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Long before Kanye West became one of the most famous people on the planet, he was a 19-year-old up-and-coming producer of beats trying to make a name for himself in the local Chicago rap scene. Enter comedian Coodie Simmons, host of a local cable access show, who — taking inspiration from the landmark documentary “Hoop Dreams” — decided to turn his…
 
In “Sirens”, Rita Baghdadi (“My Country No More”, “City Rising”) joins to Mike to discuss her portrayal of the all-women Lebanese heavy metal band Slave to Sirens, with a focus on Sherry, the virtuosic lead guitarist, and Lilas, the rhythm guitarist who is the charismatic center of the band. As much a coming of age story as a rock doc, “Sirens” exp…
 
“He's not a dusty antique from the past; he's the beginning of now” That’s how Marc Shaffer describes the subject of his film, Exposing Muybridge. Mike and Marc explore the strange and varied career of Eadweard Muybridge (just one of the many versions of the name he gave himself over the years). Born in Britain, he moved to New York to sell books, …
 
In 1976, a curator at Harvard’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnography discovered a long-forgotten item stored away in the museum’s collection: a series of stark but stirring daguerreotypes taken in 1850 that are believed to be the oldest photographs of enslaved Africans in the U.S. While the discovery made headlines across the country, they d…
 
While over the decades, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has periodically been front page news in America, for the most part, the issue has not taken center stage in U.S. politics. But what if it turned out that, unbeknownst to the vast majority of Americans, state legislatures throughout the country have been approving bills that not only took a s…
 
In this installment of Anatomy of a Scene, “Ailey” director Jamila Wignot describes the creative process behind a key sequence in her remarkable portrait of American dance legend Alvin Ailey. After building his hugely successful dance company from scratch, Ailey felt an ever-increasing amount of pressure and eventually broke down. Jamila and her te…
 
In this powerful Anatomy of a Scene featurette, “Attica” director Stanley Nelson, recently awarded the DGA Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Documentary, focuses on a climactic sequence near the end of the Oscar-nominated film. Stanley takes us inside the prison yard at Attica after authorities have re-taken control of the yard and p…
 
It starts like a modern day fairy tale: from the cotton fields of Mississippi, to three national collegiate championships, to scoring the first basket in Olympic history. But despite all her plaudits, when all that had passed, Lusia Mae (Lucy) Harrison felt she could pursue the game no further. In his Oscar-nominated short, “The Queen of Basketball…
 
After a series of highly improbable coincidences, filmmaker Jay Rosenblatt (“The Smell of Burning Ants”) finds himself back in his old elementary schoolyard making a film about a bullying incident from 50 years ago. Building on Jay’s own hazy recollections and those of his former 5th grade classmates, “When We Were Bullies” brilliantly pieces toget…
 
Now that the five Oscar nominees for Best Documentary Feature have been chosen, the final countdown to see who will win the coveted statuette is underway! Variety’s Film Awards Editor Clayton Davis, who’s been following the race closely for months, joins Top Docs to discuss each of the nominee’s’ chances, handicaps the race (as of the taping date!)…
 
Nostalgia isn't all bad. That’s one of the themes of our conversation with Lisa Hurwitz, director of “The Automat”, which charts the rise and fall of a uniquely American institution–though one with surprising roots in Northern Europe. Despite what you might have seen in the pictures, The Automat was more than brass, nickels, and glass windows. It w…
 
We need to talk about W. Kamau Bell. The talented stand-up comic and popular CNN series host/Executive Producer (“United Shades of America”) has just made his initial foray into directing with the provocative and definitive 4-part Showtime docuseries, “We Need to Talk About Cosby”. When a cultural icon like Bill Cosby, who was once so beloved as to…
 
Australia is burning. And so is Greece, China, South Africa, Brazil, Congo, and even Siberia. And, of course, California is burning, more so than ever. In her eye-opening documentary “Bring Your Own Brigade”, Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Lucy Walker (“The Crash Reel”, “Waste Land”) skillfully lays out the causes and consequences of the terrify…
 
