All Posts by Thom Powers

76: Filming Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is profiled in the new documentary “RBG.” Pure Nonfiction host Thom Powers interviews the directing duo of Betsy West and Julie Cohen on Ginsburg’s career fighting for women’s rights. They discuss their personal experiences of enduring sexism in the worlds of broadcast news and public radio.

This interview was recorded during the Miami Film Festival at the offices of Rakontur. Thanks to sound recordist Khaleel Bailey.
Pure Nonfiction is distributed by the TIFF podcast network.

75: Dawn Porter on “Bobby Kennedy for President”

“Bobby Kennedy for President” is a four-part Netflix series that traces the politician’s career with an emphasis on issues of racial justice. The final episode reexamines his 1968 assassination and the trial of Sirhan Sirhan that left unanswered questions.
Pure Nonfiction host Thom Powers interviews filmmaker Dawn Porter on the making of the series. She previously was on episode 2 talking about her films “Gideon’s Army” about public defenders in the south; and “Trapped” about state restrictions on abortions.
This interview was recorded during the Montclair Film Festival.
Pure Nonfiction is distributed by the TIFF podcast network.

74: Joe Berlinger from “Brother’s Keeper” to “Intent to Destroy”

Joe Berlinger has been making documentaries for over 25 years. He started out at Maysles Films where he met Bruce Sinofsky. In 1992, they made “Brother’s Keeper”, a story of a murder trial in upstate New York, that revitalized observational documentary. They went on to make the “Paradise Lost” trilogy and “Metallica: Some Kind of Monster.”

Pure Nonfiction host Thom Powers interviews Joe on his career including the rupture and reunion in his partnership with Bruce who died in 2015. They also discuss Joe’s latest film “Intent to Destroy: Death, Denial and Depiction” (Starz) that examines the legacy of the Armenian genocide. For decades, the history of the genocide has been fiercely contested by the Turkish government. “Intent to Destroy” brings a unique angle by following the making of a big budget Hollywood film “The Promise” that aspires to capture the genocide’s history as an epic in the tradition of “Doctor Zhivago.” With that framing device, Joe interviews contemporary figures active in the historical debate including scholar Peter Balakian, filmmaker Atom Egoyan and the former U.S. ambassador to Armenia John Marshall Evan.

On Twitter: @joeberlinger @thompowers @PureNonfiction

This interview was recorded at the School of Visual Arts MFA Social Documentary Program. Pure Nonfiction is distributed by the TIFF podcast network.

73: Sophie Fiennes on Grace Jones

Grace Jones has been commanding attention for decades as a singer, actress and icon. Now filmmaker Sophie Fiennes crafts a documentary as unconventional as its subject in “Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami.” The film immerses us into Grace’s life on the road – from her childhood home in Jamaica to the recording studio of “Hurricane” to stops in London, Paris and New York. Interwoven with these scenes is a concert staged for the film with set designed by Eiko Ishioka.

Pure Nonfiction host Thom Powers interviews Sophie about her path to making the film. She discusses growing up in an artistic family and being inspired by films such as Frederick Wiseman’s “Titicut Follies,” Charles Atlas’ “Hail the New Puritan” and Victor Kossakovsky’s “Belovy.”

She discusses why Grace wanted to do the film, why it took several years to complete and what happened the night of its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival.

On Instagram: @bloodlightandbami @thompowers1 @purenonfiction

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

Pure Nonfiction is distributed by the TIFF podcast network.

72: Jed Rothstein on “The China Hustle”

Could China be responsible for the next Wall Street crash? Filmmaker Jed Rothstein explores that question in “The China Hustle.” After the 2008 market crash, American investors started paying close attention to the growth in Chinese companies. The film follows the founder of a small investment firm named Dan David who got bullish on Chinese companies until he sensed something was wrong. Then he switched to becoming a short seller and betting on their failure. Variety praised “The China Hustle” as “wildly entertaining”  as it helps to explain the complex machinations of global finance.
Pure Nonfiction host Thom Powers interviewed Rothstein in front of a live audience at New York’s IFC Center for the Stranger Than Fiction series. Rothstein discusses his approach to David and other interview subjects including attorney Mitchell Nussbaum and General Wesley Clark.
The film’s executive producers have appeared on past episodes of Pure Nonfiction. Hear Alex Gibney on episode 16 (touching upon “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room”)  and episode 60 (focusing on Rolling Stone) ; and Frank Marshall on episode 44.
Pure Nonfiction is distributed by the TIFF podcast network.

