By Ray Pride
After two years of Docs at the Box, a spring showcase of new nonfiction at the Music Box, programmed by journalist-programmer Anthony Kaufman, a larger event, expanding the work of the nonprofit Chicago Media Project, will take its place. The quartet behind the long weekend, which will augment Chicago debut attractions with post-screening discussions, interactive events and panels, are Kaufman, CMP co-founder and board chair Steve Cohen, CMP co-founder and executive director Paula Froehle and festival coordinator Sarah Nobles.
“Chicago Media Project has been cultivating support for impact media since our inception two years ago,” Cohen said recently. CMP, founded in 2014 and membership-based, works from a community model of philanthropy, thus far supporting more than ten documentary projects through grants, and another eight through its equity endeavor, CMP Invest/Impact. “DOC10 is a new avenue for us to bring the passion, empathy and change-making power of documentary film to our community,” Cohen added.
The three-day event will include local debuts of “Miss Sharon Jones!” a portrait of the Dap-Kings frontwoman by Barbara Kopple (“Harlan County U.S.A.”); “Lo & Behold: Reveries of the Connected World,” Werner Herzog’s dip into yet another world he distrusts, the internet, and “In Transit,” one of Albert Maysles’ last films (completed with four younger directors), decades in the making, musing on the allure and meaning of travel by train.
Kaufman brings a keen eye for the esthetics of nonfiction filmmaker, as well as an awareness of issues. The first meeting of the principals was not entirely by chance. “Steve, Paula and I actually met up when I first moved back to Chicago in Summer 2014,” Kaufman tells me, “through an introduction from Dan Cogan, executive director of Impact Partners and producer of many documentaries, CMP was ramping up [its documentary support activities] at the time, and I thought they would be good to follow journalistically for a potential Indiewire article. Later, when I took over [the Music Box documentary strand] Docs at the Box, I was looking for partners to help generate awareness and audience for the screenings. I asked CMP whether they might want to co-sponsor one of the screenings. And they came on board the screenings of ‘The Hand That Feeds’ (for the first Docs at the Box in 2014) and ‘3 1/2 Minutes, Ten Bullets’ (for the second round), helping to bring out filmmakers with both of those films. I think the experience was so positive for both of us that it planted the seed of doing something bigger.”
Theatrical exposure for documentaries hasn’t grown at the same rate as production of strong nonfiction work. But why does Chicago need a doc premiere event like this, I ask. “There are so many strong documentaries being made right now that for me, it was a no-brainer,” Kaufman says. “And nonfiction is just so hot right now. Look at [Netflix’s] ‘Making A Murderer,’ or [HBO’s] ‘The Jinx’ or the box office of [Oscar-winning] ‘Amy.’”
“It truly is the golden age of documentaries,” Froehle adds. “Not only are there many more outlets for audiences to see the work, but documentary filmmakers are experimenting with the form in new and exciting ways that draw upon storytelling techniques that invite the audience into the film in engaging ways.”
“And why Chicago, in particular?” Kaufman continues. “Because the city has such a rich tradition of nonfiction filmmaking, with Kartemquin Films and Steve James, and also the new graduate programs in documentary at Northwestern, DePaul and Columbia. So I wanted to create an event that helped bring all this energy together and push it forward.”
The event does sound like it could make a strong fit with CMP, a showcase that dovetails neatly with the longitudinal ambitions of the group’s contributions to sustaining doc production. As in, look! Here’s how good we can be, how good documentaries must strive to be. “Steve and I have great respect for Anthony’s eye as a programmer of great docs,” Froehle says. “When we were conceptualizing Doc10 as one of the ways for CMP to have a broader public impact for the work we do, we knew we wanted to work with Anthony. The slate is an amazing example of his skills as a programmer.”
How does Doc10 extend the larger goals? “Doc10 is a natural outcropping of our core mission to support documentary form as a unique and engaging way of telling stories and making an impact on the world,” Froehle says. “Steve and I are very interested in expanding the outreach of CMP through exposure to the great work being done in the field. Bringing these films to Chicago is the perfect way to highlight new documentary work, and also to spotlight the city as a hub for audiences interested in nonfiction form.”
Doc10 debuts April 1-3 at the Music Box. Details at doc10.org.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” in words and images will be published in Spring 2022.