Documentaries: Bible to grunge

Grant nominees: Truer Than Fiction

The Independent Spirits’ Truer Than Fiction Award, presented for the 11th time, goes to an “emerging director of nonfiction features who has not yet received significant attention.” The winner will receive a $50,000 unrestricted grant, underwritten by payroll and accounting services firm Axium Intl. A look at the three nominees and their films:

When Adele Horn was a child, her parents received a gift from some missionary friends: a completely functional record player made out of cardboard that played a recording of the Bible. Years later, Horn decided to investigate the company that created the device and ended up stumbling upon a fascinating subject for her first documentary feature. “The Tailenders” tells the story of the Gospel Recordings Network, which for the past 68 years has traveled to remote regions to deliver its message. “GRN has made audio recordings of Bible stories in over 5,000 languages, which it distributes along with hand-wind players similar to the one my family received in the mail,” Horne says. “The missionaries have found that displaced and impoverished people are particularly receptive to the evangelical recordings. Gospel Recordings calls this target audience the Tailenders, because they are the last to be reached by global evangelism.” Filmed on location in the Solomon Islands, India, Mexico and the U.S., the docu screened at a number of museums and regional fests and also aired on PBS’ “P.O.V.” series. Horn is currently working on a doc about peripheral vision.

“The Chances of the World Changing” tells the true story of one man’s wildly ambitious quest to single-handedly rescue the world’s endangered turtles. Tyro director Eric Daniel Metzgar first heard about Richard Ogust after reading a newspaper article and immediately felt a personal connection to the New York artist, who at the time was sharing his Gotham penthouse apartment with more than 1,200 of the endangered creatures. “After reading about Richard’s situation, I quickly concluded that it sounded like a powerful story to get on film. But, privately, I was drawn to his venture for selfish reasons: In retrospect, I think that I sought and found sanctuary in Richard’s wild, urban refuge — his ark.” “Chances” has played most of the U.S.’ top doc fests and will air on “P.O.V.” this summer, followed by a DVD release.

The extraordinary life of Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain — as described by the singer himself — is recounted in “Kurt Cobain About a Son,” AJ Schnack’s beautifully rendered portrait. Using never-before-heard audio interviews with Cobain conducted by music journalist Michael Azzerad, the pic follows the singer’s rise from a dirt-poor childhood to international superstardom before his suicide at age 27. Rather than overload his audience with archival material, Schnack recreates Cobain’s world with contemporary footage, clips of music that influenced his work and a haunting original score from Death Cab for Cutie front man Ben Gibbard. Schnack says the film is about a Cobain the general public didn’t get to know: “Someone with strengths and weaknesses, good sides and bad, someone who is clearly struggling with depression,” he explains. Pic premiered at Toronto last year and is targeting a theatrical release this fall.

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