Alvin Ailey is alive and well. That is the lasting impression one gets from “Ailey”, filmmaker Jamila Wignot’s vibrant and probing documentary portrait of one of the 20th Century’s greatest artists, the late dancer and choreographer Alvin Ailey. Ailey’s masterworks are still performed throughout the world. The dance company he founded more that 60 …
 
Jessica Kingdon’s stunning feature documentary debut, the Oscar-shortlisted “Ascension”, is an enthralling, immersive journey into the heart and soul of today’s People’s Republic of China. With her unerring ability to capture small details and depict epic scale, Jessica gives us a privileged tour of the so-called “Chinese dream” at the center of Ch…
 
In her searing Oscar-shortlisted HBO Documentary “In the Same Breath”, award-winning filmmaker Nanfu Wang challenges both the Chinese and U.S. governments’ initial responses to the pandemic. As she did in her previous film, the devastating “One Child Nation”, Nanfu relentlessly questions government authority and gives voice to those who insist on t…
 
Focussing on the issue in San Francisco, LA, and Seattle, “Lead Me Home” manages to give a sense of the tremendous scope of homelessness on the West Coast of America, while still exploring the individual complexities of the lives of those who find themselves–often “step by step”--in this situation. Directors Pedro Kos and Jon Shenk take an unflinch…
 
Shortlisted for the Oscars, "Audible"–a short by Matt Ogens–explores the life of graduating high school football star Amaree McKenstry, a life not unlike that of any other teenager with teammates, family, friends, an on-and-off girlfriend, and the rigors of the gridiron. But a life also marked by the unique culture that defines Maryland School for …
 
At the height of WWII, a group of young Jewish refugees is sent to a secret POW camp near Washington D.C. The refugees soon discover that the prisoners are none other than Hitler’s top scientists. In a bitter twist of fate, it is the refugees’ job to ensure that the German prisoners will aid their new country in the coming Cold War. Finally, after …
 
Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson joins us to talk about his Oscar-shortlisted “Summer of Soul (…or, When the Revolution Could Not be Televised)”. In the summer of 1969, a music festival took place in New York that attracted over 300,000 people. Featuring some of the most incredible artists of that — or any — era, it caught the cultural wave of the moment…
 
Betsy West and Julie Cohen (“RBG”, “My Name is Pauli Murray”) return to “Top Docs” to discuss their Oscar shortlisted “Julia”, about the legendary culinary educator, Julia Child. After sharing their favorite Julia Child recipes, Betsy and Julie dive into how they used new visual tools to recreate Julia’s cooking techniques–ones that weren’t availab…
 
A legendary rock ‘n’ roll photographer. An amazing abstract artist. Can they team up to create something completely new and original? In this touching and inspiring dual portrait, filmmaker Alexandria Jackson focuses her lens on the unlikely friendship and collaboration between photographer Baron Wolman and artist Sophie Kipner. In their Top Docs c…
 
In this poetical portrait that transcends the standard documentary treatment of war and refugees, filmmakers Gulistan and Elizabeth Mirzaei explore the dreams, frustrations and love experienced by Shaista and Benazir, a young Afghan couple living in a Kabul displacement camp. Ken sat down with Gulistan, Elizabeth, and producer Omar Mullick (“These …
 
With 99.4 million Instagram followers and counting, Billie Eilish, who just turned 20 years old, is already one of the most popular and critically acclaimed artists of our time. Throughout the world, her music inspires young people who flock to her concerts and know all the lyrics by heart. Renowned filmmaker R.J. Cutler’s definitive new Apple TV+ …
 
Right now, “Khabar Lahariya” might not be as well-known as “The New York Times”, but, with 150 million YouTube views and growing, India’s only women-led news outlet has already established itself as an indispensable local watchdog and source of reporting in the country’s most populated state. Winner of the Audience Award at the 2021 Sundance Film F…
 
The 2022 Sundance Film Festival is almost here! From Jan. 20– 30, all eyes will be on the Sundance lineup and on what are sure to be some of the year’s most heralded documentaries. Top Docs caught up with Basil Tsiokos, Sundance Senior Programmer, Nonfiction, to preview this year’s doc features and to give us an inside look into how the programming…
 
