Two MTV Documentary films vying for Academy Awards attention — Ondi Timoner’s “Last Flight Home” and Tanaz Eshaghian’s short “As Far as They Can Run” — garnered the top nonfiction honors at the 23rd annual Woodstock Film Festival.
“Last Flight Home,” about Timoner and her family’s last days with her father, won the best documentary prize, while “As Far as They Can Run,” about disabled children in rural Pakistan who have been deemed “useless” by their communities, took home the fest’s best short documentary award.
“Last Flight Home” premiered at Sundance earlier this year before opening the Telluride Film Festival in September. This year marked Timoner’s first time at the Woodstock fest.
“The greatest joy I have is sharing my work in person,” Timoner told Variety. “The reason I make films is to impact people and this film is doing that more than any other film I’ve made.”
The five-day festival, which runs from Sept. 28 to Oct. 2 in New York’s Hudson Valley, about 100 miles north of Manhattan, also awarded narrative films, including Michael Goorjian’s “Amerikatsi,” Signe Baumane’s “My Love Affair With Marriage” and Nuhash Humayun’s “Moshari.”
In addition to “Last Flight Home” and “As Far As They Can Run,” MTV Documentaries, run by Sheila Nevins, had several other nonfiction films at the festival, including two features, David Greenwald’s “Afghan Dreams” and Patricia E. Gillespie’s “The Fire That Took Her,” as well as two doc shorts in Amy Bench’s “More Than I Want to Remember” and Cinque Northern’s “Angola Do You Hear Us?: Voices From a Plantation Prison.”
“The Fire That Took Her” producer Julie Goldman was in town for the film’s world premiere. The documentary details the landmark case around Judy Malinowski, then 31, who was doused in petrol and set on fire by her crazed ex-boyfriend. She was one of the first people to testify “from beyond the grave,” at the trial for her own murder.
“Sheila brought this film to our attention and we immediately knew that it was really important and could really add to this conversation about domestic partner abuse,” Goldman said.
“The Fire That Took Her” will be theatrically released on Oct. 21, which will qualify the documentary for Oscar consideration.
In addition to “Last Flight Home,” Woodstock 2022 featured other nonfiction films garnering Academy Award buzz, including Ramin Bahrani’s Showtime documentary “2nd Chance,” which premiered at Sundance 2022, and Sacha Jenkins’ Apple TV Plus feature “Louis Armstrong’s Black & Blues,” which debuted last month at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Jenkins was at Woodstock with “Louis Armstrong’s Black & Blues” producers Sara Bernstein and Justin Wilkes of Imagine Entertainment and Apple TV Plus head of documentaries Molly Thompson.
“This award season campaigning is all new to me,” said Jenkins. “I’m just going with the flow.”
“Woodstock’s proximity to New York City along with having numerous members of the doc industry living in the area, make it the perfect stop during awards season,” added Cinque Northern (“Angola Do You Hear Us?: Voices From a Plantation Prison”).
Several docs seeking distribution, including Jessica Edwards’ “Skate Dreams,” were also part of Woodstock’s documentary lineup.
“Woodstock is an important festival because of its sophisticated and knowledgeable audience in the Hudson Valley,” said Edwards. “There’s a huge film community up here. Directors, producers, distributors and Academy members live here. That’s all a filmmaker can hope for from a festival: supportive communities who are excited about their film.”
On Friday, Timoner, Bahrani, Oscar-winning director Roger Ross Williams (“The Apollo,” “Life Animated”) and Rodrigo Garcia (“Nine Lives”) participated in a panel about directing both documentaries and narratives.
About the life of Richard Davis, the man who invented the concealable bulletproof vest, “2nd Chance” is the first feature documentary that Bahrani (“99 Homes”) has directed.
“These young producers pitched me the story of Richard Davis as a narrative,” said Bahrani. “They were going to make the doc. When they started sending me the archival footage and I looked at it all and read more about Richard, it started to feel like Arthur Miller’s ‘All My Sons,’ but without the morality. I thought I rather make the doc. And they said okay.”
Ross Williams and panel moderator Geralyn White Dreyfous, co-founder of documentary fund Impact Partners, discussed the shifting doc landscape.
“We used to make these little indie films that we’d struggle to get made and spent years raising money for and now it’s all about celebrity,” said Williams. “Everyone from Cardi B to Janet Jackson to Lizzo all want a documentary. And it’s not a real documentary because it’s really a corporate video about who they are. I walked away from a lot of those projects.”
White Dreyfous added: “I’m very concerned about the corporate consolidation of all the streaming platforms. I’ve seen the kind of cuts that are happening and bureaucracy’s not talking to each other. It’s getting a lot less fun to launch a film and get it out of the world and make sure that it’s marketed correctly. It troubles me to no end because there are a lot of films that aren’t being bought right now, and they are really good films.”