Category Archives for Latest Episodes

PN 35 – Syrian Filmmaker Orwa Nyrabia In Exile

Before Trump’s travel ban for Syrians, we sat down with Orwa Nyrabia at the Sundance Film Festival where he was attending workshops. Three years ago, he produced “Return to Homs,” directed by Talal Derki, about the resistance movement in his hometown. The film won Sundance’s Jury Prize for World Documentary and is now available on Netflix.

In this conversation, Pure Nonfiction host Thom Powers talks to Orwa about his many activities in support of Arab documentary. Prior to Syria’s civil war, Orwa and his partner Diana El Jeiroudi co-founded the Damascus-based festival Dox Box. They took inspiration from the dissident Syrian filmmaker Omar Amiralay who comes up in this conversation.

In 2011, when Syrians took to the streets for peaceful demonstrations, Orwa helped organize a letter to denounce government violence co-signed by hundreds of international filmmakers. The following year, he was jailed for three weeks, prompting an international “Free Orwa” campaign that won his release. In addition to “Return to Homs,” he also produced “Silvered Water, Syria Self-Portrait,” directed by Ossama Mohammad and Wiam Simav Bedirxan, that played at the 2014 Cannes and Toronto film festivals.

On Twitter: @orwany @doxbox_ngo @purenonfiction @thompowers

Pure Nonfiction is distributed by the TIFF podcast network.

PN 34: Island President Mohamed Nasheed in Exile

The Sundance Film Festival is always full of surprises. Pure Nonfiction host Thom Powers begins this episode with reflections on the 2017 festival and the real-life characters who passed through it.

The center of the episode is a wide-ranging interview with Mohamed Nasheed, the former president of the Maldives, who was profiled in the 2011 documentary “The Island President.” Nasheed was at Sundance to appear on a panel with Al Gore on climate change. Powers took the opportunity to conduct a wide-ranging interview about Nasheed’s overthrow by his opponents, his recent stint as a political prisoner and his current life in exile.

The episode concludes with an overview of the 2017 Academy Award nominations.

There are five Oscar nominees for Documentary Feature and all five directors have been featured on past episodes of Pure Nonfiction:

Ezra Edelman, “OJ: Made in America” – ep 10
Roger Ross Williams, “Life, Animated” – ep 13
Raoul Peck, “I Am Not Your Negro” – ep 21
Ava DuVernay, “13th” – ep 26
Gianfranco Rosi, “Fire at Sea” – ep 28

In the Oscar Documentary Short category, we give a special shout out to “Joe’s Violin” director Kahane Cooperman who appeared on Pure Nonfiction’s first episode.

On Twitter: @MohamedNasheed @thompowers @purenonfiction

Pure Nonfiction is distributed by the TIFF podcast network.

PN 33: Inside Sundance w/ Josh Braun

The Sundance Film Festival remains a hot spot for launching documentary films. Pure Nonfiction host Thom Powers got an early look at several films premiering at the festival.

In Part One of the podcast, he previews prominent trends from the U.S. Documentary Competition represented by the films “Trophy”, “The Force” and “Strong Island”; and notable themes in the World Documentary Competition with films such as “Tokyo Idols”, “The Worker’s Cup” and “In Loco Parentis”.

In Part Two, Powers interviews the sales agent Josh Braun who runs Submarine Entertainment with his twin brother Dan. In his role as producer’s rep, Josh has played an instrumental role in negotiating the distribution deals of past Sundance hits such as “Man on Wire”, “Searching for Sugar Man”, and “20 Feet from Stardom” that all went on to win Oscars. He shares the stories behind those deals.

Josh took a circuitous route to his job. He talks about his early career playing music with his brother Dan in New York bands such as Circus Mort, the Del Byzanteens (with lead singer Jim Jarmusch), and Deep Six. He also discusses how he recorded a demo with Madonna in the early 1980s and what led him to into the documentary world.

At this year’s Sundance, Submarine brings a full slate of documentaries including “Whose Streets”, “Chasing Coral”, “Nobody Speaks”, and “Dina”. Josh also offers his insights into the current documentary marketplace.

