Doc News: Morton Downey Jr., the Death of “Reality TV”, “Klitschko” Release Date

– Remember Morton Downey Jr.? The late talk show host was the Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh of the ’80s, as we’ll be reminded with a new documentary titled “Évocateur.” The film, which is expected to release sometime next year, will feature interviews with Sally Jesse Raphael, Chris Elliott, Al Sharpton and Pat Buchanan. Directed by the team of Seth Kramer, Daniel A. Miller and Jeremy Newberger (“The Linguists”), the last wrote to Pop Candy’s Whitney Matheson today to assure her that the doc also devotes a “whole section” to the man’s cult album “Morton Downey Jr. Sings!” I admit I’d forgotten about Downey until this news but am now excitedly looking forward to the film. There’s already a trailer available, so you can check that out below and join me in anticipation:

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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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Doc News: Elton John; “Big River Man”; DocPoint NYC

– HBO Documentary Films has picked up Cameron Crowe’s “The Union,” which documents the collaboration of Elton John and Leon Russell, which does make it sound like an advertisement at worst, a making of film for an album at best. Having made its debut at the Tribeca Film Festival last month, the cable outlet will give the rock doc its TV premiere in January 2012. Crowe, who was a music journalist before becoming a filmmaker, finally dove into documentary this year with a double dose. His other new rock doc, “Pearl Jam Twenty,” arrives to fans-only delight this fall.

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Doc News: Ken Burns Tourism; Colin Hanks Reaches Goal; Netflix Removes “Death Scenes”


– Any documentary fans looking for summer vacation ideas? Well, as was announced last fall, Ken Burns is now involved in the tourism industry with a company called Tauk. Through the partnership, the filmmaker has produced a series of “filmed narratives” called “Stories by Ken Burns” which coincide with special Burns-inspired trips (titled) “Crafted by Tauk & Ken Burns.” One involves places featured in his “Civil War” series while another, based on his “National Parks” series, takes you through the national parks of the southwest. One-day-only trips called “Ken Burns Events” are also offered, one tied to “Civil War” (which happened in May) and another based on his “Jazz” series. It’s kind of like Alamo Drafthouse’s Rolling Roadshow in a way, bridging cinephiles with special cine-tourism opportunities, yet these are more about pre-existing significance as opposed to locations turned famous by films.

Check out a trailer/ad for the tours and events after the jump.

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Doc News: Federal Judge Labels Documentary Filmmaking a Hobby; Freetown Christiania; YouTube

– Here’s the most ludicrous thing you’ll read all day: federal tax court judge Diane Kroupa has decidedly stated that due to documentary film’s purpose to “educate and expose,” non-fiction filmmakers may not be allowed to make a profit on their “work,” which the IRS will therefore instead consider a “hobby.” There is no ruling yet, but according to International Documentary Association executive director Michael Lumpkin (via the IDA’s magazine and website), Kroapa raised the question in an Arizona court back in March whether or not Lee Storey (“Smile ’Til It Hurts: The Up with People Story”), or any other documentary filmmaker, should be allowed to deduct business expenses accrued during production.

This is surely the scariest thing to happen to the doc community since the recent federal order for Joe Berlinger to hand over raw footage tapes from his film “Crude.” Both cases broadly kill documentary’s qualifications as journalism (the IRS allows print investigative journalists to make a profit), but this news confuses me more. If documentaries can’t be profitable, then can’t they at least have the tax benefits of a non-profit organization? And also, if they’re not allowed to make a profit, will major studios and distributors lose what minor interest they have in the form? So many questions to think about, but the only answer I keep coming up with is that Kroupa apparently needs to watch more documentaries. While it still hurts the greater consideration of docs as journalism, we need her to know docs aren’t all and only about information and awareness. [via Kartemquin Films]

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Doc News: “Connected” Acquired; CIA-Produced Film Discovered; “Superheroes” on HBO

– Tiffany Shlain’s “Connected” (formerly subtitled “An Autoblogography About Love, Death & Technology”) has been acquired by Paladin four months following its Sundance debut, according to indieWIRE. The distributor will release the doc in the fall, beginning with a bow in San Francisco this September ahead of the usual NYC/LA opening. I saw the film in Park City, where I was impressed with its ability to balance a personal first-person story with an informative exploration of, well, everything. At the time I wrote a note about it being like a sequel to “We Live in Public.” Mix in the ambition, if not necessarily the levels of achievement, of “Sherman’s March” and “The Tree of Life,” and I’m maybe still with that note.

