Hot off a Sundance win and with the backing of both Netflix and newly-minted film producers Barack and Michelle Obama, Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert's non-fiction stunner “American Factory” is gearing up for a big showing during this year’s Oscar race. An eye-popping look at the differences between American and Chinese workers when they come together at a Chinese car-glass factory in Ohio, the film won the Directing Award for U.S. Documentary after it debuted at Sundance in January, becoming a top early contender in the 2020 Oscar race in the process.
The Participant Media production focuses on the dramatic culture clash when a Chinese billionaire opens a new factory in the husk of an abandoned General Motors plant, hiring two thousand blue-collar Americans. Following its Sundance premiere, the film impressed the Obamas, who launched their Netflix-partnered Higher Ground Productions last spring “to harness the power of storytelling,” as the former U.S. president described it at the time.
In his review out of Sundance, IndieWire’s Eric Kohn wrote that the the film “extends beyond Trumpian rhetoric about the perils of the working class to examine the real tensions of international businesses in human terms.”
The film will hit the streaming platform later this month, along with a planned theatrical release, all the better to astound a wide viewership with its insightful commentary on commerce, community, and a changing economic world.
The duo aren’t strangers to either the glare of the awards season spotlight or the topic at hand: Bognar and Reichart were previously nominated in 2010 for the Oscar for Best Documentary, Short Subject. That film, “The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant,” followed the very same Ohio-area automobile plant, going through some major changes a decade earlier.
“American Factory” marks the first title from Higher Ground to premiere on the streaming service, though the newly-announced slate includes a variety of inspirational projects that touch on a variety of subjects including race, class, democracy, civil rights and more. Among the Obamas' initial Netflix projects are an adaptation of Michael Lewis' “The Fifth Risk” and a Frederick Douglass biopic.
Check out the newest trailer for “American Factory” below. As IndieWire exclusively reported earlier this year, Netflix will release the film in select theaters and on its streaming platform on August 21.
Last fall, documentary essayist Mark Cousins unveiled an ambitious new project: “Women Make Film: A New Road Movie Through Film,” which presents an alternative approach to film history exclusively through movies directed by women. The four hours presented at TIFF 2018 boasted a Tilda Swinton voiceover and the searing assertion that “film history is sexist.”
Now, Cousins has completed the project, and TIFF is giving it a lot of space: The entire 14 hours of “Women Make Film” will screen at the festival in five separate installments. “I think that the film is going to rewrite film history and how we understand the role of women directors,” TIFF Docs programmer Thom Powers said.
The previous installments screened quietly at the festival because “Mark was low key about it as he finished it,” Powers said. He wasn't concerned about how moviegoers would make time for the finished product in the midst of a hectic festival schedule. “It's not a sequential thing,” Powers said. “He's constructed it like a film class. Each chapter looks at a different theme of filmmaking, whether it's a close up or a tracking shot, but all the illustrations are drawn from films directed by women.”
Cousins spent years scouring archives for films directed by women, and the finished project includes around 700 clips from 183 films around the world. “You can watch any two hours of this and scribble down names of filmmakers you've never heard before,” Powers said.
“Women Make Film” will be seeking distribution at the festival, with U.K. outfit Dogwoof handling sales. Cousins' previous epic film history project, the 15-hour “The Story of Film,” wound up airing on Turner Classic Movies alongside many of the films it surveyed. Powers said “Women Make Film” deserved a similar fate, but could also fit into the evolving market of festivals buyers. “It will be best consumed as an episodic piece that you could easily break it into hourlong sections,” he said. “For an ambitious streaming platform, it presents an extraordinary opportunity.”
Last year's TIFF was notable for several major documentary sales, including Neon's acquisition of “The Biggest Little Farm,” Sony Pictures Classics taking “Maiden,” and the African nature odyssey “Elephant Queen,” an early acquisition for Apple's burgeoning original content team. That emerging player is likely to be scouring for more titles in the 2019 lineup, as the company hired former A&E documentary veteran Molly Thompson earlier this year. They'll be rubbing shoulders with major players in the documentary space, including Netflix, HBO, and Showtime, all of which will also premiere new films at the festival.
