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.
Pure Nonfiction at IFC Center, the popular documentary series previously known as Stranger Than Fiction, announced its winter season line-up, featuring ten documentaries playing from February 5 to March 26. The season opens with UNITED SKATES (Feb 5), winner of the Tribeca Audience Award, about roller skating in black communities across the United States. The season includes sneak previews of two documentaries fresh from their Sundance premieres: Alex Gibney’s THE INVENTOR: OUT FOR BLOOD IN SILICON VALLEY (Mar 14) about the scandal of the fraudulent billion dollar company Theranos and Alison Klayman’s THE BRINK (Mar 26, closing night of the winter season) about the former Trump strategist Steve Bannon spreading his nationalist ideas in Europe.
Each Pure Nonfiction screening features the filmmakers or other special guests in person. The series, launched at IFC Center in 2005 and hosted by Thom Powers and Raphaela Neihausen, was formerly known as Stranger Than Fiction. It has a reputation as “a vital outpost for award-winning documentaries” (New York Times). The change in name aligns the series to the Pure Nonfiction podcast, in which Powers interviews documentary filmmakers, now in its fourth year.
“Pure Nonfiction as a screening series at IFC Center shares the same mission as the podcast to illuminate the art of documentary making, so it makes sense for them to share the same name,” said Powers.
The winter season includes a sneak preview of the new series THE CASE AGAINST ADNAN SYED (Feb 26) based on the case made famous by the Serial podcast. Director Amy Berg will present episode one prior to its debut on HBO. Other sneak previews include IT’S A HARD TRUTH, AIN’T IT (Feb 12) about prisoners learning to make films; and ONE NATION UNDER STRESS (Mar 19) with Dr. Sanjay Gupta trying to uncover why American life expectancy is falling.
Classic revivals are a key part of the screening series. The season includes a double bill (Feb 19) with D.A. Pennebaker’s ORIGINAL CAST ALBUM: COMPANY (1970) about a studio recording of the Stephen Sondheim musical; joined with a new parody of the film from the series DOCUMENTARY NOW! titled ORIGINAL CAST ALBUM: CO-OP. Pennebaker will present the films with other colleagues who were part of the original. Other classics include the 20thanniversary of Doug Block’s HOME PAGE (Feb 21) about the emergence of a confessional culture on the internet; THE TRIALS OF MUHAMMAD ALI (Mar 5) that will memorialize director Bill Siegel who passed away last December; and THAT RHYTHM…THOSE BLUES (Mar 12) in a new restoration of the 1988 film that explored rhythm and blues music in the 1940s and 1950s.
The Pure Nonfiction winter season takes place at the IFC Center every Tuesday night at 7:30 pm for eight weeks, plus special Thursday screenings on Feb 21 and Mar 14. Each event includes a discussion with the filmmakers, followed by a gathering at a nearby bar. Season passes are now on sale for $99 for 10 films. The full season schedule appears below. For more information, visit ifccenter.com/series/purenonfiction
Pure Nonfiction at IFC Center: Winter 2019 Season | 7:30pm Tuesdays at IFC Center, Feb 5 – Mar 26
Each show features a Q&A with the director or other special guests
Feb 5: Opening Night – UNITED SKATES (2018, Q&A w/ dir. Tina Brown & subject Reggie)
Feb 12: IT’S A HARD TRUTH, AIN’T IT (2018, Q&A w/ dir. Madeleine Sackler)
Feb 19: Double bill:
ORIGINAL CAST ALBUM: COMPANY (1970, Q&A w/ dir. D.A. Pennebaker & others)
Feb 21: Thursday special– HOME PAGE – 20thanniv. (1999, Q&A w/ dir. Doug Block & others)
Feb 26: THE CASE AGAINST ADNAN SYED – episode one (2019, Q&A w/ dir. Amy Berg)
Mar 5: THE TRIALS OF MUHAMMAD ALI (2014, Q&A in memory of dir. Bill Siegel w/ his colleagues)
Mar 12: THAT RHYTHM…THOSE BLUES – newly restored (1988, Q&A w/ dir. George T. Nierenberg)
Mar 14: Thursday Special– THE INVENTOR: OUT FOR BLOOD IN SILICON VALLEY (2019, Q&A w/ dir. Alex Gibney)
Mar 19: ONE NATION UNDER STRESS (2019, Q&A w/ dir. Marc Levin)
Mar 26: Closing Night – THE BRINK (2019, Q&A w/ dir. Alison Klayman)
Tickets for Pure Nonfiction screenings are $17 for the general public and $14 for IFC Center members. A Season Pass covers admission to all 10 evenings and provides free popcorn at all screenings. It is available for $99 ($80 for IFC members).
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”