2017 Sundance films discussed in Part 1:
In Loco Parentis
Machines
Strong Island
The Force
The Worker’s Cup
Tokyo Idols
Trophy

On Twitter: @sundancefest @thompowers @purenonfiction

Pure Nonfiction is distributed by the TIFF Podcast Network

PN 32: Laura Poitras & Henrik Moltke on Project X

What mystery lies behind the windowless building in Manhattan at 33 Thomas Street? In the short documentary “Project X,” Oscar-winning filmmaker Laura Poitras (“Citizenfour”) teams with journalist Henrik Moltke to explore the building’s secrets. The film employs the voices of actors Rami Malek and Michelle Williams reading from NSA documents in the Snowden archives. Now streaming for free on Field of Vision, “Project X” complements an article in The Intercept written by Moltke and Ryan Gallagher called “Titanpointe: The NSA’s Spy Hub in New York, Hidden in Plain Sight.” Pure Nonfiction host Thom Powers interviews the filmmakers about their collaboration and Poitras’ work with Snowden.

Watch: Project X

Read: “Titanpointe: The NSA’s Spy Hub in New York, Hidden in Plain Sight”

On Twitter: @fieldofvision @moltke @purenonfiction @thompowers

This interview was conducted on November 28, 2016 at SVA’s MFA Social Documentary department.
Pure Nonfiction is distributed by the TIFF podcast network.

PN 31: Race, History, Trump & Documentary

Bryan Stevenson, Raoul Peck & Ezra Edelman took part in a panel titled “American Histories,” moderated by Pure Nonfiction host Thom Powers. It took place at the DOC NYC festival just three days after Donald Trump was elected President. The discussion covers three films – “I Am Not Your Negro,” directed by Peck; “OJ: Made in America,” directed by Edelman; and “13th” in which Stevenson (author of the book “Just Mercy”) is interviewed by filmmaker Ava DuVernay.

This conversation was a major highlight of DOC NYC, so we wanted to share it now, even though our podcast is mostly on break until Season Three begins in January.

For more on these films, listen to the previous Pure Nonfiction interviews with Ezra Edelman (ep 10); Raoul Peck (ep 21); and Ava DuVernay (ep 26) that cover different areas than this panel.

On Twitter: @13thfilm @eji_org @IAmNotYourNegro @ezraedelman @OJMadeInAmerica

Pure Nonfiction is distributed by the TIFF podcast network.

PN 30: Madam President: Sheila Nevins on HBO Documentary Films

Sheila Nevins is a lover and a fighter. When she joined HBO in its early years, the label “documentary” evoked something educational. She turned it into something entertaining with her passion and tenacity. In this wide ranging interview with host Thom Powers, Nevins discusses her early days working with the Maysles brothers, her forays into “Real Sex,” her acquisition of “Citizenfour,” and HBO’s upcoming documentary “Marathon: The Patriot Days Bombing.” Always outspoken, Nevins doesn’t hold back: “I’m too old to give a shit.” (Nevins photo by Brigitte Lacombe).

This concludes Season Two of Pure Nonfiction. Watch for Season Three coming in January 2017.

Twitter: @thesheilanevins @HBOdocs @thompowers @purenonfiction

Pure Nonfiction is distributed by the TIFF podcast network.

PN 29: Werner Herzog on “Into the Inferno”

Volcanoes are the focus of Werner Herzog’s new film “Into the Inferno,” now playing on Netflix. He teams with volcanologist Dr. Clive Oppenheimer (author of “Eruptions that Shook the World”) to visit volcanoes in the South Pacific, Indonesia, Iceland, North Korea and beyond. They first met at the top of Antarctica’s volcano Mt Erebus during the making of Herzog’s Oscar-nominated documentary “Encounters at the End of the World.”

In this conversation with Pure Nonfiction host Thom Powers, Herzog talks about his new work and his earlier short film about a volcano “La Soufriere” (1977). The interview also touches upon “The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner” (1974) about a ski jumper; and Les Blank’s “The Burden of Dreams” (1982) about the making of Herzog’s fiction film “Fitzcarraldo.”

Herzog also discusses his 20-year collaboration with editor Joe Bini.

On Twitter: @purenonfiction @thompowers

Useful Links:

Werner Herzog website
Werner Herzog: A Guide for the Perplexed
Watch Joe Bini on Editing with Herzog at TIFF Doc Conference 2016

Pure Nonfiction is distributed by the TIFF podcast network.

