Category Archives for Latest Episodes

PN 48: HBO’s Sheila Nevins on Seductions, Heartbreaks & Her New Book

Meryl Streep, Audra McDonald and Glenn Close are among many esteemed performers who read stories on the audio version of Sheila Nevins’ new quasi-memoir “You Don’t Look Your Age…And Other Fairy Tales.” Nevins has served for 35 years overseeing HBO Documentary Films. Now she reveals tales from her own life covering childhood, seduction, heartbreak, feminism, motherhood and aging.

Pure Nonfiction host Thom Powers interviewed Nevins on her 78th birthday (April 6). She speaks candidly about growing up with Communist parents, learning the power and limits of seduction, fighting for equal pay as a woman, being inspired  to write by Larry Kramer and facing her seventies.

The conversation includes excerpts of passages read by Lena Dunham and Tovah Feldshuh.

On Twitter: @thesheilanevins @thompowers @PureNonfiction

Pure Nonfiction is distributed by the TIFF podcast network.

PN 47: Jonathan Demme & Renée Shafransky on Spalding Gray

“Swimming to Cambodia,” the 1987 film directed by Jonathan Demme, had a rippling influence. It laid the path for a kind of first person storytelling that today is widespread from “This American Life” to “The Moth.” The film is deceptively simple: monologuist Spalding Gray sits behind a desk and tells a stream of consciousness story about working as an actor on “The Killing Fields,” set against the back drop of America’s secret war in Cambodia. Gray had originated the project as a four-hour theater piece presented in two nights. His partner Renée Shafransky recruited Demme to adapt into a film, shortening it to feature length. The crew included cinematographer John Bailey, editor Carol Littleton and composer Laurie Anderson.


On this episode, Pure Nonfiction host Thom Powers interviews Demme and Shafransky to discuss the film in October 2016 at New York’s IFC Center. Demme died on April 26, 2017.

For more on Demme, listen to him discuss his documentary portrait films on episode 6 and his music documentaries on episode 23.

On Twitter: @PureNonfiction @thompowers

“Swimming to Cambodia” is now available on DVD. This episode also touches upon the IFC TV series “Documentary Now” that has a parody episode of the film titled “Parker Gail’s Location is Everything” (season 2, episode 3).

Pure Nonfiction is distributed by the TIFF podcast network.

PN 46: Rashida Jones, Jill Bauer & Ronna Gradus on “Hot Girls Wanted”

Sex and technology are the focus of the new Netflix series “Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On.” Pure Nonfiction host Thom Powers interviews the series’ creators Rashida Jones, Jill Bauer and Ronna Gradus. They previously made the similarly titled feature documentary “Hot Girls Wanted” about young women entering the world of amateur porn. Bauer and Gradus also directed “Sexybaby” about changing sexual mores in the digital age.

On Twitter: @iamrashidajones @hotgirlswanted @thompowers @PureNonfiction

This episode was recorded at the Miami Film Festival.

Pure Nonfiction is distributed by the TIFF podcast network.

PN 45: Matt Tyrnauer on “Citizen Jane”

Jane Jacobs, author of “The Death and Life of Great American Cities,” changed the way we think of urban planning. Matt Tyrnauer’s new documentary “Citizen Jane” tells the story of her epic battles with New York power broker Robert Moses.

On this episode, Pure Nonfiction host Thom Powers interviews Tyrnauer about the film and his previous documentary “Valentino: The Last Emperor,” about the Italian fashion designer.

On Twitter: mtyrnauer @janejacobsdoc @thompowers @purenonfiction

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

Pure Nonfiction is distributed by the TIFF Podcast Network.

PN 44: From Indiana Jones to Guatemala’s Civil War – Frank Marshall & Ryan Suffern

“Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Jurassic World” and “Sully” are among Frank Marshall’s stellar producing credits. Now his company Kennedy/Marshall has a documentary division. Their latest film is “Finding Oscar” about the search for a boy who survived an infamous 1982 massacre in Guatemala’s civil war in the jungle hamlet of Dos Erres. The film’s director Ryan Suffern started his career as Steven Spielberg’s assistant and rose up to run the documentary division at Kennedy/Marshall.

On this episode, Pure Nonfiction host Thom Powers interviews Marshall and Suffern about the making of “Finding Oscar” (opening in theaters on April 14). The film played last fall at the Telluride and DOC NYC festivals.

On Twitter: @LeDoctor @suckatash23 @FindingOscarDoc @thompowers @PureNonfiction

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

Pure Nonfiction is distributed by the TIFF Podcast Network.

PN 43: Laurent Bouzereau & Mark Harris on “Five Came Back”

Steven Spielberg is the executive producer for the new 3-part Netflix series “Five Came Back” about the Hollywood directors who put their fiction careers on hold during World War II as they went to make propaganda documentaries for the U.S. government. The five were Frank Capra, John Ford, William Wyler, George Stevens and John Huston.

On this episode, Pure Nonfiction host Thom Powers speaks with the key creators of the series, writer Mark Harris and director Laurent Bouzereau. The series is based on Harris’ book “Five Came Back.” Bouzereau has a long career directing documentaries about the making of Hollywood films, including several of Spielberg’s.

For the Netflix series, they enlisted contemporary Hollywood directors to talk on camera about their predecessors: Spielberg on Wyler; Guillermo Del Toro on Capra; Paul Greengrass on Ford; Lawrence Kasdan on Stevens; and Francis Ford Coppola on Huston.

Among the films discussed are Capra’s “Why We Fight”; Ford’s “The Battle of Midway”; Wyler’s “The Memphis Belle”; Huston’s “San Pietro” and “Let Their Be Light”; and also the lesser known contributions of African-American writer Carlton Moss to the film “The Negro Soldier.” All these films are streaming on Netflix for a limited time.

