Oscar-Nominated Director Yance Ford Signs With ICM Partners

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EXCLUSIVE: Oscar-nominated director Yance Ford has been signed by ICM Partners. Ford is in the Academy Award running this year for Best Documentary for his film Strong Island, an investigation of the 1992 murder of his brother, 24-year-old William Ford Jr. and its effect on his family.
Strong Island won the Gotham Award for Best Documentary, the IDA 2017 Emerging Documentary Filmmaker Award, the Black Film Critics Circle Award for Best Documentary, and the Sundance Film…

Oscar Nominees Explain What Makes Documentaries Feel ‘Alive’ (Video)

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One of the axioms of great documentary filmmaking is the idea that you start making your movie expecting one thing, but find the story is something completely different during the course of filming.

It doesn’t feel like it’s true of every documentary you see, but it certainly is true for the five Oscar nominated documentary features this year. And if you ask these filmmakers, they’ll tell you that discovery process is essential for anyone who is being true to their medium.

“If you made a documentary film and had an idea of what it was going to be and the film was exactly that at the end, it would be a totally dead product,” Dan Cogan, the co-director of “Icarus,” told TheWrap’s Sharon Waxman. “The thing that makes it alive is discovering how it changes and running with that and following that, and the skill of it is to recognize what’s unfolding and follow the essence of that story and follow it as it goes.”

Also Read: Short Documentary Oscar Nominees on Advantages, Intimacy of Short Form (Exclusive Video)

Filmmakers from each of the five documentary features spoke as part of TheWrap’s panel discussion at the Landmark Theatres in Los Angeles on Wednesday night. The films are wildly different, ranging from tragedies personal and global to more lighthearted journeys, but each grew into the powerful movies we see today.

“Icarus” seems to most clearly embody that philosophy of how a good documentary evolves, with Cogan and Bryan Fogel drastically changing course once they realized their subject, Grigory Rodchenkov, was the mastermind behind the Russian doping scandal and that his life was in grave danger.

“I was in way deeper than I had expected to be,” Fogel said. “That process was essentially two and a half years in the making before we were in so deep and realized that we were sitting on a whistleblower and a trove of evidence that was irrefutable and so spectacular in scope it changed essentially all of Olympic history, because what Russia had been doing in Sochi was just the icing on the cake.”

Also Read: ‘Heroin(e)’ Director Investigates How Small Towns Battle With Opioids: ‘It Was Pills, It Was Heroin’

But the other four documentaries followed a similar trajectory. Yance Ford spent 10 years trying to make his personal crime story “Strong Island,” and two years into the course of filming, Trayvon Martin was murdered. The film is a hybrid of a true-crime documentary and a family portrait about how his brother William was shot and killed by a white man. And time and again, Ford watched the movie’s narrative unfold before him. As a result, “Strong Island” had to change to react to the changing culture.

“I wouldn’t have imagined that the same narrative about fear and hyper-physicality would actually repeat itself in some instances in the Zimmerman case,” Ford said. “I realized that this history of racialized violence, this use of fear as a justification for homicide, was much older than the Martin case. It was much older than my brother’s.”

Mark Mitten, the producer of “Abacus: Small Enough to Jail,” was close with the Sung family, who operated the family-run bank Abacus located in New York’s Chinatown. When they were indicted and chose to fight the government by going to court, he had no idea how the trial was going to pan out and what the fate of this family would be.

Also Read: Yes, Lance Armstrong Saw Doping Documentary ‘Icarus’ – and Was ‘Blown Away’

“Nobody was covering this story,” Mitten said. “I did some investigating and found out they were the only bank going to be indicted for mortgage fraud as part of the 2008 financial crisis, which is pretty remarkable.”

And of course Mitten’s director on “Abacus,” Steve James, knows a thing or two about not knowing the ending of a documentary before he starts. This is James’s first Oscar nomination for Best Documentary Feature, but he previously directed the famous ’90s film “Hoop Dreams,” spending four years with the two Chicago high school students at its center. James spoke about the challenges of not being able to film during the court proceedings and how he still managed to tell the Sung family’s story.

“It’s the lesson of how you make a film with great limitations. It’s figuring out how to still try to tell the story needs to be told and tell it in a hopefully compelling way despite those limitations. ” James said. “Sometimes limitations can be a great inspiration to and can lead to focusing in different ways.”