71: Amanda Micheli on “Vegas Baby” & IVF Treatment

In “Vegas Baby,” filmmaker Amanda Micheli follows several wannabe parents who enter a contest for free IVF treatment at a Las Vegas fertility clinic – ranging from a Midwestern couple to a Lady Gaga impersonator. Micheli’s previous films include “Double Dare” about female stunt women and the Oscar-nominated short “La Corona” about a Colombian women’s prison and its beauty pageant. Pure Nonfiction host Thom Powers interviews Micheli about the making of “Vegas Baby” and her personal motivations to take on this topic.
This interview was recorded at SVA MFA Social Documentary Program.
Pure Nonfiction is distributed by the TIFF podcast network.

70: Mark Duplass, Chapman & Maclain Way on “Wild Wild Country”

Netflix’s new true crime series “Wild Wild Country” explores the 1980s case of the so-called sex guru Bhagwan Rajneesh whose followers established a city near the small town of Antelope, Oregon and raised fears among locals. The clash of cultures escalated to both sides arming themselves. Rajneesh’s personal secretary Ma Anand Sheela was at the center of scandal accused of mass poisoning, wire-tapping and immigration fraud.

Sibling directors Chapman and Maclain Way previously made the Oregon-based documentary “The Battered Bastards of Baseball.” For “Wild Wild Country,” they gained support of executive producers Jay and Mark Duplass, best known as the creators of fiction films (“The Puffy Chair”) and TV series (“Togetherness”). On this episode, Chapman and Maclain are joined by Mark Duplass for a conversation led by Pure Nonfiction’s Raphaela Neihausen at New York’s IFC Center.

Wild Wild Country executive producer Josh Braun was interviewed on Pure Nonfiction #33.

Pure Nonfiction is distributed by the TIFF podcast network.

Parental guidance: This episode contains adult language and subject matter.

PN 69: Remembering Chris Hondros

The documentary “Hondros” tells the story of war photographer Chris Hondros who was killed alongside Tim Hetherington in Libya in 2011. Hondros is known for iconic photos that were published all over the world: a jubilant warrior in Liberia; an Iraqi girl after a checkpoint shooting in Tal Afar; and an Arab Spring clash in Tahrir Square with a camel-riding provocateur.

Filmmaker Greg Campbell was a longtime friend of Hondros. They met in high school and started their journalism careers together. Campbell has written books including “Blood Diamonds” that was turned into a Hollywood movie. “Hondros” is his directorial debut. He credits producer Daniel Junge, editor Jenny Golden and others as key collaborators. Pure Nonfiction host Thom Powers was also a friend of Hondros, adding a personal dimension to this conversation.

This interview was conducted at SVA MFA SocDoc program. Pure Nonfiction is distributed by the TIFF podcast network.

PN 68: Policing in “Flint Town”

Netflix’s new 8-part series “Flint Town”  follows the city’s police department as they cope with a depressed economy, high crime and a water crisis over the course of 2016. Pure Nonfiction host Thom Powers interviews the three directors of “Flint Town” – Zackary Canepari, Drea Cooper and Jessica Dimmock – in front of a live audience at New York’s IFC Center. Canepari and Cooper previously made the Flint based documentary “T-Rex”  about Olympic boxer Claressa Shields. Dimmock previously directed “The Pearl” about four transgendered women.

Pure Nonfiction is distributed by the TIFF podcast network.

PN 67: “Control Room” Revisited with Josh Rushing

Fifteen years ago as America prepared to make war on Iraq, filmmaker Jehane Noujaim embedded herself at the U.S. military’s CENTCOM media headquarters in Doha, Qatar. She and cinematographer Hani Salama focused on how the rising network Al Jazeera covered the war differently from American news. Two key characters are Al Jazeera journalist Hassan Ibrahim and the U.S. Marine press officer Josh Rushing who hold dialogues in the film with contrasting viewpoints.

After the film’s release, Rushing left the Marines and went to work for Al Jazeera English where he started the investigative series “Fault Lines.” On this episode, Pure Nonfiction host Thom Powers interviews Rushing and “Control Room” producer Rosadel Varela after a screening of the film at the Stranger Than Fiction screening series at New York’s IFC Center. “I hardly recognize that kid,” Rushing said about his younger self.

“Control Room” is available on DVD and on Hulu.

Pure Nonfiction is distributed by the TIFF podcast network.

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