Category Archives for Latest Episodes

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.

PN 38: Clay Tweel on “Gleason”

New Orleans Saints football player Steve Gleason became a sports hero one year after Hurricane Katrina when he blocked a kick that became a symbol of the city’s comeback. In 2011, he announced he had ALS – known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease – that typically causes death in two to five years. The documentary “Gleason” follows the athlete as he copes with the disease, supported by his wife Michel Varisco. The film has a strong theme about the meaning of fatherhood as we watch Gleason leave a video record for his young son Rivers.

Pure Nonfiction host Thom Powers interviews “Gleason” director Clay Tweel about the making of the film. This is Tweel’s fourth documentary after “Make Believe” about teenage magicians; “Print the Legend” about pioneers of 3D printing; and “Finders Keepers” about a bizarre dispute over a mummified leg. Tweel broke into documentary working as an associate producer on “The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters,” directed by Seth Gordon who’s a producer on “Gleason.”

Other names that come up in this episode are “Gleason” cinematographers David Lee and Ty Minton-Small. And Tweel discusses his family connection to Muhammad Ali.

This episode was recorded at SVA’s MFA Social Documentary Film Program.

On Twitter: @GleasonMovie @TeamGleason @PureNonfiction @thompowers

Thanks to our supporters True/False Film Fest. Subscribe to their new podcast: True/False Podcast
Pure Nonfiction is distributed by the TIFF podcast network.

PN 37: Oscar Nominees for Documentary Feature

Hear the five Oscar nominated directors for Documentary Feature. We present highlights from our past interviews with filmmakers Roger Ross Williams (“Life, Animated”), Gianfranco Rosi (“Fire at Sea”), Ava DuVernay (“13th”), Ezra Edelman (“O.J.: Made in America”), and Raoul Peck (“I Am Not Your Negro”).

Want to hear even more? Listen to these episodes:

Ezra Edelman (“O.J.: 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

On Twitter: @ezraedelman @RogerRossWill @IAmNotYourNegro @ava @thompowers @purenonfiction

Pure Nonfiction is distributed by TIFF podcast network.

PN 36: John Heilemann on “Trumped”

John Heilemann, the veteran political reporter, is one of three creators – along with Mark Halperin and Mark McKinnon – of the new Showtime documentary “Trumped: Inside the Greatest Political Upset of All Time.” The project draws upon their reportage from the weekly series “The Circus” that spanned the entire campaign season over 26 episodes. Heilemann and Halperin are also known for their books including the best-seller “Game Change” about the 2008 election. In this interview, Pure Nonfiction host Thom Powers talks to Heilemann about his evolution from print to television. They discuss influential campaign documentaries including “Primary,” “The War Room,” and “Mitt”; balancing political coverage between the issues and the soap opera; and navigating relationships with Trump insiders like campaign manager Kellyanne Conway.

On Twitter: @jheil @MarkHalperin @SHO_TheCircus @SHO_Docs @thompowers @purenonfiction

Trumped: Inside the Greatest Political Upset of All Time

The Circus

Article: “The Kennedy Films of Robert Drew & Associates” by Thom Powers

Pure Nonfiction is distributed by the TIFF podcast network.

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 with 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
Strong Island
The Force
The Worker’s Cup
Tokyo Idols

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.

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