In addition to the Cousins film, documentaries likely to intrigue buyers at this year's TIFF include “And We Go Green,” the latest ecologically-conscious documentary from filmmaker Fisher Stevens, who once again joins forces with producer Leonardo DiCaprio following their 2016 effort “Before the Flood.” The new film centers on Formula E, the racing sport built around electric-powered cars. “The environmentalism in this film takes a backseat to a race car narrative,” Powers said. “You really get to know these drivers and the technology behind their cars.”
Cinetic will be selling “Green” in addition to “Red Penguins,” the latest hockey-related effort from Gabe Polsky. The filmmaker's previous effort, “Red Army,” focused on the migration of Soviet players to American teams, while “Red Penguins” follows the opposite scenario, with American hustlers trying to bring NFL showmanship to the USSR.
It's one of two available documentaries dealing with Russian politics, as UTA will be selling Alex Gibney's “Citizen K,” which profiles oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky as he turns against Vladimir Putin. The prolific Gibney is a perennial on the festival circuit, but Powers said “this is top-notch Gibney,” adding that “for people who really want to understand Russian politics, this is really gifted storytelling.”
The final sales title of note hails from the literary world. Endeavor will be selling “The Capote Tapes,” the directorial debut from Ebs Burnough, who previously served as the deputy social secretary for Barack Obama's White House. The film culls from audio recordings of George Plimpton interviews for an unrealized Truman Capote biography. Powers said Burnough's political background comes through in the project. “He's somebody who comes from a world of interesting social circles that gives him a good sensibility for decoding the world of Capote and that upper echelon NYC,” he said. He compared the appeal of the movie to “I Am Not Your Negro,” in that it “reawakens our interest in a writer from that period.”
Meanwhile, major documentary players will be bringing new projects to the festival, starting with the much-anticipated opening night selection. Fresh off its Oscar win for “Free Solo,” National Geographic's “The Cave” finds Oscar-nominated Syrian filmmaker Feras Fayyad returning to the country to journey into an underground hospital where doctors struggling to save lives while hidden away from the bombing above. As IndieWire previously reported, the secretive project is being positioned as a fall Oscar contender.
“I think it really stands apart from other docs about Syria that are often characterized by shaky cell phone footage — understandably, in wartime — but this film brings a different level of cinematic craft to it,” Powers said. “It's almost like a post-apocalyptic sci-fi movie where the warlords above ground have made life so uninhabitable above the surface that normal citizens have been driven underground to survive.”
Netflix will bring its own explosive documentary to TIFF this year, “Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator,” a sprawling overview of Bikram Choudry, the pioneering yoga teacher who has been accused of sexual assault. That scandal, chronicled last year in an ESPN “30 for 30” podcast, will once again become a hot-button talking point. “This film has ample video documentation of Bikram himself,” Powers said. “You really feel about how he changed people's lives positively — which makes the betrayals and the sexual offenses feel all the more shocking.”
Showtime has two films in the lineup, including “Ready for War,” which focuses on American immigrants who served in the U.S. military and then got deported to Mexico — where many of them were hired by the cartel. The film, which counts rappers Drake and Future as well as filmmaker David Ayer as executive producers, includes one character whose identity is masked for the duration of the film.
Powers compared director Andrew Renzi to “Cartel Land” filmmaker Matthew Heineman. “There's real guts that he brings to the storytelling,” Powers said. Showtime also has Laura Greenfield's “The Kingmaker,” a profile of Imelda Marcos and the history of her family in the Philippines.
