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.

PN 25: Directing “Amanda Knox”

Rod Blackhurst and Brian McGinn, the directors of “Amanda Knox,” discuss their five-year effort to bring the story to Netflix.

Knox was a Seattle college student studying for a year abroad in Perugia, Italy. In 2007, her British roommate Meredith Kercher was found murdered in their apartment. Local prosecutor Giuliano Mignini accused Knox and her boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito of committing the murder. The case was portrayed by tabloids as a lurid sex crime. For years, it dragged through Italian courts where Knox and Sollecito were convicted, acquitted, then re-convicted and finally acquitted for good.

Blackhurst and McGinn first reached out to Knox in 2011 when her case was still in court. On Pure Nonfiction, they talk to host Thom Powers about shepherding the project as an independent production before Netflix came on board. Eventually they got to interview all the key characters along with reporter Nick Pisa who broke several headlines on the case, including information that later proved false.

For years, the case has divided onlookers interpreting Knox’s behavior. McGinn describes her case as exemplifying the “Kuleshov effect” where the same image looks different depending on how it’s juxtaposed with other images.

This episode was recorded at the School of Visual Arts MFA Social Documentary program

On Twitter: @rodblackhurst @brimcgi @thompowers @purenonfiction
Pure Nonfiction is distributed by the TIFF podcast network.

PN 24: Kirsten Johnson on “Cameraperson”

Laura Poitras and Michael Moore are only two of many filmmakers who have turned to the skills of cinematographer Kirsten Johnson. Now Johnson has directed her own film “Cameraperson.” It’s a kind of memoir of her past 25 years shooting documentaries. “It’s unlike anything you’ve seen before,” wrote A.O. Scott in his New York Times review. “Cameraperson” has been named to the DOC NYC Short List of the year’s most impressive documentaries. In this conversation with Pure Nonfiction host Thom Powers, Johnson speaks candidly about her experiences working with Poitras, Moore and other directors and the moral quandaries stirred up by her work.

On Twitter: @Cameraperson16 @purenonfiction @thompowers

Cameraperson
Pure Nonfiction
DOC NYC

This interview was recorded on May 5, 2016 at the Montclair Film Festival’s Audible Lounge.

Pure Nonfiction is distributed by the TIFF podcast network.

PN 23: Demme on Talking Heads, Neil Young & Justin Timberlake

Jonathan Demme is receiving a retrospective this fall at the Stranger Than Fiction screening series at New York’s IFC Center. Pure Nonfiction host Thom Powers leads this conversation with Demme about his concert films with Talking Heads, Neil Young and Justin Timberlake. Demme shares behind the scenes details of “Stop Making Sense,” “Neil Young: Heart of Gold,” and a little bit on his newest film “Justin Timberlake + The Tennessee Kids” that’s coming to Netflix. This interview was recorded before a live audience at TIFF Doc Conference. Earlier this year, Powers interviewed Demme about his portrait films including “The Agronomist,” “Jimmy Carter: Man from Plains,” and “I’m Carolyn Parker” on Pure Nonfiction episode 6.

On Twitter: @thompowers @purenonfiction

Pure Nonfiction is distributed by the TIFF podcast network.

Stop Making Sense
Neil Young: Heart of Gold
Justin Timberlake + The Tennessee Kids

PN 22: Nanette Burstein Investigates John McAfee

“Gringo: The Dangerous Life of John McAfee” explores the murky history of the anti-virus software pioneer who moved to the jungle of Belize and lived out a modern Heart of Darkness. After his neighbor Greg Faull was found murdered in 2012, Belize police sought McAfee for questioning. He fled the country and returned to prominence this year when he sought the nomination to be President of the United States under the Libertarian Party. Oscar-nominated filmmaker Nanette Burstein (“On the Ropes,” “The Kid Stays in the Picture”) talks with Pure Nonfiction host Thom Powers at the Toronto International Film Festival where “Gringo” had its world premiere. The film will debut on Showtime on September 24.

On Twitter: @purenonfiction @thompowers

“Gringo: The Dangerous Life of John McAfee”

Pure Nonfiction is distributed by the TIFF podcast network.

PN 21: Raoul Peck on James Baldwin

“I Am Not Your Negro,” directed by Raoul Peck and based on the writings of James Baldwin, made the list of Rolling Stone’s “25 Movies We Can’t Wait to See” at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). This past week, the audience reception at the world premiere met those expectations. The film was acquired for distribution by Magnolia Pictures with plans to qualify for Oscar consideration. Thom Powers interviewed Peck during TIFF Doc Conference on September 13th. This episode presents an edited version of their conversation. Peck discusses how he gained access to Baldwin’s manuscript “Remember This House” that looks at three civil rights leaders – Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X and Medgar Evers. The film connects their legacy to our times.

On Twitter: @purenonfiction @thompowers

I Am Not Your Negro

PN 20: Women Directors at #TIFF16

“Girl Unbound” and “Karl Marx City” are among the documentaries directed by women making their world premieres at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). Pure Nonfiction host and TIFF documentary programmer Thom Powers talks to both directors.

In “Girl Unbound,” filmmaker Erin Heidenreich makes her feature-length debut profiling the Pakistani squash player Maria Toorpakai Wazir who has received death threats from the Taliban for being a prominent female athlete.

In “Karl Marx City,” veteran director Petra Epperlein explores her family’s history in East Germany. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, her father received letters accusing him of collaboration with the notorious Stasi secret police. Petra and collaborator Michael Tucker dig into the Stasi archives to solve the family mystery.

On Twitter: @purenonfiction @thompowers @girlunboundfilm @KarlMarxCity

Girl Unbound
Karl Marx City

Pure Nonfiction is distributed by the TIFF podcast network.

PN 19: New Docs on True Crime

“The Skyjacker’s Tale” and “Abacus: Small Enough to Jail” are two new docs on crime and justice making their world premieres at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). Pure Nonfiction host and TIFF documentary programmer Thom Powers talks to both directors.

In “The Skyjacker’s Tale,” filmmaker Jamie Kastner profiles Ishmael Muslim Ali (aka Ishmael Labeet) who was among a group of men convicted for the Fountain Valley Massacre killing of eight people on the island of St. Croix in 1972. Ali professed his innocence and twelve years later, during a prison transfer, he managed to hijack a plane to Cuba where he still lives.

In “Abacus: Small Enough to Jail,” filmmaker Steve James (known for “Hoop Dreams” and “Life Itself”) investigates the aggressive prosecution of a bank in New York’s Chinatown. The Abacus bank was founded by the Chinese immigrant Thomas Sung. After the 2008 financial scandals, Abacus was the only bank to be prosecuted by Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance, Jr.

On Twitter: @purenonfiction @thompowers @SkyjackersTale @AbacusMovie

The Skyjacker’s Tale
Abacus: Small Enough to Jail

Pure Nonfiction is distributed by the TIFF podcast network.

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