This is that giddy time to be a documentary fan when the festivals come at us at a rapid clip with their wide and varied offerings of the films of the year to come. In January, Sundance debuted the most polished and promising documentaries that have the best chance of getting strong distribution by the end of the year. Those films included Dinosaur 13, Happy Valley, The Overnighters, Rich Hill, Life Itself, WHITEY: United States of America V. James J. Bulger and Private Violence. Some of these docs have distribution and others are hitting the circuit as their prospects are determined. Rich Hill looks to be the sleeper of the year.

True/False Film Fest, which happened in late February, helped to canonize some of those films (Overnighters, Rich Hill) and launch new ones (Actress).

And SXSW, not really a major documentary festival, but a strong enough platform nonetheless, concludes at the end of this week. I’m not hearing much noise about the documentaries there, but I am most interested in Margaret Brown’s The Great Invisible, about the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon explosion.

And then there are the recent announcements of April’s Tribeca and Full Frame slates that make one’s cup overfloweth. Very soon, Hot Docs will announce its list and then we’ll have a pretty good map of the documentaries that we’ll be talking about until the next Sundance. And then it all begins again. (Actually, I’m already hearing about great, great things to come at Sundance 2015.)

It’s like being a kid in a candy store, which is not always a good thing, unless you have the metabolism.

First, a question: Why haven’t Overnighters and Happy Valley been picked up yet for distribution? Festival programmers have lined these documentaries up, and shown them tons of support. Audiences and critics have been positive. There’s no doubt that both of these films will see the light of day, so hopefully announcements will be coming soon.

Second, a plea: Song from the Forest, which is playing at SXSW, has its next stop at the Cleveland International Film festival Later this month. I found this story, about an American man who went to live with the Bayaka Pygmies in Africa, utterly fascinating and a joy to watch. It’s not so much the filmmaking, but the subject who grabbed me — his mannerisms, intonations, intellect and life-off-the-grid are entrancing to watch. I hope this doc doesn’t disappear. It’s a gem.

Here are the Tribeca and Full Frame slates for your perusal and my two cents on each one.


The film slate:

I recommend: One Cut, One Life

I wrote a couple of articles about One Cut, One Life, which is having its world premiere in April. I may be too close to the subjects, having spent time with them on a bucolic day in Vermont, but I found the depiction of Ed Pincus, a documentary pioneer with a terminal illness, and his collaboration with Lucia Small, poignant and well told. Bring tissues for the inevitable, but be ready for the beauty and humor.

I’m most excited to see: 112 Weddings

Director Doug Block has become known for looking inside, at his family (51 Birch Street, The Kids Grow Up), but he turns the camera on others in this interesting follow up with the subjects of his day job as a wedding videographer. He films couples long after their wedding days to capture the arc of their lives.


The film slate:

I recommend: Ne Me Quitte Pas

This is a weird little Belgian film about a couple of alcoholics who enable each other as they slide deeper and deeper into a depression. It is both incredibly funny and tragic to watch. It is one of the most humanely absurd depictions of a downward spiral I have ever seen. I hate to wonder what has happened since filming.

I’m most excited to see: Point and Shoot

Director Marshall Curry has an eye for mavericks (Street Fight, If a Tree Falls), but he’s really landed one here: Matthew VanDyke, an American who struck out to see the world on his motorcycle, and ended up joining the Libyan rebel army. I’m hoping for action as well as an honest depiction of humanity. Hands down, this is the documentary I want to see most in 2014.

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Tom Roston
Tom Roston is a guest columnist for POV's documentary blog. He is a former Premiere magazine senior editor, who graduated from Brown University and started his career in journalism at The Nation and then Vanity Fair. Tom's freelance work has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, The Los Angeles Times, The Hollywood Reporter and other publications. He has written several Kindle Singles, including the bestselling Kindle Singles Interview: Ken Burns. Tom's current list of favorite documentaries are: 1. Koyanisqaatsi by Godfrey Reggio; 2. Hoop Dreams by Steve James; 3.Stories We Tell by Sarah Polley; 4.Crumb by Terry Zwigoff; 5. Montage of Heck by Brett Morgen