Other promising entries include documentary veteran Barbara Kopple's “Desert 1,” a look back at the 1980 U.S. attempt to rescue hostages in Iran, produced by the History Channel; and Alan Berliner's HBO-produced “Letter to the Editor,” an essayistic ode to newspapers, which draws on his 40 years of photographic archives. Actress Bryce Dallas Howard will make her own foray into documentary filmmaking with “Dads,” a look at male parenting that includes her famous father, Ron Howard, appearing on camera.
The TIFF lineup makes room for under-the-radar discoveries as well. These include the Romanian documentary “Collective,” which revolves around a journalism team uncovering political scandal in its country's government, and counts “4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days” director Cristian Mungiu as an executive producer. “It's as if you had cameras following Woodward and Bernstein as they uncover Watergate,” Powers said.
Then there's “Love Child,” from Danish director Eva Mulvad “Enemies of Happiness”. The film follows an Iranian couple who fled the country under threat of death for an adulterous relationship that produced a child; they wind up in Turkey in the midst of the refugee crisis in 2012. “It's a really well-crafted film,” Powers said, “but also truly a love story about fighting back against adversity.”
There’s nothing better than finding a good documentary on Netflix, but sometimes you’re craving a little more depth than the average two-hour film can give. Enter the documentary series, a slightly lesser known category that will help entertain and educate you through the day and into the night. Let’s take a tour through some of the best documentary series on Netflix to get you started.
Related: The Best Documentaries On Netflix Right Now, Ranked
1 season, 1 episode | IMDb: 7.8/10
Tag along with war photographers into some of the most dangerous parts of the world, from Afghanistan to Sudan to South Africa. Each episode takes you to a conflict zone with a different photographer, each giving their unique look into a region being torn apart by strife. This documentary series isn’t for the faint of heart as there are shots of violence and death scattered through each of the six episodes. These photographers risk their lives to capture what is happening to the civilian populations in often overlooked parts of the world. The results can be haunting.
Making A Murderer
2 seasons, 20 episodes | IMDb: 8.7/10
This is one of Netflix’s most popular documentary series, and you’ll understand why after one episode. The show follows the case of Steven Avery and his nephew Brendan Dassey, who were arrested for the murder of photographer Teresa Halbach. But what initially appears to be a clear-cut case becomes much more questionable once filmmakers Moira Demos and Laura Ricciardi take you inside a system that seems designed to generate guilty verdicts rather than discover the truth.
Wild Wild Country
1 season, 6 episodes | IMDb: 8.3/10
This series from Netflix has inspired plenty of parodies since it’s release - SNL did a particularly good one here - but the subject matter of the show is decidedly less funny. The documentary paints a portrait of controversial Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh Osho who became something of a God to his many followers in the 70s. Along with help from his assistant, Ma Anand Sheela, he created a community of his followers in Oregon in the early 80s, causing a scandal, one the included a mass poisoning and an assassination attempt on a U.S attorney.
1 season, 8 episodes | IMDb: 8.4/10
CNN’s ongoing decades-based documentary series provides a “remember when” account of all the major beats across US history from 1960 up to 2000. Executive produced by Tom Hanks, the series ties together reels of archival footage with interviews from scholars, celebrities, and the people who were there to give you a solid glimpse into the mindsets and emotions of the times, if not the most in-depth information on any singular topic. Episodes touch on cultural zeitgeists like the battle of the sexes or specific moments like the Watergate break-in.
Ken Burns: The Civil War
1 season, 9 episodes | IMDb: 9.1/10
Ken Burns is a prolific documentary maker whose style of storytelling set the standard for decades to come. 1990’s The Civil War was his first series and tied together over 16,000 archival photos from the 1860s with first-hand accounts taken from the letters of those leading the country right down to the soldiers who fought and died on the battlefield. Those that love the Ken Burns signature style displayed here will undoubtedly enjoy his other documentary series currently on Netflix like Prohibition, The War on World War II, The West, and The Roosevelts.