Two schools, two neighborhoods, two vastly different worlds… one football program. When it became clear that Messmer High School and Shorewood High in Milwaukee would not have enough players to field their own teams, the two schools came together to form the Messwood football team. But playing together does not mean that the team’s young athletes a…
 
Firouzeh Khosrovani’s “Radiograph of a Family” is among the rarest of documentaries. Like a perfectly composed classical symphony, the film’s form and content effortlessly complement each other. The result is a film that is both beautifully symmetrical and dynamically creative. Seamlessly moving between the personal and the political, Firouzeh empl…
 
Imagine being one of the two young songwriter/lyricists who are invited to an imposing Hollywood mansion to meet with movie legend Gloria Swanson. Greeting you in all her movie star glamour, Gloria pitches her idea for a Broadway musical based on her starring role in the brilliant movie “Sunset Boulevard”. Three months later, your musical BOULEVARD…
 
Famous for its Beluga caviar and rich oil deposits, the Caspian Sea region is less well-known for the corruption that goes hand-in-hand with both of these highly desired commodities. Taking as his primary subject the post-Soviet regime of Azerbaijan and its strongman leader, Ilham Aliyev, journalist and filmmaker Benoît Bringer pulls back the curta…
 
Alison Bechdel. Jennifer Camper. Howard Cruse. Rupert Kinnard. Mary Wings. From the 1970s to the 2000s and beyond, these five brilliant queer cartoonists broke the mold, paved the way, and told the truth one panel at a time. Each contributed to creating the world of queer comics and helped forge a vital community of LGBTQ artists that continues to …
 
Welcome to the Top Docs Holiday Special! IndieWire Editor-at-Large Anne Thompson joins Mike and Ken to break down the Best Feature Documentary Oscar shortlist released this week. Anne shares her insights about the 15 documentaries that made the cut and the ones that didn’t. What are the biggest surprises? Which films have the best chance to make it…
 
When “Fiddler on the Roof” opened on Broadway in 1964, many thought that this Yiddish-inspired portrait of Jewish shtetl life in Tsarist Russia would be a huge flop. But audiences flocked to the musical, and its songbook soon entered the popular lexicon. Hollywood set its sights on a film version and United Artists signed the well-respected, but ha…
 
A presidential election held during a period of extreme political divisiveness. A constitutional democracy under threat by the incumbent president himself. The possibility of a stolen election. These conditions might bring to mind the U.S. in 2020. But Camilla Nielsson’s masterful new observational documentary “President” focuses its unblinking eye…
 
In our second Anatomy of a Scene featurette, we delve into two key scenes from TRY HARDER! with director Debbie Lum. In this illuminating conversation, Debbie offers some fascinating back story to deepen our understanding of the complex dynamics that play out on screen. The Scenes: Scene 1: Winter Holiday at Le Soleil Restaurant - 42:37 – 45:06 Sce…
 
Sometimes you think you know the full story when it turns out you really don’t know the half of it. Oscar-winning filmmakers E. Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin’s (“Free Solo”, “Meru”) riveting new documentary “The Rescue” chronicles the heroic international effort in the summer of 2018 to save twelve boys and their soccer coach trapped deep inside a…
 
141 boxes. That’s a lot of stuff. But, if that “stuff” happens to be the Pauli Murray Papers at Harvard’s Schlesinger Library, then you may well have just struck documentary gold. Filmmakers Betsy West and Julie Cohen first learned of Murray when they were in the throes of research for their Oscar-nominated documentary “RBG” about Supreme Court Jus…
 
For many 17- and 18-year-olds, life exists on the unsettling edge between the daily grind of high school and the promised land of freedom and opportunity: college. The brilliance of Debbie Lum’s enthralling new documentary “Try Harder!” is that it occupies the treacherous space in between these two worlds by focusing on the hyper competitive colleg…
 
