All Posts by Thom Powers

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

90: Michael Moore, Julie Cohen, Annie Sundberg & Stephen Maing on “Getting Political”

Filmmakers Michael Moore (Fahrenheit 11/9), Julie Cohen (RBG), Annie Sundberg (Reversing Roe) and Stephen Maing (Crime + Punishment) sat down with Pure Nonfiction host Thom Powers for a panel called “Getting Political” at the DOC NYC PRO conference on November 9, 2018.
The date marked the two year anniversary of Donald Trump’s election and came three days after the U.S. midterm elections. The filmmakers discuss how they cover political topics and how the recent elections affect the issues in their films.
Pure Nonfiction is distributed by the TIFF podcast network.

89: Opal H. Bennett on Short Documentaries

Short documentaries are thriving on platforms like Netflix, HBO and New York Times Op-Docs. This year, the DOC NYC festival picked 12 short docs for its first ever Short List: Shorts. Programmer Opal H. Bennett talks to Pure Nonfiction host Thom Powers to highlight some the year’s leading Short Doc awards contenders that are currently streaming.

On Twitter: @oh_benn @docnycfest @thompowers @purenonfiction

88: DOC NYC Preview 2018

Wim Wenders, Rashida Jones, and Michael Moore are among the hundreds of documentary filmmakers coming to New York City for the DOC NYC festival from November 8 to 15.

DOC NYC artistic director and Pure Nonfiction host Thom Powers gives a preview of the festival loaded with clips from films. He interviews key members of the festival’s programming team for their insights.

DOC NYC executive director Raphaela Neihausen discusses the Opening, Closing and Centerpiece selections. She also talks about the DOC NYC Short List curating 15 contenders for Oscars and other awards.

Director of Programming Basil Tsiokos talks about the Viewfinders and Metropolis competition sections.

Programmer Ruth Somalo gives highlights from the thematic sections of Behind the Scenes, Modern Family, and In the System.

Associate programmer Karen McMullen discusses the legacy of Orlando Bagwell who will receive a Lifetime Achievement Award. She also offers tips from the Sonic Cinema section of music documentaries.

Below are links to the films in order of when they’re discussed in the episode:

Thom Powers on special guests at the festival:
Seth Meyers and John Mulaney for Documentary Now! presents Original Cast Album: Co-Op (Nov 9)
Olympia Dukakis for Olympia (Nov 11)
Michael Moore for Fahrenheit 11/9 (Nov 9)
Rashida Jones for Quincy (Nov 8)
Wim Wenders for Pope Francis: A Man of His Word (Nov 8)
Jakob Dylan for Echo in the Canyon (Nov 10)
J. Cole for Out of Omaha (Nov 10)
Darrell Hammond for Cracked Up (Nov 14)
Christo for Walking on Water (Nov 10)

Raphaela Neihausen on:
Opening Night – The Biggest Little Farm (Nov 8)
Centerpiece – Documentary Now! presents Original Cast Album: Co-Op (Nov 9)
Closing Night – Breslin and Hamill: Deadline Artists (Nov 15)
SHORT LIST
Quincy (Nov 8 & 10)
Fahrenheit 11/9 (Nov 9)
Three Identical Strangers (Nov 8 & 9)
RBG (Nov 14 & 15)
Shirkers (Nov 8 & 9)
Pope Francis: A Man of His Word (Nov 8 & 15)

PAST PURE NONFICTION EPISODES
Tim Wardle (Three Identical Strangers)
Betsy West & Julie Cohen (RBG)
Sandi Tan (Shirkers)
Wim Wenders (Pope Francis: A Man of His Word)
DOC NYC PRO (Nov 8-15)
Short List panels (Nov 9)

Basil Tsiokos on:
VIEWFINDERS COMPETITION
Cooked: Survival By Zipcode (Nov 11 & 14)
Walking on Water (Nov 10)

METROPOLIS COMPETITION
The World Before Your Feet (Nov 11)
Creating a Character: The Moni Yakim Legacy (Nov 11)
Decade of Fire (Nov 10)

 

Ruth Somalo on:
BEHIND THE SCENES
>The Eyes of Orson Welles (Nov 12)
The Ghost of Peter Sellers (Nov 10)
Cracked Up (Nov 14)
Beyond the Bolex (Nov 8)

MODERN FAMILY
Little Miss Westie (Nov 10)
A Sister’s Song (Nov 10)
To Kid or Not to Kid (Nov 11)

IN THE SYSTEM

87: Sandi Tan on “Shirkers”

Winner of the 2018 Sundance Directing Award for World Documentary, Sandi Tan makes her debut with “Shirkers,” now on Netflix. She grew up in Singapore. As a teenager in the 1980s, she had an outsider’s sensibility, obsessed with punk rock, fanzines, and indie film. She took a film class from a middle-aged American man named Georges Cardona who became her mentor, friend and ultimately the thief of her dreams. At age 19, Sandi wrote and starred in a fiction film called “Shirkers.” Cardona was the director, but after production, he took the footage and never gave it back. Twenty-five years later, Sandi goes in search of what happened to her film and the circle of friends who made it.