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was the fourth television series in the Star Trek franchise. It ran for seven seasons and a hundred and seventy-six episodes in syndication. The finale, "What You Leave Behind", aired on June 2nd, 1999. DS9 was markedly different from Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation. The show setting was a recovered enemy space station near the planet Bajor. A grieving Starfleet commander, Benjamin Sisko Avery Brooks, assigned to help the Bajorans recover from a devastating occupation; discovers a wormhole to a distant region of the galaxy, the Gamma Quadrant. What followed was a thrilling, slow-burn escalation to the epic, Dominion War; a conflict against powerful Gamma Quadrant adversaries that threatened the United Federation of Planets.
What We Left Behind: Looking Back at Deep Space Nine is a wonderful retrospective and coda to the beloved series. The documentary is produced and directed by Ira Steven Behr, DS9's showrunner/executive producer, and filmmaker/ Star Trek enthusiast David Zappone; who produced The Captains and For the Love of Spock. Originally crowdfunded to celebrate DS9's twenty-fifth anniversary, Behr was astonished by the legions of fans that contributed money. It changed the scale of the documentary, and provided an opportunity to pursue fandom's dream scenario; a look at the story for a possible season eight of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
What We Left Behind reunites the original cast, writers, filmmakers, and studio executives for interviews. DS9, though it ran for seven seasons, was pilloried by critics at the time. The show was too dark, political, and not adventurous enough. The sci-fi mainstream decried a Star Trek series that was serialized, not episodic. They wanted each week to be a new adventure on a different planet, mimicking the format of the incredibly popular Star Trek: The Next Generation. DS9 had elaborate storylines that stretched over multiple seasons and embraced controversy. From racial and ethnic issues, religious strife, to television's first lesbian kiss, it was a Star Trek series that obliterated boundaries. Ira Steven Behr has frank discussions with the Paramount studio executive who didn't understand his vision for the show. Luckily, his persistence and a cult following allowed DS9 to continue its risque path; albeit with some major changes forced by the suits.
Without delving too deep into the details of the interviews, two pivotal events are explored. The first was the addition of Star Trek: The Next Generation's bad-ass Klingon, Lt. Commander Worf Michael Dorn, in season four. The cast, Behr, Rick Berman overall Star Trek TV producer, and several Paramount execs discuss bringing the popular character to the struggling show. What was already a tight-knit crew had doubts, but welcomed Dorn into the fold. The decision turned out to be exactly as hoped; a shot in the arm that revitalized DS9. The same cannot be said for the killing of Worf's wife and series regular from the start, Lt. Commander Jadzia Dax Terry Farrell. What We Left Behind takes a frank look at the turmoil caused by firing her. Terry Farrell's treatment and decision to leave was a blow to all. Behr also shows the professionalism and resilience of the core players. Nicole de Boer's Lt. Ezri Dax, who replaced Terry Farrell, was a key character during the final season. Seeing the players and producers discuss this tumultuous time is riveting. They developed lifelong bonds from their time on DS9. The show profoundly impacted them on a personal level. Defining the acting careers for many of the cast members.
In true DS9 fashion, What We Left Behind gets political. The doc explores the casting of Avery Brooks as Star Trek's first black captain and series lead. We see how Brooks, who unfortunately is only interviewed through archival footage, steered the path of DS9. Captain Sisko was a father foremost. DS9 had an incredible story arc with his son, Jake Sisko Cirroc Lofton, growing up on the space station. Brooks wanted the show to portray a positive black male role model as a parent and leader. DS9 was filmed during the LA riots of 1992. Anyone who watched DS9 knows how thoughtfully the series tackled such heady issues. Fandom will also be quite surprised what Behr has to say about the relationship between Garak Andrew J. Robinson and Dr. Bashir Alexander Siddig.
What We Left Behind does not forget the talented production designers, effects teams, and make-up artists that made DS9 so realistic. Some of the funnier scenes have Armin Shimerman, who played Quark the Ferengi bartender, and René Auberjonois, who played the shape-shifting security chief Odo, cursing the other cast members, particularly Colm Meaney Chief O'Brien. They had to sit for hours in make-up, and then work in the uncomfortable prosthetics; while the "human" actors had mere touch-ups. It's all in good humor, but illustrates the physical toll of playing DS9's alien characters.
