark Side of the Moon you locked yourself into making a film around the actual album, and keeping the time signatures of all of the songs?
JM: Yeah, that’s right. There is some mild divergence, like “Money” is a little bit shorter.
But yeah, as an experimental filmmaker, I like to make films with rules. It just seemed like an interesting way to guide the content and mood (going back to the question how to convey information).
A lot of things wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t decided to take on the album. There would be no mom’s head on a prism, the crazy vocal solo or the moment where she’s a rock star.
It’s such a weird album because it’s so many people’s point of entry into counterculture. Older folks know every note.
image from Dusty Stacks of Mom
T/F: What was the hardest part about shaping the film around the album?
JM: Yeah, well, there was definitely a discrepancy between the pacing of the album and how you want things in cinema. In music, and especially Pink Floyd, your impulse is to jam and linger. Sometimes in film you want to cut to the chase.
It would have been a lot harder if I didn’t have all of these musicians doing different instrumentation tracks. It was still tough. Dark Side of the Moon is a very complex album and being able to shape it with other people was important because I wanted it to feel different than the album.
T/F: Why did you decide to work with different musicians for each song? Why not work with the same musicians through the whole project?
JM: Well, a couple of reasons. In general I knew from other projects that that sort of commitment is a lot for one entity to handle. But also I thought that it would be interesting to make it an exquisite corpse, especially it being DSotM, something that’s been covered so many times. I thought it would be interesting to force this upon it and see where it went.
I tried to stay honest to what people did. And then there were some surprises. Someone had to drop out and so I did the kazoo solo.
T/F: (laughs) Yeah, I liked the kazoo solo.
JM: Yeah, animation is always really time consuming, and I sort of forget how complicated it is to do sound.
T/F: Could you describe the process of the animation some for an animation noob?
JM: Yeah, sure. All of it is 16mm stop-motion, so it’s on a film camera with reel to reel. So I take a picture and move and then take a picture and then move it, 24 frames per second.
It’s all stop-motion animation, no digital effects or anything like that.
T/F: Finally, what was the total time making this film? How long did this project take?
JM: Three years. Not of continuous work. It’s really kind of hard to say, from the first session to when I premiered it, it was three years. I shot for few days and then I didn’t even touch it again until the summer of 2012 and then I finished it in the spring of 2013. So it could be three years, it could be nine months. I felt it percolating a lot. Hard to say.
Posted July 1, 2014
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This week, Northern Light (T/F 2013) receives its theatrical premiere at the Maysles Cinema in New York City. It screens at 7:30PM nightly through June 22. Filmmakers Nick Bentgen and Lisa Kjerulff will be in person at Thursday and Friday’s screenings. For tickets, visit this page ( http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/669737).
From a snowmobile driver’s perspective, a race consists of careful maneuvers and breakneck turns. For the detached viewer, it amounts to, literally and figuratively, going in circles. Five hundred of them, in the case of the Sault Ste. Marie I-500, the race at the center of Nick Bentgen’s Northern Light.
In his directorial debut, Bentgen observes the households of Walt and Isaac, strong-willed, hardworking racers who reside in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Walt is a dedicated father and seasoned rider whose racing career seems to be at a standstill. Isaac is a young and ambitious rising star, married without children. As resolute in its vision as its characters are to their sport, Northern Light is an immaculately photographed and intricately structured study of their world.
One of its fundamental interests is competition, which looms heavy over the community. Sport, which the film observes not only in snowmobiles but also in bodybuilding and auto racing, is an alluring, inescapable presence that’s frequently at odds with an even bigger competition, capitalism. Bentgen’s camera registers the physical and emotional tolls of both.
But as much as it is an essay about the American struggle to balance checkbooks and athletics, Northern Light is also an incisive character study, wedding empathy and scrutiny to bewildering effect. This is a film where characters perform tender acts of altruism one moment and engage in casually bigoted dinner table conversation the next. Bentgen trusts us to navigate — revel in, really — all this messiness.
Too often nonfiction films take characterization and plot tips from the tidy world of fiction. A meticulously constructed film of ellipses and characters who inspire wildly conflicted emotions, Northern Light seems to find its storytelling inspiration from some completely new world: the real one.
A year ago, I interviewed director/cinematographer Nick Bentgen via Skype a week before his film celebrated its New York premiere at BAMCinemafest.
T/F: I’m wondering if Northern Light is very different from the film you set out to make.
NB: I was staying in this cabin that my dad and his siblings all shared — it’s actually my grandpa’s cabin, he passed away a long time ago — and I knew I wanted to tell a story set in this place I spent a lot of time in as a kid. I had only a few DVDs with me. Nashville was one and also Two-Lane Blacktop. When I first found the I-500, I remember thinking, “Oh, this is just likeNashville and Two-Lane Blacktop!” Of course it’s not. It’s nothing like that, but still, I kept coming back to those masterpieces while I was making this movie. Gradually it became its own thing.
T/F: The reason I ask is — perhaps this is something that’s entirely accomplished in the editing, but it feels like there are so many moments where you have a clear idea of the film you’re making, of its themes. For example, during the race scene when you manage to capture Emily and James, two characters who don’t really seem to know each other, in the same frame as one tells a crewmember that God’s going to bring their team to victory and the other complains to his buddy about body aches.