Also Read: ‘Strong Island’ Review: Poignant Netflix Doc Covers Race, Crime and a Family’s Pain

Feras Fayyad, the director of the harrowing Syrian documentary “Last Men in Aleppo,” got out of being tortured in a Syrian prison and picked up a camera. He put his camera right at the eye lines of the local Syrian first responders, or the White Helmets, and saw through their eyes the horrors they were witnesses to. Fayyad had no idea whether his subjects would even one day make it out of Aleppo alive.

“If you want to tell something, keep it in your mind and show it in a different way,” Fayyad said. “When I got out of prison, I had in my mind to do this film, but I knew I would be facing the war machine and the intelligent services and all that. But I’m not the only one. There were many artists and filmmakers who were arrested in the same time, trying to do this. I’m the lucky one who gets this idea to bring it in front of people and watch it here.”

Ted Soqui

And then there’s JR, the French artist who along with the legendary French New Wave director Agnes Varda made the delightful European road trip movie “Faces Places.” He charmingly Skyped into the panel discussion, with his face appearing larger than life on the movie screen behind the panelists. The frivolity of “Faces Places” doesn’t suggest the same sort of challenges or sense of danger some of these filmmakers faced. The truck they toured the countryside in didn’t break down, and they didn’t run out of equipment during a job. But it wasn’t until months into their journey that they realized they would even be making a film.

Also Read: ‘Faces Places’ Directors Agnès Varda and JR Look for Fun in a ‘Disgusting’ World

“We actually got to know each other making this film,” JR said. “That’s why we were moving with such lightness because there was never this weight of. what will be the story? Where is this taking us?”

One of these five films will win the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature on March 4. So we don’t know how this story ends either.

Related stories from TheWrap:

Short Documentary Oscar Nominees on Advantages, Intimacy of Short Form (Exclusive Video)

Gilda Radner Documentary ‘Love, Gilda’ to Open Tribeca Film Festival

Ruth Bader Ginsburg Documentary ‘RBG’ Sold to Magnolia, Participant in Worldwide Deal

Yes, Lance Armstrong Saw Doping Documentary ‘Icarus’ – and Was ‘Blown Away’

‘Strong Island’ and ‘Jane’ Big Winners at Cinema Eye Honors

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Filmmaker Yance Ford’s “Strong Island” and Brett Morgen’s “Jane” were big winners Thursday night at the 11th Annual Cinema Eye Honors in Queens, New York. Ford made history as his film “Strong Island” won three awards including outstanding direction, outstanding debut, and outstanding nonfiction feature film. His achievement marked the first time in Cinema Eye […]

11th Cinema Eye Honors Topped By Yance Ford’s ‘Strong Island’ And Netflix

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Strong Island, director Yance Ford’s decade-long examination into the murder of his brother and the impact of the crime on his family, won three major awards tonight at the 11th Annual Cinema Eye Honors.
Overall, Netflix received more awards than any other distributor, winning a total of six awards. At a lunch Wednesday in Manhattan, this year’s Heterodox Award, given to films that provocatively expand the blurry line between fiction and nonfiction, was presented to Sean…

‘City of Ghosts,’ ‘Strong Island’ Lead Cinema Eye Honors Nominations

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Matthew Heineman’s Syrian documentary “City of Ghosts” and Yance Ford’s investigation of her brother’s murder, “Strong Island,” were among the movies singled out as the best nonfiction films of 2018 by the Cinema Eye Honors, which announced nominations on Friday in San Francisco.

Those two films and Viktor Jakovleski’s “Brimstone & Glory” led the field with four nominations each.

In the top category, Outstanding Achievement in Nonfiction Feature Filmmaking, “City of Ghosts” and “Strong Island” were nominated along with Frederick Wiseman’s “Ex Libris: The New York Public Library,” Agnes Varda and JR’s “Faces Places,” Feras Fayyad’s “Last Men in Aleppo” and Jonathan Olshefski’s “Quest.”

Also Read: Syria, LA Riots in the Spotlight With IDA Awards Nominations

“Quest” was one of five films to receive three nominations,along with “The Challenge,” “Chasing Coral,” “Faces Places” and “Jane.”

The nominations were announced in San Francisco at a reception for SFFILM’s Doc Stories showcase.

Of the six films nominated for best nonfiction feature, three – “City of Ghosts,” “Faces Places” and “Strong Island” – were also nominated by the International Documentary Association’s IDA Awards, which announced its nominees on Wednesday.