PN 28: Gianfranco Rosi on “Fire at Sea”

Winner of the Berlin Film Festival’s top jury prize in 2016, “Fire at Sea” takes place on the Italian island of Lampedusa. Located near the African coast, Lampedusa is a prime destination for refugees traveling by boat. Filmmaker Gianfranco Rosi spent months filming with residents of the island and on board an Italian Navy ship rescuing migrants at sea. Praising the film in The New York Times, critic A.O. Scott wrote that “it compels you to infer a big picture from a series of extended, intimate scenes.”

In 2013, Rosi’s previous film “Sacro GRA,” set in Rome, became the first documentary to ever win the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival. Despite his European laurels, Rosi’s earlier films were scarcely seen in North America. They include “Boatman” (1993), filmed in Benares, India; “Below Sea Level” (2008), about drifters in the American desert; and “El Sicario – Room 164” (2010) about a hitman in Juarez, Mexico.

In this interview with Pure Nonfiction host Thom Powers, Rosi talks about the making of “Fire at Sea” as well as his student days at New York University, his early projects and his friendship with the writer Charles Bowden.

On Twitter: @thompowers @purenonfiction

Fire at Sea

PN 27: Morgan Spurlock & Jeremy Chilnick on “Rats”

After “Super Size Me,” director Morgan Spurlock teamed with producer Jeremy Chilnick to form the production company Warrior Poets. Their latest film is “Rats,” based on the book by Robert Sullivan, conceived as a nonfiction horror movie. The film uses New York exterminator Ed Sheehan as a fountain of knowledge about vermin as it examines human encounters with rats around the world. The film had its world premiere in the Midnight Madness section of the Toronto International Film Festival and debuts on Discovery Channel on October 22.

In this interview with Pure Nonfiction host Thom Powers, Spurlock tells his origin story, recounting how “Super Size Me” was made while his company was in debt. Jumping to the present, he and Chilnick describe their ambition with “Rats” to merge the horror genre with documentary; and they discuss the contributions of cinematographer Luca Del Puppo and editor/composer Pierre Takal.

The conversation also brings up another new film supported by Warrior Poets. “Eagle Huntress,” directed by Otto Bell, profiles Aisholpan, a 13-year-old girl in western Mongolia, who competes in the male-dominated sport of eagle hunting. While “Rats” plays as horror, “Eagle Huntress” plays as a nonfiction fairy tale.

Lastly, Powers discusses the case of documentarian Deia Schlosberg who was recently arrested in North Dakota for covering oil pipeline protests. She spent two nights in jail and was charged with three counts of conspiracy that carry a maximum penalty of 45 years in prison. Schlosberg was a producer on “How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change” directed by Josh Fox (“Gasland”). Fox has been updating Schlosberg’s case on his Facebook page.

On Twitter: @MorganSpurlock @jchilnick @thompowers @purenonfiction @deiafilm @joshfoxfilm

“Rats” on Discovery Channel
Pure Nonfiction is distributed by the TIFF podcast network.

PN 26: Ava DuVernay on 13th

Selma director Ava DuVernay has a new documentary on Netflix called 13th. The title comes from the Constitution’s 13th amendment that abolished slavery with the loophole clause “except as a punishment for a crime.” The film explores American history to follow the path from the 13th amendment to our current criminal justice system and its impact on African Americans. DuVernay interviews a wide range of charismatic speakers including authors Michelle Alexander (The New Jim Crow), Bryan Stevenson (Just Mercy) and Van Jones (Rebuild the Dream).

In this conversation with Pure Nonfiction host Thom Powers, DuVernay discusses how she took inspiration from other documentaries including Sam Pollard’s Slavery By Another Name and Dawn Porter’s Gideon’s Army (discussed on PN episode 2). Powers asks DuVernay about her education in politics and filmmaking, starting with her first documentary This is the Life. She talks about people who were instrumental to making 13th including her longtime editor Spencer Averick and Netflix executive Lisa Nishimura.

On Twitter: @AVAETC @13thfilm @thompowers @purenonfiction

Ava DuVernay website

Pure Nonfiction is distributed by the TIFF podcast network.

Mark your calendar for the DOC NYC festival, America’s largest documentary festival, on Nov 10-17.

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