On Twitter: @MarkHarrisNYC @nedlandmedia @thompowers @PureNonfiction

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

PN 42: Made in Miami – Billy Corben & Alfred Spellman on “Cocaine Cowboys”

“Cocaine Cowboys” is a cult classic exploring the 1980s drug trade in Miami. Packaged like a gangster film, the documentary links the criminal underworld to the city’s real estate boom. On this episode of Pure Nonfiction, host Thom Powers interviews “Cocaine Cowboys” director Billy Corben and producer Alfred Spellman during the 2017 Miami Film Festival.

Both natives of south Florida, Corben and Spellman formed the production company Rakontur (along with editor David Cypkin) with a commitment to tell Miami stories. At age 22, they debuted at Sundance in 2001 with their first documentary “Raw Deal” about an alleged frat house rape. They followed with “Cocaine Cowboys” in 2006. Their other films include ESPN’s “The U” and “The U Part 2” about the rise and fall of the University of Miami’s football team; “Square Grouper” about Miami’s marijuana trade; and “Dawg Fight” about backyard fighters.

In this conversation, they discuss the making of “Cocaine Cowboys”; and reflect on Miami’s cultural sensations from the tourist-driven Art Basel to the homegrown Borscht Film Festival and the Oscar-winning “Moonlight.”

Learn more at

On Twitter: @billycorben @alfredspellman @rakonturmiami @thompowers @purenonfiction

Pure Nonfiction is distributed by the TIFF Podcast Network.

PN 41: Danae Elon on “P.S. Jerusalem”

Danae Elon’s latest film “P.S. Jerusalem” is a first person account of moving back to the city of her childhood after living abroad for 17 years. A key presence in the film is her late father Amos Elon who was a widely read author of books and essays on Israel. Before his death in 2009, he had become so disillusioned with the country that he moved to Italy and cautioned Danae not to move back. But she couldn’t resist the pull. She moves with her husband Philip and their three sons, documenting the city’s tensions and what it means to her family.

Her previous films “Partly Private” (about circumcision) and “Another Road Home” (about her childhood caregiver) also feature her family. In this interview with Pure Nonfiction host Thom Powers, Elon reflects on her complicated relationship with Jerusalem and the challenges of having her family as subjects.

For more on “P.S. Jerusalem”:

On Twitter: @danaeelon1 @thompowers @PureNonfiction

Pure Nonfiction is distributed by the TIFF podcast network. Check out the new podcast TIFF Long Take interviewing key figures in the film world.

PN 40: “True South” – Jon Else on Henry Hampton & “Eyes on the Prize”

“Eyes on the Prize” is a landmark documentary series chronicling the history of the civil rights movement. Debuting on public television in 1987, it remains just as riveting 30 years later. Now the making of the series is covered in a new book called “True South” by the filmmaker-turned-author Jon Else. He gives a vivid portrait of the pioneering black filmmaker Henry Hampton and the Boston-based company Blackside that created “Eyes.”

Else has deep roots in this story. As a student in the sixties, he worked for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in Mississippi during the Freedom Summer voter registration drive. Else went on to direct the Oscar-nominated documentary “The Day After Trinity” about J. Robert Oppenheimer and the atomic bomb in 1980. Later, he joined the Blackside team to be a cameraman and series producer for “Eyes on the Prize.” Else has made other documentaries while teaching at the University of California in Berkeley.

On this episode, Else talks to Thom Powers about the making of “Eyes on the Prize” and capturing the experience in “True South.”

“True South” is published by Viking

“Eyes on the Prize” is available on DVD and on iTunes
On Twitter: @thompowers @PureNonfiction

Pure Nonfiction is distributed by the TIFF podcast network.

PN 39: Marina Zenovich on Roman Polanski & California’s water crisis

“Chinatown” created a mythology out of California’s water politics. Now Marina Zenovich investigates a modern version of that story in her documentary “Water & Power: A California Heist” airing on National Geographic. Her film, executive produced by Alex Gibney, draws upon the reportage of journalist Mark Arax, questioning the collusion between California politicians and Big Agriculture to transfer water rights into private hands. The film throws a spotlight on the deal-making of Stewart and Lynda Resnick, the landowners behind the Wonderful brand of pomegranates, almonds, and pistachios.

It’s no surprise that Zenovich would be attracted to a topic made mythical by “Chinatown” director Roman Polanski. She previously spent a decade profiling him in two films. Her breakthrough work “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired” (2008) investigated the prosecution of Polanski for the sexual assault of a 13-year-old girl in 1977. Zenovich interviewed figures from all sides including Polanski’s attorney Douglas Dalton, prosecutor Roger Gunson, and the victim Samantha Geimer. The film raised troubling questions about Judge Rittenband whose erratic behavior in the case prompted Polanski to flee the United States. After Zenovich’s film gained worldwide attention, the Swiss police arrested Polanski again in 2009. She felt partially responsible and documented that saga in a follow up film called “Roman Polanski: Odd Man Out.”

On this episode, Pure Nonfiction host Thom Powers talks to Zenovich about her films on Polanski and her latest on California’s water. The conversation was recorded the day “Water & Power: A California Heist” had its world premiere at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.

“Water & Power: A California Heist” opens theatrically in New York and Los Angeles on March 3 and debuts on National Geographic on March 14

“Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired” is available on HBO

“Roman Polanski: Odd Man Out” is available on iTunes

On Twitter: @MarinaZenovich @PureNonfiction @thompowers

Pure Nonfiction is distributed by the TIFF podcast network.

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