The Cinema Eye Honors feature-film nominations are voted on by committees made up largely of documentary programmers from film festivals around the world. Television nominations were made after a first round of voting by festival programmers, and a second round by film critics and writers.

Also Read: 170 Films Enter Oscars Documentary Category, Setting New Record

Winners will be announced at the Cinema Eye Honors ceremony on January 11, 2018 at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, Queens. Director Steve James will host.

The Cinema Eye Honors nominations:

Outstanding Achievement in Nonfiction Feature Filmmaking
“City of Ghosts”
“Ex Libris: The New York Public Library”
“Faces Places”
“Last Men in Aleppo”
“Quest”
“Strong Island”

Outstanding Achievement in Direction
Kitty Green, “Casting JonBenet”
Matthew Heineman, “City of Ghosts”
Yuri Ancarani, “The Challenge”
Frederick Wiseman, “Ex Libris: The New York Public Library”
Agnès Varda and JR, “Faces Places”
Yance Ford, “Strong Island”

Outstanding Achievement in Editing
Dawson City: Frozen Time”
“Jane”
“LA92”
“Long Strange Trip”
“Quest”
“The Reagan Show”

Outstanding Achievement in Production
Brimstone and Glory”
“City of Ghosts”
“Human Flow”
“Last Men in Aleppo”
“Risk”

Also Read: ‘Human Flow’ Review: Ai Weiwei Turns a Compassionate Eye to Refugee Crisis

Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography
Brimstone and Glory”
“The Challenge”
“Chasing Coral”
“Human Flow”
“Machines”

Outstanding Achievement in Original Music Score
“Brimstone and Glory”
“The Challenge”
“Dawson City: Frozen Time”
“Jane”
“Rat Film”
“Strong Island”

Outstanding Achievement in Graphic Design or Animation
“78/52: Hitchcock’s Shower Scene”
“Chasing Coral”
“Citizen Jane: Battle for the City”
“Let There Be Light”
“Long Strange Trip”

Also Read: ‘Chasing Coral’ Review: Environmental Doc Exposes Oceanic Crisis

Audience Choice Prize
Abacus: Small Enough to Jail”
“City of Ghosts”
“Chasing Coral”
“Faces Places”
“Jane”
“Kedi”
“Quest”
“Step”
“Whose Streets?”
“The Work”

Outstanding Achievement in a Debut Feature Film
Brimstone and Glory”
“Communion”
“Machines”
“Rat Film”
“Strong Island”

Outstanding Achievement in Broadcast Nonfiction Filmmaking
“13th”
“Abortion: Stories Women Tell”
“Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds”
“Five Came Back”
“The Keepers”
“Solitary: Inside Red Onion State Prison”

Spotlight Award
Donkeyote”
“An Insignificant Man”
“Lots of Kids, a Monkey and a Castle”
“Plastic China”
“Stranger in Paradise”
“Taste of Cement”

Outstanding Achievement in Nonfiction Short Filmmaking
Edith+Eddie”
“Heroin(e)”
“Little Potato”
“Polonaise”
“The Rabbit Hunt”
“Ten Meter Tower”

The Unforgettables | Non-competitive Honor
The year’s most notable and significant nonfiction film subjects

Chanterelle Sung, Hwei Lin Sung, Jill Sung, Thomas Sung & Vera Sung, “Abacus: Small Enough to Jail”
Bobbi Jene Smith, “Bobbi Jene”
Abdalaziz Alhamza, Hamoud Almousa and Mohamad Almusari, “City of Ghosts”
Ola Kaczanowska, “Communion”
Dolores Huerta, “Dolores”
Dina Buno and Scott Levin, “Dina”
Agnès Varda, “Faces Places”
Daje Shelton, “For Ahkeem”
Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, “Icarus”
Dr. Jane Goodall, “Jane”
Jim Carrey, “Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond”
Christine’a Rainey, Christopher “Quest” Rainey, PJ Rainey and William Withers, “Quest”
Yance Ford, “Strong Island”
Jennifer Brea, “Unrest”
Brian, Charles, Chris, Dark Cloud, Kiki and Vegas, “The Work”

Related stories from TheWrap:

‘Jane’ Wins Top Prize at Critics’ Choice Documentary Awards

‘Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold’ Review: Incisive Writer Gets Equally Perceptive Documentary

‘Hunting Ground’ Filmmakers to Make Hollywood Sexual Assault Documentary