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Unorthodocs Celebrates Nonfiction Film at the Wex

Hope Madden Hope Madden Unorthodocs Celebrates Nonfiction Film at the WexImage via wexarts.org
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Curious about what might make it into Oscar’s pool of best documentary contenders this year? The lineup of the Wexner Center for the Arts’ Unorthodocs, running this Thursday, October 17 through Monday, October 21, might hold a glimpse.

“Last year in Unorthodocs we showed two films that went on to get nominations,” says Chris Stults, curator in the Wex’s Film/Video department. He believes the 2019 program should be no different.

“This year I would think Midnight Family and For Sama and Midnight Traveler are in the conversation,” he says. “Julia [Reichert] and Steve’s [Bognar] American Factory would definitely be in the conversation.”

Wex’s third annual celebration of nonfiction collides this year with their retrospective of Reichert’s work in the format.

“Julia and Steve are kind of baked into what Unorthodocs is,” Stults says. “The first year we did this program, we opened Unorthodocs with a masterclass they taught. It was one of the best things, like, that I’ve ever seen. It’s wonderful that it aligns with her retrospective and we can bring her and Steve back for another masterclass and then show a work in progress of their new film.”

There are other reasons Reichert fits so well with this year’s program.

“Two of the big through lines that came to the fore this year were first person stories, but also films about the lives of women,” he says. “The pioneering work she did in her earliest films—there definitely weren’t a lot of women telling their own stories in film. Knowing Julia well, she’s not a person who waits to ask for permission. She just started going out and making her own films. She has the perfect temperament for a documentary filmmaker, her curiosity and interest in people and then both a doggedness and a sense of patience.”

Reichert believes that access to technology like smartphones has opened more opportunities for potential filmmakers. Stults agrees, and believes these advances in technology are a reason the first person point of view is so prevalent in this year’s lineup.

For Sama and Midnight Traveler are especially interesting, and talk to each other in really interesting ways,” he says. “Those are both films that couldn’t have been made—maybe five years ago would be the earliest I could imagine those films being made.”

Midnight Traveler documents a family of Afghani filmmakers targeted by the Taliban and their harrowing refugee existence. For Sama tells of a Syrian woman in Aleppo.

“It is a female perspective on war and conflict in a way that I’ve never seen before,” he says. “In the midst of hospital bombings she’s giving birth and there’s just some of the most harrowing scenes I’ve ever seen.”

Technology helped make it happen.

“The thing that makes those two films so interesting is the first person account,” he says. “If we’ve ever see these stories, they’ve always been from an observer’s point of view. I’ve never seen this first person account of that story before and it’s completely because of the technology.”

While Stults is excited about the entire lineup, there is one event in particular he’s eager to watch with a Columbus audience.

“I’m especially excited to share My First Film,” he says. “Zia Anger had a lot of frustrations as a women trying to get a feature film made in a very business-oriented industry or artform. So she’s kind of turned her frustrations into this – I don’t even know if you call it a performance or a documentary. It kind of is unclassifiable.”

Stults says to prepare for a fascinating, interactive event driven by the filmmaker herself.

“She’ll be sitting in the audience for the presentation,” he says. “Everything the audience will be seeing will be coming from her laptop, playing clips from her desktop and narrating it live, but not with a microphone. She’ll have a text edit window open and she’ll be typing the narration of the film live from the audience, just kind of telling her story trying to make work as a woman in the industry.”

According to Stults, different audience members will participate in unusual ways.

“There will even be some interactive things,” he says. “She’ll be air dropping video files to audience members to watch from their phones.”

Stults believes Anger’s work is ideal for the festival.

“It does really expand ideas of what documentary can do,” he says. “It’s something you’ll have to be in the room to experience. It won’t live as something you can see some other way.”

From the future of the genre to the past, Stults made sure to include a bit of everything.

“I always love being able to incorporate some older films in the mix of the new ones to have them in dialog with each other,” he says. “This year we’re showing the Madeline Anderson short films. She’s one of the first African American women to make documentaries, both for cinemas and for TV. Really pioneering. The way her films are in dialog with Julia Reichert’s films – that’s something anybody paying attention to Julia’s films over the course of the month would be interested in.”

Check out the full festival lineup:

Thursday, October 17

  • 4:30 p.m. – Documentary Filmmaking Masterclass with Julia Reichert and Steven Bognar
  • 7 p.m. – Midnight Family

Friday, October 18

  • 5 p.m. – Shorts
  • 7 p.m. – 9to5: The Story of a Movement

Saturday, October 19

  • 12 p.m. – Midnight Traveler
  • 2 p.m. – Chez Jolie Coiffure
  • 4 p.m. – Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project
  • 6 p.m. – Reception with the Filmmakers
  • 7 p.m. – My First Film

Sunday, October 20

  • 1 p.m. – Celebration
  • 2:30 p.m. – For Sama

Monday, October 21

  • 4:30 p.m. – Three Films by Madeline Anderson

Festival passes are $36 for members, students and seniors and $48 for the general public. Individual film tickets are also available. Visit wexarts.org for tickets and information.

Read more from Hope at MADDWOLF and listen to her weekly movie review podcast, THE SCREENING ROOM.

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