Doc News: Herzog, New Academy Membership, Silverdocs, Ryan Dunn

– Werner Herzog‘s next documentary has been retitled from “Death Row” to “Gazing Into the Abyss: A Tale of Death, a Tale of Life” and has been picked up by ZDF Enterprises for worldwide TV rights and theatrical distribution outside the U.S. and UK. The filmmaker is quoted by Variety as describing the film as “a gaze into the abyss of the human soul,” though more literally it involves interviews with Texan death row inmates, including: “two men convicted of triple murder, another who killed his girlfriend and her two mentally retarded sons, and a woman — one of only 10 on Texas’ death row — charged with abducting a newborn baby and killing the child’s mother.”

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– Last week (while I was away), the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences announced this year’s invited to join the Oscar-voting pool. Anne Thompson has the full list, while AJ Schnack highlights the documentary folk brought into membership. As he and others have pointed out, Tim Hetherington is among the bunch, along with his “Restrepo” co-director, Sebastian Junger. Of course, Hetherington died in Libya recently so he won’t be voting. Schnack notes that he’s the Academy’s first posthumous invitee. Others brought on include recent Oscar winner Charles Ferguson (“Inside Job”), Amir Bar-Lev (“My Kid Could Paint That”), Carl Deal (“Trouble the Water”) and producers Lesley Chilcott and Diane Weyermann (both of “An Inconvenient Truth” and “Waiting for ‘Superman'”).

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– Speaking of the Academy, two Oscar trophies were passed around Tel Aviv’s multicultural Bialik Rogozin School today. The institution is the subject of this year’s short documentary winner, “Strangers No More,” directed by Karen Goodman and Kirk Simon (neither of whom were invited for membership). In all fairness, Bialik Rogozin should get to display the awards in its trophy case since the Academy clearly was honoring the school more than the film itself.

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– First Run Features will handle U.S. distribution for San Francisco International Film Festival winner “Pianomania,” with the film opening in Boston and Chicago this Friday (roll out to other cities will continue through the summer). Directed by Robert Cibis and Lilian Franck (“Jesus Loves You”), the film follows Steinway & Sons piano tuner Stefan Knüpfer. Here’s a trailer for the film:

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– The 2011 Silverdocs documentary festival begins tonight with opening film “Swell Season,” about Oscar-winning songwriters/stars of the film “Once,” Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. I’ll be making my way down to the fest late, probably Thursday morning. Stay tuned for coverage!

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– I’ve still never made it up to Hot Docs, and so I’ll never know what it was like under programming director Sean Farnel, who is leaving the fest after six years.

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– Cindy Meehl’s fest favorite “Buck,” which also opened this past weekend in NYC, has taken another trophy: the film won the documentary Audience Award at the Provincetown Film Festival.

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– In box office news, new docs “Buck,” “Page One: Inside the New York Times” and “Jig,” all of which are recommended by yours truly, did respectable numbers. I’m particularly impressed that the last one did so well, as it certainly hasn’t had the same levels of fest coverage as the other two. See a full report over at indieWIRE. Meanwhile, though it has yet to be released, the Sarah Palin doc “The Undefeated” is already being called a success.

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– Last but not least, I’d like to offer my condolences to friends and family of Ryan Dunn, who died in a car crash this morning, along with his passenger. He was apparently drinking and driving. As a member of the “Jackass” stunt comedy troupe, Dunn was of course in some of the highest-grossing documentaries of all time, including “Jackass 3-D,” which is only behind “Fahrenheit 9/11” on that list. Here’s a clip from that sequel with Dunn parodying the famous Memorex ads:

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About Christopher Campbell
I am a blogger for Documentary Channel and Movies.com, where I write the Doc Talk column. I prefer real stories to fake ones. I tweet here: @thefilmcynic

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