NB: Well, yes. By the second or third week, I realized the film was about this community, that this place was the story, regardless of who we eventually ended up focusing on. So like Nashville or any movie that’s a large community portrait, I felt it was fair game to let anyone pass in and out of the story. So sometimes people you haven’t met will just appear, you’ll get a little bit of their story and then they’re not in the movie anymore.
During the race, we were very lucky that multiple people we had been filming with were in the same place. It was irresistible to put them in the same frame. Also, we only had one camera, so microphone placement was very important. We had to decide who the story was about on that shooting day. That shot where James and Emily are in the same frame is this beautiful moment. They’re on completely different wavelengths and yet they’re in the same community.
T/F: So on that day you chose to put the mic on Emily.
NB: Right. With a verite doc, I feel like how you make it is so tied up with why you’re making it because you have such limited means. We knew it was a big day for Isaac, and with Walt’s team, they didn’t have a radio system we could use. There were logistical reasons why we chose to put the mic on Emily, but it was the best choice. She became so excited, and the story totally funneled through her in this great way.
T/F: Going into the I-500, it doesn’t feel like Walt has much chance of winning the race.
NB: Walt has a philosophy of life that I really appreciate and respect. That’s why I spent so much time filming with him. The bigger things he focuses on — spending time with his family and working hard — make him a really captivating subject. And flawed, like all of us. Early on, I asked him, “Do you think you’re going to win?” And of course he wants to win. And he’s done well in races, but I don’t think that’s why he does it. He doesn’t do it to win. Isaac has a much different philosophy. He’s out there to win. I think that contrast is why they’re interesting as subjects.
T/F: If Walt doesn’t race to win, what’s the draw?
NB: Speed. There’s this scene we cut where he says “Once racing is in your blood, it never goes away.” He grew up doing it. Lots of the guys who are into snowmobiling got into it at a very young age.
T/F: Structurally, I find it interesting that you frontload a lot of really challenging moments, particularly instances of sexism and homophobia.
NB: Our one strategy in editing — or dilemma, I guess — was being true to the environment Lisa and I were in when we filmed. Maybe it was just by happenstance, or maybe it was conscious, but the final movie is structured a lot like our experience there. At first, we didn’t know these people, and with any stranger, you take a lot on assumption. In any community, there’s xenophobia or some other issue that prevents you from identifying. As you’re watching the film, I want you to go through that process of estrangement and then become closer with these people and feel like a part of the community.
T/F: One of the reasons your film stands out from a lot of other observational documentaries is the photography. You consistently use a tripod. I’m wondering if your camerawork changed very much over the course of production.
NB: It’s funny, I really feel like the first month or two is the best photographed stuff. That’s partly because the camera was a barrier, this wall I put up. Emily, Walt, Isaac — I connected with all of them at different times during the shoot. If you watched the 300 hours of dailies, it becomes clear that I start caring less and less about what the image looks like as I become more interested in what’s going on. But we did have a rigorous rule set. The first rule was to use a tripod whenever possible, and the second was to not screw with the camera if at all possible. There are a lot of times where the camera feels like a fly on the wall, and that’s because it is: it was just left there.
T/F: Was documentary new to you?
NB: The film’s editor Yoonha [David Park] and I have grown up together in the film industry. We went to school together, and we worked for a music website called Pitchfork where we had 15 minutes, maybe an hour, with our subjects. That was a good early experience.
Most of the jobs I could get as a filmmaker were often doc-style. I wasn’t usually given a lot of toys or money, so you tend to fall into this documentary style regardless of what you’re filming. After a while of shooting documentary, I realized it was the best way to tell stories because you can’t control everything. And then you have to make decisions very fast. It’s also the best way to learn to be a DP.
T/F: I’m wondering if you can talk about photographing the I-500. Your technique feels pretty unconventional. You don’t get a whole lot of coverage of the race itself. You don’t mount cameras on the snowmobiles or stick cameras all around the track.
NB: It’s funny, I feel like the race scenes are more conventional than I ever expected them to be. There are also more of them than I figured. There are three in the movie. Initially, I set out with this really crazy artistic tactic. I said I was going to film the race in case I needed it, but my plan was to film from the checkered flag of one year to the green flag of the next year, never showing a race. But I figured out that it was completely not true to the experience of people in this community. I really needed the viewer to care a little bit about those races because all the people I’m filming care a lot. If you don’t care at all, you don’t understand where all these people are coming from. So it became a big part of the film’s narrative.
At some point, I saw Senna and said, “Well, I’ll never be that good. I’ll never make anything that thrilling.” There are also logistical reasons why it’s shot the way it’s shot. We had one camera, so there was no way to keep track of all the racers . You’d need eight cameras on the track. It would have become a big production. Instead, I decided to embrace the tools we had. When I later saw the footage, I thought it felt like a removed version of a race, which matched the aesthetic of the rest of the movie. The camera is never telling you how to feel, and you have to find other ways in.
T/F: I sort of want to ask you about the way you use nature throughout the film, but it seems like a silly thing for you to discuss.
NB: I haven’t done that many interviews. After you’re done with a film, it’s easy to put everything in a this-is-the-reason-why box. But my favorite filmmakers, Altman especially, say there’s not really an explanation for everything. The whole time we were making the film, we wanted to get across the experience we had. It was more a tone we were going after. And nature is just an all-encompassing thing that dictates life. I feel like explanations are easy enough to do, but it limits what the movie is or what a story can be. I don’t really have explanations for everything.
T/F: That seems like a good place to stop. (laughs)
Posted June 19, 2014
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