DIRECTOR: Jonathan Demme
PRODUCERS: Demme, Peter Saraf, Bevin McNamara
IN SHORT: Jean Dominique, the charismatic hero of “The Agronomist,” was the firebrand leader of Haiti’s free press movement until his assassination outside Radio Haiti offices in 2000. Filmed by his friend Demme over seven years in the 1990s, Dominique is a natural in front of the camera, and Demme’s film has the low-tech DV appeal of a home movie. It is a tender, tragic portrait of both the man and the country he sought to change.
WHERE SHOT: New York and Haiti
AWARDS: Documentary, 2003 Chicago Intl. Film Festival; Documentary, 2003 East Lansing Film Festival; Political Documentary, 2004 MountainFilm in Telluride
DISTRIBUTOR: ThinkFilm, in association with HBO/Cinemax Documentary Films
B.O.: $226,000 (U.S.)
DIRECTOR-PRODUCER: Ross McElwee
IN SHORT: McElwee approaches his subject matter — the U.S. tobacco industry — from a variety of perspectives. What begins as a humorous investigation into his family’s history (McElwee’s great-grandfather was a tobacco baron) soon becomes a film that defies categorization. It’s at once an historical docu, a story of one family’s struggle for a dubious legacy, a chronicle of creative anxiety and a critique of the impact of big business on public health. To McElwee’s credit, somehow it all makes sense.
WHERE SHOT: North Carolina
DISTRIBUTOR: First Run Features
B.O.: $54,000 (U.S.)*
DIRECTOR: Michael Moore
PRODUCERS: Moore, Jim Czarnecki, Kathleen Glynn
IN SHORT: In addition to smashing B.O. records for a nonfiction film, Michael Moore became the first doc helmer to win the Palme d’Or at Cannes since 1956. And while his nemesis may have triumphed on Election Day, Moore’s brazenly partisan condemnation of the war on Iraq served as a rallying cry for the Democratic base. More firsts may be ahead, as “Fahrenheit” remains in the running for a best picture Oscar nod. A sequel is already in the works.
WHERE SHOT: Flint, Mich.; Washington, D.C.; Iraq
AWARDS: Palme d’Or, Fipresci Prize, Cannes Film Festival
DISTRIBUTOR: Lions Gate Films/IFC Films/Fellowship Adventure Group
B.O.: $119 million (U.S.)
IN THE REALMS OF THE UNREAL
DIRECTOR: Jessica Yu
PRODUCERS: Yu, Karen Carter, Susan West
IN SHORT: Reclusive artist Henry Darger has long been a cult figure, thanks to a 15,000-page illustrated epic novel and troves of compelling, bizarre watercolors that his landlord discovered after his death in 1973. This docu tells the artist’s story through his work, including animated sequences using his original watercolors and text from his novel read by thesps Dakota Fanning and Larry Pine.
AWARDS: Documentary, Vancouver Film Festival; Documentary, Ojai Film Festival; Editing, Atlanta Film Festival
B.O.: Release set for 2005
DIRECTOR: Jonathan Caouette
PRODUCERS: Caouette, Stephen Winter
IN SHORT: Caouette, a natural performer who had been documenting his life on video from an early age, combines archival material along with new DV footage to tell his story of childhood trauma, adolescent rebellion, emerging homosexuality and, ultimately, his efforts to help his mentally ill mother, Renee. Exec producers are Gus Van Sant and John Cameron Mitchell.
WHERE SHOT: New York; Houston
AWARDS: Documentary, Los Angeles Film Festival; Sutherland Award for First Film, London Film Festival; IDA Emerging Filmmaker Award
B.O.: $418,000 (U.S.)*
* in release