Pure Nonfiction host Thom Powers interviews Sandi about the making of “Shirkers.” The conversation contains spoilers, so do yourself a favor by watching the film first on Netflix. (The film also plays on the DOC NYC Short List with Sandi at a Q&A on Nov 9).

There’s a bonus near the end of the podcast where Sandi describes her connection to the cult Singapore action film “They Call Her Cleopatra Wong.”

On Twitter: @ShirkersFilm @thompowers @PureNonfiction

Pure Nonfiction is distributed by the TIFF podcast network.

86: Alex Gibney & Trevor Birney, Wanted in Belfast

Alex Gibney’s “No Stone Unturned” uses leaked police documents to investigate an unsolved mass murder in Northern Ireland. Now the police are pushing back. On August 31, police raided the Belfast homes and office of producer Trevor Birney and journalist Barry Mccaffrey and arrested them over the leaked documents.

Gibney has been notified that he’s also wanted for questioning in the United Kingdom. He describes it as “an act of intimidation” against journalists doing their jobs. Pure Nonfiction host Thom Powers interviewed Gibney and Birney on October 9 after a screening of the film at New York’s IFC Center.

“No Stone Unturned” is available on iTunes, Amazon and other platforms.

On Twitter: @alexgibneyfilm @trevorbirney @Barry_TheDetail @PureNonfiction @thompowers

85: Maxim Pozdorovkin on Trump, Putin & Pussy Riot

During the 2016 US election, Russia Today offered a steady stream of English-language reports that disseminated to American audiences via YouTube and Facebook. Filmmaker Maxim Pozdorovkin digs into those reports and other Russian media coverage to offer an immersive look at propaganda in “Our New President.” The film was originally crafted as a short for Field of Vision, then expanded into a feature length work now playing festivals.

Pure Nonfiction host Thom Powers interviews Pozdorovkin about his new film as well as his breakthrough work “Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer.”

This film was recorded in March 2018 at the Miami Film Festival.

On Twitter: @maximpoz @thompowers @PureNonfiction

Pure Nonfiction is distributed by the TIFF podcast network.

84: Matt Tyrnauer on “Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood”

Gore Vidal played a key role behind the scenes in helping Scotty Bowers tell his secret history of Hollywood. Starting in the 1940s, Scotty operated an infamous gas station in Hollywood where he would arrange sexual trysts for celebrities who needed to keep their gay, lesbian or bisexual lives hidden. With Vidal’s help, Scotty published his controversial memoir “Full Service” in 2012. Around that time, Vidal introduced Scotty to Vanity Fair writer and filmmaker Matt Tyrnauer. That started a two-year journey of making the film “Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood” that tells many facets of the story not covered in the book.

Pure Nonfiction host Thom Powers talked to Tyrnauer about his friendship with Vidal, the making of “Scotty,” and why so many people are resistant to dismantling the myths of Hollywood.

Tyrnauer was previously interviewed on Pure Nonfiction #45 discussing his films “Citizen Jane: Battle for the City” and “Valentino: The Last Emperor.” His upcoming film “Studio 54” will be released this fall; and his next documentary on political operative Roy Cohn is coming in 2019.

On Twitter: @mtyrnauer @scottythemovie @ScottyBowers @thompowers @PureNonfiction

This interview took place at the School of Visual Arts in the MFA Social Documentary Program.

Pure Nonfiction is distributed by the TIFF podcast network.

Note: This episode contains explicit content.

83: Jason Kohn on “Love Means Zero”

Andre Agassi, Boris Becker, Jim Courier and Kathleen Horvath are only a few of the champions who came out of Nick Bollettieri’s tennis academy. Bollettieri ran a controversial program taking kids at a young age to live away from their parents, but he turned out more champions than any other coach. The new Showtime documentary “Love Means Zero”  questions what was the price of pursuing success?

Pure Nonfiction host Thom Powers interviews filmmaker Jason Kohn about “Love Means Zero” as well as his first film “Manda Bala (Send a Bullet)” on escalating crime in Brazil. Jason also discusses his years directing television commercials and his early job working for Errol Morris.

This interview was recorded at the Miami Film Festival.

On Twitter: @jasonkilo @thompowers @PureNonfiction

Related: Errol Morris interviewed on episode 51 and episode 62.

Pure Nonfiction is distributed by the TIFF podcast network.

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