Want to know more about how one of our award-winning directors crafts a complex scene? For our inaugural “Anatomy of a Scene'' special segment, we invited “Rebel Hearts” director Pedro Kos to peel back the curtain on his filmmaking process by dissecting a pivotal scene from his new movie. It’s a fascinating “deep dive” that we know you will enjoy! …
 
Almost daily, the news media report on a new refugee crisis or a tragic border crossing attempted by those fleeing desperate circumstances in their home countries for the promise of a better life elsewhere. Danish filmmaker Jonas Poher Rasmussen takes the measure of one such story in his remarkable new documentary “Flee”, which gives a blow-by-blow…
 
Miscarriage of justice doesn’t begin to describe the wrongs that have been done to the six men at the heart of Robert Greene’s (“Bisbee ’17”, “Kate Plays Christine”) pathbreaking, searing, and, ultimately, immensely healing, new documentary “Procession”. As boys, Joe, Mike, Ed, Dan, Michael and Tom each suffered sexual abuse, including rape, at the…
 
Academy Award-nominated director Matthew Heineman’s (“Cartel Land”, “City of Ghosts”) harrowing new cinema verité documentary, THE FIRST WAVE, takes us into the eye of the storm, a New York City intensive care unit during the worst four months of the COVID-19 crisis. Trailing a relentlessly driven medical team led by the remarkable Dr. Nathalie Dou…
 
Immaculately produced by Daniela Alatorre and Elena Fortes and stylishly directed by Alonso Ruizpalacios (“Museo”, “Gueros”, “Narcos: Mexico”), A COP MOVIE is a dazzling hybrid documentary brain teaser and gorgeous piece of cinematic eye candy. It’s also, well, a cop movie, with a blood pumping chase scene and a pair of captivating Mexico City poli…
 
“Faya dayi” is a hymnal chant recited by the Harari farmers of Ethiopia as they harvest khat, a native plant chewed for its stimulant properties. Roughly translated, faya dayi means “giving birth to wellness or health.” It is also the title of Ethiopian/Mexican filmmaker Jessica Beshir’s one-of-a-kind, profoundly moving new documentary set in the m…
 
While the international news media has mostly turned the page on the war in Syria, Academy Award-winning filmmaker Megan Mylan’s (“Smile Pinki”, “Lost Boys of Sudan”) new documentary “Simple as Water” shows how the shattering consequences of the war continue to reverberate through the lives of those who have been displaced, as well as those who hav…
 
Ask Google what Storm Lake, Iowa is famous for and you’ll learn that it’s the fourth largest glacier lake in the state and is considered the region’s best for walleye fishing. But this seemingly ordinary town of 11,000 in northwest Iowa is also the home of the Pulitzer Prize-winning biweekly The Storm Lake Times, edited by the incomparable Art Cull…
 
With two dozen feature documentaries to his credit, filmmaker Stanley Nelson has, over the course of an astonishing four-decade career, created an unparalleled chronicle of the Black experience in America. Whether documenting the early Civil Rights Movement in “Freedom Riders” and “Freedom Summer” or the fight for self-determination in “The Black P…
 
Continuing our Series on Emmy-nominated films. From “Derrida” to “Outrage” and culminating in the hugely impactful “The Invisible War” and “The Hunting Ground,” Amy Ziering and Kirby Dick have proven themselves to be the dynamic duo of documentary. Shining a light on sexual abuse and the subsequent conspiracy of silence and coverups inside some of …
 
“The Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.” Yes, nuns. A lot of nuns. A lot of LA nuns to be precise. Rebellious, brilliant, creative, socially committed, take-no-cr*p-from-anybody nuns. These are the Sisters who form the heart-and-soul of Pedro Kos’ joyful new documentary “Rebel Hearts,” a portrait of a trailblazing group of nuns in Los Angeles…
 
“Disco sucks!” Be honest. Did you ever utter that phrase in a weak moment brought on by hard rock/punk music-induced peer pressure? Legendary filmmaker Frank Marshall, who has produced some of Hollywood’s biggest films, makes his documentary directing debut with “The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart,” a thoroughly satisfying corrective tha…
 
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