“My mama used to say, ‘If you never look back where you came from, you never know how far you’ve come.” So opens the seventh film in Pure Nonfiction at IFC’s Winter 2019 season, That Rhythm, Those Blues. Newly restored for its 30th anniversary, the film focuses on the evolution of rhythm and blues music from the mid-1940s through the late-1950s.
“He is a disgrace to his country, his race, and what he laughably describes as his profession. He’s a simplistic fool, and a pawn.” David Susskind’s scathing commentary of Muhammad Ali is not how most remember him, but this quote opened the featured film of Pure Nonfiction’s sixth night of the 2019 Season, The Trials of Muhammad Ali. The night featured a great deal of looking back, and was in part a celebration of adored and acclaimed filmmaker Bill Siegel, who directed the film and passed away in December 2018.
“They can’t believe the boy who showed so much promise now faces a murder rap.” So opened the fourth Tuesday night screening in Pure Nonfiction at IFC Center’s 2019 Winter Season, The Case Against Adnan Syed. The series screened the first episode of the highly anticipated HBO four-part miniseries, which focuses on the murder of Hae Min Lee in Baltimore in 1999, one of the most famous cases in recent history, popularized by the podcast Serial.
“It’s going to change everything… and I was ready for a change.” So states film director Doug Block near the beginning of Home Page, which Pure Nonfiction at IFC Center showcased in a special Thursday edition of the series during its 2019 Winter Season. The film, released 20 years ago, remains remarkably prescient when it comes to the development of the world wide web, and the internet as a whole.
“This doesn’t have the tension it ought to have. It’s just flaccid.” This is one of the most memorable lines from the acclaimed and historic 1970 documentary, Original Cast Album: Company, which made a triumphant return to the screen during the third entry in Pure Nonfiction at IFC Center’s Winter 2019 Season. The night included a spectacular double bill, with the second act featuring a new episode from the IFC series Documentary Now! titled Original Cast Album: Co-op, a hilarious spoof on the original film by D.A. Pennebaker.
“For me, the camera would be looking at an 8 or 9 year old boy… and he’s looking at Pendleton Penitentiary.” For the second week of its Winter 2019 season, Pure Nonfiction at IFC showcased the new HBO documentary, It’s A Hard Truth, Ain’t It, a fascinating story of five inmates at an Indiana penitentiary creating their own film, based on their own life stories.
“Old school, new school, y’all get on the floor for this one. Represent.” Pure Nonfiction at IFC opened its Winter 2019 season with this line from the highly anticipated new documentary, United Skates. What followed was a fascinating and exuberant look into the intensively creative and close-knit underground African-American roller skating community.
“When I grew up, this was a jungle. Now it’s a disaster.” That line opens the final entry in Stranger Than Fiction’s Fall 2018 Season, Rodents Of Unusual Size. One of the film’s many colorful characters, Thomas Gonzales, hails from Delacroix Island - a tiny hideaway on the southern Louisiana coastline, which is slowly evaporating thanks to climate change and a creature called nutria - gastly-looking orange-toothed swamp rats that resemble “trying to breed a german shepherd and a chihuahua.”
“It was supposed to be all thrown away and forgotten, but we played a trick on history and saved it.” So opens the first entry in Stranger Than Fiction’s Fall 2018 Season, Bathtubs Over Broadway. The film immediately introduces us to Steve Young, a self-described ‘comedy-damaged’ writer for the Late Show with David Letterman. Steve realizes he doesn’t have many interests outside his day job, but a new show segment starts him on an unlikely journey. His job for this one particular segment is to find obscure songs from industrial musicals. Yes, you read that correctly… industrial musicals.
“He’s the Nelson Mandela of couture.” While many inside the fashion world agree with will.i.am’s statement about André Leon Talley, he remains a mystery to many outside this exclusive world where models, designers, and runways abound. In the sixth week of its 2018 Spring Season, Stranger Than Fiction hosted the New York premiere of The Gospel According to André, a fascinating look at the man behind the persona that is André Leon Talley and the long and winding road that produced the man he is today.
Gotti. A name notorious in organized crime circles, and infamous in American pop culture. John Gotti, the boss of the Gambino crime family, dominated headlines throughout the 1980s, often referred to as the “Dapper Don” or the “Teflon Don.” In the annals of organized crime history, his name is mentioned alongside imposing figures as Al Capone and Lucky Luciano. In the fifth week of its 2018 Spring Season, Stranger Than Fiction previewed the first two episodes of the latest exploration of the Gotti clan, aptly titled Gotti: Godfather & Son. Airing on A&E in mid-June, the first two installments focus on John Gotti Junior, and the relationship with his father during his coming-of-age period in Queens.
If you heard the name Rick Crom, it might not ring any bells. And that ’d probably be just fine with him. In the fifth week of its 2018 Winter Season, Stranger Than Fiction featured Oh, Rick!, the new film featuring the titular actor, singer, composer, lyricist, and comedian. The film focuses on the nearly 20 years that Rick spent as the emcee of the renowned Comedy Cellar in New York’s East Village, a club that has launched the careers of many of today’s prominent comedians.
In the fourth week of its 2018 Winter Season, Stranger Than Fiction held a sneak premiere of the Netflix docuseries Flint Town, featuring the first two episodes of the eight-part series. What followed was more than enough to whet the audience’s appetite to binge watch the entire season the following weekend upon its release.
Stranger Than Fiction closed its 2017 Spring Season with Jeff Orlowski’s latest film, Chasing Coral, a powerful reminder of humanity’s connection to each other and our ecosystem. Orlowski grew up in Staten Island and attended Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan, which is just over a mile from STF’s home, the IFC Center. The atmosphere was very much a “family screening,” as Orlowski noted in his opening remarks before the film.
Stranger Than Fiction opened its Spring 2017 season with a 50th anniversary screening of the landmark film, A Time for Burning, and a Q&A with its director, Bill Jersey. What followed was not only a master class on a documentary filmmaking, but an exploration of race relations back in 1967 and right now in 2017.
“Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” It’s a traditional narrative, often used today in tawdry soap operas and reality shows. However, the fifth entry in the Winter 2017 STF season, I Called Him Morgan, presented a twist on this tired narrative. The film focuses on the rise and fall of jazz legend Lee Morgan and his common-law wife Helen Morgan, presenting them as complete individuals who lived difficult and compelling lives. Cycles of collapse and redemption are major themes throughout, reinforced by one of the film’s musicians stating early on that “Lee went as far down as he could go… and then he met Helen.”