The most thrilling aspect of What We Left Behind is the plotting for a potential season eight. Behr gathered the original writers, including Robert Hewitt Wolfe, for a storyboard session. The breakdown is accompanied by CGI animation and pre-vis sketches. Prepare to be blown off your couches. Set twenty years after Captain Sisko defeated the Dominion and vanished into the wormhole, the season eight storyline is jaw-dropping. It's loaded with surprises that will melt the minds of every DS9 fan. Behr and the writers acknowledge this is pure fantasy, but does it have to be? CBS and Paramount allows fan made Star Trek, as long as it's not for profit. I would shell out in a heartbeat to have a crowdfunded, CGI adaptation of DS9 season eight. Voiced by the original cast of course. Behr raised the money for What We Left Behind in a weekend. I'm pretty sure fandom can make that happen...
What We Left Behind: Looking Back at Deep Space Nine is a must see for fans, and anyone who appreciates great science fiction. DS9 is the perfect series for the binge-watching, streaming audiences of today. It's remarkable that a show which ended two decades ago, and was misunderstood by the masses, has found a new generation of ardent supporters. I think Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is not only the best Star Trek series, but arguably, the best sci-fi series. Seasons five through seven were masterful, exhilarating and engrossing television. We need to see season eight. What We Left Behind: Looking Back at Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is available now on DVD/Blu-Ray from Shout! Factory.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Movieweb.
There’s a scene in D.A. Pennebaker’s “Original Cast Album: Company” that unites all Elaine Stritch fans. Of course, younger audiences know her Emmy-winning turn as Jack Donaghy’s sharp-tongued mother in “30 Rock,” and Broadway fans will never forget her Tony-winning one woman show “Elaine Stritch at Liberty,” the film version of which incidentally united her with Pennebaker decades later.
But it is her increasingly desperate attempts to record the most famous number of her career, the 11 o’clock number “The Ladies Who Lunch” from Stephen Sondheim’s “Company,” that Pennebaker captured and edited so sensationally, that shows a rare peek behind the curtain at the ferocious talent at her most vulnerable.
Less Broadway-inclined cinephiles may be unfamiliar with “Original Cast Album: Company.” The documentary legend, who died over the weekend at the age of 94, was known as a groundbreaking figure in the evolution of documentary filmmaking, helming such seminal nonfiction films as “Monterey Pop,” “The War Room,” and “Bob Dylan: Don't Look Back.”
In his rousing essay about the late filmmaker’s influence on the form, documentarian Robert Greene wrote that Pennebaker’s legacy “might best be defined by his shrewd understanding of the complexities of filming people.” This quality is exemplified in “Original Cast Album: Company,” which Greene cites as a masterpiece, calling it “a stripped-down homily to the act of people acting; the contradictory power of people playing themselves for his exacting nonfiction camera is the de facto subject of all of Pennebaker's films.”
It’s also extremely funny. Pennebaker captures Sondheim’s eccentric perfectionism with a lovingly amused gaze, offering a rare glimpse of the notoriously private musical theater legend. Broadway nerds worship Sondheim as much as documentary heads revered Pennebaker. Giving a note to a young Donna McKechnie while recording “You Could Drive a Person Crazy,” a rare Sondheim bop, the composer is dissatisfied with her distinctly gentile pronunciation of the non-word lyric “boobie.” Sondheim and McKechnie practice the word tete-a-tete, bouncing the vowel back and forth like a manic game of verbal tennis. To the untrained ear, the difference is almost impossible to hear, and she’s singing in three-part harmony anyway; such is Sondheim’s precision.
