attended True/False and Full Frame this year. while i can imagine a world without T/F making FF a fantastic option, T/F is such a ridiculous gem - incredible programming of films, discussion, events - amazing staff from top to volunteers, the venues. kind of a mind bomb of incredible, barely room for improvement here. unfortunately, i missed a few T/F films i was most looking forward to, though, of course, caught some great ones. it'll kill me if i don't make it this year, which seems likely.
FF had a fabulous curated program from Rick Prelinger on archival material. the discussions i attended left me wanting, perhaps too meandering, the not-unusual lacking audience input, still pleased as punch to have participated. caught three of my fave films of the year here: NOSTALGIA FOR THE LIGHT, tim hetherington's short DIARY, and THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF NICOLAE CEAUSESCU, plus a few other ab solid offerings.
another high-point of the year included a weekend seminar on A FILM UNFINISHED at the University of Chicago, the model for rich inquiry into a film: a thursday night screening followed by friday morning discussion and a saturday evening roundtable, including director. much of the value of the roundtable was due to there being criticisms richly offered, a rarity in documentary it seems, but doubly-so with the director present. i suspect this was largely due to academics present, instead of participants being establishment critics or other documentarians.
doc programming in chicago is solid, though, of course, with plenty of room to improve. the music box and siskel will likely play the critically juiced and hybrid offerings such as THE ARBOR or LE QUATTRO VOLTE. i'll aside that siskel's annual doc spotlight Stranger Than Fiction is an odd disappointment. while i'm glad they program the month, the offerings are by and large not worth thinking about critically and seem to define milquetoast. you can count on facets to play a few dozen low-radar solid offerings over the course of the year. doc films will give a handful of recent popular docs, another handful of experimental and avant-garde offerings, and another handful of classics; along with UChicago's Film Studies Center, this is probably the most interesting aspect of chicago's doc programming. chicago filmmakers offers up an excellent year of programming as well as classes and networking events. white light cinema, block, southside projections, and assuredly others, add nicely. landmark provides the screens for the mainstream and market-geared docs such as CONAN, SENNA, NIM - somebody has to do it.
doc writing continues to flutter on life support. the only committed doc writer seems to be Christopher Campbell, writing most notably for the Doc Channel's blog. the handful of other doc-centric writers offer so little, with so little value, that they are hardly worth noting. i was teased with Chris Boeckmann's announcement of a non-fiction blog - nonfictioncinema - mid-2011, now promised for mid-february - still expecting greatness here. hoping this is the year for rich doc discussion and community online.
with the typical disclaimer that i assuredly missed a ton of excellent offerings, from 2011 and before, my standouts of the year:
NOSTALGIA FOR THE LIGHT - the only film i think will stand-up 20+ years from now. a rich contemplation on public and private memory - thus documenting and life.
THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF NICOLAE CEAUSESCU - though a bit of a bear for holding attention, this compilation of material of Ceausescu from state archives points to both the folly of master narratives and the possibilities of tapping such public archives. similarly,
SCENES OF A CRIME - culls recordings of a local police interrogation room to tell the story of state tactics in cultivating guilty subjects. the archival material is nicely woven into the film's narrative, and the "eye-of-god" POV is usefully deconstructed.
BETTER THIS WORLD - not only interestingly culls the state's street "security cameras" for their story but patches together interview material to construct dialogues between characters not spatially-temporally together. also, the commentary on the state's war on terror is timely and not-surprisingly chilling
BILL CUNNINGHAM NEW YORK - a charming gem that has inexplicably stuck with me - portrait of a life lived ethically.
CINCINNATI TO NEW ORLEANS BY WATER - these Ross Brothers fuckers masterfully create the impression that anyone can make a brilliant film.
FOREIGN PARTS - pretty great portrait of an interstitial space, here making my list for its scene of the year - the camera dancing with birthday girl.
a half-dozen or so others i liked for various reasons: DIARY, PROJECT NIM, THE BLACK POWER MIX TAPE 1967-1975, THE ARBOR, BUCK, RESURRECT DEAD: THE MYSTERY OF THE TOYNBEE TILES, WHO TOOK THE BOMP? LE TIGRE ON TOUR, others . flipside,
Kartemquin named me President of the backlash committee for THE INTERRUPTERS. unfortunately, having an opinion outside the slavishly adoring critical establishment merits this seemingly non-condoning pressure. though i guess i was kinda bratty, their twitter feed should be expected to be more marketing than serious or informational. while the film has its merits, and weaknesses, i simply don't think it exemplary. likewise for the under-the-radar, though critically praised, THE PRUITT-IGOE MYTH, which i wrote on earlier in the year, to the ire of two [!] commenters. i suspect my manner of critical engagement earned some of the ill-will, but i think it also speaks to the delicacy of publicly criticizing and challenging documentaries, which seems a crying shame. while i didn't dislike TI, i would say PRUITT got under my skin like no other. worst of the year honors go the the worthlessly hagiographic CONAN. similarly, it is beyond me how a documentary clique latched onto the BIEBER drivel - evidence that the "taste-makers" are competing with the documentary branch in some perverse contest.
that said, looking forward to a great year