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Doc News: “Life in a Day” Special Release Date; SnagFilms on Roku; RIP Adolfas Mekas

– This July 24, one year following the date all footage was (or should have been) shot for Kevin Macdonald’s user-generated doc “Life in a Day,” the film will be released to select U.S. cinemas. Now, that is a sunday, but due to the anniversary occasion, this sort-of soft opening will happen for a one-night event, in which participating filmmakers (aka contributing camera-persons) will take part in a live, interactive Q&A, courtesy of Cinedigm Digital Cinema Corp. Then, the documentary, which was produced by Ridley Scott, will officially open in theaters that Friday, July 29.

Having been skeptical going in, I have to admit I was very pleasantly surprised by this film, which I jokingly coined “YouTubisquatsi.” In my review from Sundance I also called it a “spellbinding montage” with a “gradient spectrum of moods and tones, tropes and answers” that will be experienced differently by each of its viewers. I highly recommend seeing it on the big screen.

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Doc News: Judy Garland; Tupac Shakur; Colin Hanks

– Oscar winner Rob Epstein  (“The Times of Harvey Milk,” “Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt”) is re-teaming with longtime collaborator Jeffrey Friedman following their sort of venture into narrative filmmaking (“Howl”) for a project involving the late Judy Garlandaccording to 24 Frames. Also on board is filmmaker Steven “Flip” Lippman, who makes short musical documentary  films. This feature documentary, titled “Stay All Night,” will piece together a “re-creation” of Garland’s famous 1961 comeback concert at Carnegie Hall, which was not filmed. However, Super 8mm backstage material has been uncovered, and this will be combined with music excerpts and interviews with people who were there. The idea is not to present a certain record but an experience as close to being there as possible. It doesn’t sound like they will actually be reenacting the concert, which is what the use of the word “re-create” seems to imply. It’s in beginning stages, though, so it will be some time before we see what the trio achieves. Meanwhile, Epstein and Friedman (who are likely just producing “Stay All Night”), are currently still trying to get their Linda Lovelace biopic, “Lovelace,” off the ground.

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Watch Gil Scott-Heron in “Black Wax”

Gil Scott-Heron, who died yesterday at the age of 62, is best known for the spoken-word single “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.” His influence on black culture, political poetry and music is tremendous, but what about documentary film? Well the title of his most famous track has been borrowed for the title of one prominent non-fiction film: Kim Bartley and Donnacha O’Briain’s 2003 film on Hugo Chavez, which unintentionally/fortuitously documented the attempted coup in 2002.

And then there is Robert Mugge’s “Black Wax,” a 1983 music doc focused on Scott-Heron as he performs in and walks around D.C. and hangs out with wax figures of political and historical figures. You can’t rent it from Netflix as it appears to be out of print, with new DVDs selling for about $80 on Amazon — VHS copies are only $3, though. There are at least a few clips here and there on the web, one of which — I think it’s the beginning — you can check out after the jump.

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Doc News: Brad Pitt; “The King of Kong” Remake; Wim Wenders; Divine

Brad Pitt has allegedly been confirmed as narrator for Terrence Malick’s upcoming IMAX documentary “Voyage of Time,” which will apparently be like “Tree of Life” without all the pesky human drama stuff. (Hopefully Malick can also one day give us a version of “Tree of Life” that’s just the human drama stuff without the ineffectual space-time context. Or Sean Penn, who is hardly part of the human drama stuff because he’s so lacking in anything resembling a human being. Anyway, that’s a discussion for another place.) Up to now, Pitt’s involvement in documentary has surprisingly been fairly slim. He has an executive producer credit on “God Grew Tired of Us,” appears in Spike Lee’s “If God is Willing and da Creek Don’t Rise,” and can currently be heard supplying part of the voice-over narration in Harry Shearer’s “The Big Uneasy.” I actually don’t see any certainty in the claims that Pitt will be attached to this film, since the L.A. Times’ 24 Frames blog only references an old outline that gave us the initial notion in the first place. But it’s probably going to happen anyway.

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