A New Season for Nonfiction

Thomas Imbach’s Nemesis (2020)

The Museum of Modern Art’s Doc Fortnight is on through April 5, the Birkbeck Institute for the Moving Image’s Essay Film Festival returns tomorrow, and over the past few days, we’ve seen lineup announcements from Hot Docs and CPH:DOX. We’ll get to all that and a bit more in a moment, but let’s turn first to a new festival focusing on experimental nonfiction. From April 8 through 18, the Maysles Documentary Center and Screen Slate will team up to present the inaugural—and of course, virtual—edition of Prismatic Ground. “I’ve worked for film festivals for six years,” tweets programmer and festival founder Inney Prakash. “None of them were quite to my taste, so I started my own.”

Amy Taubin will be Zooming in on opening night to discuss the films of multimedia artist Anita Thacher, and the festival will wrap with Shabier Kirchner’s 2018 short film Dadli and Bill and Turner Ross’s Second Star to the Right and Straight on ’Til Morning, which Braden King called “an astonishingly poetic sixty-minute chronicle of the making of Benh Zeitlin’s Wendy” when he spoke with the brothers for Talkhouse last summer. Programs in between will spotlight work from Lynne Sachs, Erin and Travis Wilkerson, Ben Rivers, Bill Morrison, Abby Sun and Daniel Garber, Sophy Romvari, Caroline Golum, and dozens more.

For Filmmaker, Lauren Wissot writes about five standouts in the Doc Fortnight lineup. Moara Passoni’s blend of fiction and nonfiction, Êxtase, is “a startlingly unusual coming-of-age story,” while Inside the Red Brick Wall, made by an anonymous collective of filmmakers documenting the siege of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University in November 2019, is “a harrowing nail-biter.” Thomas Imbach’s Nemesis captures the final days of the main train station in Zurich and becomes “an unexpectedly vibrant symphony.” Emma Charles and Ben Evans James’s On a Clear Day You Can See the Revolution From Here is “both a study in arresting contrasts and a listening tour” of Kazakhstan. And Jordan Lord’s Shared Resources, chronicling the bankruptcy of the filmmaker’s family, “will surely go down as one of my most exciting nonfiction finds of the year.”

At Hyperallergic, Dan Schindel takes a quick look at Cycle ∞, a Doc Fortnight program put together by COUSIN Collective that features work by Indigenous artists. We should also definitely mention that the Ann Arbor Film Festival, the oldest avant-garde and experimental film festival in North America, is currently presenting its fifty-ninth edition through Sunday.

Up next chronologically is the Essay Film Festival, offering a rich and fascinating program for free to anyone in the UK. Highlights include works by Kevin Jerome Everson, Madeleine Hunt-Ehrlich, Cauleen Smith, and the late Med Hondo as well as Nuria Giménez’s My Mexican Bretzel, which Mark Asch, writing for the Film Stage, has called “one of those photographic reveries that immerses you in a past at once tinglingly present-tense and poignantly conscious of posterity.”

For Sight & Sound, Gareth Evans talks with John Gianvito not only about Her Socialist Smile, an essay film on Helen Keller and her commitment to social justice, but also about his past work, which includes editing a collection of interviews with Andrei Tarkovsky. And Will DiGravio, host of the Video Essay Podcast, chats with Michael Temple, director of the Essay Film Festival, about this year’s edition.

Two thirds of the sixty-four films lined up for CPH:DOX, Copenhagen’s international documentary film festival, have been directed or codirected by women. Screen’s Michael Rosser has an overview of the program that includes work by Laure Prouvost, Nanfu Wang, and James N. Kienitz Wilkins and will run from April 21 through May 2. From April 29 through May 9, Hot Docs will be streaming 219 films to audiences all across Canada, and as Leo Barraclough points out in Variety, half of them have been made by women.

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