Of course, for fans of one of Sondheim’s most popular musicals rivaled only by “Into the Woods” and “Sweeney Todd”, the music is enough to make the film a rare gem. There’s nothing else quite like it in existence: The film was originally shot as a pilot for a continuing series of similar cast recordings. When the producers all got jobs working for MGM, the series was scrapped. Pennebaker’s 1970 film is all that remains. Recent years have delivered a few excellent Broadway documentaries: “Every Little Step” 2008, “Bathtubs Over Broadway” 2018, and “Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened,” another Sondheim epic, all were welcome additions to the small subset of the genre. But Pennebaker’s contribution reigns supreme.
The piece de resistance, as previously mentioned, is Stritch’s late night recording session that quickly falls apart. Pennebaker shrewdly sets the stage for the epic meltdown, peppering the film with shots of the actress smoking and drinking between takes a notorious alcoholic, Stritch got sober later in life, and feeding her tiny dog scraps from the table. The first sign of trouble comes when Sondheim suggests to the tiring diva, “I have a feeling we oughta take it down a half tone, just because it’s late.”
“Maybe if I took my hat off, I could do it,” Stritch jokes, fluffing her hair, as Sondheim casts her a skeptical look. A character actress of the highest caliber, Stritch’s strength was never her mellifluous vocalizations. But after 14 hours of recording, she is truly at a loss. As she muscles her way through her signature showstopper, Sondheim shakes his head and furrows his brow, nursing a cigarette. Muttering under his breath, the music producer Thomas Z. Shepard asks: “What the hell do you want me to do?” And she loses it on everyone in the room.
“That moment when I scream at myself frightened me more than anything in the documentary,” Stritch said in a later interview about the scene. “And it was so good of Penny to get it, because it tells a big story. You know, you’re so — you don’t like yourself. I’m so angry, and after doin’ all that, and having it not [be] good, was devastating.”
The film concludes with Stritch returning a few days later to sing over a previously recorded orchestral track, where she lays down what would become the definitive recording of one of the greatest songs in musical theater history. It’s a triumphant conclusion, and an unforgettable window into a very distinct creative process that has too rarely been captured on film.
Before he died, Pennebaker was in attendance at a New York screening of a “Documentary Now!” riff on the beloved film, which writers Seth Meyers and John Mulaney set in an apartment building and renamed “Original Cast Album: Co-op.” The filmmaker was pleased with the half-hour tribute, which featured Paula Pell as the Stritch role. When Mulaney said his dream was for Sondheim to see the episode, Pennebaker piped in from his seat in the audience. “That would be an interesting moment,” he said. “He'd like it too. I'm telling you, he'd love it.” But even that calculated spoof can’t begin to evoke the mesmerizing achievements of the real thing.
strong>EXCLUSIVE: Gravitas Ventures has acquired U.S. rights to The Rise of Jordan Peterson, a feature documentary directed by Patricia Marcoccia about the controversial Canadian psychology professor-turned-YouTube philosopher. A day-and-date rollout in theaters and on-demand is set for October 29.
Marcoccia charts the rise of Peterson, who in 2016 sparked outrage and support for his stand against political correctness and Canadian human rights legislation in late 2016, leading to his rise as a global intellectual. His 2018 book 12 Rules For Life, has been published in 50 languages and has sold more than 3 million copies. His YouTube videos are nearing 150 million views.
The pic offers a rare, intimate glimpse into the controversial period that led to his rise in profile. “Even people who think they've seen it all have not seen what we've been able to capture in this film,” Marcoccia said. “It's always been important to me that the film remains nuanced, honest and human, especially in the polarized and explosive media landscape we're currently in.”
“Gravitas is excited to release The Rise of Jordan Peterson,with director Patricia Marcoccia, who was at the forefront of documenting Peterson's life,” said Nolan Gallagher, CEO and founder of Gravitas Ventures. “The documentary gives audiences a deeper look into the controversy surrounding Peterson. Whether you agree or disagree with him, we believe audiences will find the documentary captivating.”
Gallagher negotiated the deal with executive producer Paul Kemp and producers Marcoccia and Maziar Ghaderi.